The journalist and graphic designer Eric Domergue talks about the militancy of his brother Yves, one of the French citizens who disappeared during the last military dictatorship in Argentina (1976-83). Yves was a member of the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT). In addition, he explains what it meant to be related to a left-wing militant during the dictatorship and what it was like to live in a divided country.
We are here to remember the year 1976, a sad point in history books, a moment of tear of salt and thousands of lives taken.
Eric Domergue opens the doors of his house as the clocks of San Telmo strike midday on a Tuesday in winter. He remembers very well the painful past events and recalls the memory of his disappeared brother. Yves, a 22-years-old French man, was studying to become an engineer and campaigned for the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT), "one of the more powerful parties of the left-wing in Argentina at the time."
His family had arrived in Argentina in 1959 "to live America." as said immigrants who came to settle in the New World. Jean and Odile, his parents, arrived in Buenos-Aires with three young children: Yves, Eric and Brigitte. After fifteen years, six more children and various financial difficulties, they decided to return to France, and in October 1974, they settled in the suburbs of Paris. But Yves remained in Argentina. "He was already studying and campaigning in a student organisation," recounts Eric.
Despite the distance, the brothers stayed in contact. From Argentina, Eric received letters with information on the national political situation, explaining the collapses of the government of Maria Estela Martinez, Peron’s widow, so-called “Isabelita”. In fact, Yves used to send two letters in the same envelope. The second (more general and less compromised by politics) was to be read by their parents who were very Catholic and humanist. This was to spare them more worry and anxiety, because they were already worried about the risk taken by of their eldest son through his militancy.
In March 1976, Eric decided to return to Argentina to study and work. On board the famous "Eugenio C" cruise ship, he continued to reflect on the political situation he would find on his arrival. He was aware that a military coup d'état against the government of "Isabelita" was imminent. Yves had even written that perhaps the military could have taken power by the time he disembarked in the port of Buenos Aires. This was not the case, but he arrived two weeks before the March 24 coup.
And the 24 of March happened in an athmospere of general indifference. Eric claims that "there was no popular reaction because there were no conditions or willingness to defend 'Isabelita'." In addition, military coups d’état were strongly rooted in Argentina since the early thirties".
Domergue says that the coup d’état was quickly palpable in the streets because "there were police cars and military trucks everywhere; we felt that repression was more structured than ever." Fear was imposed day and night. This fear could be felt when the military stopped a bus and got out all the passengers to make a search, when they checked what people read and anything ambiguous could result in arrest. And after, bodies riddled with bullets were found. According to Eric, "Argentina was a big prison and the Army controlled absolutely everything" even public opinion, since «newspapers of the time such as La Opinion or Clarin published daily news of armed clashes, but most of them were not true. The left-wing was weakened and it was obvious that they were being trashed. "
Eric said that his brother was "very involved in politics" and, even if he admits not knowing about most of his PRT activities, his memory and some further research have enabled him to put together the pieces of Yves story. "He taught theoretical subjects such as 'Marxism', 'Economics' or 'Philosophy' in PRT’s secret schools. Due to his ability and perseverance, he trained young people."
Eric never knew where his brother lived. It was always Yves who got in touch. "For security reasons we could not speak much, especially after July 19th 76, when they killed the entire leadership of the PRT, including Mario Santucho and Jose Benito Urteaga leaders, amonst others" says Domergue. Their meetings were randomly scheduled. Yves stipulated the day and time and communicated with his younger brother by telephone or during short visits to the bakery where Eric was working. The meeting place was always the same: Sucre Street, in the neighbourhood of Belgrano. Domergue explains: "I walked up from the Barrancas, Yves walked down from the Cabildo Avenue, and we met quite naturally at any point on the street, then we turned the corner and walked side by side as if nothing had happened."
Sometimes, Yves travelled in the country with his organisation.” Eric did not even know where and for how long he went. "The last news that I had was a letter he sent me from Rosario; he wrote to me that many friends had fallen 'ill' (euphemism to signal that they were arrested or killed) and that soon he would return to Buenos Aires." But he never returned. In late September, in Rosario, he also 'fell ill' and with him, his girlfriend. “They were walking near the 121 Batallón de Comunicaciones' military barracks'. They were shot and taken inside the barracks," says Eric.
In the next two months, before returning to Paris and self-imposed exile, Eric tried to come to terms with the reality on Sucre Street. He walked in search of an improbable encounter, as if his steps could rescue his missing brother. "It was to remember him rather than the hope of seeing him again," he now accepted.
Eric returned to France in mid-November. His father took the first plane to Argentina to lodge a complaint and to submit three habeas corpus for the reappearance of his eldest son. Nothing worked and Jean also returned to Europe where the rest of his large family was waiting. In France, Eric began to write as a journalist, using strong language to awake consciences and explain the excesses of Argentina’s government in order to alert international public opinion. This could not save Yves. Now he his following excavations taking place near Rosario that could give back the body of his brother. Although wisely he isn’t under any illusions.