The death of dialogue, the demise of debate prompted prosperous, educated Argentine students to morph into mass killers.
Tuesday, 24 July 2018
OUTRAGE: A Novel
By Elina Castro
"Hate is a factor in the struggle - unyielding hatred for the enemy which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, turning him into an effective, violent, selective cold killing machine.
Our soldiers have to be thus.
Without hate, people cannot triumph over a brutal enemy."
Che Guevara, 1967
It was the bloodiest political divorce in Argentina’s history.
Outside a house in the quaint barrio of Flores, thirteen men milled around a red sedan. Some paced the sidewalk, eyes darting left and right. Some scanned the buildings for what danger might lurk. The small battalion, whose boss shifted quarters with deliberate irregularity, was the most practiced in the country.
Standing by the front door of the house, the senior bodyguard checked his watch and nodded. Instantly, a young man slid into the driver’s seat and the red Torino’s powerful engine roared to life.
Hidden inside the house next door, three men in their early twenties watched without blinking as the driver slammed the door.
Sierra cocked a nine-millimiter Browning. “I got the driver.”
“I’ll get the gorillas,” growled Víctor, aiming an Ithaca rifle at the bodyguards.
“The Fat Cat is mine.” Oscar trained his FAL rifle on the front door of the target’s home.
The Fat Cat was labor boss José Rucci, a key player in Juan Perón’s stunning political comeback. After two decades in exile, Perón returned to Argentina, won the general election with a notable majority and became the first constitutional president in fifteen years. The military dictators were forced out, and two million jubilant fans flooded the airport to welcome him home.
At twelve noon, the bells of the Basilica began to toll. Upstairs on the terrace, Rucci finished editing a speech for the evening news. Ten minutes later he kissed his wife goodbye, opened the door of his house, nodded at his men, and walked towards the idling Torino.
Oscar squeezed the trigger.
The first bullet shattered Rucci’s neck; his body hit a wall and crumpled on the sidewalk. The bodyguards were cut down by the marksmen next door. While the men bled in the street, Oscar’s relentless fire turned Rucci´s body into pulp.
The driver slid out of the Torino, his face covered in blood and glass. Using the heavy chassis as a shield, he crawled along the pavement, towards a school. At the metal gates, he drew a final breath and screamed, “Open up, my brother! I’m dying.”
When the first shots rang out, excited children pressed their noses to the windows while terrified teachers scrambled to protect them. The school caretaker raced to the gates and locked them. At the sight of the dying man, he could not contain his grief.
“I can’t!” He sobbed.
On the street, the driver gasped once and lay still.
Oscar, Sierra and Víctor, confident as tomcats, scampered over the neighbors’ roofs and vanished. Operación Traviata was over.
Oscar slipped into the passenger seat of a compact car parked a few blocks away.His driver, Gaby de Agostino, code name Bravo, peered at him with a glint of mischief in the eye.
“I have been wondering—” Bravo had little knowledge of the guts of the operation.
“Why we called it Traviata?” Oscar frowned.
Bravo whizzed around a corner and jammed the brakes. An ambulance screamed past them.
Oscar watched the ambulance for a beat. “Our deal with Perón was that Montoneros would help him win the election in return for Cabinet posts. From his mansion in Spain, Perón hailed us as his marvelous youth but as soon as he got back on the throne, he kicked us in the ass.”
“And the boot belonged to Rucci.”
Oscar chuckled. “You know the Traviata cookies advertised as having twenty-three holes punched through them?”
“My children love them.”
“Rucci´s body is a treat for our great leader, courtesy of his marvelous youth.”
Mario Firmenich, supreme commander of Montoneros
(the character I call Alpha) with commander Vaca Narvaja.
Early next morning, while the authorities scoured the city for Rucci’s assassins, Oscar slung a satchel over his shoulder and drove to a bungalow tucked in a suburban cul-de-sac.
Huddling in the foliage of centenary trees, two sentinels watched the man with the satchel sauntering towards the bungalow.
Carlos Hastings, code name Charlie, a lanky youth in his early twenties peered through a tangle of branches. “Looks like him.”
Operación Traviata sniper, Sierra craned his neck and had a look. “A man to remember.”
Charlie watched the muscular man bouncing up the path. “He’s not that impressive.”
Sierra smiled and lay back against a tree trunk. “Till you get in his crosshairs.”
Inside the bungalow, the windows were blacked out. Two chairs and a table stacked with U.S. dollar bills were its only decor. Seated at the table, a man counted the money. At the rapping on the door—two knocks, a pause, one knock—he grabbed a pistol from the chair beside him and opened the door wide enough for Oscar to slip through.
