South American Way

On Neruda, Garcia Marquez
& Argentina’s Stolen Children

The world remembers two Latin American writers who both received the Nobel of Literature, Chile’s Pablo Neruda, who would have been 108 yesterday, and Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose mental health is reportedly deteriorating. Both were active in the struggle against the wave of military dictatorships that took over the continent for over 20 years, starting in the 1960s.
While there are doubts about Neruda’s cause of death, there’s much sadness about Garcia Marquez’s condition. But the week also had another sight that things are no longer as bleak as they once were: members of the junta that ruled Argentina during the time were convicted of having stolen children of many members of the opposition, who they also stand accused having killed.
It was a dark time for South America, as one by one, almost all governments in the region fell under the iron-fisted control of its military. A whole generation of political leaders, who opposed the status quo, were killed or ‘disappeared,’ and it’s been taking a long time for all the facts about the period to come to light.
Both Neruda and Garcia Marquez became well known all over the world, their work suffused by what was going on around them. They were natural symbols of the resistance in their countries, either by publicly expressing their opposition, or by engaging and embarrassing the anti-democratic regimes in a global scale.
Before Pablo Neruda, the alter ego of diplomat Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, returned to Chile, he had already clashed with many progressive intellectuals of his time, over his supportive views of the Soviet Union. After winning the Nobel, in 1971, he threw his support behind the country’s first socialist elected for the presidency, Salvador Allende.
However, just days after the military took over the government, and killed Allende, on Sept. 11, 1973, he fell ill and died of what was reported at the time, ‘natural causes.’ But even though he was suffering from prostate cancer, the circumstances of his death remain surrounded by enough mystery to feed conspiracy theories.
Despite lacking support from his family and closest friends, there are those who claim he may have been poisoned by the military. As with the other Sept. 11, such suspicion has shown no signs of fading to the background any time soon. Still, he’s best remembered for the quality of his poetry.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who turned 85 last March, had a similar trajectory in Latin American politics, but was even more famous for his literature. His 100 Years of Solitude sold over 30 million books worldwide, and he remained a prolific author up to a few years back. He was also involved in ideological clashes with other intellectuals.
But even his most notorious foe, the Peruvian novelist, and also a Nobel winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, with whom he’s said to have come to blows, must be lamenting the loss of such an active and irrepressible voice. Whereas Neruda was criticized for his steadfast support of Joseph Stalin, Garcia Marquez had his share of aggrievances for being Fidel Castro’s friend.
His brother said he’s no longer writing and has had memory loss throughout the past few years, which is ironic for someone known for writing in a style that combined the recovery of the past through fantastic and intricate tales. He’s probably the best known example of Magic Realism, a label specifically created to frame his work and of other Latin American authors.
The sad episode of the adoption of children of political opponents of the military junta, that ruled Argentina from 1976 to the middle 1980s, by the accused killers of their own parents is one of unbelievable grief and sadness. Most of these kids had no idea that those who raised them were also responsible for their violation and demise of their own families.
To many, the mastermind of this grotesque scheme was Jorge Rafael Videla, the infamous general with the dubious honor of presiding over one of the most shameful times in Argentina’s history. He was sentenced to 50 years in jail for the plan, the stiffest penalty among that of dozen of other militaries responsible for keeping the charade going.
This is been the latest step towards Argentina’s painful recovery of its past, as the regime of Videla and others just like him are responsible for having killed or made to ‘disappear’ tens of thousands of citizens coming from a large strata of the country’s society. Their common denominators was only the fight to restore democracy, and for that, they’ve paid a stiff price.
Their children, however, their stolen identities and lifetime of trauma for growing attached to those who harmed their natural parents, add another staggering sad layer of hardship to what Argentina went through during the period. Despite rampant state-sponsored terror throughout the continent, this particular aspect of the so-called Dirty War was unique to that country.
In one of those cases when the truth is often more painful and infinitely harder to live with than a fabricated reality, one hopes these children find the help they need to reconstruct their lives. Just like Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and others, who’re still coming to terms with their relatively recent past.
* Also Read DNA Justice

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