Osvaldo Bayer is Dead

One of Argentina’s most highly respected intellectuals, the journalist and historian Osvaldo Bayer has died. His revisionist approach to labour’s struggles and the repression of the organized workers introduced a watershed into the interpretation of Argentina’s history. The slaughter of the peons, featured in his investigation Rebellion in Patagonia, maybe his best-known book. For that and for other research cataloguing the repression enforced by Argentina’s ruling classes and patrician families, he was censured, harassed and threatened. He was forced into exile and was one of the voices outside the country denouncing the state repression of the most recent civilian-military dictatorship. Upon coming home in the 1980s, he stood by his beliefs. He published his articles in Pagina/12. He showed up at every protest by workers, peasants and native communities. Championship of ethics and human rights was his forte. He was 91 years of age. His oeuvre and his example are as relevant as ever.

The news of Bayer’s death was confirmed by his daughter Ana on the writer’s Facebook page; “Some very sad news; my Dad has died.” This was also spelled out in German and in Italian, in recognition of the ties that the author of Rebellion in Patagonia had to the countries where he had spent part of his life.

Anarchist, historian, journalist, Osvaldo was born on 18 February 1927 in Santa Fe province, Argentina. He studied History at Hamburg University in Germany and the very first articles shaping what became his profile were published in Noticias Gráficas and in La Chispa, the latter being the Patagonian paper he founded during the 1950s. He also worked for Clarín. From 1959 until 1962 he headed the Press Union and was until recently honorary secretary of the Press Employees’ Union of Buenos Aires (SIPEREBA).

His activism led to his being targeted by the Triple A (Argentinean Anti-Communist Alliance) during the government of Maria Estela Martínez de Perón and in 1975 he left for exile in Berlin. Some of his books carried titles such as The Anarchist Expropriators, Severino Di Giovanni: Violent Idealist, Argentinean Football, Rebellion and Hope. He also wrote the screenplay for La Patagonia Rebelde, the movie directed by Héctor Olivera exposing the massacre of Patagonian peasant labourers.

In 2008 he wrote the screenplay and illustrated book published by Pagina/12. Called Awka Liwen and co-produced with Mariano Aiello and Kristina Hille, it reported on the confiscation of the lands of native and peasant communities and on the destruction of the soil. Because of it he was prosecuted (unsuccessfully) by the family of the dictatorship’s Economy minister, José Martínez de Hoz, which later prompted the making of another documentary, Martinez de Hoz.

In 1963 in the town of Rauch (Buenos Aires) he sponsored a popular campaign to have the town’s name altered, from the name of that Prussian colonel (Friedrich/Federico Rauch) to ‘Arbolito’, the name of the Ranquel Indian who claimed his life. That led to his being arrested. The order for his arrest came from a General Juan Enrique Rauch, the dictatorship’s Interior minister and great-grandson of Federico Rauch.

In addition to human rights activities and campaigning to have the genocides carried out by the recent military dictatorship acknowledged, there was another campaign that made him one of the most emblematic spokesmen; his campaign to have the Monument to Roca sited on the Diagonal Sur (a tribute to the Argentinean ex-president who ordered the slaughter of thousands of native communities which the official histories record as “the Conquest of the Desert”) relocated. Bayer asked for a monument to be erected to native women instead.  In 2007, on foot of that campaign, the council of the town of Rojas (Buenos Aires) renamed the erstwhile Julio Argentino Roca Street “Native Peoples” Street. Lobbying had come from the pupils at local schools, prompted by Bayer’s researches. There are currently many such projects under way.

In 1984 Bayer was awarded the Konex Prize and in 2003 the Universidad Nacional del Centro awarded him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa on the basis of his human rights record, his literary writings and his journalism. He received the same award from the national universities in Córdoba (2009), Quilmes (2009), San Luis (2006), Del Sur (2007), Del Comahue (1999) and San Juan (2011).

Given his ill health he turned up in a wheelchair to support the recent 24 March demonstration. He had suffered a few household accidents and age-related afflictions. But even so, there was a never-ending parade of students, writers, journalist and anyone else so minded calling on him at his home in the Belgrano district of Buenos Aires – which his friend, the writer and journalist Osvaldo Soriano once dubbed “The Shack”. 

From: Pagina/12, reprinted on the rojoynegrodigital website. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.