May 18, 2013
Under the boot of a defamation campaign
Last Sunday’s edition of the newspaper Perfil carried a four-page account of the kidnapping and brief disappearance of a young journalist during the military dictatorship. Reading it I remembered a vivid sentence from Orwell’s 1984: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face.”
The specific human face that was being stamped on was that of Jorge Alberto Fontevecchia, a 23-year-old journalist who was the founder and editor of a struggling magazine called La Semana.
When I heard that Fontevecchia had been taken away I was not surprised, but I was alarmed. Scores of journalists had been taken for a ride in the sinister Ford Falcons used by the death squads, never to return. I had been lucky up to then.
I didn’t know Fontevecchia personally, but I had been keeping an eye on La Semana, a relatively new magazine, because it was different. I used to purchase the magazine from a newsstand near my home because it was a glimmer of light in the darkness of the dictatorship. It was a relief from the military boot stamping on my face.
Young Fontevecchia’s magazine was still publishing news, photographs and interviews with entertainers I admired who were on the military’s black list. I remember reading about Mercedes Sosa, Nacha Guevara and other artists who were in exile. I knew they were banned, so I wondered how Fontevecchia got away with it. But intuition and past experience told me that the reason that he had been chupado (sucked up into the vacuum of military’s torture and murder machine) was because he challenged the rigid self-censorship practised by most of the media.
When he went missing, the Herald swung into action as usual to try and save another desaparecido from vanishing into the black hole of the clandestine and not-so-clandestine prisons. (The vile ESMA torture centre and way station to death from an injection of pentothal and ejection from a military transport plane into the ocean was as visible then at Avenida Libertador 8151 as it is now.)
Although we did not know it then, by January 1979 most of the thousands of people who had been seized from their homes and taken away in windowless vans or Ford Falcons had been murdered. But, with the murder hunt winding down, the media were beginning to report what they studiously ignored before.
All the major newspapers reported the disappearance of Fontevecchia, something that wouldn’t have happened in 1976, ’77 or ’78. The accounts make interesting reading today. The word desaparecido was no longer forbidden and Clarín, Diario Popular, Crónica and La Nación used the dreaded word in prominent headlines. His disappearance was reported cautiously, citing either Editorial Perfil or family members. The Herald noted that he was “the latest in a long line of journalists who have vanished.”
Combined with an alarm sounded internationally by the foreign news agencies, the news reports and statements from national magazine and newspaper associations saved Fontevecchia from disappearing forever in the maw of the torture chambers where decisions were made as to who would live and who would die. Five days after his disappearance, Fontevecchia was dumped back in the car that he was in when he was kidnapped.
Today that young and inexperienced journalist is the CEO, editor, and proprietor of Editorial Perfil, a company that publishes 94 magazines, including the leading newsmagazine Noticias (which developed from the magazine La Semana de las noticias, founded by Fontevecchia in 1975 when he was 20). He is also a star columnist of the weekend newspaper Perfil.
The account of his own kidnapping that was published in the September 2 issue of Perfil http://www.perfil.com/ediciones/2012/9/edicion– 707/contenidos/noticia– 0067.html was unusual for several reasons. For the first time, Fontevecchia told the full story of his traumatic passage through Olimpo, one of the most terrible of the military’s clandestine prisons. But it was not written as an article for Perfil. Fontevecchia was giving sworn testimony to Judge Daniel Rafecas, who is investigating the crimes committed during the dictatorship by military units under the command of a general, Carlos Suárez Mason, who deservedly became known as “the butcher.”
Fontevecchia’s testimony is a detailed exposure of the methods used by the military to dehumanize human beings in the “dirty war” against “subversion.” Even after 33 years, his vivid recollection of those five days may still have value in tracing his captors and torturers. Fontevecchia appears to have remembered every detail of his fleeting descent into that hell of evil banality. His personal reflections on the individuals who had taken control of his life are interesting. He recalls his interrogators as “ignoramuses whose Nazism was aesthetic rather than ideological, the aesthetics of the gun, of the dark glasses — a Gothic primitivism.”
Fontevecchia’s testament touched many chords in my memory. Other people I knew about who passed through Olimpo are mentioned by Fontevecchia, like missing scientist Alfredo Giorgi, whose father became a personal friend. There are also the villains: Lt. Col Minicucci, who ran a concentration camp in La Tablada and oversaw Olimpo in true S.S. style. And, of course, there is mention of the sadistic Turco Julián, another character in Argentina’s deadly serious Grand Guignol theatre.
Jorge Fontevecchia would be the first to acknowledge that he was a brief visitor to the underworld of horror, a fortunate survivor of the “Final Disposal” — Dictator Videla’s version of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” But, to my mind, he has suffered a far greater injustice since that lucky escape. Journalists who are ideological enemies of Fontevecchia have persistently denied that he was ever held in a clandestine prison. I argued with journalists who, like Holocaust deniers, refuse to accept the truth. They don’t want to believe that Fontevecchia was a victim of the military because it does not fit the fabricated story they have been told to tell.
This organized campaign of defamation goes against the facts, which speak for themselves. Fontevecchia was forced into exile for a while and La Semana was closed by the military. When La Semana evolved into Noticias, it was the object of 19 lawsuits, two bomb attacks and the assassination of photographer José Luis Cabezas, all during the Menem regime. The Perfil magazines have been exemplary in exercising press freedom and Fontevecchia demonstrated his commitment to human rights by publishing a special newspaper El diario del Juicio during the 1984 trial of Dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and all the members of the ruling juntas.
The defamation campaign has dogged Fontevecchia for years. I hope that now that Fontevecchia has placed his testimony on record before a judge, the truth will be established. For sure, there must be questions that need to be answered. But let’s have an end to the lies that have been like a boot stamping on the face of Jorge Fontevecchia — and on truth itself.