On Wednesday 4th February we were delighted to welcome Dr Par Kumaraswami, Associate Doctor in Latin American Cultural Studies from the University of Reading, to deliver a lecture on Argentina’s ‘Guerra Sucia’ (Dirty War). This topic is a central part of our Upper Sixth course.
In the first part of her lecture, Dr Kumaraswami showed how events from 1976-83 were still having repercussions in today’s Argentina. She suggested that the response to the recent death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman follows a familiar pattern of polarisation of opinion between government supporters and the opposition. This thread was then traced back through various governments in the 90s and the 80s showing how such polarisation has contributed to decisions to incarcerate or alternatively to grant amnesty to military figures indicted for war crimes during the Dirty War. We gained a real sense of the seemingly endless search for truth and justice dating back to the days of the military Junta.
In the second part of the lecture, we were asked to consider the possible cultural responses to the events of the Dirty War. Dr Kumaraswami suggested that writers in Argentina (as in many other Latin American countries) felt a strong compulsion to be engaged in society, not least in the political sphere. This meant that they became targets for the military, who sought to quash opposition in all its forms. As a consequence the exile of writers was common, though others stood their ground and were either imprisoned or killed or ‘disappeared’.
We were then invited to look at a brief clip of Manuel Puig’s ‘El beso de la mujer araña’ (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and to talk about an extract from Alicia Kozameh’s ‘Pasos bajo el agua’ (Steps Under Water), a fictionalised account of the author's experiences as a political prisoner in the 1970s and subsequent exile from Argentina. We felt a real sense of the horror of being caught up in the brutality of the Dirty War.
The final part of the lecture involved a Skype link with Alicia Kozameh herself from the United States. This provided the opportunity for a Q & A session about her life, her literature and the Dirty War more generally. Her answers were frank, thoughtful and powerful. Her memories were vivid, her thoughts about the present and the future for Argentina somewhat alarming at times. It was truly a privilege to be put in contact with her.
I should like to thank Dr Kumaraswami for her time and for putting together such a relevant and thought-provoking lecture. As well as covering our A-level topic, the evening provided much food for additional thought and enquiry into the future.