Scenes from A Regime In 1976 Argentina!


“The government changed! The military just took over the country and they kidnapped the President, Isabel Peron. Not too much happened here in Villa Regina but the City hall was guarded and also the radio station”- My journal entry, March 27, 1976, Villa Regina, Argentina.

As a full-time missionary of my church I was unaware of the “extreme” political unrest that existed in my assigned country of labor for the remainder of my mission (July 1977). In fact, we were specifically told to never speak of politics nor ask anything regarding it as it was of no concern to us as missionaries. And we were advised it wasn’t safe to talk about such things so we never did. It wasn’t until years later that it came out that during my time spent in Argentina, hundreds of thousands of its citizens had been killed by death squads organized by the new military regime, or the military “Junta” as it was called on the streets of Buenos Aires. It has gone down in history as some of the darkest years in Argentina history. They call it “The Dirty War.”

I never really felt threatened. Some of that, I’m sure is simply because of my youth at the time, but also, because I believe the Lord gives protection to his servants. I did witness acts of violence in the streets for the remainder of my time there, some of which I will never forget. I also experienced, first hand, the terror of a dictatorial government that ruled by force and fear. This first hand knowledge gave me a greater understanding of why so many come to our country and why so many want to live their lives under the banner of freedom. If you have lived your entire life in a country that protects the rights of its citizens, perhaps it is hard to comprehend why there is so much civil unrest in many countries of the world. Or why people risk their very life by piling into overcrowded boats, or illegally cross deserts, or do illegal acts to gain entrance into this great country of ours. I don’t condone illegal acts, but I can certainly understand it. In Argentina I saw what a military regime can do.

You carried a copy of your papers at all times, lest you be pulled over by the military police and found guilty of being an “extremista”. An “extremist” was anyone who they wanted to say was an enemy of the state. On more than one occasion my companion and I would be waiting at the train station and a military jeep would pull into the station, guns drawn, and request all on the platform waiting to line up against the wall so they could check papers. It was something straight out of Nazi Germany.

Late one night in October of 1976 I was awakened by a load noise. It sounded like an explosion. The next day, not more than two blocks away from our apartment, my companion and I came across a burned out automobile which, the night before, ended up being the coffin for several “extremists”, or so it was rumored. I can still remember standing by the wreckage, thinking “This can’t be real!”

One afternoon as my companion and I studied in the apartment, we heard gunfire. We got up and opened the door, only to see several people running down the street in a panic. We quickly closed the door and went back to our studies. We later heard, that the military had found some “extremistas” down the block. They had been captured.

On the way home from the airport in Buenos Aires, where my companion and I had picked up several new missionaries, we were stopped just outside the city by the military police who demanded we get out of the car so they could search our suitcases. We got out, they had me open the truck and open each suitcase. I don’t know if they took anything or not. This happened several times over the course of time I spent in Buenos Aires.

My companion and I were on the streets of La Plata, a large university town, when we heard gunshots ring out. I looked around and saw a man fall from the top of a nearby building. I think he was an “extremista”.

The last month of my mission my companion and I knocked on a door, only to be treated to the sight of a gun barrel that came out of the window pointed at my chest. I can still remember the two words that came out the window that accompanied the gun, “Retirence, immediatimente!” The translation is unimportant for you to know because I think you can guess that no matter what those words mean in English, the gun was bilingual. No need to report such an incident down there.

After bumping a military jeep in downtown Buenos Aires with my car,  in July of 1977, my companion, Lloyd Newell and I, along with two other missionaries, were run off the road. (It worked, just like you see in the movies). We were told to get out of the car put our hands on the top of car and were frisked. We were threatened at gunpoint that we would be taken to prison on the charge that we had to many youth in the car. In my mind, only the providence of the Lord rescued us, a story for another time.

Items sent inside letters and packages were repeatedly stolen. Letters were cut open on a regular basis and assuredly read by someone. Why? You didn’t ask.

On more than one occasion we would visit our investigators who would tell us of a relative who had been rounded up by government officials and accused of being “extemistas”. They hadn’t seen them since and couldn’t find out any information about them.

With time, I’m sure I could search the recesses of my mind and remember other “scenes from a regime”, but I think you can get a picture of what life would be like to live in such a country by the above examples. Why do I share this with you? Well, sometimes it is important to remember how blessed we are to live in the land of the free. And although it has it’s problems, and on occasion I too complain regarding it’s politics, it is still by far the best place to live. It is where freedom rings! It’s clarion call sounds to all those who live in places where tyranny and oppression rein. Remember when Ammon did his missionary work among the Lamanites, who were the enemies of the Nephites. Many were converted and wanted to come and live with the Nephities. The convert Lamanites were afraid to come live among the Nephities. The Book of Alma records:

“And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who are the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi. And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon..and behold we will set our armies between the land of Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren…and this we do for our brethren…” (Alma 27:21-23).

So, let us live by the rule of law when it comes to welcoming others to our homeland. But let us also be merciful, as were the Nephities, in the judgement of our brothers and sisters whose only desire is to live life in peace and harmony. The “scenes from a regime” that are burned in my mind, now over forty-five years ago, have helped soften my heart to all those who are simply searching for a better way of life.

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