In early 1944, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS, sent agents to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Their task was to establish an escape route for Nazis should Germany lose the war. When that outcome became a reality in May 1945, Nazis flowed into Argentina (and throughout South America) where they were welcomed by the government of military dictator Juan Perón.
That South America was colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese is not news to most. What is less known is the degree to which Germans, Austrians, and Italians emigrated to South America long before the World Wars. Supermodel Gisele Bündchen, for example, is the descendant of such immigrants. She is a sixth-generation German-Brazilian and is ethnically German. Bündchen is not unique in this. Many of these Europeans were not fleeing Europe, but coming for business opportunities. Hence, they often brought with them a love of the home country and a strong anti-Semitism.
So, when the war ended and the Allies were combing Europe for war criminals like Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele, many of these German and Austrian and Italian South Americans happily funded Perón’s efforts to facilitate their escape to Argentina and establish them with new identities and new lives. Argentina’s military dictators—they had multiple—admired the Nazis and their methods. Indeed, Argentina (and Chile) sought their advice on government policy and even created German-style concentration camps. Under Perón and others like him, tens of thousands were murdered, tortured, imprisoned, or simply vanished.
Those scars don’t heal in one generation or even in two. And, sadly, those practices become ingrained governmental habits that are all too readily accepted by hopeless populations that have become used to them. The relationship some countries have with dictatorship is a bit like the Hollywood romances of Burton and Taylor, Desi and Lucy, Tina and Ike, or Whitney and Bobby. You know, one of those love-hate relationships that everyone knows is destructive – even the participants – but for reasons that defy all understanding, they just can’t stay away from each other.
It is a country with a history of governmental brutality, systemic corruption, continual human rights violations, and a fatal attraction to dictatorship. Yes, just when things are looking up and you think Whitney is finally going to leave Bobby, the two reunite. Juan Perón is the best example of this, but hardly the last iteration of it. Take, for example, Argentina’s last president, Cristina Kirchner. Although she was not a dictator as we generally imagine it, her presidency nonetheless bore remarkable similarities with past practices.
If you like Hillary, you’d love Cristina. Kirchner was the first lady of her country. She was politically ambitious and longed to be her country’s first elected female president. She ran for president, but unlike Clinton, she won. She enjoyed great popularity (for a time) within her party and with much of the country. Unfortunately, also like Clinton, the stench of scandal follows Kirchner everywhere—even in her post-presidential life.
The most spectacular of these scandals involves the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 where 87 people were killed and more than 100 injured. Evidence suggests that it was approved and orchestrated by the Iranian government. Special prosecutor Alberto Nisman publicly accused the Argentine government—Cristina Kirchner in particular—of a cover-up to secure favorable trade deals with Iran. In the early morning hours of January 18, 2015, the day Nisman was to testify before the Argentine congress and reveal evidence against Kirchner and the Iranian government, Nisman was found dead in his apartment, a single gunshot wound to the head. The government quickly ruled it a suicide. To date, no one has been prosecuted in this attack.
And this is to say nothing of other traits that are common to South America—widespread poverty, a society of haves and have-nots, a Catholic Church that has probably seen more conversions to Marxism than Bible-believing Christianity, and the frequent disappearance or murder of journalists who try to expose these evils. Argentina is trying to face its past and seems to be trending upward. But the historian in me is a cynic, because all too often these countries have no future. Not really. There is only the past repeating itself.
Those countries that manage to break bad historical cycles are transformed at a fundamental level. More to the point, they are transformed spiritually. I have great hope for China, for instance, not because the present government is democratic, but because China is trending toward freedom, and that has everything to do with the rapid growth of Christianity and the Christian reformers who are at work there. Argentina shows no signs of that kind of change; rather, it shows signs of American material influence, and that is a mixed bag.
Argentina star rating: 3/10