The Day that Buenos Aires was bombed

Dr. Miguel Mellino

This presentation was a part of Session two: Colonialism, Airpower and Race, From 1:00 pm until 3:00 pm on Friday 11th November, 2011, Lower Ground 02, New Academic Building, Goldsmiths

Abstract

On June 16th of 1955 the Argentinian Navy was at the core of a rather unique fact in history, at least until that moment and not only in Argentina. For the first time, a modern national army attacked the population of its own country adopting explicit military war tactics. That day, under the orders of the higher ranks of that military force and with the political support of most of the dominant classes, about forty airplanes of the Argentinian Navy undertook  a massive bombardment of the centre of the city of Buenos Aires around midday, with widespread use also of machine guns against both institutional buildings and civilian targets. The fire was directed mainly at the areas surrounding the government building but targeted especially the central and popular “Plaza de Mayo” (May Square). The aim of this brutal attack was not to kill President Peron, who had been democratically elected in 1946, but rather, by fiercely terrorizing the civil population, to sever irreversibly his close relationship with most of the working classes and so to convince him to give up power before the conflict turned worst bloodier. The toll of this military action was 308 people killed, all civilians, and hundreds of injured.

The episode prepared the terrain for the military coup which three months later finally managed to depose Peron and send him into an exile which lasted eighteen years. It is noteworthy that until a few years ago this “state massacre” was completely removed from the national public sphere. With the conference topics in mind, it could be instructive to reflect on the fact that the target of the first war military action of the Argentinian Navy was not an enemy army but the defenceless civil population of its own country. It is this fact that I want to explore. My claim is that what made it possible was precisely the coloniality of power and state apparatuses of the post-colonial Argentinian nation, that is the deep involvement of the ruling classes at that time in the XIX century national elites' political and cultural colonial project. The airplanes used for the attack had depicted the cross and the slogan “Cristo vence” (Christ will win) on their cockpits and the national elites – military, civil and religious – had chosen to oppose  the Peronist political project by retrieving the XIX century slogan “civilization” or “barbarism”, where the former was represented (for them) by the Liberal and elitist modernizing project of the elites in power since the 1880s and the latter by the culture  of those native and dark skinned working classes who were the core of the Peronist constituency.

Summarizing, I suggest that without this colonial cultural construction and conception of the native masses at the core of the Peronist political power – which allowed their dehumanization - a “state massacre” of this kind would have been quite unthinkable. Moreover, focusing on this event I want to suggest that the coloniality of the Argentinian state must be a key element in analysis of the many episodes of “State terrorism” that has characterized its history.