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August 27, 2014
Wednesday, January 15, 2014

From left-wing activism to exile

By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff
Juan Gelman’s activism was long focussed on human rights, but he, as many other intellectuals, took part in the left-wing organizations born in the late ‘60s and ‘70s in the country.

Following his father’s steps, he enrolled in the Communist Party in the 40s, when he was a teenager. In the mid 60s he decided that his political activism had to take place somewhere else, far from Soviet Union and closer to an Argentine movement that at first he did not like or understand.

In 1967, he joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), a group which then would be part of montoneros, the left-wing Peronist armed organization. After Juan Domingo Perón’s return to Argentina in 1973, Gelman took part in one of the most ambitious cultural projects outlined by leftist organizations: the newspaper Noticias, which only lasted eight months until then president María Estela Martínez de Perón ordered its closure. Gelman shared the newsroom with his friend, the poet Francisco “Paco” Urondo, and journalists such as Miguel Bonasso, Horacio Verbitsky and Rodolfo Walsh, who was killed in 1977 by a death squad from the Navy School of Mechanics that disappeared his body.

In 1975, the montoneros sent Gelman on a mission: he would go abroad to report the crimes perpetrated by the parapolice group AAA.

When the last military coup took place in March, 1976, he was not in the country.

In August, 1976, his son Marcelo and his daughter in law María Claudia García Irureta Goyena de Gelman were abducted and taken to Automotores Orletti, a clandestine detention centre which served as a base for the so-called Operation Condor, a repressive strategy outlined by the Southern Cone dictatorships. Marcelo was killed. His body was found in 1987. María Claudia was taken to Uruguay to give birth to her baby-girl, Macarena, who was appropriated by the military and given to a couple. After decades of searching, Gelman met his granddaughter in 2000 and they rebuilt the relationship that repressors wanted to destroy.

In 1979, Gelman left the montoneros, heading a dissident group with Rodolfo Galimberti, one of the leaders of the organization. In their letter, they accused the leaders of the group of extreme militarism and elitism but made it clear that they were not leaving their ideals behind.

When democracy returned to the country in 1983, Gelman did not come back as then president Raúl Alfonsín ordered to take to court both the military and the heads of the left-wing armed organizations. It was in 1988 when he returned to Buenos Aires. When former president Carlos Menem pardoned the military and the militants, he refused that pardon.

In 2004, former militant and philosopher Oscar del Barco urged Gelman to apologize for the crimes committed by the leftist organizations during the ‘70s. Gelman did not respond to that criticism but in 2011 he said he was tired of that debate.

@LucianaBertoia

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