Mar 242018

Today is the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice (Día de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia), a public holiday in Argentina, commemorating the victims of the Dirty War. It is held on 24th March because that is the anniversary of the coup d’état of 1976 that brought the National Reorganization Process to power.

President Juan Perón died on July 1, 1974. He was succeeded by his wife María Estela Martínez de Perón, affectionately called “Isabelita.” Despite her claim as the country’s rightful ruler, María rapidly lost political influence and power. A group of military officials, organized by Perón himself to aide María, took control in an effort to revitalize Argentina’s deteriorating political and social climate. This shift in governance paved the way for the ensuing coup. The involvement of the US and France in financing and supporting the coup was kept secret for decades, but has now come to light. The blood of tens of thousands of desaparecidos is on the hands of the CIA. I have not the slightest doubt that if I had lived in Buenos Aires at the time, I would have been counted among them. 

The coup in Argentina was part of a much broader strategic political policy of the CIA in Latin America known as Operation Condor, whose purpose was to encourage takeovers by far-right regimes and to bolster them while in power. The torture and murder of intellectuals and dissidents was explicitly condoned, and many of the assassinations of opponents to the governments were ordered directly by the CIA. Operation Condor was planned in 1968, and was officially implemented in 1975.

Condor’s key members were the governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. Most of the members of the Juntas have now been convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide. A series of declassified documents from the US State Department reveal the leading role of the CIA. The largest secret operation on a continental scale, a component of Operation Condor, was Operation Central America, deployed from 1977 to 1984. The CIA was restricted from covert operations in Latin America under Jimmy Carter, president from 1977 to 1981. According to Duane Clarridge, head of the CIA at the time, the Argentine military regime, which was little more than a puppet of the CIA, was funded to do the “dirty” work that the CIA was not allowed to conduct by Carter. The Argentine dictatorship carried out CIA operations in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, including an Argentine military landing in Central America as an outside legionary force.

The military coup in Argentina in 1976 was coordinated and funded by the CIA as a key stage in having a compliant military regime in the region. Shortly before 01:00 am on March 24th, president Martínez de Perón was detained in Buenos Aires. At 03:10 all television and radio stations were interrupted. Regular transmissions were cut and replaced by a military march, after which the first communiqué was broadcast:

People are advised that as of today, the country is under the operational control of the Joint Chiefs General of the Armed Forces. We recommend to all inhabitants strict compliance with the provisions and directives emanating from the military, security or police authorities, and to be extremely careful to avoid individual or group actions and attitudes that may require drastic intervention from the operating personnel.

A state of siege and martial law were implemented, as military patrolling spread to every major city. The morning was seemingly uneventful, but as the day progressed, the detentions multiplied. Hundreds of workers, unionists, students, and political activists were abducted from their homes, their workplaces, or in the streets. State terrorism in Argentina continued until the democratic government of Raúl Alfonsín was elected to office in 1983. It organized the National Commission CONADEP to investigate crimes committed during the Dirty War and heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses and began to develop cases against offenders. It organized a tribunal to conduct prosecution of offenders and in 1985 the Trial of the Juntas was held. The top military officers of all the juntas were among the nearly 300 people prosecuted and the top men were all convicted and sentenced for their crimes. At the time, Argentina was the only Latin American example of the government conducting such trials.

Threatening another coup, the military opposed subjecting more of its personnel to such trials. It forced through passage by the legislature of Ley de Punto Final (Full Stop Law) in 1986, which ended prosecutions for crimes under the dictatorship. Fearing military uprisings, Argentina’s first two presidents after the Dirty War sentenced only the top two ex commanders and, even then, very leniently. The Ley de Punto Final provided amnesty to Dirty War acts, arguing that torturers were only doing their “jobs” (the defense of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg). President Carlos Menem praised the military in their “fight against subversion.”

In 2003, Congress repealed the Pardon Laws and in 2005 the Argentine Supreme Court ruled they were unconstitutional. In 2006, under Nestor Kirchner, the government re-opened investigations and began prosecutions again of the crimes against humanity committed by military and security officers. Its 2006 sentencing of Miguel Etchecolatz (Director of Intelligence for the Buenos Aires Provincial Police) for conviction on numerous charges of kidnapping, torture and murder. Argentine courts condemned the 1970s Junta members for crimes against humanity and genocide of political dissidents. Some of these trials are still in progress, and many Argentinos are still seeking information concerning the fate of their family members – in particular, Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Association of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo) whose children were among those “disappeared” by the Junta.

The commemoration of this date was sanctioned as Law 25633 by the Argentine National Congress on 1st August 2002 and promulgated by the Executive Branch on 22nd August of the same year. However, it was not implemented as a public national holiday until 2006. The 30th and 40th anniversaries of the coup were marked by massive demonstrations on this date. Argentina is still waiting for an apology from the US for its part in the Dirty War. Probably be a while.

I have given recipes for pretty much all the well-known dishes of Argentina so it’s time to branch out to some lesser known regional recipes. Chipás are a favorite of mine from northeastern Argentina. They were originally a simple form of bread made from cassava flour by the indigenous Guaraní, but after Spanish colonization cheese was added to the dough to make them as they are now. There are numerous varieties. Standard chipás are shaped into small balls, but they can also be baked into doughnut shapes or larger buns that may be called chipa’í or chipacitos. These are sold in small bags by street sellers in both cities and small towns. Other common variants include the chipá caburé or chipá mbocá (cooked around a stick) and the chipa so’ó, filled with ground meat. There are other varieties of chipa with different ingredients; chipa manduvi (made with a mix of corn flour and peanut), chipá avatí and chipa rora (made of the skin of the seed of corn after being strained, like a whole-wheat bread). Flavorings, such as anise seeds can also be added. The cassava flour is essential and you may have to order it online. Mozzarella is a common cheese used as well as other locally produced cheeses.



1 lb cassava flour
½ cup butter
4 eggs, beaten
½ lb melting cheese , grated
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk


Preheat the oven to 420˚F/200˚C.

Mix the butter and the eggs in a stand mixer until they are well combined. Add the grated cheese and mix.

Dissolve the salt in the milk. Add to the mixture. Then, add the cassava flour slowly and continue mixing until a dough forms.

Knead the dough on a floured board and then place it in a bowl, cover and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Pinch off pieces about the size of a golf ball, roll them with your palms into regular balls and place them, about 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly golden.

Dec 112015


Today is Tango Day in Buenos Aires. The date was chosen because it is the birthday (1899) of famed tango musician, Julio de Caro (as well as of Carlos Gardel). I wouldn’t say it is a major celebration in Buenos Aires because tango is nowhere near as popular there as it once was. It’s now mostly old people and tourists who care. Shame. One of the great things about tango is that it is distinctively Argentino; it is not European. By gradually losing interest, younger generations are losing something of profound historical and cultural importance. I won’t go on a major rant nor spend a lot of time going over the history of tango – just a few key points followed by a little biography of de Caro (Gardel next year).

There are many kinds of tango. Tango as performed outside of Argentina is not tango. There is, for example, a ballroom style of dance that is called tango, but it is tango in name only. In Buenos Aires you can find roughly three styles of tango – milonga tango, street tango, and show tango. Milonga tango is the most traditional. Milongas are dance halls where people go to dance a number of classic dances, especially tango. There are often a lot of couples dancing so this is not the arena for flashy, complex moves. But the style is not necessarily simple. You have to know what you are doing. I can’t find a video of milonga tango, probably because it is not a spectator sport: you go to a milonga to dance, not to watch. But in this scene from Scent of a Woman, Pacino does a decidedly passable version of milonga tango to a well known tune.

The clip also includes this great, but false, line:

“No mistakes in the tango, darling. Not like life.” If you want to screw up royally, go to a milonga and see how quickly you can break one of a million subtle rules.

Show tango is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is largely a tourist trap, but with important elements of classic tango inherent in it. It’s expansive, athletic, and showy, requiring a large space and an audience. Here’s a typical example.

I don’t care for this style much, but I’ll watch if it is free. The whole thing is choreographed, which goes against the core value of tango. Tango is improvised (the man always leading).

Street tango is somewhere in between the two extremes of the milonga and the stage. The space is smaller and the dancers more intimate. The dancing may be partly choreographed but is looser than show tango. The dancers are performing for tips, of course, and it’s only out-of-towners (and me) who watch. But the dancers are not professionals, and have usually grown up in the milongas. This group dances regularly at the intersection of calle Florida and Lavalle — a pedestrianized area in Microcentro.

Julio de Caro was a master performer and composer in the early 20th century, playing in milongas much of his career. Julio’s father opened a conservatory in San Telmo barrio (near where I used to live), in 1913, soon becoming one of the city’s best known sources for music, instruments, parts, and lessons. Julio and his brother, Francisco, were both taught the piano and violin, respectively; though their father ultimately granted them their wish to exchange instruments (a third brother, Emilio, learned the violin). Against his father’s wishes, Julio obtained a spot as a second violinist at the Lorea Theatre for a 1915 performance of a zarzuela (music-dance performance). Despite their father’s punishment and objections, the brothers began attending Buenos Aires’ popular tango recitals. Some of these early influences included bandleaders Eduardo Arolas, Juan Carlos Cobián, and Roberto Firpo.


