On March 24, 1977, the one year anniversary of the coup by the Argentine military that marked the beginning of the “Process of Reorganization” and the period of the 30,000 disappearances, writer, journalist and intellectual Rodolfo Walsh wrote his final text: “Open Letter from a Writer to the Military Junta”.
The letter was a powerful denouncement of the dictatorship’s crimes against humanity – kidnappings, torturing and disappearances – as well as of the neoliberal economic policies that were increasing unemployment and poverty, and gutting national industry. The celebrated Colombian author, Gabriel García Marquez, who co-founded the agency Prensa Latina in Cuba in 1959 with Walsh and other journalists, declared the letter a “masterpiece of universal journalism.”
The letter opens as follows:
“Censorship of the press, the persecution of intellectuals, the raid on my home in Tigre, the murder of dear friends, and the loss of a daughter who died fighting you, are some of the events that compel me to express myself in this clandestine way after having shared my opinion freely as a writer and journalist for nearly thirty years.
“On March 24, 1976, you overthrew a government that you yourselves were a part of, that you helped bring into disrepute as the executors of its repressive policies, and that was coming to an end, given the elections that had been set for just nine months later. From this perspective, what you destroyed was not the temporary mandate of Isabel Martinez, but rather the possibility for a democratic process through which the people might remedy the problems that you have perpetuated and aggravated.
“Illegitimate since birth, your government could have legitimized itself by reviving the political program that 80 percent of Argentines voted for in the 1973 elections, and that continues to be an objective expression of the people’s will—the only thing that could possibly be denoted by the ‘national being’ that you invoke so often. You have gone instead in the completely opposite direction by returning to the ideas and interests of defeated minority groups, the ones who hold back workforce development, exploit the people, and divide the Nation. This kind of politics can only prevail temporarily by banning political parties, taking control of unions, silencing the press, and introducing Argentine society to the most profound terror it has ever known.”
Walsh sent copies of the letter to members of the Argentine press and to foreign correspondents. The first publication of the letter was made by fellow Argentine journalist, Tomás Eloy Martínez, who living in exile published the letter on April 24, 1977, in the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.
On March 25, shortly after sending a number of copies from a post box in Plaza Constitución, Walsh was ambushed in broad daylight on the corner of Humberto Primo and Entre Ríos by a government “task force” led by Alfredo “the Blonde Angel of Death” Astiz and Jorge “Tigre” Acosta (both of whom were given life sentences for their crimes in 2017, 34 years after the end of the dictatorship)
They had planned to take Walsh alive – which would have meant torture and inevitably being “disappeared” –, but Walsh was armed with a .22 caliber pistol, defended himself and was shot to death with a machine gun. His body was taken into one of the cars and disappeared.
Today marks the 43rd anniversary of the coup, a day that is commemorated in Argentina as the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice (Día Nacional de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia). It is more than just a day of memory: it is a day of active political participation, of maintaining the past in the present in order to understand where we are today and how we arrived here.
Walsh ends his letter as follows: “These are the thoughts I wanted to pass on to the members of this Junta on the first anniversary of your ill-fated government, with no hope of being heard, with the certainty of being persecuted, but faithful to the commitment I made a long time ago to bear witness during difficult times.”
Rodolfo Walsh presente, ahora y para siempre!
There are a number of memorials to Rodolfo Walsh in the city of Buenos Aires including:
- a mural on the corner of Peru and Chile created by H.I.J.O.S. an organization of children of people who were disappeared,
- a sculpture with the full text of his final letter by artist León Ferrari at the Parque de la Memoria,
- and a number of plaques on the corner of Entre Ríos and San Juan on a bank building, one block from where he was disappeared.