Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Argentine Lawyer

My Swiss grandfather Henri was born on the family ranch of “La Elisa” in Argentina in 1900. He would later emigrate to the United States in 1923 from Switzerland where the family had gone for his schooling. After spending time in California’s central valley learning how to run a ranch, he was supposed to return to Argentina and take over La Elisa. On his way to Argentina he went to San Francisco to look for work, met a French Basque woman, fell in love and would not return to South America until his 60s. The task of running the ranch would fall to his younger brother Carlos, who unlike his other brothers really did not have a choice in the matter.

As with any family dynamic, there can be misunderstandings and hurt feelings. The relationship between Carlos and his older brother Henri were no different. Many of the family tensions would come to a head when my grandfather in the early 1960s – in speaking on behalf of his other siblings – persuaded Carlos that it was time to divide up the ranch and give the other heirs their share.

Thus begun more than a decade or legal wrangling between my grandfather in San Francisco and his brother in Argentina. The go-between in Buenos Aires was Dr. Martín Aberg Cobo, an Argentine lawyer, staunch conservative and executive in the Tornquist bank. As my grandfather was very orderly and precise, he kept all important correspondence between them from 1962 until 1976. The family drama chronicled within the carbon copy duplicates is fascinating, but I will save it for the family history volume I intend to pen one day. What I have highlighted below are passages in which Aberg Cobo either confides his feelings to another conservative about the U.S. or the state of affairs in South America.

Given the geo-political situation of the Americas at the time, I found the snippets compelling. It must be said however that given the gravity of the situation on the ground in Argentina and Chile, Aberg Cobo’s comments can be flippant at best. I was shocked by his categorization of the situation in Chile, after Pinochet’s coup and the assassination of Salvador Allende that “The news from Chile is on the whole good, though they might be overdoing it a little.”

My political views could not be more different than my grandfather and Aberg Cobo’s, but this is not meant to be a political post. As an historian I simply felt these windows into the time period were valuable and should be shared. Certain names and events within the quotes have been hyperlinked where appropriate.

Buenos Aires, November 19th, 1968
“I heartily congratulate you on the outcome of the U.S. election, that I followed with the greatest of interest in a group of Republican friends at the American Club until about 4 a.m. At one time nearly everybody was most despondent though I insisted, and was right in saying that we had to wait for the returns of the West Coast and Middle West States!

I feel sure that Mr. Nixon will manage to govern with the indirect support of the Southern Democrats, and you must remember that the White House is a power in itself.

Senator Goldwater is at present in Argentina. I would much like to meet him and congratulate him on his foresight. He really has not much to say in the Senate except constantly pointing out that 'I told you so!'"

Buenos Aires, June 12th, 1970
“You must probably be interested to know what has happened in Argentina. Is is still too early to make any reasonable forecast, but the crux of the matter is that General Onganía, who was in power as a delegate of the top brass, began to consider himself the real and only boss, and therefore was dismissed by his colleagues who apparently want an earlier return to democratic rule than he did.”

Buenos Aires, July 27th, 1970
“On June 8, the Army, Navy and Air Force ousted General Onganía and later replaced him with General Levingston (I consider it a good change on the whole), and the Argentine Central Bank, to avoid any speculation in currency, immediately closed down the exchange market for about a fortnight, thus preventing the remaining remittances...”

Buenos Aires, October 20th, 1970
“Last political developments in this country seem rather unfavorable. Through a disagreement with his Under Secretary of State – apparently a direct ‘protégé’ of General Levingston’s, we have lost the services of the Interior Minister, Air Force Brigadier McLoughlin, a firm Peron opponent, with the consequent unrest in his colleagues.

Economy Minister Moyano Llerena, a friend of McLoughlin’s also resigned, and has been replaced by Dr. Aldo Ferrer, who is decidedly not a staunch enemy of inflation as his predecessor was, and immediately closed down the exchange market for a few days.... 
On the other hand, Peronist celebrations of October 17 – 25th Anniversary of Peron’s success over the first military opposition – turned out a decided flop, and have therefore considerably strengthened the ‘top brass’ position, making the political outlook much clearer, thus causing a sharp rise in the stock market that was before really below par.

Let’s hope they will use the advantage they have gained and set the country at peace for once and for all.”

Buenos Aires, May 5th, 1972
“The situation here is not at all pleasant, as Government makes so many unnecessary mistakes, probably through personal ambitions regarding future elections, that also seem rather dangerous as everybody is so confused at present.

The terrorists actions are most regrettable and certainly require a firm hand instead of political maneuvers. The dastardly murder of General Sánchez was a real set back for the country as many – military and otherwise – considered that he was the man that could get us out of this mess.”

Buenos Aires, September 18th, 1972
“The ‘terrorist’ problem is becoming a world wide one, and we have had our share of it, with international problems with Chile whose government has behaved disgracefully regarding the last jailbreak. I have nevertheless some hopes that the matter will calm down after our next election, if and when it is carried out.”

Buenos Aires, November 16th, 1972
“My heartiest congratulations on President Nixon’s landslide victory, that I consider most beneficial not only to the U.S. but also to the world in general, though it is certainly a pity that his ‘coat tails’ were somewhat short. I certainly think you should all see his tailor about it!

The situation here is rather complicated as we are on the eve of Peron’s return, that conceivably might cause some rioting in spite of the stern precautions taken by the government.

The whole matter is really absurd, and in my opinion President Lanusse has made a grievous mistake in not letting sleeping dogs lie, as Peron’s undoubted popularity was already on the wane. Anyway, we shall see what happens on both sides of the fence.”

Buenos Aires, October 31st, 1973
“Our new government is apparently trying to restore law and order, a task somewhat hampered by their previous outlook on violent proceedings during the military regime. Though I do not agree with them, I heartily wish for their success, as it is impossible to carry out any business if you don’t know where you stand, even if it is on unfavorable ground.

I am most concerned about the events in the U.S. and think – from afar – that events are being magnified for political reasons. I hope good sense will prevail in the end, not only in your great country but in the whole free world.

The news from Chile is on the whole good, though they might be overdoing it a little, as Allende was taking them straight into the red camp.”

Buenos Aires, April 18th, 1974
“I am certainly distressed about the amount of kidnappings in the U.S. and here. Locally I think it is part of guerrilla warfare being carried out by the extreme left that hope to harass the Government with it; and at least there is some talk of the latter taking a firm stand too long delayed.”

Buenos Aires, December 24th, 1976
“Our country is slowly recovering from the awful Peronist mess, and it would seem that 1977 will be a considerably better year than the last one.

Of course there are still many snags ahead, such as the inflation not yet under control, and the outbreak of violence that the Government has as yet not been able to definitely stamp out, though they have made much progress in that direction.”

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