Buenos Aires: Ni Olvida, Ni Perdón
Apr 12th, 2006
I'm sitting in a packed room of almost-straight chairs in a provincial
government building in central Buenos Aires. The room hangs silent in
anticipation of an old woman's words. She has paused for tears and to
recover her voice.
My friend Ruth brought me to a free screening of Garage Olimpio, a
chronicle of a desaparacida (disappeared one). The lead character
was taken from her home during the peak of the "dirty war"
in 1976 by the military police to Olimpio,
one of dozens of urban torture chambers. All but a random few were
never found -- popular wisdom supposes they were drugged and then
air-dropped into the ocean. After the screening, a 3-person panel:
two are children of desaparacidos, and this woman, who inexplicably
Watching the matriarch relive electroshock torture and the whims of
the despotic military police, I can't help but think how easy the
desaparacidos would be to miss. After the Argentine financial crisis
of 2002, BsAs has become a cheap tourist playground of tango and
all-u-can-eat meat. With the glamour of Parisian balconies and
cafes at a third the price, many visitors broadcast their glee onto
a city that has suffered as much as flourished.
Porteños, as the city's residents are known, are friendly after
cracking the thin urban veneer. Like Ruth, many have been delighted
to show me local bars or explain the wonderful tilework in the city's
modern subway. But, too, there are problems. Still, a full 4 years
after their Crisis, protesters bang on the locked gates of bank buildings.
One woman lit small scraps of paper, tossing them at the building while
a bank employee with a water-filled backpack discreetly extinguished them.
The city's 30 and 40 year olds ponder their cohort's cultural vacuum,
squelched by the military junta in control during the 1960s and 1970s.
The movie has been shown tonight because Argentina is inaugurating a
new national holiday to commemorate the inescapable fact that 30,000
people simply vanished 30 years ago. Ni Olvida, ni perdon -- never
forget, never forgive. Like Israel, they're determined not to allow
a sequel. In the little squares of the San Telmo barrio, a few banners
hang next to the omnipresent white and periwinkle Argentine flag.
Ruth thinks the holiday is a bit of a political sham, a favor by the
government to curry favor and aggrandize itself by comparison.
In the screening, we are conspicuously in the front row. Recalling
how the young people she was tortured with became her children (she
was about 40), she made several acute parallels to modern day
political prisons, including our very own Guantanamo. Looking
straight at me, the only gringo in the room, "we can't allow this
to continue, not again." This is how the world views our military
and our geopolitical activity.
After talking, she sat quietly, resting on the weighty recollections
and their transfer. The MC, clearly teary eyed, tried to field
questions, but the room would not budge. Caught in the web of the
memory, everyone had simply decided not to struggle for a little while,
with the faith that the spider had fled.