Monday, April 30, 2007

Remembering the Forgotten

Instead of the self-imposed silence of blogs over the media-fabricated bathos surrounding the shooting at Virginia Tech, today I would like to dedicate my blog to the death of someone I knew, who died as part of a significant tragedy for an entire generation of an entire continent.

Her name was Constanza Paz, although I always called her Connie. I met her in 1969 in Buenos Aires when she was 17, just like me.

Back then, she was in an "Up With People" singing group, which she joined with her younger, more talented sister, who could play the guitar and sing beautifully. Connie had trouble staying on key and there wasn't an instrument whose sound she couldn't mangle; she was assigned the tambourine.

When I saw her perform, she moved around a lot, but mouthed the words.

We were thrown together in a church group that organized one of the first a folk Masses or "Misa de la Juventud" (Youth Mass) in Argentina. She was with the music committee; I was with the committee who led discussions on the topics of the gospel after the service. I was the designated contrarian: even then, my best talent was to arouse opposition -- hence debate -- in response to nearly anything I said.

For years Connie and I exchanged letters after I moved away. I always recalled her smiling and dancing and shaking her tambourine. When I spoke with her, in 1973, she made fun of many of our ideals of adolescence, the spirit of which I have never really given up, even to this day, whatever the changes in practical applications. I sensed that we were parting ways, but I never dreamed how far our paths would diverge.

Connie was taken from her home by the military regime in April 1976 and was never seen alive again.

Her aunt told me, when I ran into her by chance, that Connie's bullet-ridden body had washed ashore. Her family believed she had joined a Trotskyist guerrilla group known then as the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (People's Revolutionary Army). Her body was probably one of many dumped by military torturers in the ocean, as described in the book The Flight: Confessions of a Dirty Warrior.

None of this squared with the Connie I had known, although I found out later that a few of those I knew back when later took similar paths.

Yet the Connie I knew had tender thoughts. For years we engaged in a playful exegesis of "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, especially the story of the fox, which was her favorite. You recall the one: the fox who seeks friends asks the Little Prince to tame him, else he cannot play.

Sometimes I wonder whether she would be alive today if we had been older when we met and a more solid relationship could have developed from our friendship.

Connie is, of course, emblematic of the thousands who disappeared under the military regime of 1976-83 in Argentina in a cowardly "war" against civilians that even the army officers described as "dirty."

Thousands more disappeared, were tortured and killed in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and El Salvador under a doctrine enunciated by one Cesar Augusto Pinochet in a 1965 article in the military journal Estrategia: seguridad nacional (national security). According to Pinochet and the officers in many military regimes of the era, the military were the anointed saviors of Western, Christian civilization against the onslaught of godless Communism.

These strong men, very virile when torturing unarmed women and youths, were in those dark years taught, encouraged and financed in the latest techniques of dictatorship and torture by the Central Intelligence Agency under the cover of a "traffic school" run by the U.S. Agency for International Development -- all supposedly in the name of "democracy."

An entire generation marred, ideals that initially were really very simple -- justice, equality, dignity for all -- became, through polarization caused in large part by the U.S. government's lack of subtlety, slogans of insurgency and counterinsurgency. All for naught: the generals are dying, their victims died, the poor still cry out to the heavens without receiving solace.

Ironically, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the proof that those men were cowards and military bumblers: the Malvinas / Falkland War, in which the torturers sent untrained boys to die, then ignominiously surrendered when their own skins were at risk.

If Connie were here, she would smile ironically, then laugh. Those tin men didn't really kill her.


Geneviève said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thailandchani said...

Best post I've ever seen on this blog! Absolutely beautiful.. and I'm glad you haven't given up those ideals. It certainly gets frustrating, especially being in the belly of the beast ~ but worth hanging on to anyway?



Anne said...

I remember being appalled at the one more (then) atrocity of Los Disappeardos (my memory of spelling may be wrong). The terrible maw of evil that tortured and murdered them and their families. As awful as it is, it is of some comfort to have a body. At the time I bought an icon to keep them in my memory.

Monday was a day of remembrance for others, too. Bob Herbert in the NYT wrote of Julia Campbell of the Peace Corps murdered in the Philippines and a woman in NY or Boston "Isaura" lamented the loss of her sons to the criminal violence of the here and now of the city. "I only wanted peace!" if I recall correctly. Your Connie's name Paz echoes.

But picking up with Genevieve's appreciation of your adolescent ideals, the same news of the day gives some heartening stats for those of us who are just beginning to know the tiredness of age, "of fighting the good fight." "The Millennial vote
By Jeanne Shaheen and John Della Volpe | May 1, 2007"

My sincere sympathy at your loss, Cecilieaux.