If he was real at all, or even if he wasn’t, Antonio Mamerto Gil Nunez was an freelance ranchhand gaucho who ditched his conscription into the Argentine Civil Wars for life as an outlaw — flourishing in the classic social bandit guise as a friend to the put-upon peasantry with beneficence extending all the way to saintly healing powers.
Ambushed and captured at last, Gil’s last charity was reserved for the policeman who decided to have him summarily executed — whom Gil warned was about to receive an en-route pardon. The cop didn’t buy this obvious dilatory gambit and slit the bandit’s throat, only to return and find the promised clemency riding on up. As Gil had also prophesied, the policeman’s son had fallen quite ill and now he prayed to the brigand he had just put to death, who posthumously secured the boy a miraculous recovery.
The reports of the duly impressed executioner proliferated and soon fathered a flourishing popular veneration. Although Gauchito Gil is of course entirely unrecognized by the institutional Catholic Church, many devout pilgrims visit his site to pray for, or to offer thanks for, a favorable intercession in life.
Carrera hurried home to join it … and in 1811, he seized control of it in a coup d’etat.** As a progressive dictator type, Carrera would go on to promulgate a constitution, set the stage for slavery abolition by declaring “freedom of the womb”, introduce the country’s first printing press, and establish diplomatic relations with the United States. Carrera’s sister Javiera even sewed the first Chilean flag.
The entire Carrera family would play a leading part in their nation’s birth throes, although whether for good or for ill history has hotly disputed. Our man Jose put himself at the head of the army to meet the Spanish reconquista force in the field — leaving his brother Juan Jose at the head of an unstable government — and by 1814 was mired in a virtual civil war against his former subordinate turned rival Bernardo O’Higgins. Spain (temporarily) recaptured Chile from its divided patriots, who by and large fled into exile.
Never a soul to eschew adventure, Carrera spent the next several years in derring-do plots. He finagled a flotilla from the Yankees, sailed it back to Argentina where he was arrested, and escaped captivity to Montevideo from which perch he waged a propaganda campaign against the Argentine government. By that time his enmity with Argentine revolutionary Jose de San Martin was quite personal: the O’Higgins-aligned San Martin had captured Carrera’s brothers Juan Jose and Luis and had them shot in Mendoza in 1818.
Carrera threw himself into the federalist war against San Martin’s unitary government in Argentina. The hated O’Higgins — who had by now declared Chilean independence and made it stick — routed aid to his longtime rival’s enemies. He was at last betrayed to his death after a defeat at Punta del Medano, and like his siblings, given over to a firing squad in Mendoza.
The Last Moments of J.M. Carrera.
* Present-day Chile’s independence day, September 18, marks the founding of this junta in 1810. It was Carrera who established the holiday.
** Actually Carrera authored two distinct coups in 1811: one to replace the junta with a new council, in September 1811 — and a second to replace that new council with himself that November. In January of 1812, he then replaced his November governing council in a move that essentially made him the dictator. Let’s say that institution-building wasn’t Carrera’s thing.
On this date in 1972, Argentina’s junta authored the extrajudicial execution of 16 political prisoners after a jailbreak attempt.
Remembered as the Trelew Massacre (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish), it’s been back in the news for an Argentine court’s 2012 conviction of executioners Emilio Del Real, Luis Sosa and Carlos Marandino for crimes against humanity.
One week to the day before those 16 crimes, more than 100 captured guerrillas from both leftist and Peronist movements attempted a mass breakout from Rawson Prison. The plan was to rendezvous with some well-timed getaway drivers who would whisk everyone to the airport where a flight waited to carry them to Salvador Allende’s Chile, which was then still a year away from its own military coup.
Between drivers failing to turn up and others arriving late to the airstrip the operation was a logistical catastrophe. Six people actually managed to escape abroad;* nineteen others, having made it to the airport but missing the flight, salvaged what they could be summoning a press conference and surrendering without resistance. They hoped to protect themselves by putting their case into the public eye.
Navy Lt. Commander Luis Emilio Sosa took the would-be fugitives to a naval base near the port of Trelew — not back to Rawson.
In the early hours of the morning on August 22, all nineteen were awoken, lined up, and machine-gunned by a detachment commanded by Sosa and Lt. Roberto Bravo. Twelve died on the scene; the others were dumped in the infirmary where four more succumbed. It would be put about, as usual, that the murdered prisoners had been shot trying to escape but that story didn’t convince many people. From exile, Juan Peron decried it as “murder”; protests and guerrilla attacks occurred on the anniversary of the slaughter for the next several years.
