Buenos Aires Notebook

 

by Gaither Stewart

 

These accounts, articles, observations, ideas, impressions, and sensations were recorded between September 27 and November 30, 2006, in Buenos Aires. From the outset I should make clear that this “notebook”, as I have called this writing, is as much about myself as it is about this city that I am experiencing again after two brief visits here decades ago. For in the interim, both of us, the city and I, have undergone dramatic transformations: I have ended a journalistic life and entered the world of fiction and fantasy; Argentina has made a journey though hell and back, which to its people must now seem as unreal as my fiction. 

 

Several reasons interacted to suggest the idea of Buenos Aires for this jaunt. The choice derived chiefly from my desire to leave Italy and Europe behind me, but also from my mounting fear that my Eurocentric infection will become incurable and that I stand to lose the rest of the world. Centrism is a dangerous and slippery devil. In your lifetime you can hold onto the center—by center here I mean mainstream life—desperately, getting to know everything there is to know about it, become a specialist, or a historian, and come to feel no need for imagination. Or—again there is that nefarious either/or—you can search for the edge, hopelessly, for out there on the perimeter you never really know anything except that the real center of life is there. The wild and mysterious unknown beyond the edge entices you, but the magnetic center reassures you and comforts your rebellious spirit. Yet the fact is the earth’s center keeps moving, shifting, changing, so that I wonder if … no, I am convinced—at least sometimes I’m convinced—that there is no center. The point is important. Maybe there was once a fixed center, let’s say back at the beginning of human time, in Africa. But then, surprise, that center didn’t last. Ultimately a new center arrived, China. Then there was the center Egypt, then Greece and Rome and Europe. Then, at last arrived the Americas. Each believed it was the center. But the center, an accumulative affair, has turned out to be also elusive, a point which modern man in his short life can no longer pinpoint with any precision.

For who am I anyway, in this universe of shifting mainstream centers? Objectively, I mean, who am I really, drifting out here on the rim, as compared to Man of the uncertain center, who is in reality my Doppelgänger? I could never get used to life in his world, in the center, nor he to mine. I am awkward in there, clumsy. I touch it and begin to itch and feel I am falling, falling back into 60,000 years of centers.

For example, I do not feel American anymore. Perhaps I cannot become not American; yet, only by chance was I born there and for decades I have not been at home there. Though I might feel more European, I am not European either. And even if I were, so what? Does one have to be of somewhere? In a limited sense I belong to many places. As do many of us. I have taken something from and left part of myself in most of the places I have lived: much of me is in Asheville where I grew up, something in Washington and Berkeley where I studied, much remained in Germany and Holland where I lived many years, some curiosity I left in Iran, a piece of me in Mexico, something more in New York where I stopped for two years, and a bit of myself will always be in Paris. I miss those places. I also miss places I have never been. Just as with the disappearance of a loved person, when a relationship with a place ends incomplete, the sensation of the loss is powerful. I will always feel that sense of incompleteness about Russia. For all my places I feel both sadness at their loss and melancholy at their absence, and I hope they will return.

So the question is not only, Who am I? But also, Where do I really belong? Somewhere, nowhere, everywhere? To get answers you have to extend your feelers in all directions ... and hope. Meanwhile, I have begun hoping there is a place from which I can see the world better and also get a better view of myself. It is like a search for Lost Paradise. Maybe for Eden … or for a Shangri La. Or maybe the re-found innocence we all search for. That question, that search, is constant and ever present in my life, maybe in all our lives. My secret hope may be that there is another life waiting, one where I will know where I belong. Passage through this life is like a continuous reaching out for immortality. For you never know who you will be in your next life. I might be reborn as a Russian or an African or, who knows, as an Argentinean. It’s always good to know the places and people you might be part of later.

I see Argentina, in another hemisphere at the other end of the earth, as mysterious … but accessible. I came here because I wanted to see the world from here, from another angle, let’s say, neither from the European nor the North American perspective. And I should say at the start that the world indeed looks very different from this angle … from “down here.” Or up here! For instance, it is surprising to stop on a Buenos Aires street pointing north and recall that for another eight thousand kilometers straight ahead most everyone is speaking Spanish. Well, except for Brazilians! That realization seems to turn the world upside down. And, for some brief moments it allows me to see also myself from that different angle. Such experiences can literally take your breath away.

More mundanely, in my journalistic mode, I should add that because of historical analogies with the authoritarianism in the United States today, I have also wanted to try to understand how the brutal military dictatorship came about in Argentina bringing with it the terrible international word it gave birth too—desaparecidos.

 

So once again I am back in Buenos Aires. On arrival only vague memories of this Paris-like South American city remained. In fact Mexico, where I once lived for a year or so, seems much more Latin America than does Argentina. It is a paradox that when you cross the U.S.-Mexican border at the Rio Grande, you drive across the short International Bridge at Laredo, Texas and step directly into another world; yet, you fly fourteen hours from Rome to Buenos Aires and you feel Europe. Octavio Paz noted that Mexico is much more Spanish than the rest of Latin America because it never succeeded in attracting European immigrants as did Argentina. If Argentina, for me, is in some ways nearly Europe, or so it seemed on my arrival, it is not so for Argentineans. At the most, Argentina is ex-Europe. It is nostalgia for a former Europe, for a non-existent Europe that continues to live in some peoples’ fantasy.

Nonetheless Argentina is a people of immigrants, Spanish, Italians and Germans, a country of European stock that was once most proud of its Frenchness, where, as in Tsarist Russia, it was considered sophisticated to speak French in the haute bourgeoisie. Today however, and unlike Italian-Americans in New York proud to be Italians, even a second generation Italian here says that he is Argentinean but his father was Italian. Intellectuals are extremely concerned with the nation’s Argentinidad, with the sense of being Argentineans, something reaching deeper than the nation’s symbols of gauchos and tango and soccer madness and the Argentinean’s sense of nostalgia and melancholy. The underlying issue in my mind, though denied by Argentineans with whom I have spoken about it, is Argentina’s final break with and its uprootedness from its European heritage.

That European heritage is most evident in the part of Buenos Aires where I am living, in an apartment in the barrio of Recoleta, an area of elegant hotels and sumptuous apartment buildings, Armani and Dior boutiques where prices are quoted in US dollars, art galleries and museums and cafés on many corners where British-like Argentineans go for tea at 5 p.m. and many policemen patrol the streets to protect the wealthy. Entrances to Recoleta apartment buildings are discreet, brass doors, dark red carpets, concierges dressed in black. People here in the city speak softly, more discreet than Italians, more like Parisians.

Much construction and restoration work is going on along my street as in most of the Western world. Traffic in this zone is constant and heavy and consists to a great extent of omnipresent black and yellow taxis that never stop. Nearby is the monumental Cementerio de Recoleta where lie many Argentine notables including Eva “Evita” Perón and Nicolas Rodriguez Peña, one of the forgers of Argentine independence for whom my street is named. Lunching outside on the verandah of the famous Café La Biela (an automobile piston rod), under the spreading branches of the internationally known, 18th century Ombú, a plant like, umbrella-shaped tree, native to the Pampas, you can watch the beautiful people of well-to-do Buenos Aires come and go. Though this was once the café of the automobile racing crowd, hence its name, it was also a café frequented by Jorge Luis Borges and two generations of intellectuals and artists. Today it is the café of chic Buenos Aires and well-to-do Latin American tourists.

I was not surprised that the 2006 version of Buenos Aires at La Biela shows no visible effects of the economic crisis the nation has recently emerged from. When a few years ago many stores were closed in Buenos Aires, the Argentine rich shopped in Miami and New York. The rich class—which interests me less than it should—suffers little from the ups and downs of the national economy anywhere, while the young middle class here masks its economic survival problems behind its irrepressible joie de vivre.

Naturally the poor do not sit at tables in La Biela; the miserable class is begging on the streets, and frequently they are mestizos.

One debates today if Argentina is really a rich country? Perhaps because of the barrage of government propaganda about the economic miracle with an annual 8% increase of its GNP many Argentineans are convinced it is true. But skeptics charge it is a false wealth, a legend perpetuated since the end of the XIX century by ranchers and landholders. In any case the apparent recovery seems tenuous since it is dependent on an under-valued peso on one hand and artificial wage and price controls on the other. From my brief experience, Argentina’s wealth is quite subjective; it depends on whether you are rich or poor.

Yet, underneath, also this rich generation sitting here enjoying the Argentine spring sun must be scarred, confirmed by an ongoing national debate about crime and punishment. It is scarred by the moral crisis of the years of the last dictatorship from 1976-1983. People of this rich barrio for example, like many Germans after WWII, must be uncertain about what went wrong in a nation that permitted the horror of at least thirty thousand desaparecidos, the emigration of many more, and the moral degeneration of the nation the terror engendered. These days I have read in the national press about the significance of the scarred or the missing generation of those who thirty years ago were twenty. Though Beautiful Buenos Aires wants to come to terms with that past, it is an elusive operation. Who is guilty of what seems to be an open question. These are matters that Americans too must be pondering concerning their own regime. Since America and now again Europe have their scarred generations, the Argentine experience is worth examining in more detail. I suspect, rather I hope, Americans too are going to discuss someday crime and punishment, guilt and the moral crisis.

