OBITUARY : Ricardo Rojo

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The man known as "Che Guevara's friend", Ricardo Rojo, was a rare species on the Argentine political landscape: he put principle before power and profit, and thus fell out with all those he started off supporting.

Rojo will be remembered for his best-known book, My Friend Che, which over the years has sold over a million copies. It was written at great speed for the publisher Jorge Alvarez in the months immediately after Che was killed in Bolivia in October 1967. It told of his travels with Guevara through Latin America, witnessing the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1953, and finally Che's meeting with Fidel Castro in Mexico which would have historic consequences.

Rojo, a leader in the Radical Party, had in common with Guevara only that they were opposed to the rule of Juan Domingo Pern in the early 1950s. The book was rejected by Guevara's family, but it remains a classic of youthful enterprise and revolutionary ideal pursued to the ultimate consequences, and is very much a political document on the times.

A lawyer, born in Urdinarrain, Entre Rios province, close to the area of the immigrant "Jewish Gauchos", Rojo belonged to a family heavily involved in the politics of the province. In 1957 he supported Arturo Frondizi's move that split the old Radical Party, and Frondizi's successful bid for President the following year. As a result, Rojo was given a diplomatic posting which he later quit, noisily protesting his disagreement with the course of the government.

He was visionary in his awareness that General Juan Carlos Ongana's dictatorship, from 1966, was not only immoral in its dishonesty and overthrow of the constitutional regime of Arturo U. Illia, but was putting Argentina on the road to chaos. He supported the former president, General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, in his efforts to remove Ongana and chart a return to civilian rule.

In such a role, Rojo was the first to denounce the suspicious links between Ongana's interior ministry and the Montoneros guerrillas, who murdered Aramburu - partly in a show of Pernist vengeance, but also to help remove the threat to Ongana's pseudo-nationalist regime. Rojo was right: the murder and the Montoneros guerrillas helped bring Argentina to the brink of civil war.

For his outspokenness he was the target of bombing, official harassment and arrest. He became a lawyer for political prisoners, and in 1968 was forced into a brief exile. Shortly after the beginning of General Jorge Videla's dictatorship in 1976, he again went into exile in Caracas and Madrid, with his wife, Marta Greco .

Like many of his generation, Rojo returned to the old Radical Party in 1983 to work for the election victory of Ral Alfonsn, but he later fell out over the Alfonsn legislation that stopped the trials of the military who had committed outrages during the dictatorship.

My own recollection of him is as a staunch friend and a regular member of the Tuesday Lunches, an ad hoc group of three to thirty journalists, lawyers, physicians and other professionals who have met every week for over three decades to exchange political gossip and host visiting journalists and old friends passing through Buenos Aires. Every Tuesday, Rojo would sound off against some aspect of the current government, in the end saying that "the differences between us and them is that they are busy looting the Treasury and we are still sitting here at the same table". Other sayings of Ricardo Rojo (or Dr Rouge, as he was called by the journalist Sergio Villaruel) included the twist of an old Peronist slogan, "The year 2000 will find us in government or on the run."

The journalist Rogelio Garcia Lupo remembered him in the Buenos Aires Clarn as a man of contradictions, now almost a symbol of a Latin American political generation along with Guevara.

Andrew Graham-Yooll

Ricardo Rojo, political activist and writer: born Urdinarrain, Argentina 16 December 1923; married Flora Vital (one son, one daughter), Marta Greco; died Buenos Aires 9 February 1996.

Comments