Oscar entered the navel of Montonero covert operations. Pumped with a deep sense of accomplishment he prowled around the table, peering at the stacks of crumpled dollar bills. He sat down and fixed a respectful gaze upon the money man.
Over a scant six years, the twenty-seven-year-old Mario Russovich, code name Alpha, a devout Catholic and top student transformed a group of reckless, mutinous Marxist youths into Montoneros, a cold and efficient killing machine just as Che Guevara ordered in 1967, the year of his death.
Without preamble Alpha said, “What is your greatest fear?” His dark eyes glittered while he gathered the money with rubber bands.
Oscar fired back, “The cage. Years back, my father drove me to the wild animal reserve in Formosa. The locals had caught a puma which was ravaging their livestock, and there it was, wounded, pacing around in a cage. The cat stopped prowling and stared at me, and I saw despair in those amber eyes.”
Oscar sprang from the chair and paced the floor. “Despite the heat, I shivered. My father wanted to take me to a doctor, but I refused. What I needed was the key to the cage.”
“Enemies closer.” Alpha stacked several bundles of bills and set them apart. “Operations like Traviata destabilize Perón’s government and enrage the armed forces. First we draw the enemy close, then we disarm and destroy them.” He motioned for Oscar to sit down.
“Montoneros is the only option for the people. Once we have set up a democracy with rights and freedoms and justice for all, the anguish of captivity will end.”
He handed Oscar the money. Oscar stuffed the bills in the satchel.
Alpha stood up and shook hands. “Congratulations, Commander. I trust these funds will keep you operational.” He saluted, military style.
Oscar saluted his comrade with Che Guevara´s slogan: “Hasta la victoria siempre.” Until victory always.
There was chaos in Flores after the killing of its revered resident, José Rucci. Television, radio and print journalists flooded the streets, hungry for information. Tape recorders whirred, cameras clicked, witnesses lied. No one saw anything.
Investigators quickly unraveled part of the story, and a relieved police chief held a press conference. The house next door to the Rucci family, he told reporters, was under renovations. When police swarmed the place, they found the owner tied to a chair, beaten, dehydrated. In a weak, tremulous voice, the elderly woman described the three nice men at her door wearing overalls and hefting brushes and paint cans. She felt it was too soon for the painters to arrive, but they were good looking and polite, and she felt compelled to open the door. As soon as she did they slapped her, bound her to a chair and locked her in her room. Investigators found shell casings, footprints and cigarette butts, and several cans of paint and brushes strewn behind a large plastic curtain which hung from the living room ceiling. It was there that the snipers hid, and no one on the street gave the scaffolding and the sheeting a second look.
Fear and rage whipped through the halls of the presidential palace, Casa Rosada. Gossip proliferated about the assassins and speculation grew about who they might be.
Perón knew. At the news of the killing he screamed, “Rucci was like a son to me. Those terrorists have cut me off at the knees!” Minutes later he summoned his cabinet and ordered them to deploy the paramilitary force, Triple A, and eliminate Montoneros.
Argentina’s Dirty War had begun.
Jose Ignacio Rucci Labor Secretary gunned down by Montoneros Sept 23, 1973
My character, Oscar is based on
Montonero commander, North Column,
Marcelo Daniel Kurlat
Oscar sauntered out of the bungalow, slinging the satchel over his shoulder. He stole a glance at the sentinels in the trees, and glided to his car, an old Valiant his father used to drive. He shoved the satchel beneath the passenger seat and drove away.
Are you proud, Marcus? Oscar felt his father’s spirit in the squeak of the leather seat, in the purr of the engine as he revved it into third gear. It wasn’t a fast car, but it contained the spirit of the man he loved most, and the memories of a time lost forever.
While he drove, Oscar’s eyes roamed the street and sidewalks, but his thoughts strayed to happier times when his father used to drive him to school. “This old bucket will keep going long after I’m gone,” his father used to say.
Oscar eased the old Valiant down the narrow streets of the oldest neighborhood in the city and found a parking spot. Once upon a time, San Telmo had been a refuge for sailors and dockworkers, until a yellow fever epidemic forced thousands to move away from the water’s edge. Today it is an enclave for artists and collectors. Alpha arranged for us to hide in plain sight, Oscar reflected, the only thing missing is a secure garage. He strolled contentedly, admiring the antiques in the store windows. Gazing at the shabby façades of the colonial buildings, but keeping a good eye out for police, he blended in with the throngs of shoppers and visitors wandering the streets.
The building was old and dignified. The back exit faced a dark alley—a priority for people prone to making a quick getaway. As cell commander, Oscar was the key holder, but it was the Montonero command that made safe house arrangements with friends and supporters who might be away for extended periods of time, or with militants in exile after a major operation. Their identities were closely guarded.
Oscar used his own key to enter the building. He took the narrow steps down into the lobby and stood listening for unusual sounds. There was no elevator. After a beat, Oscar hurried upstairs. We have to go down to go up. How appropriate, he chuckled as he skipped up the marble staircase.
The city of Buenos Aires was built on an old river bed and had been sinking for more than one hundred years. As a result, the lobbies of some buildings in the downtown core had sunk below the sidewalk level, and anyone entering unawares would tumble down the steps head first. Cell members often quipped about having their own brand of security in the old building.
Upstairs, the spacious two-bedroom apartment was appointed with heavy curtains and comfortable furniture. Bookshelves buckled under the weight of thick almanacs, directories and guides. A large-scale city map with notations in red covered an entire wall. A worn couch stood near the French windows and a long table with six chairs graced the dining area. It was a lived-in place, and a base of operations.
Oscar propped the satchel on the table. Traviata snipers Sierra and Víctor rushed to welcome him. “Commander,” they said in unison while they shook his hand.
Oscar unzipped the satchel and waved a stack of bills. “Comrades, we are operational.”
A knock on the door prompted them to keep silent. Sierra leaped to the door and waited, holding his breath. The knock came again, in the correct sequence. He opened up with a sigh of relief. “Welcome home, comrades.”
Bravo stepped in and pumped Oscar’s hand. Romeo, the cell coach walked in after her and exclaimed, “You make us proud, commander. And comrades!”
In the kitchen, Víctor uncorked a bottle of wine. Sierra poured the wine into mismatched glasses.
Oscar raised his glass and smiled at his comrades. “We are at war. Exercise discipline, vigilance, day and night.”
Bravo tipped her glass to him. “We shall destroy the government without fear, remorse or regret.”
Sierra nodded. “We will annihilate the fascists and the oligarchs, no matter the cost!”
Víctor clinked glasses. “To your health.”
Oscar saluted his operatives. “Until victory, always.”
One Year Ago
“Back in ten, Mama.” A husky youth and a well-groomed Schnauzer ran out of a large brick home in suburban Buenos Aires.
“Race you to the store, Karl.” David Kurak, twenty-one, zipped down the cobbled street, the dog running alongside, and stopped at Donato’s store, the most fragrant spot in the suburban neighborhood. Gazing at the display of hams and sausages in the window, Karl licked his chops.
“Guard the door, Karl.” David skipped into the store.
“Buenos días?” He peered at the grocer.
Donato wrung his hands and looked gloomy. "Buen día, David."
“What, no Rigoletto today?” David recalled the grocer belting out arias by Puccini and Verdi in a rich baritone, and the neighbors singing along while they swept the sidewalks.
Donato wiped his hands on a well-worn apron and smiled wanly.
“Not so good, David. You want the usual?”
David nodded and watched the grocer cut prosciutto ham into thin slices. Gazing around the store, he zeroed in on a row of empty shelves.
“My father’s favorite. It’s not there.”
Donato shook his head. “Things are going up. Brie is a luxury item.”
“Marcus will be disappointed.”
The grocer gazed mournfully at the dwindling stock and waved his arms. “Where does it end?”
“Don’t worry yourself, Donato. Give me some of that criollo over there. It will do.”
Donato sliced the farmer’s cheese. “Maybe your father can explain why my costs shoot up from one week to the next, because I cannot.” He wrapped the ham and cheese in butcher paper.
“Inflation empties the wallet and corrodes the spirit. But I am a psychology student. I will let my father explain it.” David handed over a wad of bills.
The grocer took the money and shook his head. “David, listen to me. This is serious.”
David frowned and waited.
“Everyone in the neighborhood is worried. The way things are going, soon you will need a suitcase full of money to pay for a few grams of ham and cheese.” Donato handed over the change.
David thanked him and left the store. Master and dog ran off together.
“Mama?” David wiped his feet on the mat by the door.
“In the kitchen.” Alma Kurak, a thin woman in her forties, wiped the tears from her eyes and continued chopping onions.
“No brie. Donato was all doom and gloom.” David unwrapped the ham and cheese. “Kept mumbling about prices going up.” He opened the fridge, removed some olives and arranged bread cheese and cold cuts on a platter.
“Is it the onions or the brie, Mama?”
Alma wiped her eyes with a dishcloth and forced a little smile.
“Your father has locked himself in the study.”
David showed her the platter. “This will cheer him up.”
Alma sniffled. “Your father is angry. No. He is frightened.”
“I will talk him out of it.”
“I have not seen him like this since—” Alma Kurak sobbed into the dishcloth.
David hugged his mother and gently rocked her. “Since when, Mama?”
“Old story.” She whirled around, washed her hands and continued chopping.
“Mama, please.” David held her by the shoulders.
“He is so anxious.” She chopped fast, scattering onions on the counter top.
“Don’t you worry, Mama. I am here for you and Marcus.”
David picked up the platter; the dog wagged its tail. “And for you too, Karl.”
In the cluttered study overlooking a little park, Marcus Kurak placed his pipe on the desk.
“Son, you are a paragon of good taste.”
“What’s wrong?” David moved books and papers aside and placed the platter on his father’s desk.
Marcus took a slice of prosciutto. “It’s about to happen again.”
David waited. He knew his father took time to formulate his thoughts.
Marcus inspected the cheese. “Criollo, eh? I am not surprised. An imported cheese would cut Donato’s profit considerably.”
“He wasn’t singing.”
“Donato is right to be upset. Perón’s government is incompetent. The generals let him have a crack at running the country, but they are about to take it back.”
David sat up in alarm. “It sounds imminent.”
“My business is failing. I expect Donato’s is as well—today there’s no cheese, tomorrow there will be no toilet paper.”
David chuckled. “We can do without the cheese.”
Marcus was not amused. “Perón’s populist priorities are ruining the merchants.”
“The generals were no better.” David munched on a slice of ham.
“The first constitutional government in fifteen years, and we are about to lose it! Perón and his fat cats are corrupt. They frighten investors. Our currency is as worthless as our word.”
David frowned. “The generals bankrupted the country, oppressed the people, shut down our universities, jailed teachers and students. Nobody wants them back.”
“How do you expect to curb the tide, son?”
“I will let you know when I figure it out.”
“You better make it quick. Perón is senile, his advisers are a bunch of clowns and the economy is tanking.”
“Eat your cheese, Marcus.”
“When the generals take over—”
“And don’t upset my mama. ”David took some olives and walked out.
In the kitchen, he hugged his mother. “He will be alright.”
“Back to your books. I’ll call you for lunch.”
David gazed at the dog. “Come on, Karl, we have some reading to do.”
David Kurak’s freshman year in Filosofía y Letras, the social sciences school of Buenos Aires University, was uneventful. His grades were good; he made no friends.
Instead, he ran.
He ran to every riot, protest and demonstration. He attended every meeting of the student council, absorbing issues and assimilating the fear and anger of the students.
Every day, students in the hundreds assembled in Plaza de Mayo, the seat of government, clamoring for better governance. They chanted by the doors of Casa Rosada until the police plowed in, whacked them with batons and disabled them with tear gas. The students hurled stones, sticks and Molotov cocktails.
David cringed as he watched the violence escalate. Dozens of students were arrested and tossed into police vans. Many were not seen or heard from again.
At a singularly brutal collision between students and police, David braved the tear gas and saved a young woman from being trampled. Exhausted, angry, frightened, he returned home. Riots make no sense, he reflected. The police are organized, armed and trained. The students cannot win. Our so-called constitutional government has forgotten whom it serves.
That night he was invited to a meeting of Montoneros, an active radical group. The speaker, a pudgy, unassuming man seemed to grow and glow with every idea he offered, with each experience he described.
“Whether in Algiers, Vietnam or Cuba, an insurgency needs roots, organization and money,” Rafael said, “lots of money.” His military training was extensive. As a young man he trained in China, fought for the Viet Cong, and became a fan of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution.
David watched and listened with the intensity of a hungry cat. Rafael is a war name, he reflected. Something is wrong with his arm.
Rafael went on to reveal the intricacies of fundraising and money-laundering. “A successful combatant needs support—couriers, safe houses, transport, food. With trained fighters organized in tight cells and striking with autonomy, we can destroy Perón and his government.” Rafael mingled with the crowd. People jostled to shake his hand.
Guerrilla warfare is his business, David concluded. Moments later, someone tapped him on the shoulder. He whirled around.
“You took a big risk at the riot. We are grateful.” Rafael shook hands.
A rush of adrenaline drowned any qualms David might have about the man. “We need to do more.”
“Your courage saved an esteemed comrade’s life. I lost the use of my arm in a similar riot some time ago.”
