Rodolfo Walsh’s Open Letter to the Military Junta used to be distributed in Argentina as a pamphlet by the historical memory and human rights organizations in the first decade of this century. Today, after the 2015 election of a historical-revisionist administration in Argentina, the transmission of its message and Walsh’s struggle to the new generations is, again, a peremptory necessity.
Today, its translation into English can also be useful to international readers in general and Americans in particular not only to understand Argentina, but also to better reflect on the despotism that they are beginning to experience, following the election victory of a would-be dictator, Donald Trump, who in his demagoguery and senility recalls the repressive government of Isabela Martínez Perón before being overthrown by the Military Junta, with its programs for national registries of data on militants (today, Trump is seeking to establish “national registries” for Muslims and Mexicans).
Rodolfo Walsh (1927 -1977) was a journalist, literary writer and chess enthusiast, born and raised in Patagonia, Argentina. Fueled by literary hopes and a love for the detective genre novel as a young man, Walsh made his way from Río Negro to La Plata and to Buenos Aires, finding employment at Hatchett’s publishing house. Forays into journalism began after one of the many military coups that have plagued Argentina, the Liberating Revolution of 1955, which ousted populist Juan Domingo Perón and replaced him with General Lonardi’s absolutist military dictatorship. Walsh abandoned chess, but never abandoned literature, despite his descent into journalism, and into armed struggle during the civil-military dictatorship of the 1970s—an armed struggle in which he died fighting, and in which his daughter and many friends underwent a similar fate after being targeted by the murderous machinery of state-orchestrated disappearances.
His Open Letter to the Military Junta, which was sent from a clandestine resistance hideout by a man addressing the tormentors and executioners of his own daughter, is by no means intended for Walsh’s literary audience. It is a report – terrible, systematic and unflinching. It addresses people for whom he has, for obvious reasons, no sympathy whatsoever. Walsh’s style and eloquence as a literary writer, however, still find their way into it. Calling on the gentlemen of the Junta, he writes: “You have become the very fountainhead of terror that has completely lost is course and can only babble now in the turbid speech of death“.
Walsh differs greatly from today’s rhetorical styles, the kind employed by both liberal elites and the right wing in the recent US presidential election, and in the everyday post-politics in Europe. In these liquid-modernity societies, the aim of the rhetoric is often anti-dialectical dehumanization: the show of contempt for the adversary takes precedence over any effort to communicate in effective, powerful, expressive language. Current democracies suffer from a predominance of such discourses.
Despite the infamous cruelty of the 1970s Junta, Walsh keeps a prophetic dignity and composure. Nowhere does he presume that his effort to communicate the truth will be lost upon the ears of those who have become truly inhuman. Had he abandoned eloquence, he would have also dropped his pistol when the political police tracked him down and identified him (despite his make-up and disguise as an old man) on San Juan Avenue in Buenos Aires. Knowing he was to be sent to a concentration camp where he would not be reunited with his daughter, he reached for his weapon and fell resisting.
Walsh refused dehumanization, and spoke of “the naked cipher of the horror I am speaking of” in order to prevent those who suffered it to become just that – a naked, technical cipher. He raged against ”digitizing” those torn and desecrated by the colossal crime. Behind his eloquence there is the promise of the poet-warrior: no reconciliation, never to forget and never to forgive. The letter uses numbers for dates of events, but the dead and wounded are spelled out without numerals.
Walsh’s sentences are delightfully long, revolutionary baroque. His style of journalistic prose is quite the opposite to the telegram style that Hemingway used in his journalist years.
My translation of Walsh’s Open Letter into English is not only meant to open foreign readers’ minds to a country that is often misunderstood, but also, as Moroccan-born French philosopher Alain Badiou warned his readers, to point out that ‘’the oppressed peoples of the earth are not objects for the exquisite turmoil of European consciences. They are subjects from which to learn how to exercise political intelligence and action. Even though, obviously, colonial arrogance takes a long time dying.” -Arturo Desimone, translator
Open Letter to the Military Junta
- The censorship of the press, the persecution of intellectuals, the raid on my house in El Tigre, the dear friends murdered by you, and the loss of my daughter, who died fighting you: these are among the circumstances that have made me resort to this clandestine form of expression, after nearly thirty years of having freely given my opinion as a journalist and writer.