 

Original Spanish settlers wanted to create a European city around the great natural port on the Rio de la Plata. Greedy colonialists were cruel, as have been all colonialists down through history. Despite America’s thesis of “exporting democracy,” claims by the likes of Italian neo-Fascist leader Gianfranco Fini about the “good of bringing civilization to savages,” and the French boast that their “colonialism was not the worst,” there has been little altruism in colonialism. The same goes for the good Christian missionaries for whose support the Baptist churches of my youth campaigned. But those sixteenth century colonialists in the Rio de la Plata made no such altruistic claims. They wanted neither to assimilate the men they found here, nor to be assimilated; they wanted gold and silver. Nothing has changed since: that familiar incentive remains fixed in the dna of power in every corner of the world.

The Spanish settlers succeeded, conveniently annihilating the natives along the way, or so they believed, and established a European city. Today one-fourth of Argentina’s forty million people live in Greater Buenos Aires, three million of them in the city itself, making it one of the major urban centers in the world. Buenos Aires is a concentrate of Argentina as Paris is of France. The problems of the nation are the problems of Buenos Aires. The problems of Buenos Aires are the problems of the nation.

 

La Recoleta   

In my first days here I walked methodically the limits of the barrio of La Recoleta, a city within the city. Anyone can check its history on the internet where it occupies page after page: it developed from farms to the neighborhood of nineteenth century rich escaping yellow fever farther south in the port city. I walked its limits, cutting through the sprawling city by instinct. Sometimes, in the maze of streets that leave off and then pick up again in unexpected prolongations, I suddenly arrive back where I started from. In the old times Italian ocean navigators called it avanzare di ritorno or, advance by return. I don’t know if they learned it. They just knew.

Tales abound about Recoleta. There are the ghosts of Recoleta in films. Another tale is still in progress: in early 2006 someone began poisoning the big healthy dogs of the big healthy rich of the district. As on New York’s Upper East Side, dog walkers herd around teams of Recoleta’s schizophrenic dogs, huddling together, streaks of panic in their unseeing eyes, resembling economy class passengers boarding an international flight. Thirteen of the rich dogs died. The media documented the ensuing debate about who and why: Class revenge against the Recoleta rich? Canine-phobic rich getting back at dog lovers who don’t gather up the copious shit of their pampered pets?

Recoleta could be Paris or Madrid or the Upper East Side in New York. White skins predominate. Though officially less than three percent of Argentina’s population is of indigenous descent and though a majority of people in plush north Buenos Aires are of European stock, the number of apparent mestizos in the chic barrios of Recoleta and Palermo and Belgrano at first surprised me. No more! As in New York City, the mestizos are here to serve the rich: they are the cashiers in the Disco and Norte supermarkets and the ubiquitous construction workers, many illegal Bolivians and Peruvians, ogling the passing women.

In my first week I walked to the Retiro train station to take a look. I have loved train stations since the old station in Asheville when I was a boy whispered to me of faraway places. Wherever I go I visit them, for it is at train stations that one best sees the cross sections of a country. I found them in big numbers at Retiro Station: the Indios and mestizos, the half-breeds and quarter-breeds. Maybe some were Bolivians or Peruvians or Indios from Brazil but I believe most were Argentineans.

 In my daily wandering around the huge city I find that a great number of persons here have certain particular but elusive features—a mysterious square facial structure and thick cheekbones—which I believe are traces of their North Asian period that followed the diaspora of the first men from Africa, the original mother and motherland of all of us.

I am on the qui vive for what links us. I hope to pinpoint someday the prototype of Man that must exist somewhere, the Man who is my brother. I continually search for the Man in whom I believe we all converge. On the plane from Rome to Buenos Aires, sitting among Argentineans, I distinguished in many faces what I told myself were the features of that original Man. Inexplicably those features were especially prominent in the faces of white-skinned women … our mothers. I had the bizarre thought that they were perhaps all sisters.

Therefore in my first days in Buenos Aires I intensified my search, convinced that I would soon see the original Man.

I stop in crowds and peer into passing faces and sometimes I believe I see Him.

There He is! There is Man!

The man from Siberia who never faltered, who, once He crossed the straits, never deviated from his southern course toward the bottom of the world, who filtered southwards, down down down the still unnamed continent until He became the real “indigenous” Man, the first man in Argentina, who magically survived the Spanish invasion and the mass extermination. Again and again He mixed with the new blood arriving in waves from Europe. He both assimilated his Spanish executioner and was himself secretly assimilated.

Every October 12 Argentineans mark the arrival of the Spanish five centuries ago on the holiday with the ugly name of “Day of the Race.” I am still wondering what that name means? Some Argentineans wonder how best to call what happened here a half millennium ago: Discovery? Meeting of cultures? Usurpation? Conquest?

They are right to wonder.

To backtrack a bit, I continue to think of the early men from Africa who had first migrated to the northeast to Siberia, across to Alaska and then set out on their trek to the south. Along the way some dropped out. Some turned east to become the Cherokees and the Sioux. Others stopped in Mexico to become the Toltecs and the Olmecs. Others stopped in Peru and became the Incas. Finally, after centuries of wandering, Man arrived in Argentina, the end of the line. Then, one day, thousands of years later, He, the survivor, met his lost brothers from Africa arriving from Europe.

He didn’t know it but He met himself, his own assassin.

By then the indigenous man and the conqueror had both changed in appearance and in speech and did not recognize or understand each other. And they still do not know each other any more than they know themselves. We all know loneliness and we know that Man is lonely in the universe, lonely without his long lost brother. Man feels nostalgia and wonders who He is.

I stood outside the Retiro Station and watched one of my brothers pass, but I could not recognize him. Yet I know intellectually that we are both men from the same misty, mysterious and also disputed origins. In that moment—it was a Sunday in Buenos Aires—I thought of walls.

What is man forever in search of himself and his lost brother to think in the face of walls dividing him from the other? Of the wall surrounding the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto? Of the Berlin Wall? Of Israel’s wall to keep out their Arab brothers? Or of the thousand-mile wall President Bush wants to build to separate Americans from their brothers to the south? What are we to think of history’s genocides of our brothers?  

 

Argentineans

It is a paradox that dark-skinned people want to be whiter while white people subject themselves to tortuous hours in the sun or dangerous sunlamps to acquire tans. The irony is that in the short term neither changes: dark-skinned people have to marry white to produce lighter skinned children and sunlamp tans fade more quickly than they arrive.

From my first days in Buenos Aires I have seen the fanaticism of white Argentineans for acquiring suntans. On my first weekend here, the first week of spring in the southern hemisphere, the grass hills and the benches in the parks and on the great plazas were filled with slim people exposing every centimeter of skin possible to the new sun. But beef-eating Porteños do not worship Father Sun as did ancient Mexicans; they worship the suntan ... and their bodies. One of the reasons other Latin Americans consider Argentineans snobs and egotists is their eternal concern with their appearance. But in truth they are proud and haughty, no submissive natures here, one of their characteristics inherited from the Spanish line of their ancestors.

Strange too, compared to the obesity in the United States and now again in Europe and in much of Latin America, Argentineans are slim. Few obese people here, not in my barrio at least. The daughter of Hans Moser, my Swiss journalist friend in Buenos Aires, returned to Europe, she claimed, because she could never find fashionable clothes in her larger sizes. I remember almost fondly the unconcern of fat, slaphappy Mexicans and their reliance on destiny.

I should note here an observation that is not at all obvious. I have found that Latin peoples differ dramatically one from the other—Italians from Spanish, French from Catalonians, and all Latin Europeans from Argentineans and from Latin Americans in general. Linked chiefly by their languages, French and Italians are no more similar than are Germans and Slavs. Spanish are haughty and organized; Italians are anarchistic and pitifully imitative of Anglos. Therefore it is no surprise that Latin Americans too differ one from the other, Mexicans from Peruvians, Brazilians from Central Americans, Argentineans from Chileans just across the Andes. Latin American peoples have been beaten and subjugated and colonized but they are not as submissive as America’s leaders might like to think.     

 

From journalism and films I knew of the horrors of the Argentine military dictatorship but from afar I was not aware of its continuing effects on people today. Accounts must still be settled in Argentina. Therefore I don’t believe that a little history will perturb or confuse the flow of this narrative of an important two months of my life and of the lives of forty million brothers; for, after all, Argentine landmarks reflect the landmarks of world history.

The Spanish settled in future Buenos Aires in 1580 at the same time that all of the Americas were being colonized. The former Spanish became Argentineans and declared their independence on July 9, 1816, the date marking the name of the great avenue of Buenos Aires called the widest street in the world: Avenida del 9 de Julio.

After World War II army Colonel Juan Perón emerged as the strongman of Argentina, winning the presidential elections of 1946 and again in 1951. His political clout was reinforced by his second wife—Eva Duarte de Perón (Evita)—and her popularity with the working classes. Evita acted as de facto minister of health and labor, established a national charitable organization and awarded wage increases to workers, who responded with political support for Perón. However opposition to Perón's authoritarianism stirred reactionary forces and led to a coup by the armed forces, which sent him into exile in 1955, three years after Evita's death. Argentina then entered a period of military dictatorships with brief intervals of constitutional government. In 1973—the same year General Augusto Pinochet, with American help, overthrew the democratic government of Salvador Allende across the Andres in Chile—Perón returned to power and his third wife, Isabel Martínez de Perón, was elected vice president. After Perón's death in 1974, she became the hemisphere's first woman chief of state, assuming control of a nation by then teetering on economic and political collapse. She brought it down in her total incapacity.

In 1975, as terrorism exploded in Europe, terrorist acts by left- and right-wing groups killed some seven hundred people in Argentina while the cost of living skyrocketed and strikes and demonstrations were constant. Some people like to refer to that period as a civil war. On March 24, 1976, during the period the original Red Brigades were being crushed in Italy, a military junta seized power in Argentina, imposed martial law and initiated seven years of terror to stamp out “subversives and Communists.”

The military conducted a so-called “dirty war” to restore order and eradicate its opponents. In the aftermath, the Argentine Commission for Human Rights headed by the dean of Argentine writers, Ernesto Sabato, charged the junta with 2,300 political murders, over 10,000 political arrests, and the disappearance of 20,000 to 30,000 people.

My journalist friend, Hans Moser, has written that many Argentineans greeted the putsch, in the hope that the generals could pull the country out of recession and stop the violence. Instead the military substituted it with institutional violence. Then, when the violence finally abated the economy was in chaos. Paradoxically much of the terrified middle class that in the end suffered considerably had supported the military intervention.

But one should keep in mind that this was also the time of America’s Cold War and powerful CIA intervention throughout Latin America, so that the junta had other matters in mind: repression of anything smacking of subversion or Communism. “Subversion” of Castro-backed Communism was the same bugaboo in Argentina, Chile, and across much of Latin America that terrorism is in the United States today. Only years later was the extent of the terror in Argentina uncovered, as one day it will certainly happen in the USA when Americans come to terms with its desaparecidos and torture and concentration camps and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead. Here, though terrorist bombs killed often indiscriminately, the torturers were gruesome; pilots have testified to the flights over the ocean to dump the wrecks of prisoners to the sharks, which may have happened at Guantànamo and no one would ever know. Those wounds to Argentine society have not yet healed.

On one exploratory walk I stopped at a park along the busy commercial street, Las Heras. A sign bearing the park’s name, “Plaza Tenente General Mitre” had been written over by hand:

El Gobierno ordena

La SIDE organiza

La policia dispara

(The goverment orders, the secret police organizes, the police shoots)

Furtively I wrote down the words, in that same instant recalling a time in Moscow in those same Seventies—military junta here, Brezhnevism there—when I by chance stopped to ask directions from a guard at a discreet gate on a dark back street, and then to my horror saw that it was the side entrance to the U.S. Embassy, the last place in the world I wanted the usual KGB tails to see me. I wandered deeper into the park of Las Heras and to my astonishment I found the same words, freshly written on statues and plaques dedicated to the ubiquitous memories of the Argentine military establishment. Since the arrival of the Spanish, since the liberation era of San Martin himself, since the murderous military marshallers, the Argentine military has called the shots. Quiet today, very quiet today, but their men, people know, are there in the wings.

No, the wounds have not healed here, no more than the wounds from Vietnam have healed in America. The relatives of the victims here have not forgotten; the families of American soldiers fallen in Iraq have not forgotten. Some of the guilty in Argentina have been punished; seldom are the real guilty ever punished in the USA. As in America today, there were two sides in the “dirty war” in Argentina and I believe those two sides still exist in peoples’ minds. 

Here I have taken information from Hans Moser’s article about Tati Almeida whose twenty-year old son Alejandro, a medical student in Buenos Aires, telephoned her one day in 1976 that he was “on his way home.” That was the last word she ever had from him. Alejandro was one of the 30,000 “subversives”—students, trade unionists, journalists, pacifists—who were “disappeared”, tortured and assassinated. His mother says he was a pacifist who wanted a better world. Ironically, Tati’s was a military family; her own relatives rationalized that if Alejandro was arrested, then he must have been guilty of something.

The movement of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo began with a dozen mothers gathered in front of Presidential Palace of Casa Rosada wearing symbolic white head kerchiefs to demand information about their children. A most suggestive idea for American mothers and wives and grandmothers, too! What an effect it would make if hundreds, then thousands and tens of thousands of mothers stood in silence in front of the White House! Though they were afraid, the organization of Argentine mothers grew. After the return of democracy they continued their struggle, until in 1985 they helped bring about the trial and imprisonment of Junta chief Videla and other generals, who however were amnestied five years later. Since then the movement has split, one a group of grandmothers investigating the kidnapping and cynical adoption by military leaders of children born of “subversive” mothers in prison: if the grandmothers can’t have their children back, they want their grandchildren.

No wonder the issue is not settled. No wonder the persistence of the question about who is guilty. No wonder the protest about the amnesties. No wonder the scars have not healed. Concerning the trials of the torturers Jorge Borges once summed up: “It seems no one wants a precise investigation and this means that everyone feels guilty.” I hope Borges did not intend an analogy with the typically Italian resolution to tragic deviations: If everyone is guilty, then no one is guilty. 

How did it happen? Maybe not only America played a role. I read some disturbing documentation of Cuba’s economic and moral support to Argentina’s military dictatorship with its torturers and the death squads of the Triple A—Alianza Anticommunista Argentina, which committed many murders in order to blame the terroristic, non-Marxist leftwing Montoneros. Revolutionaries also resort to the familiar strategy of tension: in this case, Cuba must have calculated, the greater the military oppression, the greater would be the revolutionary explosion.

The Triple A is not forgotten! People have not forgotten the Montoneros either. The Montoneros, whose name is still on the lips of many Argentineans, were born as the Peronist Left—their name suggestive of the Montagnards of the French Revolution. They were an urban, lower middle class conspiratorial movement in opposition to the establishment of Army, Church and landowners. Cuba together with Moscow, the United States and the Vatican—those were extremely dark and corrupt times in Moscow and Washington and the Holy See—helped the military to come to power in Argentina. Such meddling was normal for Washington and Moscow and the Church but it will weigh heavy on the history of Castroist Cuba, which saddens me, for I cannot help feeling admiration for Castro because of his tenacious resistance to Washington, no more than I can forgive America for the stupid and mean embargo of Cuba.

It is clear as day why a certain anti-Americanism remains also here, embedded in both people and the present government of Néstor Kirchner, a self-proclaimed ex-Montonero, who is also detested by the Roman Church: democratic Argentina does not vote against Cuba in the United Nations; it lends a hand to Hugo Chávez in his anti-Washington tirades; and it does not support the United States in Iraq. I met few outspoken pro-Americans here as in Europe, or anyone who does not sneer at the cowboy President George W. Bush 

 

When in the 1982 war over the Falkland Islands Great Britain won a decisive victory, the General-President Galtieri resigned amid increasing pro-democratic public sentiment: inflation hit 900% and Argentina’s foreign debt reached unprecedented levels. Democracy returned to face massive unemployment, quadruple-digit inflation and riots over high food prices and recession. By 2001 Argentina hung on the verge of economic collapse, finally defaulting on its huge foreign debt payments. The subsequent devaluation of the peso, which had been pegged to the dollar for a decade, plunged the banking system into crisis and millions of the middle class into poverty. Meanwhile, in 2002, another former junta leader, Galtieri, and forty-two other military officers were arrested and charged with the torture and execution of leftist guerrillas during the military dictatorship. Finally, in 2003 the Peronist Néstor Kirchner became Argentina's president, vowing to continue prosecution of perpetrators of the “dirty war.” The economy has rebounded with a growth rate of 8%.

 

Genocide

Today, in late 2006, I read in the Argentine press the word “genocide” to describe what happened here in the Seventies. Although in comparison to the United States, Argentina can boast that at least some of the military dictatorship’s torturers and assassins of 30,000 desaparecidos have been jailed, still, most of the guilty are free. The law called Punto Final allowed many of the guilty to continue their military careers and today some ex-ministers of the brutal junta still receive generous pensions from the state.

The lines of demarcation in the 1970s were: the military, the Church, large landowners and much of the middle class on one side and the rest of society on the other. The extreme right—still today lurking in the wings—speaks of that period as a civil war, claiming it acted for the nation against Communism and disorder. That rings familiar. Since then the question has remained open: Did a civil war take place in Argentina of the 1970s? The claim that it was a civil war is intended as justification for the brutality of the military regime. The truth is there was violence but there was no more civil war than were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

So that I don’t repeat myself with reminders of parallels with the United States of Bush, it should be evident that many of my notes at this point are in my mind clear analogies to America today. Today, twenty-five years later in Argentina, the trials continue, slowly and awkwardly, while, as I read in the press each day, witnesses against ageing torturers are threatened, beaten and abducted by goon squads of that same vicious Fascist Right. Key witnesses at the trials of torturers disappear and others are threatened, while books are published and panels and round tables abound in defense of the defenders of the “state terrorism” and their “civil war” claims.

Nonetheless, contrary to the detestable air of “political correctness” in the USA—another pernicious American “export” along with “democracy”—the expression “state terrorism” is widely diffused in Argentina, and the forbidden word genocide has appeared. As in ancient times of the Inquisition, language is still a formidable weapon. Religious orthodoxy and political correctness differ little in their intents. The use of the word “genocide” today marks in fire what happened in Argentina in the 1970s.

There was no civil war!

There was terrorism.

There were no trials for prisoners arrested by the regime!

There was torture.

There were clandestine concentration camps.

 

For thirty years the guilty have cried for reconciliation of the nation. One commentator here notes that though the Fascist Right backed by the Roman Catholic Church overestimates its strength, at the same time it relies on the influence of the same corrupt Church that brought Nazi war criminals to Argentina after World War II and of the widespread fear of a return to the dark past. I cannot forget Pope Karol Wojtyla’s support of Fascist regimes in much of Latin America from Nicaragua to Argentina. I cannot forget a compromised Roman Catholic Church crushing the “liberation theology” movement inside the Church in Latin America, pernicious policies formulated by today’s Pope Benedict XVI when he was the theological-political boss in the Vatican.

Now, as Argentina emerges from its economic crisis and its democracy feels stronger, the Fascist Right is desperate. Negotiation for its crimes is no longer enough. Now that the word genocide has appeared, the Fascist Right has returned to violence (and Peronist extremists are reacting!), witnesses against the guilty vanish or go into hiding. Goon squads again ride in the night. The Fascist message is clear: no witnesses against the perpetrators of the genocide should feel secure. 

 

Odessa, Argentina

Readers of thrillers remember Fredrick Forsyth’s The Odessa File, and the film based on the novel, which told the incredible story of the escape network for getting top Nazis out of Europe after World War II. At the end of the war American and Soviet intelligence organizations began searching all over Germany for military and scientific booty from the defeated Reich. Both wanted to get their hands on the scientists whose work had nearly won the war for Germany; both wanted also to recruit German intelligence officers. The U.S. Military rounded up Nazi scientists and brought them to America where they were put under the control of NASA and CIA.

American collaboration with ex-Nazi intelligence men was another story, part of which I once personally experienced in Germany. Years after the end of the war, one of Hitler’s chief intelligence officers was still on the job, this time in American pay. From a secret compound in the Munich suburb of Pullach, General Reinhard Gehlen created a vast network of intelligence agents spying on Russia for the CIA. His top aides were former SS men guilty of notorious war crimes.

Before the war ended Gehlen and his senior officers had microfilmed the vast holding of German intelligence on the USSR gathered from among four million Soviet prisoners, using torture to convince them. They packed the microfilms in steel drums and buried them in the Austrian Alps. Two months before Germany surrendered in 1945 the Gehlen men maneuvered to be captured by advancing American troops rather than Russians, who would have executed them.

When Gehlen revealed the existence of the massive Nazi records on the Soviet Union, meetings were arranged at the Pentagon between him and Allen Dulles and J. Edgar Hoover, in which Gehlen named his price and terms. Gehlen and his organization were hired en masse by the American OSS, the future CIA, and at the same time Gehlen assumed major influence over it. American intelligence later arranged for the top-secret facility in West Germany to be established, and named it the Gehlen Org, staffed with former SS, SD and Gestapo members.

By 1947 Gehlen was back in business. The Gehlen Org in effect combined forces and agents with the OSS in a joint venture, which became known as the CIA. Central European accents were quite common in CIA circles. More than just an intelligence gathering organization, their billion-dollar war machine engaged in clandestine political actions, engaged in political assassinations, stirred revolts, overthrew governments and attempted to bring about political change by controlling people and political leaders. The Communist scare, hot wars and cold war propaganda, were the means used by the CIA and the Nazi, Reinhardt Gehlen, to manipulate the West. In my opinion, the Cold War was the brainchild of the new CIA and the US military from the very start. I remember well that famous film scene of General Patton standing in the middle of the death and destruction of the battlefield, and saying how wonderful it all was and that he wanted to march right on to Moscow.

Unhindered by the CIA, the Gehlen Org meanwhile set up “rat lines” to get Nazi war criminals out of Europe to escape prosecution. The ex-Nazis harbored ideas of a comeback, of a Fourth Reich; alliance between Germany and the United States against the Soviet Union had long been in the minds of both sides. Setting up transit camps and issuing phony passports, the Gehlen Org helped more than 5,000 Nazis leave Europe and relocate, especially to South America, many in Argentina. There, mass murderers like Adolf Eichmann (who needs no introduction), Klaus Barbie (the butcher of Lyons), Erich Priebke (the murderer of the caves of Rome) and the madman doctor, Josef “Angel of Death” Mengele, and Walter Kutschmann charged for mass murder of Jews in 1941, continued their life work, helping governments in Chile, Argentina and elsewhere organize their death squads. For them it was just like back home in Nazi Europe.

Operating with the complicity of the Vatican and the Argentine Catholic Church, the Fascist Franco government in Spain, the International Red Cross, Swiss banks, the Gehlen Org and CIA, the organization that has been called Odessa established a kind of headquarters for the war criminals escape route in the Argentina of its President-dictator, Juan Perón.

A Buenos Aires lawyer told me in October 2006 that it was widely known in post-war Argentina that many Nazis were smuggled into the country, given citizenship under new names and resettled in the Andes resort town of San Carlos de Bariloche, Aspen’s sister city, 1100 kilometers southwest of the capital of Buenos Aires.

People believe it had chiefly to do with money: Perón wanted to get his hands on the legendary Nazi gold ingots. Fleets of German submarines landed fleeing Nazis, Italian Fascists, Croatian Ustasha, and French and Swiss collaborationists, on the southern coasts of Argentina. Estimates of the number resettled in Argentina ranges from 1000 to 40,000. According to subsequent studies at least some 10,000 Nazi leaders made it to the South American outpost at the other end of the world.

A bitter irony is that the same Nazis dedicated to exterminating Jews from the face of the earth arrived on the heels of some 40,000 Jews escaping extermination in Europe, who had immigrated to Argentina in the years 1933 -1945, a record figure in Latin America. Now, their hangmen were following them. Rumors have long circulated that Hitler’s chief aide, Martin Bormann and SS boss Heinrich Himmler, survived the Berlin debacle in 1945 and behind the scenes organized Operation Odessa.

ODESSA was the acronym for the German, Organization der ehemahligen SS-Angehörigen, Organization of Former SS Members, so secret that many investigators were led to claim it only existed in the fantasies of journalists. The most tenacious Nazi-hunter of all, Simon Wiesenthal, from his Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, insisted that Odessa was created in 1946 precisely to save Nazi leadership. Argentinean investigative journalists like Abel Basti speak of  “waves” of German U-boots arriving with top Nazi brass, with the complicity of Argentine President Juan Perón.

The key role played by Argentine dictator Juan Perón in this travesty was revealed in 2004 when Argentina opened heretofore secret files about Operation Odessa. The Washington-born Argentinean Uki Goni then wrote a book on the subject: The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Perón’s Argentina, New York, Granta Books, 2002.

Juan Perón’s pro-Nazi, pro-Fascist and anti-Semitic sympathies were no secret; he had visited both Germany and Italy and apparently admired especially Mussolini. Contemporary Italians in return like to compare Italy’s ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to Perón. Perón only came out against the Axis in 1944 for diplomatic reasons. After the war his old sympathies resurfaced: he created a haven for escaping Nazis, allegedly interested both in German nuclear scientists and in recycled Nazi assets of gold and looted art treasures. Even after the whereabouts of the escapees became known, Perón refused to extradite Nazi criminals, as did other Latin American countries.

Released files and extensive research have revealed that headquarters for Operation Odessa—if that was the real name of the escape organization—was in the Presidential Palace of Juan Perón, the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. The Argentine Intelligence SIDE, the CIA’s partner in its anti-Communist war in Latin America, coordinated the operation. This collaboration was part of what was labeled Operation Condor, the instrument of Big Brother America’s policies in Latin America from the 1950s and especially since Fidel Castro and Che Guevara began spreading their Communist message throughout the continent. The real dirty war, the cleansing, the guerra sucia, against anything that smacked of Marxism, from Texas to the Terra del Fuego, was in reality led by the CIA and the Pentagon and the troops they trained in Latin America. All in the name of democracy and freedom.

Jimmy Carter was an anomaly in American politics in that he brought human rights to the forefront in his foreign policy. The record of his administration provides insight into what happened in Argentina in those years. Elected President nine months after the military junta took power in
1977 in Buenos Aires, Carter targeted Argentina as one of the worst human rights violators. As a first step he upgraded the post of Human Rights Coordinator to Under Secretary of State and appointed Patricia Derian, a former human rights activist in Mississippi, making her one of the
highest-ranking women in his administration. He then imposed embargos on arms sales to Argentina, blocked loans and championed UN resolutions against it. In response the junta charged the US for interference in its internal affairs, while its official warned Washington of a takeover of Argentina by a band of Marxists trained in Cuba, insisting that the country was engaged in a full-blown civil war. For Carter human rights was a primary question; for the junta it was secondary to internal security.
To a limited extent Carter's pressure paid off: disappearances declined and, under international pressure, publisher Jacobo Timerman was released, went abroad, and wrote his book, Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without a Number, about his disappearance and torture. Yet, realpolitik,  international relations, the Cold War and the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 coupled with Argentina's refusal to adhere to the US-sponsored grain embargo against the USSR and the resulting threat of closer Soviet-Argentine relations, forced Carter to back down on his maximum program.
Then, with Ronald Reagan's election in 1981 everything changed. The revisionism and indictment of Carter's humanist approach to the US Presidency was summed up by Reagan's representative to the United Nations, Jean Kirkpatrick: we will support a moderately repressive autocratic
government (Argentina) which is friendly to the USA rather than permitting it to be overrun by Cuban-trained, Cuban-armed, Cuban-sponsored insurgency. Such was the spirit of the times but how familiar it rings today. The world goes round and round and everything happens again and again.  

 

Argentine Jews

The more I delved into the Odessa intrigue and simultaneously into the centuries-long saga of Argentine Jews, the more history assumed bizarre twists and turns as if it truly were conducted by the mad Mexican god Tezcatlipoca up there in the clouds, first putting ant-like humans in weird situations and then roaring with laughter as they struggle to overcome themselves. After expulsion from Spain in 1492, some converted Jews moved to Argentina where most assimilated. In the mid-1800s a second wave of Jews fleeing from persecution in Europe arrived, chiefly from France and then Russia, and became active in Argentine society. In 1889 a famous group of 824 Russian Jewish arrivals became gauchos, Argentine cowboys, and were popularly called “los Rusos.” In the first decades of the XX century Jewish immigrants averaged 13,000 a year, mostly from Eastern Europe.

By 1920, 150,000 Jews were living in Argentina. Historically Argentine Jews have been everything from rough gauchos to sophisticated Buenos Aires intellectuals. Though they assimilated and often played important social roles they were subject to waves of anti-Semitism, often pogroms fomented by the police.

After Perón brought in the Nazi war criminals, Jewish immigration waned. During the military dictatorship in Argentina some 1000 Jews were among the 30,000 victims killed by the state. Yet the Jewish community held on and survived, even after the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, killing 32 people, and in 1994 the Jewish Community Center (AMIA), where 85 died and 200 were wounded. Recently Islamic terrorists have been charged for the two terrorist
attacks in the 1990s and Iran and Hezbollah named specifically.

Today, estimates of Argentina’s Jews ranges from 200,000 upwards. Daniel J. Elazar, in the publication of the Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs, cites the figure of 350,000, mostly in Buenos Aires, making the Argentine Jewish community the third in the Americas, the sixth in the world, of a total world population of around 14,000,000 Jews. Over the centuries Jews have been involved in most sectors of Argentine society, except for the military, government and the judiciary. A rich cultural life has long existed here, a Yiddish press and theater, a Jewish hospital and Zionist organizations.

The majority of Argentina’s Jews are considered Ashkenazi, 15% Sephardic, though after many generations and much assimilation these distinctions are not the same as for their grandparents. Nearly all speak Spanish—Ladino and Yiddish are rarely spoken anymore. Buenos Aires has fifty Orthodox synagogues, twenty-one Conservative and a few Reform. Most were built before WWII and are still in use. In Jewish theaters across the country plays are performed in Spanish, Yiddish and Hebrew. There are 18 Jewish cemeteries in Argentina. La Tabalda cemetery in Buenos Aires was vandalized in 1994.

In 1958 the Conservative movement took over Comunidad Bet El in Buenos Aires, the country’s first Conservative synagogue. It has a day school and attendance on Saturday reportedly reaches 800 worshippers. Argentina has 70 Jewish educational institutions, including kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools. Over 60% of Jewish youth attend these schools, 17,000 in Buenos Aires.

From the start Juan Perón’s rise to power worried Jews because of his Nazi sympathies. Though he recognized Israel and expressed public sympathy for Jewish rights, he soon halted Jewish immigration to Argentina while creating the haven for escaping Nazis. Another wave of anti-Semitism followed after Israeli agents abducted Adolf Eichmann in a Buenos Aires suburb in 1960 for trial and subsequent execution in Israel in 1961.

After the return of democracy to Argentina in 1983 the situation of Jews normalized and Jews were named to high positions in government though they were still subject to sporadic outbursts of anti-Semitism. Finally in 1988 a federal law was passed against racism and anti-Semitism, and files relating to Argentina’s role in the creation of the hideout for fleeing Nazis were released.          

Despite the network of local Jewish institutions and help from abroad, the community is not growing today and many young people are emigrating. Since World War II some 45,000 Jews have left Argentina for Israel, though many if not most for economic reasons. Yet, from my readings and talks in the Jewish barrio of Once, I have come to believe that assimilation rather than emigration accounts for discrepancies in estimates of the Jewish community. Few Jews have their bags packed today. While the recognition of the need for religious identification accounts for the revival of the Conservative movement, the fact is, everyone, every nationality, every religion, seem to assimilate in multiethnic Argentina and quickly lose their ethnic identities, and, like second generation Italians, the major ethnic component of Argentina, consider themselves first of all Argentineans. The proprietor of the Jewish Sigal bookstore and publisher in Once on Avenida Corrientes told me that Jews are not exempt from this process, especially outside Buenos Aires. One statistic shows that 45% of Jews marry outside their religion.

Still, I read in the weekly magazine of the Buenos Aires daily, Clarín, a feature story entitled “Super judíos”, about the air of renewal in Argentine Jewry. Not a religious reform, but an impulse imported from New York seeking to update this faith, culture and identity. For their part Jews have introduced many changes into Argentine society: the festivities surrounding Jewish weddings, Bertold Brecht, Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis and Marxism and Kabbalah, and also Woody Allen, who one claims is more loved in Buenos Aires than in New York, Jewish cuisine shown on the program “Comida Judía” on TV Canal Gourmet featuring innovative versions of verénike and farfalej, kosher foods in the supermarkets and a support movement for Jewish gays. “Hot Jew” is a new slogan. One movement is called YOK, for “Yo-OK”—I’m OK with my identity—inspired by similar movements in Manhattan. The Clarín article cites discussions centered on Post-Judaism, touching subjects no one wants to speak of: sex guilt and discrimination within Judaism.

Perhaps Argentina is emblematic of the difficulties surrounding the survival of Judaism in a globalized world where nothing and no one is isolated. If despite the anti-Semitism and economic pressures of the early part of the millennium so few Argentine Jews made Aliyah, then either something is wrong in Zion or assimilation is a much more powerful factor than is widely recognized.

           

Meaningless

JORGE LUIS BORGES (born 1899 in Buenos Aires—died 1986 in Geneva)

I have hoped to write something unique about this amazing city but I worry that everything has already been written about it and that there is little to add. Jorge Borges, in this respect, postulated that it is like debating whether it is illogical to think that the world is infinite. On the other hand, it is encouraging to think that every written word is unique. Since no words are sufficient to explain the mystery of life we have to do the best we can with what we have.

I have Borges’ famous book, El Alepf, a collection of seventeen of his most suggestive stories. In the story “Los Teologos” the author speaks of an ancient sect on the banks of the Danube known as the Monotonous who professed that history is a circle and there is nothing that has not been before and there will never be anything new. For them, in the mountains, the Wheel and the Serpent had replaced the cross. It was heresy.

The question was: What was heretical about saying that nothing was new? Borges’s protagonist reflects and decides that the thesis of circular time is too different to be dangerous; the most fearful heresies are those nearest orthodoxy. In fact, the poetic books of the Old Testament are filled with such a thesis. The new international edition of Ecclesiastes starts out with these disconcerting words:

                        “Meaningless! Meaningless!”

                        Says the teacher.

                        “Utterly meaningless!

                        Everything is meaningless.”

 

I am still both horrified and morbidly fascinated by the Old Testament, as I think every literary minded person must be. It has a way of saying the most terrible things in poetic words, like the following (heretical?) words of the King Solomon, the teacher, that have graced film and literature:

                        What has been will be again,

                        What has been done will be done again;

                        There is nothing new under the sun.

On the other hand, these are demoralizing words for the writer searching for new images and for new word combinations that in the long run mean turning words and phrases in the hope something new will emerge and that above all it will not be meaningless. With much trepidation I have to reject Solomon’s pessimism that we will never be able to create anything new. I have to reject those severe, harsh words … or sink. For I believe that just as every man is unique, each is destined to do or write or utter something unique. We are all extraordinary because we are all unique. Otherwise, why all this?

Heresy or not, Solomon’s circular philosophy infected the eclectic and elitist Borges, whom I have read over many years. But until now I had never looked into his life; I accepted him as I do Celine for example on the basis of his great and particular creative art.

However! Now that I have read more about him and his role in Argentinean society my feelings toward him are colored; today I look at his writings with a more critical eye, searching for the reasons he backed the military dictatorship here and in Chile and Uruguay, for which some of the political Left condemns him today. Maybe—I say ironically—because he was blind from 1955 and could not see clearly what was happening around him. But most likely because of his isolation in his world of books and libraries, or because he was a rabid anti-Peronist, which is to his credit. Nevertheless, he supported the terror of the military junta, which he called blithely “a confraternity of gentlemen.” It took the disaster of the Falklands war against Great Britain in 1982 to change his mind. We all make bad choices in life, stupid choices, we take wrong stands and make wrong turns that we come to regret ... and sometimes pay for. But Borges, as an adult man with full information at his disposal, chose the wrong side, the military side that won the “dirty war” … the same, it seems, as choosing Nazism in Germany. In a sense I regret I looked into his life.

People here say, “we didn’t know.” That is suspicious. People were disappearing. Each of the 30,000 desaparecidos had parents and relatives and friends. Let’s guess that at least a million people knew. And if a million knew, then everybody knew. A man like Borges had to know. Borges was committed to his Buenos Aires. Borges knew everybody. Did no one tell him? Or was such horror too distant from his metaphysical world? How could Borges not know? His friend, the Chilean poet and Communist, Pablo Neruda, was quoted as saying, “He (Borges) doesn’t understand a thing about what’s happening in the modern world, and he thinks I don’t either.” (Like Borges, Neruda too made a major political error: he dedicated a poem to Stalin on his death in 1953 and it took official revisionism in the USSR for him to change his mind.) Nonetheless, Neruda redeemed himself: he went on to support the Socialism of Allende’s three-year government in Chile and to defend Cuba against the USA. Finally, in contrast to Borges he won the Nobel in 1971.

In the first story in El Aleph, “El Inmortal,” written long before the national disaster, Borges repeats in various ways the refrain that no one is guilty … or innocent. When life is circular, without beginning or end, that is, when man is immortal, then everything, good and evil, happens to every man. In a search for a world of order Borges sentenced that it would be madness to think that God first created the cosmos and afterwards chaos. Read with other eyes, this rings like a whitewash of evil.

In the Rome airport last September during a long wait before boarding for Buenos Aires I had a conversation with a youngish, longhaired, rather snobbish Argentinean antique dealer. When I mentioned my admiration for Borges, he immediately said, “Horrible!” I broke off the conversation without asking why he said that, and out of loyalty to Borges I never spoke another word to him, not even when our eyes met as we stood in line together at the Buenos Aires Airport. I didn’t understand his reaction but suspected it was because Borges was simply too intellectual a writer for this businessman.  

Borges’s many books of essays and stories are on prominent display in the magnificent bookstores of Buenos Aires and his anniversaries are marked with new editions of his works and round tables and homages. Like Joycean tours in Dublin, Buenos Aires offers Borgean tours—the streets he walked, his cafés, his bookstores, his Buenos Aires of Recoleta and Palermo and Plaza San Martin, about which he wrote extensively.

Borges is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest voices of world literature, winning many international prizes and recognitions. Yet, for inexplicable reasons he chose to support the dictatorship and the terror, while continuing all the time to write his esoteric stories up in his ivory tower. At this point in his life he resembles the creator of art for art’s sake, which I have to condemn. The belief in art for art’s sake, according to the Russian Communist theorist Georgy Plekhanov, “arises when artists and people keenly interested in art are hopelessly out of harmony with their social environment.” It has been said that art for art’s sake is the attempt to instill ideal life in one who has no real life and is an admission that the human race has outgrown the artist. That seems to have been the case of Borges and Argentina in the Seventies of last century.

Commitment on the other hand involves the writer’s trying to reflect through his work a picture of the human condition—which is social—without however losing sight of the individual. I reject the idea that art is a thing apart; despite the obstacles politics raises, art, I believe, is part and parcel of the social. It is a truism that writing is a social act insofar as it derives from its resolve to change things. The artist wants to remake the world. And his passion must be freedom. The military dictatorship was certainly not a goal … nor even a means.

Late in life Borges denied he wrote for either an elite or the masses; he said he wrote for a circle of friends. This too is suspect. I reject his dangerous banter that “there is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition” underlying his tales of fantasy and recherché historical points of departure.

Yet, Borges was both universal and at the same time a true Argentinean, who wrote of tango and gauchos and detectives and the streets of Buenos Aires. Since he was too universal to accept Peronist populism, it is a mystery how he could fall for the “club of gentlemen” of the military killers.

The Argentine military dictatorship, as Borges later wrote, was like something so horrible per se that its very existence contaminates past, present and future life. In fact, by the very definition of the word describing the 30,000 victims, the desaparecidos continue to lie outside time and memory.

Afterwards, Borges, again the great artist whom I continue to read avidly, wrote that, “As long as it exists no one in the world can be courageous or happy.”

Borges was a miniaturist who never wrote large works. However his work taken together forms a great canvas of times and places. His appreciation of stories in contrast to novels is a morale boaster for short story writers, who are often made to feel theirs is a vice and publishers and agents regularly advise them to write novels. Borges wrote that only a sense of duty managed to get him to the last page of the few novels he had read.  He found that great novels like Don Quixote are virtually shapeless, like read and reread stories. His philosophic stories in which the narrator’s exploration of their shape uncovers meaning are masterly but can seem contrived. On a visit to Rome near the end of his life he told my friend, the writer Desmond O’Grady, that he wanted to write stories like those of Kipling. And some of his earliest stories about Buenos Aire s were told straightforwardly. Desmond O’Grady wrote that his aspiration to sound like an English writer is one way of being an Argentinean, according to the saying that an Argentinean is someone who speaks Spanish but wants to be English.

In fact Borges’ first steps in literature were in English, the language in which he originally read Don Quixote.  His grandmother Frances Halsam was English. And poetry came to him through his father intoning, in English, Swinburne, Keats and Shelley. He considered English literature the finest. He said it made him aware that words convey not only messages but also music and passion.

You could classify Borges as a twice-displaced person closer to the English language than to Spanish, a self-confessed ‘international writer’ who happened to live in Buenos Aires. But this would ignore his attachment to Argentinean history and legends, to Buenos Aires for which he said he wanted to invent a mythology, and to “the ubiquitous smell of eucalyptus” at the summerhouse of his boyhood.

It must have been his great regret that he never won the Nobel Prize For Literature for which he was often a candidate. That was the price he paid for meddling in politics and his total misreading of the role of political power. Paul Bowles and Anton Chekhov were right: the artist should take a wide berth around politics; yet he should understand enough of it in order to protect himself.

So, I continue reading the stories in El Aleph (the Aleph is a small iridescent sphere that contains the entire universe), while I am alternately exalted by Borges the writer and disillusioned by him the man of that one decade. A story in this volume, “Deutsches Requiem”, concerns a Nazi torturer and killer, the Deputy Director of the concentration camp of Tarnowitz, who has been sentenced to death and is to be executed the next morning. Otto Dietrich zur Linde credits Brahms, Schopenhauer, Shakespeare, Nietszche and Spengler as his benefactors who helped him “confront with courage and happiness the bad years and to become one of the new men.” He acquired the new faith of Nazism and had waited impatiently for the war to test his faith. His was to be the total experience, of victory and defeat, of life and death. Otto thought: I am satisfied by defeat because secretly I know I am guilty and only punishment can redeem me. He thought: Defeat satisfies me because it is the end and I am tired. He thought: Defeat satisfies me because it happened, because it is linked to all the events that are, that have been, that will be, because to censure or deplore one single real event is to blaspheme the universe.

In other words, everything is linked in Borges’ great circular universe. Everything happens again and again. Everything is part of one whole.

The story above written shortly after World War II closes with these disturbing words: Hitler believed he fought for his country; but he fought for all, even for those he attacked and hated…. Many things have to be destroyed in order to build the new order, now we know that Germany was one of those things…. I look at my face in the mirror to know who I am, to know how I will act in a few hours, when the end stands before me. My flesh will be afraid, but not I. 

I do not quite know what to think of this story. It upsets me. Hopefully, I keep reading over and over the following quote from Borges which somehow helps: “One concept corrupts and confuses the others.” I hope he was saying that the thoughts of Otto Dietrich zur Linde were pure speculation and merely part of the abstract universal metaphysical whole. [1]

 

Latin Reformation

Far enough south to feel the geographic distance from the United States of America, Argentina is an ideal place to consider Latin America, especially within the perspective of the continent’s disastrous relations with the USA. For the first time in history Latin America is witnessing a general movement to the Left based on broadening social structures and a simultaneous displacement, tentative and fearful as it may be, away from traditional links with the United States. A series of elections of leftwing presidents in Latin America in 2006 has ignited optimism among progressives about the possibility of real social change in this long-suffering continent. A recent photograph in a Buenos Aires leftwing daily underlines that elusive hope—Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Lula of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Argentina’s Néstor Kirchner, broad smiles on their faces and their hands stacked one on top of the other like basketballers ready to run onto the court.

Latin American eyes in this 2006 are on Hugo Chávez, whose radical stance—populist and even perverse—is nonetheless welcomed by many. Yet, I think that despite Chávez’s popular appeal his government in that oil rich country is not widely considered a working model for other countries looking for new solutions to old problems. One fundamental issue today is the difficulty of applying Left and Right categories to presidential or semi-presidential political systems that are still populist with a caudillo at the head. In Latin America there are too few links between base social movements of workers and political parties and leaders capable of and willing to make social struggle part of their program within the democratic institutional structures.

The lack of a politics based on democratic rights and the inability of carrying out grassroots social reforms have condemned in the best of cases Latin American countries to the grip of nationalism and populism like that of Perón in Argentina. Populism inevitably fails because it means the crushing of a genuine political system and the effective absence of social transformation.

Here, I will repeat myself: Look at the United States. Is it a model for Latin America? I do not think so. 

I am here as an observer. I read the press, talk with people, and watch. Since my arrival in Buenos Aires at the end of September, I have been surprised at the interest for Bolivia among Argentinean and international progressives. Bolivia, where elected government and society march hand in hand. Alain Touraine, the French sociologist, went so far as to write in the Buenos Aires daily, Página 12, that the key to the political life of the continent and its capacity to invent a political-social model capable of working in an exceptionally difficult situation is without doubt in Bolivia.

“There seems to exist a general awareness of the necessity of accepting the Bolivian model: in its radicalism, its nationalism and heroism, in its excesses of language and also actions.” Touraine believes that the political future of the continent today depends on Bolivia’s ability to construct and realize a model of social transformation and at the same time maintain its independence from the ilk of Hugo Chávez.

Argentina is a clear example of the failure of the historical national-populist political model of the past. Though rapidly emerging from the socio-political disaster that destroyed its economy and society, governability here still has a long way to go. Its weaknesses are evident. Touraine reduces Argentina’s economic recovery to three short-term positive factors: exports to China, cheap oil from Venezuela and a concentration of power in the hands of its President. He could have mentioned also the under-valued peso! Though the Peronist President Kirchner is purportedly a progressive, it is in general hard to speak of Left and Right in Argentina since the country’s economic situation requires free market solutions, which are not of leftist inspiration and which not even powerful Kirchner could change even if he wanted to.

Though one notes here an optimistic air and confidence in the future largely absent in West Europe—except for Spain—and though in general it is hazardous to claim social-economic triumph in Latin America, it has occurred to me that surprisingly, in this moment, the world is witnessing a rebirth of the Spanish-speaking world. It seems emblematic that Spanish is creeping up the map of the United States of America.

