The many faces of the ESMA (was Re: CHILEAN GUARD INCRIMINATES MASS MURDERERS (w/comments))

Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky gorojovsky at
Thu Jun 29 07:33:30 MDT 2000

el 28 Jun 00, a las 18:54, Chris Brady dijo:

> While in Chile and Argentina I took several photographs of torture
> Centers in the anticipation of one day giving a talk on the last
> Thirty Years of the Twentieth Century in the Cone.


> I have shots of ESMA (the naval engineers’ school) in Buenos Aires.
> Some people want to tear it down.  I am looking at these photos now.
> ESMA is a beautiful colonial structure that gleams bright white in the
> sun by a broad avenue lined with gorgeous, purple-blooming cacaranda
> trees.  A large Argentinean flag floats in a blue sky with fluffy
> clouds.  Palm trees hang fronds from tall trunks.  Birds chirp in my
> recollection.
> My point is that these places themselves are visually pleasant,
> if one can cauterize one’s memory.

A good observation by Chris. One of the most ominous facts with our
history is the permanent, Pharaonic-style, rewriting of our past in
order to buttress current humiliations. Thus, placenames and cozy
corners in our towns pay hommage to sinister butchers. Chris, a
visitor, was shown some of the most obvious reminders: the ESMA being
a symbol (on which I will return in a minute). But we have lots of
different reminders of the power that the criminals hold on our
country. Just as a token, we have a Pedro Eugenio Aramburu square in
Buenos Aires; Aramburu was the President who in 1956 gave the orders
to unconstitutionally butcher a few military and civilians who had
attempted to arise against the 1955 regime, and who had been pushed
into the ill fated coup by Aramburu's intelligence services

But the ESMA (which is not "colonial", BTW, but "neocolonial", an
architectonic style that saw a heyday during the 1930s and was linked
both to oligarchic nationalism and industrial upsurge in Argentina)
has a story of its own. Of the three Armed Forces in Argentina
(perhaps I should say of "traditional", pre-1976 Argentina), the Navy
has always been the most reactionary one. Navy officers in Argentina
are the only ones who are recruited, from time to time, among truly
oligarchic families (even though that bloodthirsty midget who was
Aramburu's rightwing and partner, Admiral Isaac Rojas, was a dark
skinned, low, Santiagueño --perhaps his antipopular rage stemmed
precisely from a desire to be respected among his tall, porteño,
white, fellow officers at the Navy?). They have always been
particularly disdainful of our own people, and admire British naval
feats in a way only paralelled by the derision they reserve for our
most important naval battles, those of Martín García and Obligado
against the Anglo-British in the 1840s. Perhaps because there was
little action for Navy itself, most probably because those were in
the end victorious battles against proto-imperialists.

The ESMA (EScuela de Mecánica de la Armada, that is Navy School of
Mechanics) has been important in our history twice. The most
notorious one is the moment when it was partly turned into a torture
chamber, for the distress of the very elegant people who live nearby:
And this is, in my opinion, one of the reasons why there are so many
people interested in its demolition: It is placed, as Chris
adequately reported, in a wealthy and beautiful corner of Buenos
Aires, on Avenida del Libertador, a place where high rise appartment
buildings weld perfectly with gardens and parks, and where the
jacarandas of Buenos Aires are a real sight. Not a matter of chance
that some of the residents are proposing to destroy it to the ground,
it would be a wonderful real estate business, and it would also help
forget some unsavory collections of what did their forebears support
in order to keep their privileged status!

But the significance of the ESMA in our history is not reduced to the
events that took place behind its walls after 1976.The ESMA has also
been one of the few institutions within the Navy where some rare but
nevertheless real Navy Officers learnt the necessity of shipyards and
mechanics in a country that depended (and still depends) on naval
transport for most of its foreign trade, it was the breeding place
for officers who backed the construction of one of the most modern
trading fleets of the world during the late 40s and the early 50s
(Empresa Líneas Marítimas Argentinas, ELMA), who gave a great push
forward to the Argentinian naval construction (Astilleros y Fábricas
Navales del Estado, AFNE), and who invented the large and efficient
fleet of river barges that turned the Paraná and Uruguay rivers in
excellent waterways (Flota Fluvial del Estado Argentino, FF). The
three were, of course, state owned enterprises, and all have been
destroyed, jibarized or recklessly given out to private, foreign

The destruction of ELMA was accomplished under the same _civilian_
government and the same ruling classes that gave great importance to
the horrible recent events in the history of the ESMA. This
destruction brought along pathetic cases (including suicides), such
as that of the crew of the General Belgrano ship, who suddenly found
themselves lost and forlorn at some West African port without any way
to return home... Any similitude with the tragedy of Soviet sailors
after the destruction of the SU is absolutely NOT a product of

FF had been elliminated a decade ago, with the interesting argument
that it was TOO profitable, thus hindering private enterprise.  The
general verse regarding State enterprises is that they are not
efficient, which is understandable if one takes into consideration
that they had been managed, for decades, by their enemies: it is as
if you put, say, Rudolf Hess to manage the State of Israel! But Flota
Fluvial had been such a good idea that not even these ill willed
administrators could sink it (the resistance by the union, even under
the military regime of 1976-83, was not a secondary factor here), so
that they decided to turn its efficiency into an argument to blow it
into the airs.

So that the same ESMA where people were barbarously tortured was the
ESMA that, in a different historic setting, generated a good deal of
Argentinian economic nationalism. But there is still another comment
on the ESMA.  The reactionary character of the Navy was clearly
exposed when, in 1943, the coup which put a full stop mark to the
Infamous Decade, found resistence only from the young inmates of the

Yes, a building that should not be demolished...

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
gorojovsky at
gorojovsky at

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