The war on memory begins in Argentina

Former detention center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images

Within less than a
month of the inauguration of the new Macri/Cambiemos government in Argentina,
the new leadership, or gestión (management) as they prefer to be called,
acted in a great sweeping hurry. Argentine congress, full of opposition
parliamentarians from the Frente Para la Victoria Party that lost the
presidential race by 2% of the vote, was closed for the summer holidays that
take place in the ardent month of December, as much of the urban population of
Argentina seeks to carelessly flock to the seaside.

Big layoffs, and
new laws drafted to criminalize the protests against layoffs, coincided with
the battle to close down as many cultural centres as possible. The first
obvious target was the Nestor Kirchner Cultural centre, where theatre and music
shows were provided for free with the intent of giving the poor and working
classes access to high culture. More ominously, a battle is taking place to
shut down the Haroldo Conti Centre for Memory, a cultural centre and museum
built inside the former torture and disappearance centre, the ESMA, which
functioned during the 1970s as a secret concentration camp. The Haroldo Conti
centre is named after a lyrical Argentine novelist and prose essayist who, like
the non-fiction writer and militant Rodolfo Walsh and the surrealist poet
Miguel Angel Bustos, were among the writers who were murdered in targeted
assassinations during the last regime period of the country. An absurd-seeming
executive order from Macri also commanded the change of the images on the
currency: using images typical Argentine wild animals to replace the human
faces of past Argentine presidents, whether of the political right (often
genocidal, Custer-type 19th century rulers like Roca) as well as of
the political left (the face of Eva Peron, which was minted on the 100 peso
bill by command of Kirchner-era treasurers) The measure of readapting the
currency is called part of the ‘’de-ideologization’’ of the national money.
Part of the campaign of de-ideologization, or of ideological purification, was
the use of executive presidential power to take the first political prisoners in
Argentina since the apparition of Democracy in the mid-1980s. The Jujuyan
indigenous activist Milagro Salas is incarcerated for enacting the right to
protest, a right formerly defended in the Argentine constitution before Macri’s hurried
amendments which he enforced while Congress and the courts closed for summer
holidays (arriving in December in the Southern hemisphere).

To ornament the
structured erosion of memory and freedom of thought, a statement was issued by
Dario Lopérfido—the new minister of culture—announcing that the numbers of the
disappeared in Argentina had been exaggerated by leftists in order for them to
extort subsidies and money from the state. Lopérfido insisted in articles,
press conferences and twitter and facebook feeds that the real number was
somewhere around 12000 and not 30,000 disappeared persons.

No two demons

‘’From the one, two, from the two, the ten thousand, many things’’ – Lao Tze

Long before the
Culture Minister's statements of revisionism, the Human rights groups such as
HIJOS and the May Plaza Mothers’ Association have confronted the newly arisen
Cambiemos government led my Mauricio Macri. They accuse Macri’s ministers of
attempting the resurrection of ‘'two demons theory.’’

 The “theory of the Two Demons’’ in Argentina
refers to a notion advanced by Argentinian conservatism, gospel of those who
favor a historical revisionist account towards the dirty war of the 1970s.

It is claimed by
apologists that both the guerrillas and those persecuted by the state for
‘’subversion’’, as well as the officials who enforced policies of abduction and
execution, were victims, that both were equally guilty of having been carried
away by the momentum of the 1970s. Insisting on a relativized, dualistic view
of the 1970s era, or a ‘’leveling of accounts’’ the Manichean-sounding paradigm
absolves criminals by stating ‘’everyone committing bestial crimes’’  The apologetics are designed to reduce
history to a banal consensus, while freedoms are rescinded and an official
amnesia sets in. Such amnesia is much desired by the Latin American
beneficiaries of the 1970s regimes, who saw a successful and enviable model in post-Francist
Spain’s democracy, wherein history and historical consciousness were
effectively buried to promote a peace (one that would welcome the
administrative, post-political dogmas of the European Union, with its EU
austerity and immigration policies serving a model admired by Macri).

The current
Argentinian president, his Minister of culture and an array pundits have long
preached a despairing remedy for ‘’too much memory’’ in Argentina. Apparently
such romantic times as the regime years caused all to overstep boundaries of
polite conduct and the washing of accounts is desired. More urgent than any
debts to the aging mothers of the disappeared (all of them smeared as
extortionists by the current government) is Macri's rush to pay off as many
hedge funds as possible.

The 1970s are
represented as faraway, foggily remembered strings of events in forlorn
modernist antiquity, alien to the civilized conventions the new century.
“Cannot we all just get along?” was asked often by Mauricio Macri since his
days as Buenos Aires mayor. Then he was eager to dispatch police violence even
against the workers and inmates of the La Borda mental hospital in 2013, when
the staff and patients picketed against austerity and in order to preserve
their recreational facilities.

‘’Two demons’’
rhetoric sounds like Manicheanism, and calls for baptism in amnesiac liquidity.
It is proposed by the current Minister of Culture Lopérfido, as well as by the
leading tele-talk-show pundits such as Jorge Lanata, who is a widely read and
disseminated celebrity championed by a large sector of the Argentinian upper
middle class. A more crass expression that exemplified the culture of such
advocates goes’’ borrón y cuenta nueva,
“to wipe the slate clean and make new accounts’’ preparing for new administration.
The administrative mantra burst onto stage during 1990s neoliberal euphoria in
Argentina. An expression like ''borrón y cuenta nueva'', (explored in the
historian Marguerite Feitlowitz' book “A Lexicon of Terror” about the dirty war
years) quite literally called for tabula rasa erosion of memory, once endurable
when there was a more rampant consumption life-style during the years of the
Carlos Menem presidency.

It is clear by now
which grievances are tended to by the new government. In January of this year,
the Cambiemos (‘’let’s change’’) government erected a conference for apparent
‘’victims of the guerrilla’’ The committee convened while the government
declared its war on numerous museums and memorial centres such as the Haroldo
Conti cultural centre. For opinion-makers such as Lanata, the national trauma
has nothing to do with the 20.000 laid off civil servants, some of whom were
wounded by rubber bullets when they used their constitutional right to protest.
Those are merely ‘’vagrants’’ and ‘’lackeys’’ who had catered to social
programs such as offering health-inspections for prostitutes and kits with new
baby-care products for the poorest families in the country. A warfare by the
progress-loving manager against bureaucracy and the hated civil servant, part
of the anthem and global religious creed of Management, feeds the strange
progress-rhetoric of the New Right. Not only cutting down on public spending
serves to make the economy more ‘competitive’. The evisceration of memory, and
the lightness brought about by amnesia are inherent parts of the programme of
applying ‘’shock-doctrine’’ to a country that, even by neoliberal and
Chicago-Boys criteria, is not now in the kind of crisis theoretically requiring
shock-doctrine.

Among the main
targets for Cambiemos’ revising pen is the rampant ‘’overdose of memory’’ that
occurred during the first decade of the 21st century, and for which
Cambiemos offers a hopeful long syringe, of perhaps-infinite relaxation.

The banality of management

Argentinean intellectuals
have long declared a perhaps overstated affinity for French ideas. Such a
proclivity looking towards either European or North American intellectual
designs has often led to the mystification and neglect of Latin American and
Third World realities—this is often criticized with a depth of psychological
insight by the Argentine-Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussel, who developed his
theories (closely linked to Liberation Theology) during the hardships of his
exile from Argentina after enduring assassination-attempts in the 1970s.

Despite a
justified weariness towards importing more French paradigms, there is reason to
celebrate the recent translations of the works of Pierre Legendre, a
philosopher who goes through great pains to expose the fundamentalist creed of
management as a global superstition that glorifies the administrators of
privatized public life as a force of progress and anti-conservatism.  Macri’s government, his credos of
management-versus-bureaucracy, the pretension of being free from ideology or
dogma, and the disregard for any kind of tradition, culture or memory in favour
of ‘’the new’’ seems to prove the theory (observed by the philosopher Legendre
and other, non-Francophone radicals) of management as a dangerous global
fundamentalism with recognizable traits.

The method of
‘’de-ideologization’’ referred to by Cambiemos utilizes the language of
administration or management, in Spanish ‘’gestion,’’ in order to pretend to a
swaggering efficiency of fluid technological order.   They speak as progressives, but their
understanding of the word ‘’progressive’’ is more closely aligned to what it
means in the European Union countries than the connotations of the word progre
in Argentina (here progresista means a militant class-consciousness, support
for social programs to include the marginalized, the poor, minorities,
prostitutes and so forth, and the beginnings of a foundling welfare-state or
workers' state based on Neo-Keynesian capitalism.)

The struggle to
make the Argentine society more competitive by massive cuts to public spending,
is in essence not very different from the kind of explanations giving by
Euro-commission leaders like Juncker or Jeroen Dijsselbloem when they discuss
the austerity-measures and the deliberate break-down of Greek society (the
comparison holds except for the nuance, of Greece not having elected
Dijsselbloem or Juncker. The electoral situation in Argentina, saw many of the
poor and disenfranchised convinced by the PR machinery and colourful
campaigning of the right wing. The Clarin media monopoly proved itself capable
of an engine of such stunning power that it seems to have determined the three
electable candidates of all parties: Scioli of the Front for Victory, Massa of
the A+ party, and Macri of Cambiemos, all of them outspoken neoliberals.)

