On Phil Ochs Narrowly Escaping ‘Being Disappeared’ In Latin America
Thursday marked thirty-nine years since American folk singer Phil Ochs took his own life.
Musician, writer and activist Ryan Harvey paid a tribute on the teleSUR blog yesterday by recounting a little-known story from the time Ochs spent in Santiago, Chile, shortly after Salvador Allende ascended to power as the first democratically elected socialist president in the world. He spent time with his friend Victor Jara, the Chilean folk singer who would later be murdered in the September 11, 1973 coup that overthrew Allende.
The story involves an episode with regional police and military authorities in Uruguay in late 1971 which would give Ochs and a traveling companion a taste of the horrific repression that would become common a few years later under the Southern Cone’s Operation Condor program.
When Ochs attended a concert at an Uruguayan university, he found himself targeted, arrested and eventually forced onto a plane bound for Bolivia where it was presumed he would be murdered or disappeared. Harvey explains:
While hanging around in Chile, Phil and his new friend David Ifshin had been introduced to a group of student radicals from a university in Uruguay, and they invited the pair to speak at an event they were organizing in early October. By the time Phil and David showed up, the police and military were preparing for an escalation of their harsh, torture-heavy program against the Tupamaros, and against the left in general.
And later, Harvey writes:
Midway through his concert, the military surrounded and attacked the university, and the students fought back. When the gun fighting had stopped and the tear gas cleared, the students were ID’d and either released or detained.
The two were arrested, held overnight and the next morning were taken Montevideo airport and put on a plane to Buenos Aires, where they were re-arrested.
The two had a longer stay there, in a prison of small concrete cells with no beds or mattresses. The two were interrogated and David was beaten. But he had heard from other prisoners to resist any attempts by the guards to take them to Bolivia, which, as they explained to him, meant they would be murdered and disappeared.
That was just the beginning of the odyssey which would take them to Bolivia and an hour-long stand-off with military there, and then onwards to Peru where upon entry they were targeted and tracked.
“Don’t go back to your hotel,” they were told. “The police forces all work together [down] here.”
This was Operation Condor in its infancy, a transnational collaboration between Southern Cone nations that involved kidnapping, torture, disappearance and assassination, founded officially by the Chilean secret police in November 1975. In short, the elimination of dissidents by any means necessary.
The U.S. provided technical assistance and military aid to each of the operation’s participating countries until at least 1978, and again starting in 1981 when Ronald Reagan took office. Through the 1970s former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger was an unapologetic supporter of each of the regimes involved, which at the time were all right-wing military dictatorships.
A landmark trial charging twenty-five former high-ranking military and political figures with gross human rights abuses got underway in Buenos Aires on 5 March 2013. The trial is expected to conclude sometime this year.
Related: Here’s a story I posted during my visit to Argentina in 2013, Remembering Argentina’s Dirty War, highlighting the prevalent public reminders and plaques to the dead and disappeared.