* These escapees went on to various interesting — and often violent — fates in revolutionary Latin America. One of them, Enrique Gorriaran Merlo, would eventually help to assassinate exiled Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza.
The next two decades saw Argentina’s political institutions grow ever more painfully brittle, as shaky civilian governments were toppled in turn by equally shaky military rulers, every turn of the wheel eroding the country’s norms of orderly governance without attaining a stable political coalition. The charismatic Aramburu remained throughout a pole of anti-Peronism, which mattered as Peron’s long shadow grew and his return to Argentina began to seem likely.*
The faltering legitimacy of the government in turn spawned leftist guerrilla movements like the Peronist Montoneros, who entered Argentina’s political fray in gobsmacking style by abducting Aramburu in an affair the guerrillas called “Operation Pindapoy”.
On May 29, 1970 — Argentina’s Army Day and also the one-year anniversary of a suppressed popular uprising against the military government — two of the Montoneros terrorists disguised themselves as junior officers and presented themselves at Aramburu’s unguarded Buenos Aires apartment, claiming that the army had assigned them as his escort. The ruse worked like a charm.
With their prey in hand, the “officers” and their confederates stuffed him in a Peugeot and followed clattering dirt roads to evade police checkpoints, arriving that evening to a safehouse they had readied in the hamlet of Timote. There, a trio of young radicals constituted themselves a revolutionary tribunal and put Aramburu on “trial” for the murder of Gen. Valle and his fellow Peronist rebels fourteen years before.
Mario Firmenich, one of the dozen young Montoneros kidnappers, would later describe the three days they spent with their celebrated prisoner for a magazine: “His attitude was calm. If he was nervous, he controlled it.” Firmenich, who is still alive, has always insisted as he said then that their action evinced the popular will. “For the first time the people could sit on the bench and judge and condemn. That is what the Montoneros performed in Timote: to show the populace, that, beyond the pitfalls, legal chicanery and repression, there was a path to true justice, which stems from the will of a people.”
True justice was executed in the basement of their hideout. Having announced the inevitable verdict to Gen. Aramburu half an hour before, the leader of the cell shot him in the chest and then the head. The Montoneros then buried him, still bound and gagged, right there in the cellar — slathered with quicklime in an effort to hide the evidence.
It was a shocking blow to a fragile polity, and would help speed the (probably inevitable) fall of Gen. Juan Carlos Ongania, who was ousted from the presidency just a week after Aramburu’s murder.**
To grasp the profound effect of the kidnapping and murder of Aramburu it is necessary only to consult any Argentine periodical issued after May 29, 1970. Shortly after the kidnapping, Ongania announced in a televised speech that the death penalty would be imposed for crimes against public order. This decree was insufficient, however, to alleviate the feeling that order and authority had collapsed for good. (Source)
During Argentina’s subsequent dictatorship (and its escalating “Dirty War” against, amongst other subversives, the Montoneros), the town square of Timote was named for its unwilling guest Aramburu. That name has been changed in recent years.
** Aramburu was probably involved in a plot to get rid of Ongania, whose credibility had gone to pieces in early 1970 quite independent of the Montoneros. Firmenich suspects this might account for the ex-president’s compliance with the purported junior officers who abducted him.
Argentina was a popular destination for Italian emigrants, so Giovanni landed right in a yeasty community of emigre anarchists. And Argentine anarchists, for that matter: anarchism burgeoned in early 20th century Buenos Aires.
Giovanni was among the most active — and most vocal. He founded his own paper, Culmine, to advocate his brand of propaganda of the deed.
Iconoclasts! Rebels against all oppression and injustice! Young temperaments uncowed by all the storms of life, the time has come when we must COOPERATE with all our powers in order to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, and the revolutionary dignity which moves us. Let us light the fuse on the dynamite of vengeance! Let us destroy the obscene caste of slavers and let us commit ourselves to the most desperate struggle for the complete liberty of the two inmates of the jail at Charlestown!”
And Giovanni wasn’t just messing around.
Though little-known to present day Anglophones, Severino Di Giovanni was one of the most energetically committed anarchist terrorists in history, and a giant (and controversial, among his comrades) on the Argentine anarchist scene.
Further to Sacco and Vanzetti’s cause, Giovanni bombed the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires (withstanding police torture upon his subsequent arrest), a George Washington statue, a Ford Motor Company concession, a tobacco firm attempting to commercialize the Sacco and Vanzetti name, and U.S. banks as part of his campaign. After Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution, Giovanni attempted to orchestrate a strike on the American President-elect Herbert Hoover during his state visit to the southern cone.