The first anniversary of this Military Junta compels a measuring-up of the actions of this government, against its officially released documents and discourses, in order to fairly balance the scales between the official version and fact. For what you have named as certified facts are errors, and what you are willing to admit as your mistakes are in fact crimes, and events that you have entirely omitted happen to be calamities.
On the 24th of March of 1976, you overthrew a government that you had formed part of, just as you contributed to its dishonor by enforcing its repressive policies. The end of term of that government was to be determined by elections, slated for 9 months from then. What you annihilated, however, was not merely the transitional mandate of Isabela Martínez: you blocked the very possibility of a democratic process that would allow the people to remedy the very ills that you, ever since the coup, have proliferated and intensified.
Illegitimate in its origins, this government you enforce could have defended its thin claim to legitimacy by reinstating the same program already chosen by eighty percent of the Argentinian population in the 1973 elections, a program which still stands as the sole objective expression of the thwarted general will of the people, the sole possible meaning of this so-called ”national Being” so often invoked by you.
Your inversion of that path has shifted the tide according to the interests and ideas of defeated minorities, groups who stall the development of our nation’s productive forces, who exploit the people and who segregate the Nation. A political rule such as this one, can only reinforce itself as a transitional regime: as it currently prohibits all political parties, busts unions, and cripples free press while sowing the most profound terror the Argentine society has ever known.
- Fifteen thousand disappeared persons, ten thousand prisoners taken, four thousand dead, tens of thousands landless peasants— together, these comprise the naked cipher of the terror I speak of.
As the common prisons were already full, you used barracks and military complexes for what are virtually the first concentration camps this country has ever known. These are camps–where no judge, lawyer, journalist or international monitor may enter. The martial secrecy of the trials, a secrecy invoked as necessary for the purpose of investigations, has made the majority of detentions into abductions, ensuring for torture without limits, and for executions without trials.
More than seven thousand pleas issued for Habeas Corpus rights met refusal in the past year. In other thousands of cases of disappearances, the recourse of Habeas Corpus has not even been presented in court, either because the effort appears useless, or because of the near-impossibility of finding a lawyer willing to present the claim after fifty or seventy lawyers were, in turn, abducted as hostages by you after they took on these cases.
In this way, you have extricated torture from its confinement in time. As the detainee does not exist, there is no possibility of presenting him before a judge within ten days, as mandated by a law that was respected even by the repressive regimes of previous dictatorships in Argentina.
The absence of a limit in time is complemented by the absence of limitations in the methods of torture, thereby regressing back to ages when torturers operated directly upon the joints and the intestines of the victims—only now they make use of surgical and pharmacological tools, unavailable to the executioners of old. The rack, the screw, the skinning-alive, the hacksaw of medieval inquisitors all reappear in the testimonies alongside the electrodes, the ”submarine”, the blowtorch, among other modern accessories.
In the midst of your rationalizations, as you claim the objective of exterminating the guerrilla justifies the means you use, you have arrived at an absolute torture: it is timeless, metaphysical torture. The barest original intention behind these methods—that of extracting intelligence information from the captives—has by now given way in the perturbed minds of those who mete it out. Those who enforce it, instead succumb to the impulse of mashing up the human substance until it breaks, as it loses the dignity already lost by the executioner, the executioner’s dignity, which you yourselves already lost.
- The negative order given by this Junta against publishing the names of prisoners, in itself belies a cover-up of your systematic executions of hostages, carried out in deserted areas during the dawn hours. In those locales you harvest your pretexts for murder with the forged battle-scenes, the planted evidence, the fantasized chase-scenes and escape attempts.
You have disseminated stories about bungling extremists, who you allege spread pamphlets in the countryside, who paint over the irrigation channels or who amass comically into exploding cars. Such stereotypes about the resistance are straight out of a propaganda leaflet—but the function of that propaganda is not to be believable: it intends only to mock the international outcry responding to mass executions. Such official accounts are designed to downplay the brutal, disproportionate nature of your retaliations conducted in the same places and dates of the guerrilla activities of the resistance.
