FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Ghost of General Videla

by

I think the 1978 World Cup is one of the deep wounds of Argentine society.

– Norberto Liwski, former political prisoner, ESPN, Jun 9, 2014

As the elimination phase of the Football World Cup unfolds in Brazil, the political slant on such events is hard to resist.  Sporting events on such a scale are political promotions and projections.  Brazil’s own government was thrilled about obtaining the tournament, so much so that it ran up the bills, raised the cost of transportation, and imposed a series of near draconian measures for population control.

The return of the World Cup to South America has a wafting smell of regret and denial to it.  When it was staged in 1978 in Argentina, the country was being bled and controlled by the military junta of General Jorge Rafael Videla.  All in the name of order; all in the name of pride.

The local boys did not disappoint the general.  The remarkable Mario Kempes, along with the mercurial midfielder Osvaldo Ardiles and such figures as Ricardo Villa, won the tournament. The football could at stages be beautiful; Kempes, a gangly creature of beauty who proved lethal with his golden boot; Ardiles controlling play with mesmerising potency.

For all their efforts, they could not help but be marionettes of the military junta, the playthings of a brutal regime which expended an exorbitant amount on hosting the tournament.  The amount, by one estimate, was eighteen times more than that of West Germany in 1974.  Nothing would be spared.

Kempes, along with his team mates, denied knowledge about the sanguinary antics of the military regime.  The captain of the side, Daniel Passarella, who received the trophy from General Videla himself, now claims that, had he known about the gross human rights violations, a refusal to participate in the World Cup would have been made.

Just a thousand metres from the famed River Plate stadium lay one of the largest torture and detention centres of the dictatorship, so busy it saw some four thousand inmates processed by the torture machine.  The military regime had many such centres – some 340 in operation during its time in power.   While football was being played on the pitch, torture was being practised off it. Indeed, prisoners at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) could hear both screams of pleasure in the Stadium and pain of torture being inflicted in the complex.

Such is the perversion of tribal ritual than Argentina’s victory over The Netherlands could even divide political prisoners.  The home side had been used as a weapon, and everyone was feeling it, both as toxic revelation and terrible deception.

Between 1976 and 1983, the systematic campaign of forced disappearances and brutality waged against union members, members of the left, and political opponents of the regime left between 15,000 to 30,000 dead.  1978 served as a centrepiece of apologia and promotion – a regime that could not be all that bad if it was enthusiastic about a game Argentineans played rather well.  Such a point was sufficiently noted when the revered football magazine, El Gráfico, ran an interview with Videla suggesting that the junta leader, not Kempes, had been the instrumental figure in winning the World Cup (Play the Game, Jun 28, 2003).

It was not merely the Argentine side playing in a simulated darkness of denial, a desperate illusion where football could transcend the moment as an act of possession over and above politics.  The Dutch, who reached the 1978 finals and lost 3-1 to the hosts, were hardly squeaky in their political cleanliness.  The Netherlands proved to be an investor of some worth during the Dirty War era.  The Dutch ambassador Van den Brandeler went so far as to claim that General Videla was a man of honour.  How far had countries fallen to court the military regime.

The history of the two countries continue to mingle – the father of Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, Jorge Zorreguieta, was one of the longest serving civilian ministers in Argentina’s military dictatorship.  In 1976, when the military coup was initiated, Zorreguieta led the Rural Society, a conservative organisation representing landowning interests.  He proceeded to head up the agricultural portfolio in the ministry.

Such links did lead the Dutch Parliament to commission historian Michiel Baud to examine possible links to human rights violations.  Lawyers also got busy.  What were the sins of that father?  While the investigation did not unearth any direct link, Baud did suggest that, as “director of ‘Sociedad Rural’, [Zorreguieta] was part of the group of people that at least stimulated the coup, and its significant that he stayed with the dictatorship for a whole five years, until Videla himself left the government” (News OK, Feb 3, 2013).  Hard to get off an accelerating train once you are on it.

For such reasons, the 1986 Argentine World Cup victory in Mexico, spearheaded by Diego Maradona, remains lionised and mythologised.  The efforts of Kempes and his team are inconspicuous footnotes, suggesting a form of forgetting in the face of pain. The resurfacing of some of these dark habits in Brazil prior to and during the tournament, though the poorest of imitations relative to Videla, suggest that the police state, with its stifling tentacles, remains more than mere history.  Football remains both game and code, a crude weapon, and an intoxicant.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
Ellen Brown
“We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
John Stauber
The Rise and Fall of Obamacare: Will the Inside Story Ever be Told?
Ted Rall
Ameri-Splaining
Michael J. Sainato
Mainstream Media Continues Absolving Itself From Clinton, Trump Election Failures
Ralph Nader – Mark Green
Divest or Face Impeachment: an Open Letter to Donald Trump
Gareth Porter
US Airstrikes on Syrian Troops: Report Data Undermine Claim of “Mistake”
Martha Burke
What Trumponomics Means for Women
Ramzy Baroud
Fatah, Hold Your Applause: Palestinian Body Politic Rotten to the Core
Steve Horn
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General Pick, Introduced First Bill Exempting Fracking from Drinking Water Rules
Joe Ware
The Big Shift: Why Banks Need to Stop Investing Our Money Into Fossil Fuels
Juliana Barnet
On the Ground at Standing Rock
Franklin Lamb
Aleppo Update: An Inspiring Return to the Bombed Out National Museum
Steve Kelly
Hidden Harmony: on the Perfection of Forests
December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewal of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail