Message to NACLA From Olga Talamante
Dear NACLA compañeros,
Felicidades on your 45th anniversary! What a milestone for all of you who have worked directly with NACLA, for the many of us who have benefited from your amazing work, and most of all, for the peoples across our continente americano whose lives you have touched with your research, publications, and courageous speaking truth to power.
As a young, idealistic 23-year-old activist, I traveled to Argentina in 1973 and was proud to be part of the Juventud Peronista and the movement to bring democracy to an Argentina that had suffered 18 years of military repression. Little did we know that those 18 years were to pale in comparison to the brutality unleashed on the Argentine people by the military during the Dirty War years.
In November 1974, I was arrested along with my fellow militants after Isabel Perón’s government declared a state of siege and suspended all civil liberties. My good friends Ed McCaughan and Peter Baird were contacted by a mutual friend and informed of my capture and torture.
It was my good fortune that Ed and Peter were working with NACLA at the time and that I immediately received all the support possible to begin the campaign to gain my release. NACLA’s extensive network, political contacts, resources, knowledge of the workings of the U.S. State Department, and familiarity with cases similar to mine provided unparalleled solidarity and support to my family and friends.
Sixteen months later, I was released and was able to return to the United States as my family and supporters won a small victory based on a massive grassroots campaign led by my parents that eventually reached the highest echelons of power.
In March, I returned to Argentina for the first time since being released 36 years ago. It was an intense, emotional, and beautiful trip that I could not have made without my good friend Ed McCaughan. I reconnected with my old comrades and cellmates. We laughed and cried together, joyous to see each other and sad as we remembered those comrades who are among the disappeared. We honored their memory as we touched their engraved names on the walls of the Parque de la Memoria.
The highlight of the trip was meeting with the founders of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and marching with them as they continue to fight for the memory of their children and demand justice by bringing to trial those responsible for the disappearance, maiming, killing, torture, and child abductions perpetrated upon the Argentine people. Already close to 300 military officers have been tried, indicted, and sentenced.
I share this with you because NACLA is part and parcel of the history of the Americas. You are part of the people’s struggles and you are also part of the people’s victories.
Executive Director of the Chicana/Latina Foundation
Free Olga Talamante
NACLA Report (September 1975 issue)
Olga Talamante, 25-year old daughter of a California farmworker family, a Chicana woman, awakens every morning at 6 AM to the sound of a prison guard’s whistle in the town of Azul, 200 miles south of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Olga and 12 young Argentine activists were arrested during a series of predawn raids by Argentine police four days after President Isabel Perón declared a state of siege November 6, 1974. With no explanation for the arrests, the Federal Police had taken Olga and the others to the police station where they were interrogated and tortured for several days and nights. Since that time Olga has remained a prisoner in the provincial jail of Azul. The U.S. State Department, conscious of Olga’s support of the farm workers’ movement, her role as a Chicana fighter, and wishing to further encourage the rightward swing of the Argentine government, has dragged its feet in its moves to have her freed.
In her months of imprisonment, Olga has written friends and comrades in the struggle many times, describing her condition, the situation in Argentina, and the experiences of prison life. We are printing some excerpts of these beautiful strong letters in solidarity with Olga and all those held in the jails of Argentina and all of Latin America. Her words are a symbol of the courage and strength of all women who have risen against injustice and exploitation. As she wrote to her parents in the United States: “I love life enough to struggle for it, and I’m happy to be living this historic moment even if I’m imprisoned, because I know that in spite of it, my thoughts, and others like you, are free.”
January 29, 1975
As news keeps reaching me about the great support shown by so many of you, my spirit grows stronger and my heart dances at the joyful conviction that our cause is on the road to victory. I know that we are presently being punished for having the courage and determination to rise against the injustice and exploitation allowed by a system which feeds and survives on those things, but I also know that your courage and hard work are the rewards of our efforts.
I feel happy; I feel strong. I know that my words will reach all of you and that they will convey the unbreakable bonds that I feel unite us. There’s no more a difference of “me” here and “you” there; I’m there with all of you and you’re here at my side while I walk around the patio looking up at the clear blue sky; I feel your presence as I do my exercises, as I study. I feel that we are growing together . . .
I’m happy to know that my brother and sister campesinos continue firm in La Causa. It was in the fields that I learned of the inhuman exploitation and miserable living conditions that many of us suffer due to an economic system which puts material riches before a person’s dignity. It was as a Chicana campesina that I learned to struggle and my being here in Argentina is but a consequence of that consciousness.
You should all be proud to know that I’m called “Chicana” by the compañeros and by the police, too! The first ones do it with love and international solidarity, and the second ones with hate and international despair.
February 16, 1975
The sounds of Larialde from the transistor radio, mixed with a baby’s cry and a compañera reading the news aloud are my present sources of inspiration. At this moment I find myself surrounded by an acute sense of awareness. I see everything around me in its full dimension, these walls in relation to centuries of exploitation, this bed in relation to the thousands of unknown graves, myself in relation to my countless hungry brothers and sisters. And I learn once more that my imprisonment is but a small part of this historical yearning for freedom. . .
May 4, 1975
It makes me really happy to feel the deep bond that unites us all. Through you and your letters, the other compañera here are able to sense the continuity and growth of the struggle there, and they know that it’s one and the same. Keeping that type of communication going is definitely one of the ways of beating the enemy. We must always be aware of the enemy’s intentions wherever we are, and then develop and create the most effective way of fighting it.
Let me tell you once more, dear compañeros, that in spite of what may happen, everything we’ve been doing for these six months (all of you there and we here) is definitely another important step in this beautiful road we have chosen to walk together. I want you to know that I feel good, that I’m stronger and happier than ever. I have learned to love more as I feel more loved each day. One of my greatest happinesses is knowing that my dearest friends and my family are with me in a common effort to end injustice. . . . My mother’s really a beautiful woman and my love and respect for her grow with each and every little thing she’s doing. She’s not only a mother fighting for her daughter’s freedom, but a constant reminder and reaffirmation of what our success will be like, because she’s people, she’s woman, she’s worker, she’s the strength that we all need to go on.
Today we had a really good discussion on these matters. We’ve just finished our weekly meeting where we evaluate the past week’s activities using the method of criticism/self-criticism which is, of course, the most effective way of analyzing our errors and of coming up with the best ways to improve our personal deficiencies. Being in jail and sharing our lives constantly with each other gives way for our personal characteristics to show, and sometimes this creates tense moments and sometimes even personal problems with each other. That’s why we know that we must depend on the general concepts and criteria dictated by our structure to deal with these problems. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing sight of our situation as political prisoners and as members of a more important project, which is the people’s struggle for liberation.
Read the rest of NACLA’s Summer 2012 issue: “Latin America and the Global Economy.”