Argentina’s Haunted Past

The ghosts of Argentina’s recent past ride high in the saddle throughout the country. In the 20th century, the nation suffered two episodes that deeply marked its gaucho character: a Patagonian worker’s massacre during the 1920s and a repressive military regime in the 1970s.

 

Argentina is fast becoming Latin America’s leader in a new form of tourism that is peeling back the veils of these tragedies: human rights tourism. Now travelers can learn more about the country’s experiences that go beyond gauchos, tango and parrilla BBQs. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina helps you to tear away this cloaked past.

 

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.

In 1976, the military overthrew Isabel Perón, third wife of the recently deceased President, legendary Juan Domingo Perón. A reign of terror then ensued. Youth were kidnapped, tortured and killed. Some of them were activists. Others were targeted only for the “crime” of being young. Up to 30,000 were murdered. Pregnant women were often kept alive to give birth then killed, their children being adopted by families close to the military junta. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo formed to fight for the truth of what happened to their children, and the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, to search for their grandchildren.

 

Resistencia's Museo de la Memoria.

In many cities, the former torture centers have been turned into museums, to remind people of that dark decade of Argentina’s modern history—and to pay homage to those who died. In Buenos Aires, the ESMA (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada), which was one of the principal detention camps, is now a museum. Both Rosario and Resistencia have museums called Museo de la Memoria. At the one in Resistencia, two of the torture chambers are being excavated for evidence to bring the guilty to justice. Córdoba’s Archivo de la Memoria, across the alley from the Catedral, has a particularly strong ambience. Here, the walls that hid the torture cells have been torn down, revealing the victim’s last words scratched into plaster. (Note: If you are particularly sensitive to energies, you might find this museum a bit overpowering.)

 

Coronel Varela's railcar.

Another obscure chapter in Argentine history occurred in the country’s south during the early 1920s: The Patagonia Rebellion. Because of the horrid working conditions on the sheep estancias (ranches), the workers rose up. From 1920 until early 1922, the entire region saw strikers taking over ranches in an attempt to get landowners to fulfill promised reforms. The military was sent in and a manhunt ensued of the labor organizers and anyone else involved. On some estancias, more than a thousand strikers were killed.

 

The memorial near Estancia Bellavista.

In many of the principle centers of labor organizing, monuments exist to the strikers. At Jaramillo is a statue to Facón Grande. At Puerto Deseado is the railcar that Coronel Varela used to pursue the workers; it is now a museum to the workers’ struggle. Puerto San Julián where the women of one brothel told soldiers looking for a little R&R, “We don’t sleep with murders,” has a memorial to Albino Agüelles. One of the largest massacres occurred in Gobernador Gregores, at Estancia Bellavista. In this village, Estancia Los Granaderos organizes the tour, Tras los Pasos de los Huelguistas (In the Footsteps of the Strikers), which takes travelers to various related sites in the Patagonia. The notable exception to cities with memorials is Río Gallegos, which was the headquarters of the main strike organizer, Antonio Soto. In fact, to this day, it is still quite a touchy topic for the local populace.

 

The Patagonian Rebellion even extended to the estancias in Southern Chile, where the ruling families—the Braun, Menéndez and Noguiera—lived and controlled their Patagonian empires. Although their mansions are mute about their role in this history, you can see the splendor of their lives on full display in Punta Arenas, Chile, from the Palacio de Sara Braun (where you might catch a ghostly image on your photo) and Museo Regional Braun-Menéndez, in another of the family’s homes, to the city’s cemetery gates. Puerto Natale’s Museo Histórico Municipal has a section on the 1920s strikes, as does Museo Histórico e Industrial in nearby Puerto Bories.

 

Grab a copy (or download one) of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina or V!VA Travel Guides Patagonia Argentina. They will take you to these sites—and many more—on both sides of the border and throughout the grand country, in your search for Argentina’s haunted past.

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