David nodded, averted his eyes from the man’s lifeless arm.
Rafael continued, “Street fighting is not effective. Between the tit and the tat, a man can get crushed.”
Early next morning, running with Karl in the park, David smiled at his good fortune.
Thank you, Rafael, he reflected. I shall inspire.
Joe Baxter, Marxist, mercenary,
godfather to the revolution. Code name Rafael.
In the months that followed, David Kurak became president of the student council. With Gaby de Agostino and a team of bright, committed friends, he galvanized the students into organizing the insurgency. Within a few months, the student body turned Filosofía y Letras into a Montonero recruitment center. Everyone was welcome—women, Jews, students with long hair and beards—but listening to rock and roll was considered an imperialist trait. Rafael and the Montonero command provided transport to secret camps where the recruits were trained in weapons and explosives. The mission was branded in their minds: to destabilize and destroy the government, no matter the cost.
On a night resplendent with stars, David shared a rare moment of companionship with his father. Together, they walked Karl to the park.
Marcus looked tired, gloomy. “Your mother and I miss you.”
“I have become a bit of a gypsy. Forgive my long absences.”
“We do not understand, but we accept that you are doing what you think is right.”
How much do they know? David wondered. He was careful to disclose as little as possible about his political activities, but the elder Kuraks—like thousands of parents with militant children—chose to respect whatever secrets their offspring might hold.
David placed an arm around his father’s shoulders. “I can´t stay long. The Triple A paramilitaries and the police are out in force combing the barrios for bombers and assassins. The government has no mercy for those who oppose them. I must protect myself.”
Marcus shook his head. “Remember your Euripides: A state has no worse foe than a tyrant." The tantalizing scents of the park assaulted the dog’s nose, prompting it to jerk forward. Marcus stumbled.
“Give me that.” David tugged at the lead. “Come on Karl, slow down; we´re talking here.”
Tucked away among the greenery at the opposite end of the park a car idled, its lights off. Bravo shifted in the driver’s seat and checked the rearview mirror. Where is he? He’s taking too long and that means I will be late. My mother—
Something rustled among the trees. Bravo sat up, heart thumping.
Moments later an opossum scampered by. Bravo sighed.
David and Marcus strolled along the park. Something crackled nearby; the dog sniffed the air and growled. David tightened his hold on the leash.
Marcus peered at his son. “I understand your disappointment, but extremes are dangerous. What is good, real and true will be found somewhere near the center.”
David snorted. “Our center has vanished with our prospects. We are saddled with an astronomical national debt; jobs are hard to get, people are going hungry. Ours is a rich country; we cannot allow ourselves to live like this.”
“And armed struggle will salvage your future?”
“When the generals ruled, my intellect was in held in a vise. It was like living in a cage year after year, and never questioning the soundness of its bars. I was timid; I was submissive, my confidence eroding with every edict and proclamation, with every abuse of my freedom.”
As if on cue, the dog growled. David tugged at the lead.
“Then Perón returned and the dream of democracy came alive,” he continued. “His government has rotted from the inside and is ready to crumble. but to allow the generals the run of the country again would be cataclysmic.”
David handed over the lead. “Armed struggle is all we have. First, we get rid of Perón and his fat cats. Then we eliminate the armed forces. I am never returning to the cage.”
Marcus gazed at his son with profound sadness. “I sense a long goodbye.”
“Use the contact I gave you. And don´t worry, I will be safe. Once a day, plant a great kiss on Mama´s cheek and tell her I love her with all my heart.”
While the dog snuffled and snooped, David gave Marcus a hug. “Are you watching the game tonight?”
“Your Mama, Karl and I will watch the game, and nothing would please us more than discussing it with you over a few beers. Soon.”
David patted the dog and tore himself away. He sprinted to the end of the park and slipped into the idling car.
“You are late, Oscar!” Bravo turned the car around and drove out of the park.
“I am sorry, comrade. It will not happen again.”
Bravo sighed. “It looks like the gorillas are glued to their televisions tonight. We are in the clear.”
That night the Copa Libertadores soccer finals blared out of every television; every neighborhood bar overflowed with raving fans. In the racket, no one heard the cries of the lone merchant in the park, or the roar of the executioners as they pummeled him to the ground.
But Karl knew what to do. The dog raced home and barked insanely until Alma Kurak opened the door. Moments later, an ambulance roared to the scene.
Argentina won the soccer tournament that night. David Kurak raced into the hospital to clutch his dying father´s hand and whisper in despair, “Perón’s thugs were looking for me. The bastards wanted me.”