At his friends’ prompting, de Caro played for a tango performance at the Palais de Glace, an elegant multi-purpose venue, in 1917. His solos earned him a standing ovation, and led to a permanent spot in the orchestra, led by tango legend Eduardo Arolas. The elder de Caro (who disdained popular music generally) objected vigorously, so Julio kept it secret that he had joined the orchestra for which he wrote his first tango, Mon beguin.

Eventually, his father forced Julio, at 18 years old, to leave the house, a move that pushed Francisco to join his brother. The two traveled with Arolas’ orchestra, which was very popular in both Argentina and neighboring Uruguay. The brothers contributed greatly to its fortunes, composing – among other standards in tango: Mala pinta (Shady Look), Mi encanto (My Charm), Pura labia (All Words), Don Antonio, A palada (In Spades), Era buena la paisana (She Was a Good Country Girl), Percanta arrepentida (Lamentful girl), Bizcochito (Lil’ Biscuit), Gringuita (Blondie) and La cañada (The Brook).

A business disagreement led de Caro and pianist José María Rizzuti to leave Arolas’ group in 1919. They formed a quartet with bandoneonist Pedro Maffia and violinist José Rosito, with whom they performed regularly to acclaim at a café near the Argentine Supreme Court. The group separated in 1920, however, and de Caro and Rizzuti joined bandleader Osvaldo Fresedo, with whom they toured in the United States. De Caro relocated to Montevideo, where he married and joined Minotto Di Cicco’s orchestra (1922). He was then reunited with Maffia in Buenos Aires under Juan Carlos Cobián’s direction, in 1923. His marriage ended, shortly afterwards.

Cobián’s decision to follow a love interest to New York led to the de Caro brothers’ being reunited in need of a band, at the end of 1923. Their success at a high society New Year’s Eve ball led to lucrative contracts in popular downtown cafés and for a new medium: radio. The Julio de Caro Orchestra later received a recording contract from RCA Victor and, in April 1925, performed for Edward, the Prince of Wales. U.S. jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman introduced de Caro to the Stroh violin, later that year. The device (a violin with a cornet horn at one end) had been invented for radio performances for its ability to project sound above the rest of the orchestra, and the conductor soon found it an indispensable tool. The renowned bandleader composed numerous pieces in honor of some of the prominent figures in Argentine life that attended his performances, notably chief surgeon Enrique Finochietto and President Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear.


The orchestra toured France by invitation, in 1931. They performed at Nice’s Palais de la Méditerranée, for Prince Umberto di Savoia, for the Rothschilds’ galas, and for Paramount Studios in the making of Luces de Buenos Aires (one of several the studio made, starring Carlos Gardel). The orchestra remained successful in Argentina, debuting at the nation’s leading opera house, the Colón Theatre, in 1935, and at the Teatro Opera (1936), where they presented a comprehensive “Evolution of the Tango” – leading listeners through its development from 1870, onwards. A surprise visit by the brothers’ aging parents following one of these performances led to the family’s reconciliation.

His orchestra continued its prominence among tango fans for years, introducing young talent such as vocalist Edmundo Rivero. His audiences later declining, de Caro retired from his orchestra in 1954. He remarried in 1959 and returned to a recording studio only in 1975, collaborating with author Ernesto Sábato, composer Ben Molar, composer and arranger Luis Stazo and others to make Los 14 de Julio de Caro (Julio de Caro’s 14). He was honored by the national government with a declaration of December 11 as “National Tango Day;” on that day in 1977, he received a standing ovation at Buenos Aires’ Luna Park Arena, complete with a rousing Happy Birthday to You.

Julio de Caro died in the seaside resort city of Mar del Plata, on March 11, 1980, at age 80. He was interred at Buenos Aires’ Chacarita Cemetery, beside his brother, Francisco.


Milongas are not places to eat, and show tango joints serve flashy, overpriced meals along with expensive show tickets (hawked by shills in Microcentro). I’ve never been inclined to go to one. So the only resort I have is to fall back on classic Argentine cuisine. Here’s a recipe for chipás. Chipás are small, baked, cheese-flavored rolls, a popular snack and breakfast food Argentina, especially in the north. The original name is from Guarani but the product now is quite different from the original, made with cassava starch. Now chipás are made with tapioca starch, flour, and cheese. Use a good melting cheese such as mozzarella.



1 egg
⅔ cup milk
6 oz shredded melting cheese
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 ¾ cups tapioca starch
1 cup self-rising flour


Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C). Grease a baking sheet and set aside.

Stir together the egg, milk, cheese, and butter in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the tapioca starch and flour and mix well to form a dough. Knead the dough for two minutes on a lightly floured surface, then pinch off and roll up golf ball-sized pieces. Place them on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.