The Deaths of Two Pablos &
the Latin American Sept. 11
Just as the exhumation of Pablo Neruda’s remains got under way in Chile, Wikileaks has released another trove of U.S. documents. This time, they relate to the same period of the poet’s death, days after the Sept. 11, 1973 coup that ousted democratic president Salvador Allende.
As for the other Pablo, April 8 was the 40-year anniversary of Picasso’s death, who was also targeted by a dictatorship, that of Francisco Franco, but managed to outlive its reign of terror. Thus what took place decades ago remains relevant even to these indifferent times.
The 1970s was a dark period for most of Latin and Central America, with widespread military coups and disregard for human rights. It was a time when blood-thirsty rulers, under the banner of fighting a mostly fabricated Communist threat, were let loose to persecute and assassinate political opponents.
What’s disturbing is the fact that they may have had help from Washington and the Vatican, as the Wikileaks papers attest. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Pope Paul VI, both central to events of the period, are shown to be aware of what was taking place down South. They just chose to do nothing to prevent it.
Kissinger’s role has long been discussed, as there’s an overall consensus that the generals who disrupted by force so many democracies in the region could not have remained in power for as long as they did without political support and funding from Western powers. Despite all claims to the contrary, he’s staunchly denied any role in the Chilean coup.
But the papers also show that the Vatican had downright dismissed mounting allegations and evidence of almost indiscriminate murders and serious violations of the rule of law happening under its watch. Instead, the high hierarchy of the Catholic Church chose to join the Cold War anti-Communist credo, and carried on as usual.
THE BODY IN ISLA NEGRA
Neruda, the 1971 Nobel of Literature, was 69 when tanks and air strikes bombed the Palacio la Moneda, the official residence of his friend, President Salvador Allende, in what became the first tragic Sept. 11, 38 years before the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. The two dates share the same intolerance and savage impulse to murder, despite their time and geographical distances.
For very long, it was assumed that Neruda’s failing health and untimely death had been a coincidence, albeit one not without a heavy sorrow for seeing his dreams of democratic rule being crushed by the force of the canons. Until her own death in 1985, though, his widow, Matilde Urrutia, always maintained that Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, the poet’s previously legal name, had been poisoned by the regime.
The exhumation of his body, which had been laid to rest in Isla Negra, is the culmination of a long-delayed probe, one that, as traumatic as it may be, is part of a process of national healing for the South American nation (as is the recent arrest of army officers accused of murdering songwriter Victor Jara also in 1973). Many also hope that the final tally of those killed by the military will finally come to light, as there’s no exact figure about it so far.
Regardless of what’s determined about Neruda’s death, Chile paid a high price for the fascist adventure of its generals, arguably second only to what happened to Argentina under its successive, and even bloodier juntas. Such healing process has been progressing at different paces in Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and other nations, still reeling from the carnage and economic disaster left by the military rule.
What came to be known as the Condor Operation, a joined effort by the generals in power in the region, who collaborated to seek and most of the time kill their opponents, had also an apparent bottomless war chest, provided by their not yet in the open supporters. Whether they include corporations and or governments remain to be proven and documented.
Which only indicates that more than the exhuming of a few famous bodies, full justice and restoration have still a long way to go south of the equator. But at least, and as slow as it seems to be going on, the process is in course. At this pace, most likely it’ll take another generation or two for history books to fully incorporate and retell the story of what happened in the continent at the time.
‘THE ILLEGAL WE DO IMMEDIATELY’
That’s part of a 1975 Kissinger’s quote about the then-recent Freedom of Information Act, culled from the collection of 1.7 million declassified U.S. records, obtained from the National Archives, and now made available by Wikileaks. Despite their massive size, they cover only the years 1973 through 1976.
Journalistic organizations around the world have been working non-stop on the documents, but a few passages have already made the headlines. That includes the relatively surprising one about Pope Paul VI, which chillingly echoes the church’s attitude towards yet another historical event being marked this week, the Holocaust.
There’s no public record of any actions by Pope Pius XII in defense of the millions of Jews and minorities systematically hunted down and murdered by the German Nazi regime, during the worst of WWII. On the contrary, despite half-hearted attempts by the Vatican, his role, and that of the church, remains controversial at best.
In the 1970s, once again Rome was hesitant to intervene in Latin America, preferring to adopt a conservative position more aligned with the European and U.S. powers. Even priests, who personally tried to defend those persecuted by the military, were pressured by the Vatican, when not formally reprimanded by the Joseph Ratzinger-led Holy Se.
During a press conference, Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange, who remains confined to Ecuador’s embassy in London, mentioned other highlights from the searchable database, that he calls the Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy, or PLUSD, that may dominate the news cycle in the weeks ahead.
Take the one concerning India’s late Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi, for instance, a member of a still dominant political dynasty in the country. According to diplomatic cables, he may have been hired by Swedish Saab-Scania because of his access to his mother Indira Ghandi, who preceded him in power, and ease the sale of the group’s jet fighters.
Along with the ‘Kissinger Cables,’ Assange also alluded to a U.S. involvement with the Franco dictatorship in Spain, and the regime of Colonels in Greece. He even posted a Twitter about how it may have provided material support to generals who ruled Brazil, through a ‘torture exemption for the Brazilian military.’
THE RAPE OF GUERNICA
Few artists had as great an influence over the 20th century or were as prolific as Spanish Pablo Picasso, who died at 91 in 1973. But even among his colossal output of revolutionary paintings and sculptures, from a strictly political point of view, no other of his works compares to the relevance of Guernica, painted in 1937.
Done to illustrate the tragic destruction of the small Basque town by the German luftwaffe, supporting the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War, it immediately transcended what was then hardly known about the conflict. The bombing was the turning point and the painting remained as a witness to the horrors imposed by the Generalissimo on his opponents.
It was also the end of romantic illusions about the fate of Spain, who despite international support from idealistic freedom fighters of all nationalities, would undergo its worst political period, from which it only emerged in the early 1980s. After all, the dictatorship had the support of one of history’s worst and most powerful villains, Adolf Hitler.
But in 1937, few had the courage and the superior artistic talent to convey that tragic transition into a work of art for the ages. Picasso, of course, has achieved much more than what his most visible political statement could, but that’s material for another post and another coda.
For now, it’s only fitting that we close this article by mentioning Pablo Picasso and the links his famous painting offers to bloody dictatorships and to the anticipation of the holocaust, all evoked this week in many parts of the world. It’s also for the sheer coincidence with his friend, cultural twin and homonymous artist, Pablo Neruda.
* South American Way
* DNA Justice