Exile Writings

By Antonio Di Benedetto


Julia Fernández Laín

Foreign Rights Manager

About the book:

In 1976, merely two hours after the last military coup in Argentina had been made official, writer and journalist Antonio Di Benedetto was unlawfully arrested in his office in Mendoza. After his release in September 1997, he fled to Europe and settled in Spain, where he lived in exile for almost seven years. Although the author chose to keep the details of his life in exile to himself, he wrote numerous texts in Madrid which allow us to tacitly piece together the memory of those years. These writings paint an obscure image about the life of an exile, a foreigner, a “disappeared” person—however, they also convey Di Benedetto’s enthusiastic and passionate musings on literature, films, plays and art exhibitions. A book that gathers a series of brief articles and essays by this renowned Argentine author, Exile Writings explores a wide variety of topics, ranging from films like Herzog’s Nosferatu to literary assessments of the writer’s contemporaries (among others, Borges, Sábato and García Márquez), thus offering a refreshing new glimpse into the mastermind that penned Zama, one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.


Fourth-Rate Disappearances

El País, December 19, 1983


It is the opinion of this article’s author that the issue of the forced disappearances under the military dictatorship in Argentina is far from exhausted now that democracy has been restored and Raúl Alfonsín was sworn into office. Quite the contrary: the status of those who have disappeared out of Argentina, whose existence is demonstrable and yet do not show up in official lists—for they have been forced to abandon their homeland for political reasons and now reside abroad—is yet to be addressed.

The end of the military dictatorship in Argentina does not in any way mean the matter of the forced disappearances—a matter which has received constant and humanitarian consideration from El País—has been exhausted, nor that all its aspects have been explored. It is the omission or lack of awareness of one aspect in particular that motivates the present contribution. Said aspect, whose silence is most eloquent, involves the disappeared, or desaparecidos, who were not murdered but, in a way, sacrificed. They make up an enormous contingent of exiles, the largest portion of which can be found in Spain. Why is it fitting, therefore, to say that they have also disappeared, if they most verifiably exist, even though they are not mentioned—not even seldom—in the newspapers? Because they constitute a fourth category of desaparecidos: those who have disappeared from their country.

The first category includes those who were abducted from their houses or milieux, never to be heard from again. The second comprises those who were detained or imprisoned and, according to overwhelming evidence, might have died under torture or by execution. Those who were simply never seen again, together with the unidentified bodies that were discovered in cemeteries marked “N.N.,” make up the third category.


Tenants of the Sidewalk

We will now discuss the members of the fourth category, who, after the reestablishment of democracy in their country and given their survivor status, have some rights to reclaim.

Who are they? They can be spotted in El Rastro market reselling used or damaged goods, or in Callao Square, or nearby any El Corte Inglés store or Preciados hotel, their tables crammed with trinkets, tenants of the sidewalk, sometimes being harassed by the police because they compete with established businesses. Or in Buen Retiro Park, or in any of the countless squares in the Spanish peninsula and its islands, in festival stalls doing puppetry shows which border on the picaresque, yet never seem to be quite as joyful. Back home, many of them had professions they cannot practice here.

Certainly not every exile is a member of the lower strata. A few professionals or tradesmen have achieved some recognition, but they remain subject to job insecurity and a certain degree of discrimination.

As a general rule, none of these people had a negligible status back home. The vast majority of those who have come here used to belong to a dignified middle-class. A status that—they remain hopeful—they could regain if they had the means to return.

The Argentine fatherland is immeasurably indebted to its exiled children, who have been persecuted and cruelly treated on a moral level. It must be taken into account that, in some cases, not only was an individual made to disappear, but his relatives were also left without a roof over their heads—such was the case of a publisher from Córdoba, whose house was blown up after he was assassinated.

Not all cases have gone to such extremes; however, many have lost their houses, families, cherished possessions, and material goods after being captured. In terms of material losses, we cannot fail to mention one particular form of disengaged theft that was passed off as a way of taking the spoils of war: the sacking of bank vaults under the lenient eye of the bankers themselves, who blindly accepted forged signatures and approved money and jewelry withdrawals as if the account holders or depositors themselves had made the request. In a few cases, the forged signature belonged either to a dead person or to an individual who had long been in exile.


The Useless Years

To the afflictions caused by all those losses, we must add the fractures or lapses in the lives of the persecuted. The years of imprisonment were useless years for those who endured them, not simply because all of their activities had to come to a halt, but also because they were denied access to any form of learning—for reading, drawing and even talking to other prisoners were not allowed.

It is paramount that we register the suffering and the disablement caused by confinement, inertia, torment, and the passage of time.

Doctors, lawyers, architects who lost all of their clients, advanced university students whose progress suffered just as much as that of self-taught individuals.

All that has been put down here is crying out for reparation. Those who disappeared from their homeland cannot rely on the warm clamor of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. This lack of outspoken advocacy does not mean that the surviving desaparecidos should continue to be ignored by Argentine authorities now that the military junta are no longer in power.

A thorough program would include relief for repatriation, the restitution of material possessions, a restoration of the status held at the time of the military coup, financial compensation for moral damage and for the time spent in prison.

After the war, the Federal Republic of Germany granted compensations, subsidies, or pensions to all victims of Nazism, whether they had been sent to concentration camps or not. The government also set out to restore their previously held status by making arrangements with the private businesses that had employed the persecuted individuals before the war.

This wonderful example is worthy of being replicated in our recovering Argentina.

It seems apparent—and Ernesto Sabato has denounced it with his usual clarity and courage—that what happened in Argentina, its procession of deaths and exiles, has left a cultural and scientific gap in the country that will be hard to overcome.

May this piece of information serve as an opportunity for the Spanish to reflect on whether they have done anything in the past eight years to leverage such intellectual and artistic inflow for Spain’s benefit.

In some cases, there have been positive results; however, and to a larger extent, there are also negative examples. It cannot be denied—Félix Grande denounced this in El País from very early on—that there has been a certain degree of discrimination against Argentine exiles, who were not given as many optimal, or even reasonable, opportunities as the Spanish have.

There is still time to rectify this attitude. Not all the Argentines who came to Spain have returned to their country after Alfonsín assumed the presidency.

There are many who have stayed, still enthusiastic and interested in working for the benefit of Spain, the country that welcomed them during such hard years.


Translated by Rocío Molina Biasone - Edited by Paula Galindez