The last year of the Father
Before being brutally murdered, Mugica proclaimed a position as current in his time as in ours
May 25, 1973. Father Mugica stands before Congress with his “villero (a term to describe inhabitants of the city’s slums) comrades,” who embrace him and place on him a Perón and Evita cap. Some people see him later upon the Pirámide de Mayo, perhaps in search of a better view of the mass of people below. It’s understood that he is in Government House as the Peronist march is sung in full voice. Cámpora had already been made president. From that moment on he begins to lose faith in armed struggle. That month he writes about his religious and political conversion. In 1955, in a tenement house on Catamarca street, he reads: “Without Perón there is no country nor God. Down with the ravens (“cuervos,” a term used for extreme-right groups.”) The gleeful collapse of a world that he used to belong to, that of Ba-rrio Norte, and an embrace with the poor and the humble.
Perón asks him to be an adviser to the Ministry of Welfare. Although he is warned about López Rega, Mugica accepts; but in August, he resigns. The plan to eradicate the slums is part of a deal made by the minister with businesses and excludes the villeros from having any say. They argue loudly, in front of television cameras, and at an event at the Boxing Federation. López Rega wants to pin a graft accusation on him and Father Mugica confronts him at the ministry.
In September, days before the success of the Perón-Perón ticket and the attacks against Rucci, at a mass for Ramus and Abal Medina, Father Mugica notes: “As the Bible says, we must beat our weapons into ploughs.” The Montoneros hang up a flag, next to the cross. The picture circulates and everything comes back to Mugica.
On Monday, March 25, 1974, just a few blocks away from the Plaza de Mayo the police repress a mobilization against the forced movement of inhabitants of the Saldías slum to a new housing area in Ciudadela. Alberto Chejolán, a member of the Movimiento Villero Pero-nista (MVP), which is part of Montoneros, is murdered. The next day, 60,000 villeros from Retiro stayed away from work. Father Mugica leads the mass: Chejolán “has died like Christ did and he must be with the Lord.” A prayer for “a victim of criminal violence, a brother who gave his life for his country and for the people.” However, Mugica and the best part of his “villero comrades” had not participated in the mobilization because they supported the new eradication plan of the slums that Perón was now promoting. Given the differences with the MVP, they formed the “loyal to Perón” grouping.
The ending we all already know
Let’s get to the ending that we all already know. After the Triple A’s bullets murder him as he is leaving the San Francisco Solano parish, Francisco Urondo — one of the leaders behind the Montonero newspaper Noticias — wrote: “Little Father Mugica, could you have been so silly to think that we did it? You had already made mistakes but I hope that you haven’t made another mistake.” They resemble verses, unknown until 2006 when they appeared in a book, but notable also for the irony bordering on cruelty. They shock like the best Argentine literature.
So, the errors. In light of Perón’s plan, Mugica writes in Mayoría, the villeros must be listened to, it must be understood what they think of the situation and the houses that they will receive. But “dogmatic socialism” is completely opposed, in tune only with its own truths, as if it wanted to make the slums permanent. They are the heirs to liberalism, Mugica accused. Although they aren’t perfect, the houses in Ciudadela are respectable and the villeros see with good eyes the changes that Perón is promoting. “But watch out! Wiping out the slum doesn’t mean destroying the values of the villero, which are solidarity, communal awareness, of a deep Christian sentiment.”
On May 1, Father Mugica doesn’t leave the Plaza and in an article that he prepares in the week before his murder, it can be read “it was painful that so many youths left the Plaza. I know, through personal experience, that more than a few of them are serenely meditating about their attitude in the future.” (La Opinión, May 12).
What happened to Mugica in those 12 months? Did something happen? In Militancia they call him a traitor at best. But in a 1972 document, Jesus and politics, Mugica had already declared that “the revolution does not mean the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth, which must undergo permanent revolution and be critiqued by our faith until the Lord returns.” Which is to say that worldly politics — even revolutionary politics — can only bring us closer to a more complete life, because the Kingdom of God is not of this world. That explains his bitter critique of the USSR which had halted its revolutionary process as if heaven had already been conquered and his praise for Mao, who continues the search for an ideal yet to be achieved. Even back then, for Mugica socialism and revolution were a political path, not an objective that can be reached.
Firmenich also bid farewell to Mugica in Noticias, compelled by the rumours that indicated Montoneros had been behind the murder, although also because of his links with the priest. Respectful words that demonstrate a difference: “Father Mugica was carried by a religious perspective; us, by a political one.” What to make of this? What is politics?
After everything that has occurred in the last 40 years, there is no way that Firmenich can convince us that there was more politics in his vision than that which was put forward by Mugica. The imminence of the revolution, and the belief that it is possible to take heaven by force, moved thousands upon thousands in those years. A pause was rejected and “serene meditation” prevented. Outlawing social majorities for 18 years did nothing to promote politics, not even to go from trench to trench. The seizure of power or nothing. For everything else, the quagmire of Argentine politics was particularly thick.
Above and beyond the responsibility of the respective political leaderships, it’s worth taking another look at an Urondo poem, written before the one quoted above. A prayer: “Mercy for the mistaken, for those who quickened their step and the clumsy out of slowness.” Included are “those who spoke under torture,” never the torturers or those eager to cry out for revenge against the rise of the masses.
Javier Trímboli is an historian from the University of Buenos Aires.