The Braintree martyrs were far from Giovanni’s sole concern, however; late in the 1920s his circle authored a number of bombing attacks on various targets of reactionary violence and bourgeois complacency, including the Italian embassy, locally-based fascists, and possibly even the editor of one of the rival anarchist journals that opposed his dynamite-oriented politics.
Spending monotonous hours among the common people, the resigned ones, the collaborators, the conformists; that isn’t living, that’s a vegetative existence, simply the transport, in ambulatory form, of a mass of flesh and bones. Life needs the exquisite sublimity experienced by rebellion of mind and arm.
Haters gonna hate, and collaborators gonna collabor-ate.
The anarchists who’d been complaining that Giovanni’s bomb-chucking would only make a right-wing coup more likely must have been in full I-told-you-so mode when a right-wing coup happened in 1930. Weeks later, Giovanni was finally taken in a firefight, along with his comrade Paulino Scarfo.
In a drumhead military tribunal, their lawyer was so impolitic in his advocacy that he himself was arrested after the sham proceedings, and eventually deported.
Giovanni met his firing squad fusillade with an energetic “Evviva l’Anarchia!” Scarfo shared his fate a few hours later.
If one likes, that sojourn in a functioning republic firmed up Dorrego’s commitment to federalism — the principle that would animate a decades-long internal conflict over division of power in the newly independent state.
Argentina’s federalists approved a distribution of power to its constituent regions; the opposing unitarians wanted a strong central government in Buenos Aires.
And they did not confine their disputes to pamphlets.
Resistance from the provinces to overweening Buenos Aires and Argentina’s unitarian first president Bernardino Rivadavia helped precipitate that gentleman’s fall from power and the dissolution of the national government.
Dorrego became Governor of Buenos Aires in August 1827, and exercised de facto head of state powers — for instance, he formally accepted the treaty ending hostilities in the Argentina-Brazil War.*
But a rough customer of the unitarian camp, Gen. Juan Lavalle, overthrew Dorrego’s government and mounted a terrifying purge of federales.**
Beginning, of course, with Dorrego himself, who was given one hour’s advance notice of his entirely extrajudicial shooting.
Most of the detailed information available online about this martyr is in Spanish — see here, here, here, and here, for instance.
* The fruit of this treaty was the independent state of Uruguay, as each side gave up trying to take that territory from the other by force.
General Valle was shouldered out for his affiliations with the former regime: throughout the months following the coup, the Peron party was systematically proscribed and its leaders barred from politics.
In exile, Peron urged radical action by these disenfranchised followers, and Valle attempted to mount a revolt in June 1956.*
This operation was well-scouted by the government, and crushed instantly — with a couple dozen of its adherents summarily shot. (Spanish link)
Well, the Peronist party slogan was, “Our Lives for Peron.”
Valle avoided the initial slaughter, but he was captured in an apartment in Buenos Aires on this date and shot at the city’s National Penitentiary in the evening.
“Shot for trying to overthrow the government” doesn’t quite sound off the scale of typical coup outcomes, but in Buenos Aires in 1956, these executions were shockingly disproportionate relative to the handling of many recent unsuccessful coups. Actually, the Aramburu government had just that February repealed the death penalty as a statutory option for plotting a coup.
But it wasn’t using statutes to handle the Valle coup: it declared martial law, and handled subversives at its own discretion. (It rescinded martial law and ceased any further executions on June 13.)
The authorities’ brutal response was something of a turning point in Argentine political relations and culture. Throughout the Peronist decade even the harshest critics of the regime could not accuse it of executions of this sort, even though coups had been attempted against it. Bloodshed on this scale for political reasons was unprecedented in the political and military history of Argentina.
Aramburu himself would catch a bit of the blowback for authoring this “turning point”: in 1970, the former president was kidnapped (Spanish-language site) by the pro-Peron Montoneros guerrillas and himself summarily executed shortly thereafter — allegedly in specific retaliation for having shot Gen. Juan Jose Valle.
And the literary fallout was hardly more complimentary. Argentine writer Felix Luna penned La Fusilacion (The Firing Squad) the next year;** set during Argentina’s 19th century civil wars, it’s plainly informed by that country’s more contemporaneous problems.
* Valle’s top co-conspirator was another general, Raul Tanco. In a strange coda, Tanco managed to escape execution by claiming asylum in the Haitian embassy. Pro-government gunmen kidnapped him from that refuge and turned him over to the army, but in a gesture of diplomatic courtesy, Aramburu returned Tanco to the embassy unharmed, with apologies to the Haitians for the breach of decorum.