Perfidious
Lopérfido: ignorance is strength

Despite
criminalization, rubber and plastic bullets, the marches or demonstrations
continue to sound discontent. One of these marches includes the vociferous
protest asking for the resignation of the new Minister of Culture (!) Dario
Lopérfido after his coming out as a historical revisionist, stating his denial
of the disappearances. Lopérfido's insistence ‘’there were no 30.000
disappeared, the activists made that number up to get subsidies’’ infuriated
the May Plaza Mothers who demand his resignation.

The regime period
for which the Ministry of Culture seeks prettification, if not an institutional
nostalgia, was a time of devouring that eliminated the foundations of a
once-vibrant Argentine society. The 
regime of the coup targeted, specifically, the most talented and
outstanding young people: only to abduct them, and to execute them only after
the mycelium-network of torture chambers made people as young as 17 or 21
understand how there are many fates far worse than merely death. 

Organizations like
HIJOS and the Mothers of the May Plaza spoke out in revolt against the erosion
of memory, publishing letters of recrimination in the newspaper and organizing
petitions. Immediately they were shamed and insulted by public opinion-makers.
The association of the bereaved insisted that such a denial from the Minister
of Culture was an affront to the moral core of Argentina’s society and
democracy.  Lopérfido has not withdrawn
his statements against these “whiners’’, mothers robbed of their children, in a
Latin American culture where the dignity of the elderly and of the family
matriarch are still honoured and glorified, despite the ethos of management
seeking the erosion of this culture. “Who cares what sad old women in white
head-kerchiefs want’’ is the brazen response of the new
neoliberal-administrative and technocratic order. Lead PR-spokesperson Lanata,
who invoked the right of free speech, maintained a skeptical stance of punkish
rebellion towards commission of mothers, who use the disbelieved discourse of
human rights—an alienating concept, which president Macri himself has been
known to refer to as a ‘’shake-down’’ or a ‘’trick.” In the flurry of
front-page articles in Clarin as well as television statements, with
floundering gesticulations Lanata insisted the Mothers do not speak for
‘’society’’ and do not represent ‘’society’’. Here again, Lanata reveals
himself to be staunchly Thatcherite. No friend to either the Argentinian right
or left wing, Margaret Thatcher had once insisted that ‘’there is no such thing
as society, there only individuals and there are families” Families that
consume and individualized before televisions and apparatus-screens, atomized
from one another. A form of home-bred Neo-Thatcherism suits the paradigms of
the new government: society consists of Lanata’s primetime television viewers,
not of the mothers of a disappeared generation of nonconformists, of the
exceptional and assassinated future of Argentina.

Islands of forgetfulness and Sargasso

A tiny few points
of convergence or agreement on any political issue exist between the many
factions of left and right in Argentina, with one of the exceptions being the
Malvinas. The writer Jorge Luis Borges’ original proposal was for both the
British and Argentina to donate the islands to Bolivia, so that the latter
Andean country would at last have access to the sea that it lost during a war.
Perhaps Borges' subversively unpatriotic answer remains the most sympathetic, though
it pertains to a time when it was presumed by many Argentinians that the
islands possessed few natural resources of great value; Malvinas were written
off by some skeptics as purely a sentimental cause for the swollen patriots
until the wars between the junta and the British in the 1980s, leaving an
indelible wound upon the country because of the young soldiers killed or
damaged in the skirmish.

Across the
spectrum of Argentine politics, from Catholic Nationalism to Peronism and the
Marxist left, there has predominated an insistence that the Malvinas islands
are rightfully Argentinian, despite the British settlement of the ‘kelpers’
that expelled the original Argentine inhabitants in the early 20th century.
Macri, then, is an outstanding exception, as the first Neo-Thatcherite of
Argentinian politics: he made history with having nodded through the Davos
conference at David Cameron’s adamance that the Falklands are British
territory. It seems the Tory plans for the Falklands have greater adversaries in
the UK than within Cambiemos, to the dismay of Argentines across the
ideological and class spectrum.  The
islands are in the fog of de-ideologization’s planned oblivion, even if Jeremy
Corbyn wins the forthcoming British elections and will enact his promises of
returning the isles, he will meet with an indifference that might likely enrage
a large cross-section of Macri’s diminishing supporters.

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