Yet, precisely because of the optimism in the atmosphere, Latin America must also make a quantum leap ahead politically and socially. It needs a radicalization on the political and social front in order to escape from two old threats: governments of the free market elite (today based on a globalized economy) and—again according to Touraine—the illusion of neo-Castroism which has never died.

Latin America has had two recent traumatic and interrelated experiences: military dictatorship that destroyed the continent with its neo-free market economics supported by the International Monetary Fund and the United States, and the ruinous economic systems facilitated by those same military regimes. 

On the other hand, the two European immigrant countries, Argentina and Chile, have the European social model in their DNA. Yet, they have in their blood stream also the North American savage free market model as in Chile and the disasters of the military dictatorships it caused in their history. Perhaps, despite the successes of Chile’s economy that emerged from the Pinochet dictatorship, the best news from Latin America today is that the option for the social model has never been closer. I do not believe that a pure free market model can resolve the widespread poverty in Latin America as a whole. The chief reason is that the class society is too deeply entrenched to expect, or even hope for, a sense of fair play and social responsibility on the part of the elite toward the exploited depressed classes.

The consolidation of the Mercosur—the Latin American Common Market—is important for Latin America, if only in order to distance the continent from the one-way, self-protective, greedy political economics of the United States. It is my opinion that long-term goals must point toward the establishment of social states dedicated to economic progress and social justice. 

 

Che Guevara -  Hero of our times

Although often linked together, protest and resistance are not the same thing. In Europe and USA we are familiar with protest against injustice. Resistance is something else. Resistance is totalizing, directed against all-pervasive power, against a system of injustice, against the gaolers of mankind. In comparison, protest is easy, even comfortable and immediately rewarding. Resistance instead means commitment, struggle and a hard way of life. You can protest, march and wave banners, then go back home to comfort and ease.

Resistance demands your life, its price is high, and as Che Guevara liked to say, “you either win or die.” Resistance, not protest, brings down despotic regimes. 

I try to imagine what Jorge Borges might have said about his fellow countryman, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He must have been curious and intrigued and maybe he wrote articles about the revolutionary. If he could have seen it through the yellow mist he said was in his eyes, I wonder if he would have admired or abhorred the famous photograph of Che with long beard and hair, and his cap with a star in the middle.

Ernesto Guevara was born in Rosario in western Argentina in 1928. He died at the age of 39 in the Bolivian village of La Higuera on October 9, 1967. At age seventeen he moved to Buenos Aires with his parents, studied medicine, and then traveled through Latin America. He studied Marxism while in the youth brigades in Guatemala during the Jacobo Arbenz leftwing government before it was crushed by a CIA-organized coup d’état. In 1955 he joined Castro in Mexico where he became el Che. (Che is an Argentinean usage of the commonly used interjection that means something like Tu or Vos (for you) and by extension, Comrade or Friend. Che means now also Guevara.) He sailed with the Castro brothers and Cienfuegos on the Granma to Cuba to overthrow the corrupt Batista regime. And later as a commander of the guerrilla movement in Bolivia he was executed by a Bolivian soldier and/or the CIA.

A new book by the veteran Argentinian journalist, Julia Constenla, Che Guevara, la vida en juego (Che Guevara, Life At Stake), offers new insights into the man we all know as Che Guevara. Moved by her acquaintance of several days with Guevara at a conference of the Interamerican Economic and Social Council in Punta del Este, Uruguay in August of 1961 and a long friendship with Che’s mother, Celia, the Argentine writer offers new materials about the extraordinary life of the Latin American revolutionary. The three hundred-page biography is illustrated with hundreds of photos and reproductions of el Che, letters, drawings, some of which never before published.

The documentation for the new book plus some videos is being shown in an exhibit in the Centro Cultural of my Buenos Aires barrio of Recoleta. There he is in the photographs and the video recovered by the journalist in Cuba. There is the newborn Ernesto in his mother’s arms in Rosario in 1928, his features already recognizable. There he is on his motorcycle traveling thousands of miles through South America, there he is with women and his children, with his companions, a victorious Che in Cuba, there he is with his charming smile, and there he is on the cover of Time magazine. Then there is the Che, defeated in the Congo, and there he is again in Cuba, reading, writing, revolutionizing. And then there he is riding on donkeys with his rifle in his arms, and then at the end, lying on a cot, a prisoner, weak, dirty and wounded, in La Higuera, Bolivia. He is about to be executed: his acceptance of his destiny reminds me of the last photograph of Gudrun Ensslin of the German Baader-Meinhof terrorists on her way to death in the Stammheim prison.

Total silence reigned among the Argentineans in the small, darkened room of the Cultural Center as the Che on the video spoke before the masses in Cuba and Algeria. His was an anti-imperialist message. World revolution! I thought of the young Trotsky, not Lenin. Shivers ran down my spine in the same way as at John Reed’s speeches at Bolshevik political rallies in Moscow in the film REDS that I have seen time and again. And then, at the end of the exhibit and at the end of the video there is the dead Che, his face hollow, his eyes open, as Bolivian peasants pass to render homage to the man and to the revolutionary.

Posters hanging on the walls of young people of the world testify that Ernesto Che Guevara was a hero of our times also because he was considered such. One explanation of the universal appeal of this single Argentinean is found in the words of Jean Paul Sartre that “Che Guevara was the most complete human being of our age.”

Though most everything has been written about “el Che”, it is curious and unclear what took place in that young Argentinean, what clicked in some prominent brain cell, to transform him into the man of action who became the idol of successive generations of youth. Some bien pensant persons like to claim that there are more heroes in life than we imagine. Personally I doubt it. Or perhaps it depends on the definition of “hero” which I believe includes above all a big dose of a rare quality called commitment. In my opinion, there are either few genuine heroes or we are all heroes, philosophically I mean, just because of our condition as human beings. The truth is that for most of us it is too difficult to be a real hero, too demanding and uncomfortable. Therefore we admire those who are capable of that necessary commitment and succeed.

 In an article in a Buenos Aires daily, the writer Julia Constenla describes her meetings with Che Guevara across the Rio de la Plata in Punta del Este, the playground for well-to-do Argentineans. She was covering the conference organized by US President Kennedy “to discipline the Latin American continent.” Though Cuba was not to have been invited, after complex diplomatic maneuvers, Che (by then a Cuban citizen) arrived to represent Cuba. Also Guevara’s parents came to meet their son and since they had no place to stay, Constenla invited them to stay with her in a three-bedroom house. There began the days together with Che Guevara and his parents.

“I was not aware that I was involved in world history but only with one of the important barbudos of the Cuban Revolution. They had been in power two years in Cuba, Fidel Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara. I ate with him, interviewed him, conversed with him. He was self-sure, with an extraordinary capacity to go straight to the point, an acid irony, very seductive. I don’t mean with women: when he entered the conference room everything centered on him.”

The journalist-writer says that by the mid-seventies, after Che’s death and the dictatorship arrived in Argentina, she came to consider him one of the most important persons of the XX century. “He went down in history as the best our century could produce. He became Che in Mexico and in the mountains of Cuba. Before, he was a young Argentinean, brave, generous, intelligent, politicized. But he was not yet “el Che.” I saw in him then a level of commitment greater than I’ve ever known. The video I have of him in Cuba shows a man constantly among the masses, talking, explaining, working. A man of the new Cuba who met with Mao Tse-Tung, Nehru, Khruschev, a man with a family he loved, who nonetheless followed the path of revolution. After his defeat in the Congo he could have returned to Cuba and lived in comfort and ease; instead he went to Bolivia. His level of commitment is incomparable. Therefore people who believe they are followers of Guevara because they have a poster of him sicken me.”

The new biography-exhibit denies the rumored rupture between Fidel and Che as the reason he went to Bolivia. Señora Constenla claims such charges are propaganda to denigrate the Cuban Revolution. Che Guevara, she says, always recognized Fidel Castro as the chief. Castro on the other hand gave him the most important assignments. Though Castro did not agree with Che’s adventures in the Congo and Bolivia, he accepted his ideas. Constenla rejects also the idea I have read of Guevara’s suicide at the end: “He was in Bolivia to win or to die!”

Here I have departed from the Argentinian writer’s book and looked toward Italy, Argentina’s cousin. The Italian Left has always had strong sentiments for Che Guevara. The Italian journalist Gianni Minà did a major interview with Castro in 1987 in which he concentrated on the figure of Che Guevara and his revolutionary calling. Castro stressed Che’s altruism, his determination, his impulsiveness and his fear that the revolution in Latin America against imperialism would end like the others. Castro recalled that when they were in Mexico, Ernesto was determined to scale the gigantic Popocateptl peak, despite his asthma. He never succeeded but he never gave up. He would never surrender.

Documentation confirms that Che Guevara believed in exportation of the revolution. Washington was right to be afraid. Washington saw its nice arrangement with an entire continent threatened. Mario Vargas Llosa describes in his new novel Traversura de la niña mala the arrival of his fellow Peruvian students in Paris, recruited for training in Cuba or China or North Korea for guerrilla warfare in the Andes. I was curious to learn that many belonged to MIR, the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, defectors from the leftwing APRA party that had invited me to Peru in those same Sixties when Che Guevara went to the mountains of Bolivia. Others were arriving in Paris from other movements, from other countries, in competition for the places Cuba made available. For Che, Bolivia was a stepping-stone back to his native Argentina. First Bolivia, then Argentina. The explosive year of 1968 was just around the corner and Che Guevara was to become one of its symbols.

Now, as I wrote above, Leftist leaders again consider Bolivia a key to the future of a democratic Latin America, the one country where society and political leadership are united: the socio-political movement of miners and peasants headed by Bolivian President Evo Morales emerged from the resistance that Che furthered.

Some observers believe that Che Guevara transformed the nationalist Castro into the Latin American revolutionary he became. Maybe he did. Everywhere his slogan was resistance to imperialism! The great escalation in Vietnam was beginning at the time Guevara created the phrase of universal resistance: “Create two, three, many Vietnams.” His credo was, “Any nation’s victory against imperialism is our victory, as any defeat is also our defeat.”

Among Ernesto Guevara’s epiphanies on the road to revolutionary resistance was that of guerrilla warfare. “Resistance, resistance and again resistance” was his message. That became the legacy of revolutionary 1968 on the streets of the Latin Quarter in Paris and at the University of Rome. In his mind guerrilla warfare was the shortcut to the victory of Socialism and the birth of the New Man. Che was earlier than others. He must have first seen the light after the CIA organized the crushing of the Arbenz revolutionary government in Guatemala. Maybe he left Cuba, his wife and children and a life of ease for Bolivia because his vision was broader in scope than that of Castro. From the very start when he biked over Latin America his vision seemed to become universal, in which opposition to US imperialism was fundamental.

           

The MIR in Peru immediately embodied Che’s message. MIR guerrilla was on the lips of everyone in Lima in the late sixties. Revolution in the Andes as in the Cuban sierra! Washington preached anti-Communism while the middle class of Peru, as in much of Latin America, feared that a weak government could not handle the resistance fighters and that a military dictatorship would return to take care of it. There was the suspicion that the Peruvian military and its intelligence and the CIA helped organize the revolutionaries in order to justify the military return to power. Che Guevara was right to be wary. For that is the story of Latin America. Like the ebb and the tide, a brief taste of democracy, protest and resistance, and then another round of military dictatorship. A handful of Communist guerillas have always been the pretext for a golpe followed by a decade of “safe and secure dictatorship.” In 1965 when the MIR exploded in the mountains of Peru, the opposition party APRA accused the government of complicity with the Castro-supported guerrilla. Predictably, the government soon ordered the army to crush MIR and Tupac Amaru resistance. The army did. And soon after, in 1968, the golpe arrived.

           

Che Guevara was no saint. He ruthlessly condemned to death alleged traitors to the Cuban Revolution, according to his belief that in a revolution you either win or you die. He allegedly said that if the Soviet missiles installed in Cuba were under Cuban command they would have been directed to American cities. This must make him a fanatic as we know them today. His belief in resistance and the revolution made of him a model for the IRA in Ireland and for Islamic fundamentalists as well.

Ernesto Che Guevara’s legacy was his own life. My painter friend, Anatoly Krynsky, reminds me that there were many like him in Soviet Russia where dissidents were shot and tortured and went to the gulags as did many true Russian Communists under Stalin. Yes, one must conclude, they too were heroes. Maybe also martyrs. But they did not have the stuff of myth, as did Guevara.

What was the secret to Che’s success as a revolutionary? What was his charisma? Though he wrote well, it was not in his writing. I think it was in his unbreakable link with mankind. Total dedication and total commitment. Choose the hard road! Never give up! Never surrender!

There he is in the photographs, forever alive! Handsome and intelligent, writer, doctor, political leader and revolutionary, forever traveling on his Homerian odyssey through Latin America and the Third World … a hero of our times.

 

In the silence of the darkened hall in Recoleta watching the Che Guevara video were both young and those who experienced first hand the military dictatorship of thirty years ago. In my lifetime Argentina has been synonymous with “tango” and “gauchos” and also with the terrible word “desaparecidos.” Though the desaparecidos procedure was not invented here, it reached a most sophisticated form in good old Argentina: crush totally and forever all resistance by eliminating them and simultaneously create a curtain of silence around the phenomenon so that people later believe they were not even aware that the best of a generation has gone missing. Yet, that word, desaparecidos, has continued to haunt the country.

These Argentine spring days I try to imagine the consternation, the shock and the attempt to ignore the second disappearance of one of the surviving desaparecidos of three decades ago. Though most people I have asked deny it, I wonder if they fear the return of the ominous Triple A—the death squadrons of the Alianza Anticommunista Argentina.  

On September 18, 2006 the key witness in the trial of one of the torturers of the military regime that crushed Argentina from 1976-1983 disappeared. Thirty years ago the same stonemason, Juan Julio López, was one of tens of thousands of missing, who however survived the torture and concentration camps and lived to tell. After initial weak echoes of the event last October, one hundred thousand persons then demonstrated to demand the return alive of the missing Juan López. The government of Buenos Aires Province offered $70,000 reward for information about his whereabouts and his photograph still appears regularly in TV and the press, in police patrol cars and in soccer stadiums. Yet, nothing! No one has seen him. A repetition of the past. Twice in one lifetime, a desaparecido. No one knows where he is. He has vanished to no place, exactly as happened thirty years ago. To Argentineans the López story seems incredible. Three decades ago he militated in the ranks of the rebel Montoneros before he was arrested in his home, tortured for months by a police official, and imprisoned in a concentration camp where he witnessed the secret execution of others.

Shortly before his second abduction last month his testimony had led to a life sentence for his former torturer. Even more, López recognized and named by name other repressors of thirty years ago for which they too can be tried and sentenced.

“I know some of those who tormented us,” he told the court. “They were police gangsters.” Though in order to come to terms with its past of violence and state terrorism Argentina has gone further than other countries, many of the torturers are still out there. I have spoken with people of the rich upper class who still support the representatives of the torturers, who still believe there was a civil war, which, as it happened then, the military won. The national press labels the disappearance of López an affair of state. It has taken place in an accomplished democracy. Critics challenge the President of the Republic, the political opposition and the population to come out stronger and to find this newest desaparecido, alive!

One fears that the President of Argentina has accumulated so much power in his hands as to awaken the reactionary forces hidden in society. On the other hand, and perhaps for that reason, the President does too little; therefore the suspicion mounts that he is in effect protecting someone. If so, whom? The former torturers? It is the same charge that rings out across the former American democracy where Power always protects its own.

Some people believe that the former repressors slinking through the streets of the nation in the night, sleepers today, are behind the anonymous threats arriving on the doorsteps of future witnesses against them. And again, some of the press charges, society seems anaesthetized as it was three decades ago.

In late October, Argentina’s major conservative newspaper, La Nación, reported the story of an Argentine poet teaching in the USA who had decided to return home to present two of her books. In the 1970s she was a member of the leftwing Peronist Youth and was imprisoned with her two year-old daughter. She was tortured with electric shock and repeatedly raped but survived and made a new life abroad. In the USA she was packing her bags when she received a message from a friend: “Think twice before returning. The Triple A is back and no one knows how long it will stay.”

 

Now, as my time here winds down, I know what Buenos Aires reminds me of: Moscow! My wife says I’m nuts. Moscow? Buenos Aires? It’s the hyper-activity everywhere. The streets packed with people as my Moscow was. People climbing into one of the 40,000 black and yellow taxis, or boarding one of the thousands of multi-colored buses of the city’s 150 lines, despite the poisons they spit out and the speed at which they careen through the streets, nonetheless a magnificent public transport system at US$ 0.20 a ride, or rushing down the station stairs of one of five underground lines. Everybody is going somewhere, gabbing on cell phones along the way, pushing baby carriages or delivery carts, or, then, here and there, stopping for a moment on a busy corner to turn their faces toward the southern sun.

On a city bus in Belgrano I witnessed an emblematic scene. In the seat behind me a woman began to cry, softly at first. I turned. She was young, plain and plump, apparently normal and healthy but tragedy was written in her face. As she began sobbing louder, two women across the aisle from here leaned toward her and took her hand and spoke comforting words. But her crying mounted. At that moment a young man from the front of the bus came down the aisle and stopped next to her and asked if he could help. Apparently a stranger, he leaned toward her and took her hand in both his, speaking reassuringly to her. Finally he suggested they get off the bus and look for help and he supported her down to the street and stayed with her.

Today, at the end of my stay, I am more perplexed than at the beginning: Who are Argentineans? And who am I? I still wonder about Argentineans’ desarraigo, their uprooting from their European origins. I spent one of my last evenings in Buenos Aires in the small and hot, top floor apartment in south Buenos Aires of a 40-year old lawyer friend, named Kindsvater, who traces his ancestry back to Volga Germans. Gustavo stressed that separation from European roots is not an on-going process; the process was completed long ago. It is not even a question. Multi-ethnicity is not a question. Argentineans believe they love Paris and are fascinated by Italy but they are no longer transplanted Europeans: they are Argentineans.



Gaither Stewart, writer and journalist, is originally from Asheville, NC. After studies at the University of California at Berkeley and other American universities, he has lived his adult life abroad, first in Germany, then in Italy, alternated with long residences in The Netherlands, France, Mexico and Russia. After a career in journalism as the Italian correspondent for the Rotterdam daily newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, and contributor to the press, radio and TV in Italy and various European countries, he today writes fiction. He has authored novels and short story collections. His collections, Icy Current, Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger, Once In Berlin, are published by Wind River Press. (http://www.windriverpress.com/ or http://stewart.windriverpress.com/) He lives with his wife, Milena, in the hills of north Rome. Other essays and stories by Gaither are available in Archives.

© Gaither Stewart
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