On this date* in 1520, on his famous voyage of circumnavigation, explorer Ferdinand Magellan ordered the immediate execution of a mutinous captain.
Not to be trifled with.
Having alit just days before at the natural harbor of Puerto San Julien on the Brazilian Argentine coast (Magellan named it) with plans to winter there, the overweening Portuguese explorer faced an uprising of grumpy Spanish officers.
Gaspar Quesada, captain of the Concepcion, along with Luis de Mendoza of the Victoria and recently displaced San Antonio skipper Juan de Cartagena, seized some of the expedition’s ships during the night of April 1-2.
Since you know Magellan’s name five centuries later, you already know he quashed it.
As the sovereign of this fragile floating world, Magellan had little choice but to treat a challenge to his authority mercilessly.**
Though accounts are inconsistent, it seems Mendoza was boldly slain by one of Magellan’s men meeting him under color of “negotiation”.
Mendoza was then posthumously beheaded and quartered along with Gaspar Quesada. Juan de Cartagena was either executed as well, or else caught a “break”: some sources relate that, instead of executing Cartagena, Magellan had him marooned.
the twentieth of June , wee harboured ourselues againe in a very good harborough, called by Magellan Port S. Julian, where we found a gibbet standing upon the maine, which we supposed to be the place where Magellan did execution upon some of his disobedient and rebellious company.
-From a member of the Francis Drake expedition. Just 12 days later and at the very same place, Drake visited a similar penalty for a similar offense upon one of his own crew.
* “‘The authorities’ are divertingly divergent on the precise date of these events,” says O.H.K. Spate in The Spanish Lake, referring specifically to the dates of the mutiny. “Denucé puts them on Easter Sunday and Monday, 1–2 April; Merriman on Easter Sunday and Monday, 8–9 April; Nowell on Palm Sunday and the next day, with the trial verdict on 7 April. By the Julian calendar, in use until 1582, the dates would be 1–2 April; by the Gregorian, ten days later. Pigafetta and Maximilian, who slur over the whole affair, give no dates at all. It is not of vast moment.” Clearly, O.H.K. Spate never had to write an almanac blog.
Anyway, there’s some primary sourcing on this affair here.
** Though Magellan made an example of the leaders, he pragmatically spared about 40 others after keeping them in chains and working the pumps for three months. After all, the man still needed to crew his ships.
On this date in 1848, a pregnant 20-year-old socialite and her forbidden lover were shot at the order of an Argentine dictator.
Virtually a lens for the contradictory currents of gender, class and power in her time, Camila O’Gorman was the daughter of an elite family of (as her name suggests) Irish extraction, and a bosom friend of the daughter of her future executioner, dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas.
She fell into a torrid affair with Gutierrez, the family priest, and in 1847 eloped with him, a grand gesture of romanticism that brought a government warrant for their capture to “satisfy religion and the law and to prevent further cases of immorality and disorder.”
A scandal, as one might suppose — there was much chatter over who seduced whom, and whether it was a kidnapping — but a manhunt (and womanhunt)? Rosas appears psychotically enraged by two young people crazy in love, and still more so for summarily decreeing their death when he had them in his clutches. Another priest, it turned out, handed them over — more in sadness than in anger, in the manner of such folk, but understanding deep down that the arbitrary law is the law and immorality and disorder don’t go about preventing themselves.
O’Gorman was the first woman executed in independent Argentina, and she was eight months pregnant: the better to “satisfy religion” (though not the law, which forbade the execution of a pregnant woman), O’Gorman’s unborn child was baptized … by making her mother drink holy water.
The lovers were then shot together at the town of General San Martín, then known as Santos Lugares de Rosas.
The pregnant O’Gorman, borne to her firing squad. The image comes from this Argentinian page (in Spanish) about the heroine.
Camila and Uladislao’s brave sense of freedom upset the structured norms of a society used to obeying through fear. Their only way of facing the tyrannical power was escaping from a society which would never understand. They did not give up on their love to please the Restorer [Rosas], as was expected in those days. They never showed signs of repentment, [sic] on the contrary their peaceful minds reflected their clean consciences.
And among the many questions this tragic true story might raise, there’s one that particularly appals [sic] us: why did Rosas shoot Camila knowing the law stated a pregnant woman could not be murdered? Was that baby guilty of his parents’ “crime”?
He evidently was, since by being born he would symbolise the testimony not only of the criminal act, but also the evidence of “disobedience” of a moral code imposed by a fearful dictator.
On the screen, O’Gorman and Gutierrez’s doomed love was the topic of one of the first Argentine feature films (a century-old silent film now thought lost), and an Academy Award-nominated 1984 film with plenty of talking: