Bob in Argentina

Bob, a graduate student in the Master of Liberal Studies program and a vice president in Goldman Sachs’ Investment Banking Division, is participating in a 10-day trip to Argentina with the Human Rights Education Program.

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Argentina through different eyes

By way of getting started, please keep in mind that these observations are my observations as a function of my experiences as conveyed from my first-person perspective. I am not a professional driver and this is not a closed course, but we live in a world of disclaimers, so please just keep in mind that I speak only for myself. Thusly disclaimed …

A pollution protest
Sunday was a beautiful cold winter day, and since it is 107 back home, no complaints here. We met with (translated) The Alliance for the Delta and River in the northern suburb of Tigre (Tiger). They have a twice-a-month protest against the ongoing and intensifying pollution of the Rio Plata and the smaller rivers and streams of the river delta.

There are about 12,000 polluters, and it is visibly obvious in the water quality and amount of floating trash one sees in the area. One of the organizers had a picture of the boat ramp in front of his house that was a sea of floating garbage that filled the foreground. Truly horrible.

We were not there for the purpose of joining their march but ended up doing so just because it happened that we were there when the march started and they very much appreciated our participation. The policeman even stopped traffic to let the group pass to the roundabout, which I thought was nice. Passers-by honked in solidarity and support, and it was a very positive experience despite the negative focus of the protest.

I asked the fairly obvious question of “So I assume there is no equivalent to our Environmental Protection Agency?” and was surprised to hear, “Sure, we have one … but they do not do anything. They are controlled by industry and real estate developers.”

Related to the latter, there is a new gated ultra-high-end residential development under way called “Colony Park,” where they displaced generations of people who were living there but did not own the land and clear-cut the trees in the area. It sounded like some bizarre coincidence that they would give something an English name and use the word “Colony,” which is exactly what is taking place there – a de facto colonization of the river delta and displacement of the previous inhabitants because they simply did not have title to the land upon which they lived.

A subsequent river tour after lunch confirmed the extent of the pollution in an otherwise beautiful setting where people have hundreds of island communities. The houses on these car-less islands range from shacks to very nice multistory homes, but there is an obvious sense of community. The pollution truly is a shame, where these people swim, water-ski and fish every day.

Argentina’s ‘Disappeared’
Yesterday (Monday) was dense and intense; we started out at the Institute for the Memory of the Disappeared and met with a woman who was kidnapped and released when she was 16 and pregnant, only to have her mother abducted and subsequently killed along with two French nuns who were protesting the Disappeared.

Went on to the former Naval Academy, where many of the detainees were taken, tortured and incarcerated before being killed and dumped in the ocean, which was the disposal place of convenience because the airstrip is close by. They would load up the dead, go out 50 miles or so and throw them out of the airplanes. A few would occasionally wash up; most didn’t.

After that, we went to the seaside memorial, which is located on the river-sea, with Nanina, whose husband was disappeared in 1977 at age 27. We threw flowers in the river with her, and it was a cold and rainy day, an interesting juxtaposition to yesterday’s beauty, but the bleak setting was so much more appropriate for the things we saw on this day. No one missed the fact that the drizzle stopped just long enough for us to walk with Nanina to the pier and recommenced immediately and much heavier once we were done. Very fortunate and completely haunting.

Today takes us inside the Israel Embassy, on to the Jewish District, and concludes fairly early after our tour of the Holocaust Museum. We get to hear the details of some very strange events today about how Peron threw the doors open for Klaus Barbie, Josef Mengele, et al, right after WW II. The German connection here is interesting insofar as there has historically been a large German population for many years prior to WW II, but Argentina and other parts of South America became a Nazi safe harbor after the war.

I may have to decompress with a good steak and some nice Argentinian red after yet another intense day. This is an amazing opportunity, thanks to the doors that have been opened for us being on an academic trip, but it is almost like I was in a different place when I was here nine years ago – but I recognize the landmarks. I still find this place to be a fascinating mix of interesting, beautiful and intriguing, but as a function of what I have seen, it is through different eyes.

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