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324. death of a president, day 2

Velatorio de Alfonsín, Congreso Nacional, Buenos Aires

From early morning, hundreds of people queued to pay their final respects to former President Raúl Alfonsín who had passed away the night before. His casket was brought to the National Congress at 10:00 & after a brief ceremony, the public began to pour in. Vice-President Julio Cobos was present during most of the morning:

Velatorio de Alfonsín, Congreso Nacional, Buenos Aires

Velatorio de Alfonsín, Congreso Nacional, Buenos Aires

Velatorio de Alfonsín, Congreso Nacional, Buenos Aires

The wake was open casket, & Alfonsín had been decorated with two trademarks of the Presidency: a sash replicating the Argentine flag & a bastón. The public filed by at the foot of the casket, just out of reach. Special guests such as relatives, local & foreign politicians, or friends were able to access the body & express their condolences to  family members present. All this time cameras rolled & the entire event broadcast live on Senado TV, Canal 7 & several of the news networks:

Velatorio de Alfonsín, Congreso Nacional, Buenos Aires

When crowds grew larger throughout the day, the decision was made to keep Congress open all night. An estimated 30,000+ people were able to express their gratitude one last time to Alfonsín.


With the funeral scheduled for 12:00 the following day, Recoleta Cemetery was surprisingly calm. At the 1890 Revolution pantheon where Alfonsín would be laid to rest, the only person to be seen was the caretaker. He descended a staircase to the entrance & came up a few moments later. When asked if everything was ready for tomorrow, he said: “Sure. It’s all taken care of.”

Panteón Caídos Revolución 1890, Recoleta Cemetery

Looking inside, it didn’t seem as if anyone had been moved to accomodate Alfonsín. Yrigoyen was still top center. Only a few flowers & a decorative ribbon with the UCR political party’s colors decorated the door:

Panteón Caídos Revolución 1890, Recoleta Cemetery

Asking around, it turned out that the cemetery was to be closed to the public the following day. Scaffolding was going up immediately in front of the entrance gate where several people had been invited to speak about Alfonsín. The Policia Federal were getting a little antsy… they even told Flor she had to stop selling maps at 16:30 so they could get to work. Maybe there would be a way inside tomorrow…

Photo credits: 1 – Aníbal Greco, La Nación • 2 & 3 – Federico Guastavino, La Nación • 4 – EFE • 5 – Rafael Saralegui, Europa Press • 6 & 7 – Robert Wright


323. death of a president, day 1

TN news still, Raúl Alfonsín

After several years of fighting lung cancer, former President Raúl Alfonsín passed away this evening at 20:30 in his home on Avenida Santa Fe in Buenos Aires. The news came as no surprise since Alfonsín’s health had taken a turn for the worse a few days earlier, but the response from both the public & the media was no less sentimental for it.

Born in 1929 in the Province of Buenos Aires, Alfonsín used his law degree as a stepping stone to politics & affiliated with the UCR (Unión Cívica Radical)—the same party born of the 1890 Revolution. Risking his life to investigate cases of desaparecidos during the last military dictatorship, he later won the 1983 election for President… the year democracy was restored in Argentina.

La muerte de Alfonsín, Avenida Santa Fe, Buenos Aires

Alfonsín’s term reflected the turbulent times & the need for conflict resolution. He inherited an abused economy with extraordinary debt & hyperinflation but managed to make some improvements with the equivalent of a National Food Bank Plan (Plan Alimentaria Nacional). However Alfonsín’s greatest contribution to Argentine society was taking the prior military regime to Supreme Court & trying them for human rights abuses. Further economic problems forced him to resign seven months early to his successor, Carlos Menem, in 1989.

La muerte de Alfonsín, Avenida Santa Fe, Buenos Aires

Regardless of the ups & downs of Alfonsín’s presidency, he is remembered as a studious politician who valued democratic process… a man who did not hold a grudge, strived for consensus, & never abused his position of power. That’s something remarkable in Argentine politics & mainly why his death caused such a massive response from the public.

La muerte de Alfonsín, Avenida Santa Fe, Buenos Aires

About 500 people went to his house & held a candlelight vigil while either chanting his name or singing the national anthem. Three days of official mourning were called for by Vice-President Julio Cobos, in charge of the country while Christina Kirchner is in Qatar on her way to London for the G-20 summit.

The family agreed to have a public wake for Alfonsín in Congress the next day, & he would be buried the day after in the pantheon for the fallen during the 1890 Revolution in Recoleta Cemetery. Alfonsín will be the first President buried there since Arturo Illia (term 1963-66)… also a member of the UCR political party & buried in the same pantheon.

All photos except the first are from the DyN news agency.

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258. brief pause

Note to readers:

No updates here for about one month… Regular posts will resume mid-November after returning from work in Spain. Thanks for understanding & prepare yourselves for more juicy, historical intrigue soon 🙂

Un abrazo!


233. garcía belsunce

María Marta García Balsunce, Recoleta Cemetery

After receiving six gunshot wounds in her bathtub at the weekend family home, police scoured the Carmel Country Club for evidence to discover who killed María Marta García Belsunce. Probably the most dramatic murder case of 2002, “el crimen del country” remains in the public eye because no one knows who killed her or even why.

