April 5th, 1976
Yesterday I turned 31, and I spent the evening at home in Corrientes with Mother. She is getting older, now has a cane and hears only out of her left ear. I surprised her for my birthday, and she nearly didn’t open the door because Julia and I arrived late and no one has any confidence in the security of any place after it gets dark nowadays. I am trying to practice my English, which I have been studying recently in case I must leave the country. It is not safe here anymore, however there is a consensus within the youth movement that we must stay here to defend the truth at the heart of our nation, represented by the radical activists and dignified people who hope to continue life without violence, hatred, or danger. I believe Argentina will mend itself if the honest souls keep it grounded, but I do not intend to put myself in danger if I am aware that it’s coming, and if I need to board a plane for the North of this continent (or others), I will.
I didn’t come home for my birthday only; ever since the coup the eerie quietness on the streets of Buenos Aires as a result of the military’s full control on our culture’s ability to congregate, protest, be political in any sense, has made life into a heavy grey cloud of fear and anticipation. My girlfriend Julia is scared to leave the house at all; I leave for work very early in the morning before the streets become crowded as I want to avoid any police violence against large gatherings of people. I try to be home before dusk, but lines have been long at the fruterías and I often arrive home later than I’d like. We haven’t seen a film in the cinema for a month, nor can we stay out past midnight. Julia is a writer—she mainly does fiction but works for a magazine that also publishes leftist political news and opinions stories, so she is worried that the military will eventually come to “disappear” the employees in her office. I have been encouraging her to take walks in neighborhoods close by but not directly near our house in case the military tracks her down because of her affiliation with the publication, but lately she has stayed in the house for days at a time. I come home to find her stroking the cat and smoking on the balcony of our apartment building in Boedo. She eats very little now; galletitas and maté are constantly out on the counter, but when I make pasta or meat she has no appetite. I thought coming out to Corrientes for a little while, so she could meet my mother and leave the suffocating ghost town of Buenos Aires, might rejuvenate her a little. We arrived after 10 hours on a bus and she collapsed immediately last night, barely managing to introduce herself to Mother before asking me where she could sleep.
The morning after I last wrote in this notebook, seven years ago, I called my friend Fernando, who was living in Buenos Aires at that time. He finished his degree in geography a year before I at the University of Cordoba, and we were writing letters to each other to stay in contact. Fernando found a job with El Centro Argentino de Cartografía and I insinuated that I would like to work there as well, when I finished my studies. He was my best friend in school and city cartography has been my dream since I took an Urban Geography class my second year. He told me he would mention me to his bosses as a good candidate to hire for the following fall. When the Cordobazo happened I was worried about returning to Córdoba and had a deep desire to move forward with my life without finishing at the University. I called my friend Fernando the next day using my mother’s house phone and he said to me, “Compañero, supe del incidente en Córdoba. Entiendo si tengas las ganas de volver ahí para luchar por los trabajadores en esa ciudad, pero justo la semana pasada, un miembro de La Asociación de Cartografía se lastimó durante el Rosariazo el 20 de Mayo. Él estaba visitando sus padres, participaba en la manifestación y tuvo un encuentro con la policía que le dejo sangrando en la calle. Está en el hospital ahora, y no sabemos si o cuando va a poder volver a trabajar. Necesitamos alguien listo, muy conocedor, como vos, Miguel. Vení a Buenos Aires ahora; podés quedarte conmigo hasta que encuentres otro alojamiento. Mi jefe me dijo que confía en mi opinión, y aunque te falta un semestre para terminar tu carrera, creo que necesitamos tu vigor y inteligencia si estás bien dispuesto para esto. Sé que este tipo de trabajo es tu pasión. El momento te está tocando ahora. Que te parece?”
I was ecstatic, scared, and so excited that I packed my bags immediately and took the next overnight bus to Buenos Aires. With so much anxiety, I left my new notebook, which I planned to use to help me reflect on all the new experiences I would have during the tumultuous political and personal times ahead in a new city, wedged between my bed and the wall. I found it there and just read that first entry again, which I wrote so early on in the progression toward total military siege in this country. Since then I have become more hardened to violence, crowds, blatant lies over the airwaves, in the newspapers, out of the mouths of those with power claiming their innocence and out of those with less power in an attempt to surreptitiously protect what little they have.
I have looked down or passed along almost every street in the city of Buenos Aires; my job has been to document—through photographs and interviews—any vacant or government-usurped properties in the city. Through this process I’ve seen the villas alongside the mansions in Recoleta; I met and talked with many people who spoke of their increasing economic troubles during the ongoing crisis, with inflation rising so high that many could not pay rent on houses or stores. These individuals might move in with family members in other owned buildings or continue to operate in secret within ostensibly foreclosed buildings. My investigations even led me to some covert revolutionary meetings, which I was welcomed into due to my professed adherence to the cause and connection to the Asociación de Cartografía, which had also hosted Montonero meetings occasionally. Several instances I almost was inducted into the Montonero Army, and although I appreciated their “creative” approaches to fighting multinational corporations, the corrupt military and police, and the ideologically crooked people on the right, I couldn’t find the desire to take up arms. At first I wondered if I was weak, somehow corrupt, uninformed, lo que sea. Tengo que escribir en español, me cuesta hablar tanto en inglés. Pero me di cuenta de que no importa la cantidad de amigos muriéndose debido a los ataques de la militaría o si estuviera involucrado en actividades violentes de la guerilla, no voy a luchar con armas. Mi compañero Fernando participaba en La Operación Primicias y aunque no sufrió, este acción exacerbaba la relación antipática entre los Montoneros y la militaría. No doy la culpa a ellos, por el hecho de que sus ideas ideológicas quedan en lo que es justo, pero HAY OTRA MANERA.
Tengo que dormir un poco; mañana decidiremos si vamos a volver a Buenos Aires o no, y quiero tener mi sensibilidad al máximo.