Uncovering the Truth of 'The Disappeared'

Written by Richard Temple |

The extraordinary courage of many of those involved in protest was one of things that most struck me whilst doing the research as a co-curator for the exhibition Writing in Times of Conflict

The life of the journalist Andrew Graham-Yooll, who died recently, is a fine example of this. He was a campaigning journalist who risked his life by publishing the names of the disappeared during the repression in Argentina in the 1970s. Graham-Youll and his wife escaped from Argentina in 1976 just in time to avoid the thugs who had been sent to deal with them. 

Rodolfo Walsh

Another campaigning journalist of that era, Rodolfo Walsh, wasn’t so lucky. Walsh’s career as a journalist had begun in 1951. Six years later, he wrote the celebrated investigative book, Operación Masacre ("Operation Massacre") about the execution of Peronists during an unsuccessful attempt at restoring Peronism to power in June 1956. Walsh spent some time in Cuba after the revolution and is credited with decrypting the CIA telex which gave Fidel Castro advance warning of the Bay of Pigs invasion. 

The Cost of Uncovering The Truth

In 1976 Walsh responded to censorship imposed by the military junta by founding the Clandestine News Agency and the “Information chain”, which relied upon hand to hand dissemination of information. Walsh’s daughter was one of the many thousands of victims of the wave of repression, which swept over Argentina in the aftermath of the military coup of 1976. Enraged by what was happening, Walsh wrote an Open Letter to the Argentine Military Junta, March 24, 1977, a copy of which we feature in the exhibition.

Open Letter to the Argentine Military Junta Rodolfo Walsh

Image: Open Letter to the Argentine Military Junta, March 24, 1977, by Rodolfo Walsh.

He must have known the risks of confronting such a brutal regime in such a public manner. The next day, the military had its revenge when Walsh was ambushed and killed. Walsh’s body was never found. He is remembered as one of many of 'los desaparecidos' ('the disappeared') during a traumatic era of state-sponsored violence in Argentina but also as a pioneer of investigative journalism, who continues to inspire to this day.

“Espero que no se me critique el creer en un libro-aunque sea escrito por mi- cuando son tantos más los que creen en las metralletas.” / "I hope I am not criticised for believing in a book - even if it is written by me - when there are so many more who believe in submachine guns." ― Rodolfo Walsh, Operación Masacre

About the author

Richard Temple
Senate House Library Archivist & Co-curator of Writing in Times of Conflict 

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