FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Ghost of General Videla

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

 

 

 

More articles by:

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring: Politics of the People
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
Jefferson Morley
On JFK, Tulsi Gabbard Keeps Very Respectable Company
Vijay Prashad
Standing Up for Left Literature: In India, It Can Cost You Your Life
Gary Leupp
Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?
Ron Jacobs
The Young Lords: Luchadores Para La Gente
Richard Klin
Loss Leaders
Gaither Stewart
Roma: How Romans Differ From Europeans
Kerron Ó Luain
The Soviet Century
Mike Garrity
We Can Fireproof Homes But Not Forests
Fred Baumgarten
Gaslighting Bernie and His Supporters
Joseph Essertier
Our First Amendment or Our Empire, But Not Both
Peter Linebaugh
A Story for the Anthropocene
Danny Sjursen
Where Have You Gone Smedley Butler?
Jill Richardson
A Broken Promise to Teachers and Nonprofit Workers
Binoy Kampmark
“Leave Our Bloke Alone”: A Little Mission for Julian Assange
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail