Home Argentina community Staying in Argentina to witness the emergence of a post-dictatorship democracy… – Slugger O’Toole

Staying in Argentina to witness the emergence of a post-dictatorship democracy… – Slugger O’Toole


It was my first mission abroad. I landed in Buenos Aires in April 1982 with the knowledge of Argentine history and politics that I was able to glean from books on the long flight from Madrid and the pidgin Spanish learned on vacation in Spain. How do you establish the contacts that all journalists rely on?

A few days after my arrival, I saw an advertisement in a newspaper for a meeting of the Argentinian Irish community at the Church of the Holy Cross. I knew there were Argentinians of Irish descent. Che Guevara’s patronymic name was Lynch. The Irish community would be my gateway.

A thirty-minute bus ride from the Sheraton Hotel, our base in BA, took me to the church, where I had one of the most memorable encounters of my journalism career. – Father Frederico Richards. He edited the English-language weekly for Irish people in Argentina – the “Southern Cross”, still in print and online today, in English and Spanish.

He was a fearless opponent of the junta. Some 30,000 students, academics, trade unionists, mostly left-wing journalists were torn from the streets and “disappeared” under the military dictatorship. Frederico published weekly reviews.

He had witnessed the abduction by the soldiers of twelve mothers of the “disappeared” and of a nun who helped them. His niece, Gloria Keogh, had been abducted from her apartment and had “disappeared”. She was never found.

On that April afternoon, forty years ago, he told me of unconfirmed reports that some of the “disappeared” had been drugged and thrown from planes into the Atlantic. These death leaks were finally admitted in court, years later.

Nor was he afraid to condemn his own bishops for their silence on the missing, and the Spanish-language newspapers that failed to report the killings and disappearances of mostly leftist critics of the junta.

He was a valuable contact. Through him, I met other members of the Richards family – almost all of them lawyers – and through them I met politicians, factory owners, businessmen who in turn knew members of the armed forces and the administration. These were my ears to the ground throughout my stay.

Although we suspected that our hotel rooms were searched from time to time, probably by the officers driving around town in dark green Ford Falcons, I never felt unsafe except from speeding buses. speed on city streets. Locals called them collectivos assassinos – killer buses.

One of the press packs – BA’s Sheraton was like Belfast’s Europa, full of journalists – had T-shirts printed with the slogan ‘I covered the Falklands War – in large print and small print – “from Argentina” – thousands of kilometers away.

The biggest problem was getting our daily reports back to BBC2’s ‘Newsnight’. We worked with film crews and editors from Ted Turner’s American television company, which later became CNN. We were helped by the four hour time difference between Argentina and the UK.

We were operating out of rooms at the Sheraton Hotel. The editor cut the tape we had shot during the day. A steward, moonlit from his job with Aerolineas Argentinas, took the tape, went down the elevator, got into a taxi, went to the airport, jumped on a plane to Uruguay, took a taxi to the National Broadcasting Service where the US 525 tape was changed to the UK 625 system and then sent back by satellite to the London studio.

For the interviews with Peter Snow in the London studio, we simulated a studio in the hotel room. I sat down on a chair above two low tables, covered with a bedspread. Peter would ask me questions on the phone, I would hang up and answer directly on camera. These responses would then be sent on tape to London in the manner I have described and replayed on transmission in response to the same questions from Peter Snow.

The immediacy of current reporting on the terrible war in Ukraine never ceases to amaze me. I stayed in Argentina to relate the aftermath of the war, the fall of the junta, the call for elections.

It’s the only war I know of that has had two winners. Britain won the war. Argentina won a democracy.