Liliana Belatti’s humanity in times of war

by , under Enrique Tessieri

“[Leon] Trotsky once said that if the anarchists did not exist they’d have to be invented because they have done a lot of good things for humanity with their incorruptible opposition. They demonstrated having a principal that they never abandoned.”.

Osvaldo Bayer (1927-2018)

As the late Argentinean historian points out, social movements like anarchism in Argentina played an important role in demanding, and sometimes obtaining, justice. During the so-called Tragic Week of 1919, the anarchists almost succeeded at toppling the government.

One of the many anarchist organizations that fought for social rights was FORA (Federación Obrera Regional Argentina). My grandfather Nemo, and my great grandfather Dante, were anarchists.

If we looked at Argentina’s history from the nineteenth century when immigration from Europe started to whitewash the population, the struggles between the working and middle-class versus Argentina’s ruling class have lasted to this date.

During this dark period, state terror instigated by the military junta was the supreme ruler. Imagined and real enemies of the de facto state were apprehended, tortured and murdered by the so-called “security” forces. Over 30,000 “disappeared” this way.

When I lived in Argentina during 1976-78, I suffered from depression and post-traumatic syndrome. Even if you could breathe normally during the military dictatorship, I commonly felt that I was suffocating and gasping for air. The hatred of the military, their lust for power, and objectionable violence sucked all the air around you.

Whatever type of victim you may be, the most important gesture that anyone can show you is their caring and empathy. One of these persons I met during those trying times was Liliana Belatti.

Liliana Belatti in the 1970s.

I heard and saw many things in Argentina that still shock me today. One of the scariest was listening to a friend walk into the office and started crying that armed men had kidnapped his son, or being whisked in a squad car to a nearby police station for not carrying my identification papers.

There was so much terror in Argentina at the time that you could hear its victims’ muffled screaming permeating through the walls of your apartment.

A Saturday afternoon over a friend’s house just before being arrested and taken to the police station for not having my identity papers. Photo: Enrique Tessieri

Do you know how it feels to be in the backseat of a squad car with people turning their backs because they fear the police?

On a Saturday, I was arrested by the police. Nobody told me how long I’d be kept in police custody. Inside the cold cell, I heard the iron door close behind me with the cement wall and some carved messages greeting me. My eyes also ventured through a small iron-barred window that was wide enough for a baby to pass between the bars. I looked outside but was stopped cold by coiled by barbed wire. I remember concentrating my thoughts on a lone branch above the barbed wire. I rested my hopes on its leafless branch for a moment and thought if I were a bird, I could escape this dreaded cell and fly to freedom.

Two police guards appeared and ordered me to follow them to a spacious office where a mustached police officer sat behind a desk that felt as endless as the Pampa plains. He sat expressionless as part of his left face twitched whenever he spoke.   

“Let me give it to you straight,” the police officer continued as his left face twitched at one-second intervals. “Only the bare minimum has remained in Argentina, just enough people to make our cities, towns, and villages not appear too deserted and to keep our industry running. This is going to be a long war, but we will prevail!”

Jorge Donato Calvo’s and his wife Adriana María Franconetti de Calvo’s tragic story sits quietly on my desk. I keep them in front of me in the hope that I will never forget them.

According to the Buenos Aires Herald clipping, the couple left their one- and two-year-old baby daughters in their home under the care of the children’s paternal grandparents and went to see a movie at the Ritz Cinema, not too far from where I used to live in Buenos Aires.

Their tragic stories was published in gruesome detail years later on a website of the victims of the dirty war of Argentina:

Adriana and Jorge were students of Buenos Aires’ National School. Jorge was a medic and he worked at the Ramos Mejía Hospital. The couple lived in Sarandi, Buenos Aires province.

The couple was kidnapped when they were standing in a line of the Ritz Cinema in the neighborhood of Belgrano in Buenos Aires. They were seen at the ESMA (Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics); Adriana was “transferred” one or two days after.

Adriana’s sister and brother, Anna María and Eduardo, are also missing. Her father Eduardo was kidnapped together with her sister and brother and taken to the  “Club Atlético” detention center where his children were tortured in front of him. His abductors interrogated him about Adriana’s whereabouts. They freed him but he died a short while later of a cardiac arrest.    

Thank you again, Liliana, for giving me comfort and allowing my despair to find your kind heart.