A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture

A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture

A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture

A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture


"We were all out in la charca, and there they were, coming over the ridge, a battalion ready for war, against a schoolhut full of children." Tanks roaring over farmlands, pregnant mothers tortured, their babies stolen and sold on the black market, homes raided in the dead of night, ordinary citizens kidnapped and never seen again--such were the horrors of Argentina's Dirty War. Now, in A Lexicon of Terror, Marguerite Feitlowitz fully exposes the nightmare of sadism, paranoia, and deception the military dictatorship unleashed on the Argentine people, a nightmare that would claim over 30,000 civilians from 1976 to 1983 and whose leaders were recently issued warrants by a Spanish court for the crime of genocide. Feitlowitz explores the perversion of language under state terrorism, both as it's used to conceal and confuse ("The Parliament must be disbanded to rejuvenate democracy") and to domesticate torture and murder. Thus, citizens kidnapped and held in secret concentration camps were "disappeared"; torture was referred to as "intensive therapy"; prisoners thrown alive from airplanes over the ocean were called "fish food." Based on six years of research and moving interviews with peasants, intellectuals, activists, and bystanders, A Lexicon of Terror examines the full impact of this catastrophic period from its inception to the present, in which former torturers, having been pardoned and released from prison, live side by side with those they tortured. Passionately written and impossible to put down, Feitlowitz shows us both the horror of the war and the heroism of those who resisted and survived--their courage, their endurance, their eloquent refusal to be dehumanized in the face of torments even Dante could not have imagined.


In Corrientes, practically nothing has been investigated. the whole subject is taboo.

--Sergio Tomasella

The campesinos are still so afraid that the elders have yet to tell the youths what happened, what happened to them. the one thing they have learned from history is that knowledge is a very dangerous thing.

--Father Jorge Torres

This is the story of a revolution so small, so modest, and so far away from Buenos Aires that the vast majority of Argentines have no idea that it actually happened. in the remote northeastern province of Corrientes the peasants have lived since the Conquest in medieval poverty--isolated, exploited, and silent on the ranches (estancias) of their patrones, or trabajando a la golondrina--poetic Spanish for itinerant labor, an expression in which desperately wandering workers are metaphorically transformed into the comforting image of swallows. Impelled by unlivable conditions, strengthened by the Living Gospel, and guided by the priests, nuns, and bishops associated with liberation theology, the peasants began--slowly, tentatively, and peacefully--to organize. They needed more efficiency in the backbreaking labor of growing tobacco, wanted the right to set their prices as guaranteed by the Constitution, were desperate for schools, clinics, and asphalt roads. So careful was this movement that land reform was excluded from its lexicon, in favor of the less incendiary statement la tierra para quien la trabaja ("who works the soil deserves the land"). in the feudal context of Corrientes, such acts of peasant analysis were in themselves revolutionary, and incited reprisals from the whole series of elected and de facto governments of the early 1970s. By the time of the 1976 coup, the movement's . . .

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