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The War on Memory Begins in Argentina

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Within less than a month of the inauguration of the new Macri/Cambiemos government in Argentina, the new leadership, or gestión (management) as they prefer to be called, acted in a great sweeping hurry. Argentine congress, full of opposition parliamentarians from the Frente Para la Victoria Party that lost the presidential race by 2% of the vote, was closed for the summer holidays that take place in the ardent month of December, as much of the urban population of Argentina seeks to carelessly flock to the seaside.

Big layoffs, and new laws drafted to criminalize the protests against layoffs, coincided with the battle to close down as many cultural centres as possible. The first obvious target was the Nestor Kirchner Cultural centre, where theatre and music shows were provided for free with the intent of giving the poor and working classes access to high culture. More ominously, a battle is taking place to shut down the Haroldo Conti Centre for Memory, a cultural centre and museum built inside the former torture and disappearance centre, the ESMA, which functioned during the 1970s as a secret concentration camp. The Haroldo Conti centre is named after a lyrical Argentine novelist and prose essayist who, like the non-fiction writer and militant Rodolfo Walsh and the surrealist poet Miguel Angel Bustos, were among the writers who were murdered in targeted assassinations during the last regime period of the country. An absurd-seeming executive order from Macri also commanded the change of the images on the currency: using images typical Argentine wild animals to replace the human faces of past Argentine presidents, whether of the political right (often genocidal, Custer-type 19th century rulers like Roca) as well as of the political left (the face of Eva Peron, which was minted on the 100 peso bill by command of Kirchner-era treasurers) The measure of readapting the currency is called part of the ‘’de-ideologization’’ of the national money. Part of the campaign of de-ideologization, or of ideological purification, was the use of executive presidential power to take the first political prisoners in Argentina since the apparition of Democracy in the mid-1980s. The Jujuyan indigenous activist Milagro Salas is incarcerated for enacting the right to protest, a right formerly defended in the Argentine constitution before Macri’s hurried amendments which he enforced while Congress and the courts closed for summer holidays (arriving in December in the Southern hemisphere).

To ornament the structured erosion of memory and freedom of thought, a statement was issued by Dario Lopérfido—the new minister of culture—announcing that the numbers of the disappeared in Argentina had been exaggerated by leftists in order for them to extort subsidies and money from the state. Lopérfido insisted in articles, press conferences and twitter and facebook feeds that the real number was somewhere around 12000 and not 30,000 disappeared persons.

No Two Demons

‘’From the one, two, from the two, the ten thousand, many things’’ – Lao Tze

Long before the Culture Minister’s statements of revisionism, the Human rights groups such as HIJOS and the May Plaza Mothers’ Association have confronted the newly arisen Cambiemos government led my Mauricio Macri. They accuse Macri’s ministers of attempting the resurrection of ‘’two demons theory.’’

The “theory of the Two Demons’’ in Argentina refers to a notion advanced by Argentinian conservatism, gospel of those who favor a historical revisionist account towards the dirty war of the 1970s.

It is claimed by apologists that both the guerrillas and those persecuted by the state for ‘’subversion’’, as well as the officials who enforced policies of abduction and execution, were victims, that both were equally guilty of having been carried away by the momentum of the 1970s. Insisting on a relativized, dualistic view of the 1970s era, or a ‘’leveling of accounts’’ the Manichean-sounding paradigm absolves criminals by stating ‘’everyone committing bestial crimes’’  The apologetics are designed to reduce history to a banal consensus, while freedoms are rescinded and an official amnesia sets in. Such amnesia is much desired by the Latin American beneficiaries of the 1970s regimes, who saw a successful and enviable model in post-Francist Spain’s democracy, wherein history and historical consciousness were effectively buried to promote a peace (one that would welcome the administrative, post-political dogmas of the European Union, with its EU austerity and immigration policies serving a model admired by Macri).

The current Argentinian president, his Minister of culture and an array pundits have long preached a despairing remedy for ‘’too much memory’’ in Argentina. Apparently such romantic times as the regime years caused all to overstep boundaries of polite conduct and the washing of accounts is desired. More urgent than any debts to the aging mothers of the disappeared (all of them smeared as extortionists by the current government) is Macri’s rush to pay off as many hedge funds as possible.

The 1970s are represented as faraway, foggily remembered strings of events in forlorn modernist antiquity, alien to the civilized conventions the new century. “Cannot we all just get along?” was asked often by Mauricio Macri since his days as Buenos Aires mayor. Then he was eager to dispatch police violence even against the workers and inmates of the La Borda mental hospital in 2013, when the staff and patients picketed against austerity and in order to preserve their recreational facilities.

‘’Two demons’’ rhetoric sounds like Manicheanism, and calls for baptism in amnesiac liquidity. It is proposed by the current Minister of Culture Lopérfido, as well as by the leading tele-talk-show pundits such as Jorge Lanata, who is a widely read and disseminated celebrity championed by a large sector of the Argentinian upper middle class. A more crass expression that exemplified the culture of such advocates goes’’ borrón y cuenta nueva, “to wipe the slate clean and make new accounts’’ preparing for new administration. The administrative mantra burst onto stage during 1990s neoliberal euphoria in Argentina. An expression like ”borrón y cuenta nueva”, (explored in the historian Marguerite Feitlowitz’ book “A Lexicon of Terror” about the dirty war years) quite literally called for tabula rasa erosion of memory, once endurable when there was a more rampant consumption life-style during the years of the Carlos Menem presidency.

It is clear by now which grievances are tended to by the new government. In January of this year, the Cambiemos (‘’let’s change’’) government erected a conference for apparent ‘’victims of the guerrilla’’ The committee convened while the government declared its war on numerous museums and memorial centres such as the Haroldo Conti cultural centre. For opinion-makers such as Lanata, the national trauma has nothing to do with the 20.000 laid off civil servants, some of whom were wounded by rubber bullets when they used their constitutional right to protest. Those are merely ‘’vagrants’’ and ‘’lackeys’’ who had catered to social programs such as offering health-inspections for prostitutes and kits with new baby-care products for the poorest families in the country. A warfare by the progress-loving manager against bureaucracy and the hated civil servant, part of the anthem and global religious creed of Management, feeds the strange progress-rhetoric of the New Right. Not only cutting down on public spending serves to make the economy more ‘competitive’. The evisceration of memory, and the lightness brought about by amnesia are inherent parts of the programme of applying ‘’shock-doctrine’’ to a country that, even by neoliberal and Chicago-Boys criteria, is not now in the kind of crisis theoretically requiring shock-doctrine.

Among the main targets for Cambiemos’ revising pen is the rampant ‘’overdose of memory’’ that occurred during the first decade of the 21st century, and for which Cambiemos offers a hopeful long syringe, of perhaps-infinite relaxation.

The Banality of Management

Argentinean intellectuals have long declared a perhaps overstated affinity for French ideas. Such a proclivity looking towards either European or North American intellectual designs has often led to the mystification and neglect of Latin American and Third World realities—this is often criticized with a depth of psychological insight by the Argentine-Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussel, who developed his theories (closely linked to Liberation Theology) during the hardships of his exile from Argentina after enduring assassination-attempts in the 1970s.

Despite a justified weariness towards importing more French paradigms, there is reason to celebrate the recent translations of the works of Pierre Legendre, a philosopher who goes through great pains to expose the fundamentalist creed of management as a global superstition that glorifies the administrators of privatized public life as a force of progress and anti-conservatism.  Macri’s government, his credos of management-versus-bureaucracy, the pretension of being free from ideology or dogma, and the disregard for any kind of tradition, culture or memory in favour of ‘’the new’’ seems to prove the theory (observed by the philosopher Legendre and other, non-Francophone radicals) of management as a dangerous global fundamentalism with recognizable traits.

The method of ‘’de-ideologization’’ referred to by Cambiemos utilizes the language of administration or management, in Spanish ‘’gestion,’’ in order to pretend to a swaggering efficiency of fluid technological order.   They speak as progressives, but their understanding of the word ‘’progressive’’ is more closely aligned to what it means in the European Union countries than the connotations of the word progre in Argentina (here progresista means a militant class-consciousness, support for social programs to include the marginalized, the poor, minorities, prostitutes and so forth, and the beginnings of a foundling welfare-state or workers’ state based on Neo-Keynesian capitalism.)

The struggle to make the Argentine society more competitive by massive cuts to public spending, is in essence not very different from the kind of explanations giving by Euro-commission leaders like Juncker or Jeroen Dijsselbloem when they discuss the austerity-measures and the deliberate break-down of Greek society (the comparison holds except for the nuance, of Greece not having elected Dijsselbloem or Juncker. The electoral situation in Argentina, saw many of the poor and disenfranchised convinced by the PR machinery and colourful campaigning of the right wing. The Clarin media monopoly proved itself capable of an engine of such stunning power that it seems to have determined the three electable candidates of all parties: Scioli of the Front for Victory, Massa of the A+ party, and Macri of Cambiemos, all of them outspoken neoliberals.)

Perfidious Lopérfido: Ignorance is Strength

Despite criminalization, rubber and plastic bullets, the marches or demonstrations continue to sound discontent. One of these marches includes the vociferous protest asking for the resignation of the new Minister of Culture (!) Dario Lopérfido after his coming out as a historical revisionist, stating his denial of the disappearances. Lopérfido’s insistence ‘’there were no 30.000 disappeared, the activists made that number up to get subsidies’’ infuriated the May Plaza Mothers who demand his resignation.

The regime period for which the Ministry of Culture seeks prettification, if not an institutional nostalgia, was a time of devouring that eliminated the foundations of a once-vibrant Argentine society. The  regime of the coup targeted, specifically, the most talented and outstanding young people: only to abduct them, and to execute them only after the mycelium-network of torture chambers made people as young as 17 or 21 understand how there are many fates far worse than merely death.

Organizations like HIJOS and the Mothers of the May Plaza spoke out in revolt against the erosion of memory, publishing letters of recrimination in the newspaper and organizing petitions. Immediately they were shamed and insulted by public opinion-makers. The association of the bereaved insisted that such a denial from the Minister of Culture was an affront to the moral core of Argentina’s society and democracy.  Lopérfido has not withdrawn his statements against these “whiners’’, mothers robbed of their children, in a Latin American culture where the dignity of the elderly and of the family matriarch are still honoured and glorified, despite the ethos of management seeking the erosion of this culture. “Who cares what sad old women in white head-kerchiefs want’’ is the brazen response of the new neoliberal-administrative and technocratic order. Lead PR-spokesperson Lanata, who invoked the right of free speech, maintained a skeptical stance of punkish rebellion towards commission of mothers, who use the disbelieved discourse of human rights—an alienating concept, which president Macri himself has been known to refer to as a ‘’shake-down’’ or a ‘’trick.” In the flurry of front-page articles in Clarin as well as television statements, with floundering gesticulations Lanata insisted the Mothers do not speak for ‘’society’’ and do not represent ‘’society’’. Here again, Lanata reveals himself to be staunchly Thatcherite. No friend to either the Argentinian right or left wing, Margaret Thatcher had once insisted that ‘’there is no such thing as society, there only individuals and there are families” Families that consume and individualized before televisions and apparatus-screens, atomized from one another. A form of home-bred Neo-Thatcherism suits the paradigms of the new government: society consists of Lanata’s primetime television viewers, not of the mothers of a disappeared generation of nonconformists, of the exceptional and assassinated future of Argentina.

Islands of Forgetfulness and Sargasso

A tiny few points of convergence or agreement on any political issue exist between the many factions of left and right in Argentina, with one of the exceptions being the Malvinas. The writer Jorge Luis Borges’ original proposal was for both the British and Argentina to donate the islands to Bolivia, so that the latter Andean country would at last have access to the sea that it lost during a war. Perhaps Borges’ subversively unpatriotic answer remains the most sympathetic, though it pertains to a time when it was presumed by many Argentinians that the islands possessed few natural resources of great value; Malvinas were written off by some skeptics as purely a sentimental cause for the swollen patriots until the wars between the junta and the British in the 1980s, leaving an indelible wound upon the country because of the young soldiers killed or damaged in the skirmish.

Across the spectrum of Argentine politics, from Catholic Nationalism to Peronism and the Marxist left, there has predominated an insistence that the Malvinas islands are rightfully Argentinian, despite the British settlement of the ‘kelpers’ that expelled the original Argentine inhabitants in the early 20th century. Macri, then, is an outstanding exception, as the first Neo-Thatcherite of Argentinian politics: he made history with having nodded through the Davos conference at David Cameron’s adamance that the Falklands are British territory. It seems the Tory plans for the Falklands have greater adversaries in the UK than within Cambiemos, to the dismay of Argentines across the ideological and class spectrum.  The islands are in the fog of de-ideologization’s planned oblivion, even if Jeremy Corbyn wins the forthcoming British elections and will enact his promises of returning the isles, he will meet with an indifference that might likely enrage a large cross-section of Macri’s diminishing supporters.

This article originally appeared on OpenDemocracy.net.

Arturo Desimone is a writer, poet and visual artist currently based between Argentina and the Netherlands. He was born and raised on the island Aruba, a son of immigrants and exiles. A book of his poems, La Amada de Túnez, is forthcoming from the Argentinian poetry publisher Audisea Libros. His poems short fiction pieces and translations have appeared in literary journals such as The Adirondack Review, Blue Lyra Review, CounterPunch Poets Basement and Drunken Boat.

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