Seventy dead in the executions you held in a response to the bombing of the Federal Security building, 55 extra-judicially executed in retaliation for the explosions in the Police Department in La Plata, 30 in your response to the attack on the Ministry of Defense, 40 executions in the Massacre of the New Year following suit after they were blamed for the death of colonel Castellanos, 19 extrajudicial killings of those who were held responsible for the explosion that destroyed the police-station of Ciudadela: these amount to the 1200 executions in 300 purported battles in which the opponent suffered no war-wounded, and the forces you commanded had no war-dead.
Condemned to being the human personification of a collective guilt that is alien to civilized norms of justice, the demonized captives are powerless to carry any influence in those same political trials that produce the planted evidence of the crimes for which they are being penalized. Many of the hostages are syndicate-delegates, intellectuals, family of the guerrilla fighters, unarmed opposition members, or ordinary suspects. When they are killed, it is merely part of your accounting act of “balancing the scales” according to the foreign doctrine of ‘the ‘body-count”, used by the SS in the occupied countries and by the invaders of Vietnam.
The practice of rounding-up, then immediately liquidating wounded or captured guerrillas in actual battles, is evidenced by the military’s own bulletin-updates and press conferences: these report how, within a year, they attributed 600 dead, but only 10 or 15 injured, among the guerrilla enemy. Such a ratio is unheard of in the most berserk conflicts of recent memory.
This impression is confirmed by a journalistic study that circulated in the clandestine underground. The report reveals how, between the 18th of December of 1976 and February 3rd of 1977, in 40 real actions, the legal forces had 23 dead and 40 wounded, while the guerrilla had 63 dead.
More than a hundred of those put on trial were similarly overpowered, as the military provided official narratives of sensational chase-stories—none of them intended to be believed, so much as to sabotage negotiations and proceedings. These performances are intended to prevent the guerrilla brigade and the political parties from enacting any legal process for the release of recognized political prisoners. Such negotiation is prevented from interfering and encumbering the strategy of retaliation used by the Core of Commanders. The military junta’s Core of Commanders want to employ these tactics (of disproportionate retaliation) in the shifting battle-scenery, maintaining the convenience of being able to dictate attacks, while unfettered by laws and in obedience only to the impulses and momentary whims.
That is how the general Benjamin Menéndez, chief of the Third Body of the Army, earned his laurels before the 24th of March with the assassination of Marcos Osatinsky, detained in Córdoba, following the killing of Hugo Vaca Narvaja and fifty other prisoners. All were executed without pity, in varied acts of martial law that officers later attested to without shame.
- The assassination of Dardo Cabo, detained in april of 1975, liquidated on the 6th of January in 1977 with seven other prisoners in the jurisdiction of the First Body of the Army led by general Suarez Mason, serves as further evidence revealing that these episodes were not occasional excesses carried out by a deluded few, or by the bad centurions who strayed. Rather, these appear to be executions of the same policy planned in your grand assemblies, the policy that you discuss in your cabinet meetings, imposed by you as commanders-in-chief of the 3 Arms and approved by you members of the Junta government.
Between one thousand five hundred and three thousand persons or more have so far been massacred in secret detention, after you prohibited the surfacing of information on found corpses. The news seeped through despite your very best efforts. Word spread to other countries, as international media and communities were shaken by the genocidal magnitude, by the sheer horror these facts have evoked among their leaders.
Twenty-five mutilated bodies flowered forth just this March and October of 1976 upon Uruguayan beaches. Perhaps these were but a fraction of the cargo, of those tortured to death inside the Technical School of the Armada, then discarded as flotsam in the river La Plata by boats of the Armada. Among them was a boy, 15 year old Floreal Avellaneda, his feet and hands tied ”with breakages in his anal region and visible fractures” according to the autopsy.
A veritable underwater cemetery was discovered in August 1976, by a local who was scuba-diving in the Son Roque lagoon of Cordoba. He sought to report his finding to the attention of the police. At the station the police refused to register the diver’s report, until he took it to the newspapers, where the editors refused to publish it.
Thirty and four corpses turned up in Buenos Aires between the 3rd and 9th of April of 1976, eight in San Telmo on the 4th of July, ten in the river Lujan on the 9th of October. These serve as a measure of the massacres of the 20th of August that piled up 30 of the corpses, only 15 kilometers from the May Field and 17 kilometers from Lomas de Zamora.
These revelations put an end to the used-up fiction of the right-wing gangs who we presumed to be none other than the heirs of the Triple A squadron of López Rega. These were able to operate in the major garrisons of the country using military trucks, capable of forming blanketing the entire river La Plata with corpses of their victims, able to throw prisoners hurtling down to the sea from the doors of the First Air Brigade .
All this, you allege, could have happened without the general Videla, the admiral Massera and the brigadier-gendarme Agosti ever having known—so we are told. Today, the Triple A organization are none other than the Three Branches of the Junta which you preside over, and not the phantom in your nebulous reports regarding “violent outbreaks, seemingly of different sources”. No longer can you pretend to be the just arbiter between ”two terrorisms” one of the right and the other of the left. Rather, you have become the very same fountainhead of the terror that completely lost is course, while you babble in the turbid speech, in the very discourse of death.
The same historical continuity links the assassination of the dissenting general Carlos Prats under the previous government, with the kidnappings and murders of generals Juan José Torres, Zelmar Michelini, Hector Gutiérrez Ruíz. Dozens more were made into refugees, as their persecutors sought to assassinate the future of democratic processes in Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay by murdering it inside of those who carried and represented that unborn potential for a democratic future.
The proven participation of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and of the Federal Police, in these crimes conducted by officers who received scholarships from the C.I.A. (through the A.I.D.) such as the commissioners Juan Gattei and Antonio Gettor, themselves subjected to the authority of Mr Gardener Hathaway, Station Chief of the CIA in Argentina. Such involvements will provide the seedbed for future revelations of the sordid kind that today already shake the international community. These revelations will not merely stop the moment the facts are laid bare about the role played by that agency (the CIA) and Army chiefs headed by general Menéndez in creating the Lodge of Liberators of Latin America. The Lodge has replaced and fulfilled the function of the Triple A death-squadron, until its role in the international stage was taken up by the Junta and its Three Arms.
This portrait of extermination by no means excludes the personal settling of scores, such as the assassination of captain Horacio Gandara, who for a decade went about investigating the businesses of high chiefs of the Navy. This does not exclude the reporter of “Prensa Libre” (Free Press)
Horacio Novillo, stabbed to death and cremated after the newspaper denounced sundry connections between the minister Martínez de Hoz and corporate monopolies.
As these episodes come to light, so does the true and final significance of your definition of the war at hand, as uttered by one of your chiefs: “The struggle that we have unleashed knows neither moral nor natural limits; it unfolds in a realm beyond good and evil”
- These facts that shake the conscience of the civilized world, however, are not the greatest of all torments brought upon the Argentine people to date. These facts are not the worst human rights violations so far incurred by you. It is in your economic policy, where we find not only the explanation of this government’s crimes, but also a larger atrocity punishing millions of human beings with planned misery.
Within a year, you reduced the common wage of the laborers by 40%, diminishing their participation in GDP by 30%, raising work-day from 6 to 18 hours of drudgery required for the income to support a family, This is how your program has resuscitated forms of slave-labor that had long gone extinct, even in the world’s last few remaining colonial outposts.
Wages are frozen and knocked down, while prices soar, past the sky-ward pointing bayonets of your rifles. Coercion abolishes all forms of collective opposition, assemblies and internal committees strictly forbidden, raising the unemployment rate to a record 9% . This you have promised to worsen in official forecasts with 300.000 planned layoffs, as you go about reversing the relations of production back to the beginnings of the machine age. Whenever laborers had attempted protest, you have labeled them as subversives, abducting entire delegations, which in some instances turned up murdered, or otherwise simply never turned up. 
The results of these policies are smoldering devastation. Within the first year of military government, consumption of foods diminished by 40%, that of clothes by 50%, supply of medicines has virtually disappeared from the social layers of the majority. Already we see regions of Greater Buenos Aires where infant mortality surpasses 30%, putting us in the company of Rhodesia, Dahomey or the Guyanas. Diseases such as chronic diarrhea, various parasites and even rabies are reported in peak numbers approximating the worst global rates according to today’s health monitors, in some cases even surpassing known records. These results must appear satisfactory to you, for you have reduced the budget for public health to less than a third of military expenditures, suppressing the free hospitals while thousands of doctors, professionals and technicians join the exodus of jobless created by the terror, by the plummeted salaries or by the policies of ”rationalizing the economy.”
It should suffice to spend a few hours roaming through Greater Buenos Aires to confirm the speed at which these policies have decayed the city outskirts into a shantytown of ten million dwellers.
Suburban cities are half of the time deprived of electricity, entire districts lack running water. Industrial monopolies plunder the subterranean earth-layers for minerals and cement, leaving thousands of housing-blocks collapsed into wasteland, as you care only to pave the streets outside of the military families’ residences, or to decorate and prettify the May Plaza. The world’s largest river is poisoning all its beaches, only because business-partners of the ministry of Martínez de Hoz pour the residual waste of industry into that river. And in the wake of the poison-pouring, the only response your government has taken is to prohibit bathers from swimming.
When it comes to the mishmash of economic abstractions and objectives that you tend to refer to as ”the country”, it seems you have been equally successful. A decline in the GDP sunk until 3%, while an external debt reaches about 600 dollars per inhabitant, at an annual inflation rate of 400%. Production of printed money within one week in December increased by 9%, with a 13% lowering of external investment which also reaches global lows. Strange fruit indeed, that has come of all your cold deliberations, your crude ineptitude.
Nearly all creative and protectionist functions of the State atrophy, unraveling into the utmost decrepitude. Only one arm of the State expands, attaining an autonomous life.
One thousand eight hundred million dollars, the equivalent of nearly half of all Argentinean exports, were assigned to Security and Defense in 1977, four thousand new placements of agents in the Federal Police, twelve thousand in the province of Buenos Aires with salaries that double that of an industrial worker and will triple come February. These numbers forecast there will be no amount of freezes of stagnation or unemployment in the realm of torture and of death, the only camp of Argentinian activity in which the very gross product grows. In the concentration camps, the fixing of rates per head of smashed guerrilla grows quicker than the dollar.
- In its fulfillment of the diktat of the International Monetary Fund, according to the prescription to be applied indiscriminately to either Zaire or Chile, to Uruguay or to Indonesia, the economic policy of this Junta serves only to acknowledge the needs of its chosen beneficiaries. Among these are the old cattle-raising oligarchies, the new speculations-oligarchs and a select group of international monopolies headed by Esso, ITT, the automotive groups, U.S. Steel, Siemens, all of whom have personal ties to Martínez de Hoz and all his members of cabinet.
An increase of 772% in the prices of animal produce (meat and leather) in 1976 encapsulates the very magnitude of the restoration of the oligarchical minorities’ power. This follows from the initiatives of Martínez de Hoz in collusion with the creed of land-owning Rural Society organization, as exposed by the organization’s president Celedonio Pereda: “It astonishes, how a handful of tiny yet very active groups continue insisting that food-prices need to be affordable.”
In the spectacle of the Stock Exchange, it is possible within one week for some to profit by a hundred or two hundred per cent without working; where corporations were able to double their capital overnight without producing more output than before, as the mad fortune wheel rolls in speculations in dollars, in signs, in adjustable values, in plain usury that has already pre-calculated its interest rates on loans by the hour. How curious are these results of the self-described anti-corruption government that came along promising to put an end to ”the banquet-party of the corrupt”
Denationalization of the banks has placed savings and national credit in the hands of foreign bankers. With the indemnification of the ITT and the Siemens corporations, rewards go to the same companies that scammed the State. Even while closing down their plants, the profits of Shell and Esso increase. By giving rebates and free passes from the customs tariffs, they create jobs in Hong Kong and in Singapore and massive unemployment in Argentina. Before the mass of these facts, you, the self-proclaimed nationalists, may ask yourselves who are these “anti-patriots”, those ‘’without fatherland’’ condemned in the blaring official propaganda.
In the light of these facts, ask yourselves: who are the real mercenaries at the behest of foreign interests adverse to those of the country? Whose is the ideology that truly threatens the national being you swore to defend in your solemn cries?
A barrage of propaganda (that deforming mirror of wicked facts) claims this Junta to be a securer of peace, and appoints Videla as a defender of human rights, while praising admiral Massera for his sheer love of life. If that propaganda machine were not in place to pour its noise, silencing all reason and access to the truth, then it might have been possible to ask the Commanders in Chief of the Three Arms that they may meditate upon the abyss they have dug. It is the chasm towards which they are driving this country. They claim to be steering the country towards victory in a war they are winning. That war and its imminent victory are illusions. For after even having killed the last guerrilla fighter, resistance would only be fermented anew in other forms
The source of what has motivated resistance from the Argentine people, for more than the past twenty years, will not have disappeared after the last guerrilla fighter is executed: their urgency will only be intensified, by the memory of the strife and devastation, and by the revelation of atrocities that you have committed.
The above are my thoughts on the first anniversary of your infamous government, and I seek to ensure the transmission of my thoughts to the members of this Junta, without any hope of being heard. Although I am certain that I will be persecuted, I am also faithful to the commitment I made a long time ago, the commitment to bear witness in the difficult hours.
Rodolfo Walsh. – Citizen Identity number: 2845022
Buenos Aires, March 24 1977
*This preface and translation by Desimone was first published in Democracia Abierta, on December 6th 2016 at https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/arturo-desimone/lesson-from-argentina-in-times-of-trump
 The Peronist leader Jorge Lizaso was skinned alive; Mario Amaya, a former deputy of the Civic Radicals Union party, beaten to death by batons; the ex-deputy Muniz Barreto beaten until his neck broke. A survivor testified: “electrode prods were attached to the arms, the hands, thighs, near the mouth each and every time I prayed or cried…Every twenty minutes they opened the door and told me that they would turned into ground meat with a machine they had, a saw-machine I could hear through the walls”
 An exact version appears in this letter from the inmates of the ”Carcel de los Encausados” Prison to the bishop of Cordoba, Monsignor Primatesta: “On May 17th, inmates taken away after being told they were going to the medical center. They were executed. This is regarding Miguel Angel Mosse, Jose Svagusa, Dina Fidelman, Luis Veron, Ricardo Yung, Eduardo Hernandez, while the report of the Third Body of the Army claimed they died in an escape-attempt. On May 29th, the inmates Jose Puchetta and Carlos Sgadurra are taken away. The latter was punished until he could no longer stand, suffering fractured limbs. Both turned up dead later, also executed in an escape-attempt.
 During the first 15 days of the military government, 63 corpses appeared, according to the newspapers. An annual estimate of the number of those killed is 1500. Reason to believe that the figure had doubled is founded upon how, from January of 1976 onwards the journalistic information is incomplete and because of the overall intensification of repression after the coup. An alternative, comparable estimate of deaths produced by the military junta are as follows: deaths in combat: 600. Executions: 1300. Secret executions: 2000. Various: 100. Total: 4000
 From a letter by Isías Zanotti, distributed by ANCLA, Clandestine News Agency.
 “Radio show” directed between July and December 1976 by the brigade-man Mariani, chief of the First Area Brigade of Palomar. They used the Fokker F-27 airplanes.
 Chancellor vice-admiral Guzzeti in a report published by “La Opinion” on 3.10.76, admitting that ”right-wing terrorism is not terrorism, it is an antibody, an immune system reaction.”
 General Prats, last minister of the army of president Allende in Chile killed by a bomb in September of 1974. The bullet-sprayed bodies of Uruguayan ex-parliamentarians Michelini and Gutierrez-Ruiz, appeared on 2.5..76. The corpse of general Torres, ex-president of Bolivia, appeared on 2.6.76, after the minister of Interior and ex police-commissioner under Isabel Martinez, general Harguindeguy, accused him of ”simulating” his own kidnapping.
 Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Ildebrando Pascarelli, according to “La Razón” newspaper printed 12.6.76. Chief of Artillery Group 1 of Ciudadela. Pascarelli is presumed responsible for 33 executions between January 5th and February 3rd 1977
 Union of Swiss Banks, reported June 1976.
 Clarín newspaper.
 Among the sequestered national Peronist leaders were Mario Aguirre of the ATE, Jorge Di Pasquale of Pharmacists’ Union, Oscar Smith of Luz y Fuerza. The kidnappings and murders of union-delegates have particularly affected the metal-workers and naval workers.
By Arturo Desimone
(this essay first appeared in a bilingual publication in Democracia Abierta, the Latin American views section of OpenDemocracy.)