In the 20th century Argentina experienced a series of dictatorial regimes of varying intensity, but the last dictatorship stands apart. The Process of National Reorganization or Proceso (1976–1983) was not only the most brutally repressive, “disappearing” 30,000 of its own citizens into concentration camps, but also the most ambitious in terms of ideological mission. Its campaign, officially called “the war against subversion,” was committed to the total eradication of leftist ideas from the political landscape of the country by any means necessary. This radical transformation was to be brought about not only in the torture chamber, but in the media as well. The regime planned an Orwellian redefinition of words: the systematic creation of a national vocabulary that would exclude certain ideas and parties. In order to achieve its overt project of the appropriation of language, the junta maintained obsessive control over the media, instituted strict censorship reinforced by terror, and bombarded the airwaves and newspapers with official communiqués. In the face of this repression, most journalists and writers and many artists could not express dissent of any kind. Yet singers of a new Argentine music genre that came to be known as rock nacional developed codified and oblique metaphorical expression in their lyrics that allowed them to evade censorship and to continue to criticize the military regime with relative impunity. Moreover, many Argentine youths found solace in the music and used it to create communities in which they could meet and express themselves. The regime had sought to deny young Argentines a forum for public speech; however, together artists and listeners created a rock nacional culture that provided community for the isolated and lent a voice to the silenced.
Timothy Wilson and Mara Favoretto
Violeta Parra (1917–1967) was a multifaceted and talented musician and artist. A prolific songwriter, she composed more than two hundred songs as well as experimental pieces for guitar, documentary soundtracks, and music for ballet. Her most famous song, “Gracias a la vida,” has been performed by musicians the world over. In the realm of the visual arts, she was a ceramicist, sculptress, painter, and tapestry maker. In 1964, she became the first Latin American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Louvre Palace’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Parra was also an award-winning folklorist who collected hundreds of songs and other folklore from every region of Chile. Born in southern Chile, she moved to Santiago at age fifteen, where she spent two decades performing a mixture of popular songs from Latin America that is often referred to as música criolla. At age thirty-five she turned to the authentic, first as a folklorist and then as an artist. She was a leader of the Chilean folk revival of the 1950s and inspired the generation of Chilean musicians who formed the protest song movement known as nueva canción in the 1960s. A communist sympathizer, she traveled to Europe as a member of the Chilean delegation to the Soviet-sponsored World Festival of Youth and Students in 1955 (Warsaw) and 1962 (Helsinki). Each time she toured the Soviet Bloc, then made her way to Paris for an extended sojourn. Parra contributed a significant voice to the national debate over chilenidad (Chilean identity) during a critical juncture in Chile’s economic, social, and cultural development. Her biography sheds light on transnational cultural movements and competing notions of authenticity at the height of the Cold War. It is also the deeply human story of Parra’s tenacious struggle to be seen and heard as an artist on her own terms.