Three years after the murder in an interview with Viva magazine, María Marta’s closest friend shared details about the victim’s personal life. Susan Murray knew María Marta well since they were President & Vice-President of Missing Children Argentina, respectively, & spent several hours each day together. Oddly enough, María Marta never talked about her private life with Murray, so there were never any signs of things going wrong at home. But on several instances, María Marta arrived at meetings with various injuries: a black eye (from being hit by a tennis ball), a sore hip (from slipping & falling), & an arm injury (electric shock from an operating washing machine). Right. But Murray insists that incidents seemed so random that no one thought María Marta was being abused.

News of the death came as a complete surprise to Murray, especially the cause—slipping in the bathtub. But several things failed to add up. Murray noticed a large quantity of bruises on María Marta’s arm during the wake, & an autopsy report confirmed that she had been shot five times in the head plus one elsewhere on her body. Murray originally thought the killer might be a member of one of the families assisted by Missing Children, but later investigation added members of the family to the suspect list. The photo below of Susan Murray accompanied her 2005 interview:

Susan Murray, Recoleta Cemetery

Police know that the killers came from inside the gated community where María Marta lived. They also know from blood stains on the floor that two men & one woman were present at the time of the murder. Although the principal suspect has always been her husband, Carlos Carrascosa, there has been little hard evidence to convict him. Given the family’s effort in lying about the cause of death, eliminating crucial evidence, & initially burying the body before an autopsy could be performed, most fingers point to a relative. Blood found at the crime scene could help determine the assassin, but most of the accused have refused to submit to DNA testing.

What motive could anyone have to kill María Marta, an upper-class, suburban wife who worked for charity? The top five reasons were:

  • A jealous lesbian lover reported through an anonymous tip. This hypothesis was later discarded due to conflicting evidence.
  • Connections to drug dealing with her husband. Carrascosa is serving a life sentence for this in connection to María Marta’s death.
  • Upset staff & workers where she previously administered funds at the Hospital Municipal de Pilar.
  • A neighbor, but DNA testing proves that he was not present at the crime scene.
  • Someone who stole a box at María Marta’s home containing a checkbook & a safety deposit box key for funds belonging to Missing Children Argentina. Police later checked both & found no cash missing.

Even after the trial of Carrascosa, lack of evidence means that the question lingers: who killed María Marta?

Update (13 May 2011): Yesterday in an unexpected turn of events in the case, judges called for the detention of Irene Hurtig, half-sister of María Marta. A recorded conversation supposedly pegs Hurtig, her husband & Carrascosa as conspirators in the murder. The woman’s voice in the following recording cannot be clearly identified at present, but it is hoped that the detention of Hurtig will help prosecutors.

Woman: Do you see her?

Man: Someone is going to call.

Woman: Hold her.

Woman: Touch her & you’ll see.

Man: Close the door.

Man: Yeah, she’s dead.

Man: Ok, let’s go.

Hurtig’s husband already admitted to being one of the voices on the tape. But during testimony Hurtig claims to have arrived on the scene only when family members were trying to resuscitate María Marta.

With media attention drawn back to the case, Susan Murray has also reappeared. She continues to claim that María Marta never gave any hint about problems at home & even if the perpetrators of the crime are found, the motive will probably remain a secret forever.

Update (16 July 2012): Carrascosa had initially been found guilty of concealing evidence. In a 2009 appeal, that decision was overruled & Carrascosa was instead convicted of homicide! He is currently serving a lifetime sentence in prison. Many others were convicted last year as conspirators but all are currently released on bail. Since no motive was ever determined & no murder weapon found, many claim that Carrascosa is innocent. His supporters have started a blog that discusses the trial… receiving over 35,000 visitors to date!

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229. fitting final visit ◊

During my last week in Buenos Aires before moving to Sydney, I wanted to make one final visit to Recoleta Cemetery. No camera, no notes… just stroll around & appreciate a place that I’ve come to know better than almost anyone. So today when Marcelo came up from La Plata to say goodbye, we decided to make that final visit together.

Good thing Mar brought his camera because it was the 56th anniversary of Eva Perón’s death. Talk about an appropriate day to make my final call. With almost the same amount of flowers as on her birthday, the crowds were larger & there was much more Peronista propaganda taped near her family vault.

Eva Perón, Recoleta Cemetery

The going was slow, so I read more praise while waiting:

Eva Perón, Recoleta Cemetery

Lots of posters covered the door & a married couple hung around, explaining to everyone what the fuss was about:

Eva Perón, Recoleta Cemetery

Eva Perón, Recoleta Cemetery

This was an interesting wreath given by the National Secretariat of the 62 Peronist Organizations… formed to keep the Peronist ideal alive after his ousting in 1955:

Eva Perón, Recoleta Cemetery

I’ve always thought that the surrounding families wouldn’t appreciate such a spectacle. Eva Perón doesn’t necessarily belong in Recoleta Cemetery—a subtle nuance that most visitors fail to understand. As a champion of the people & an enemy of the upper class, Eva should be resting in peace elsewhere rather than surrounded by those who would have likely hated her. So on any day when Peronistas make a fuss over the Duarte family vault, Eva’s neighbors get plastered with images which are probably not very agreeable to them.

Regardless of political implications, the day was perfect for my last visit to Recoleta Cemetery… until I return to Buenos Aires next year.

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