Like my last post, this one coincides with a nauseating display of national pageantry. Argentina’s “independence” day remains two weeks away, but the country has seized an altogether more exceptional opportunity to crowd into the streets and celebrate, as if enough pomp and circumstance, flag-waving and yelling and drinking, could banish the demons we all know lurk under the facade of our society. We won the World Cup, defeating Holland in the final with two goals in extra time. Videla displayed the most emotion I’ve ever seen from him in public.
But the image of him celebrating, perhaps the most human he has ever seemed, disturbs me much less than the photo of him bestowing the trophy upon los Albiceleste. The racehorse athletes on the team, legs bulging and hearts racing with the euphoria of living their burning dream, don’t realize for a second their position as pawns on the junta’s sick chess board. That we have won this symbolic contest of nations (which the powerful like to describe as “clean,” as beyond political) seems to validate the government in a twisted cosmic sense. It’s as if God has leaned down to exclaim “¡Así se hace, Argentina!” Videla’s reward is the chance in turn to play God, to perform God: by passing down the trophy, he bestows legitimacy on the competitors, validation for playing by the rules and winning, claiming a supreme spot in Massera’s “Western, Christian concert of nations.”
How appropriate, then, that this victory came only after an episode which everyone suspects but nobody here can question openly: Argentina’s 6-0 defeat of Peru in the second round. It looked like los Albiceleste were headed for a disappointing early exit from the tournament on their home turf: after only tying Brazil, we needed to win the last match by at least four goals – a margin well outside the range for a normal score. Peru seemed to just fold after half time, though, and Pablo and I looked at one another in the café where we watched in disbelief (we watched almost every game together – he’s obsessed with football and the two of us have grown closer during the difficulties of the last two years). The suspicion that the game was thrown, that somehow Peru was bribed or coerced, is so strong because of how closely it would mirror the regime’s approach to civic governance: a reflexive, superficial insistence that nothing is wrong in response to sinking public unease that something seems terribly askew.
Of course, that sinking public unease is the trickle-down result of extremely targeted but under-the-table violence. Luckily, none of my closest friends and family have yet been a target of the dreaded Ford Falcons. Pablo has some friends in his clandestine Marxist study group, however, with friends or family members desaparecidos. He shudders at that word and at describing the awful uncertainty of his compañeros; their loved ones are somehow neither dead nor alive, the pain of their dark absence unbearable and ever present. That pain seems central to Argentina’s current throes of celebration: the crowds up all night in the bars and plazas are not affirming the real present but trying to escape from it.