The Blond Angel Of Death & A Suicide At El Tropezón

Leopoldo Lugones

Leopoldo Lugones Leopoldo Lugones committed suicide (arsenic and whiskey) in 1938 in the Paraná Delta hostel El Tropezón. Tropezón means “a misstep and fall” but the fact is that while the famous Argentine poet, writer and essayist had a gun he chose what his father confessor called the servant maid’s way out of life.
 Lugones’ son Polo (short for Leopoldo) had been the director of a reformatory in the late 20s and had been caught in acts with minors. He was brought to trial and condemned to 10 years in prison. His father went on his knees to the then president of Argentina, an idealist and leftist, Hipólito Irigoyen pleading for a pardon so as not to besmirch the family name. It was granted. Shortly after Lugones participated in the 1930 coup that brought down Irigoyen and gave General José Félix Uriburu that extra star over the four-star general which for many years has been the dream of a legion of Argentine generals and this was to become president. Uriburu was the first but many were to follow.
 Polo Lugones was rewarded by Uriburu with a post as Police Chief of the very area where he had been condemned previously. He took control of an infamous old prison on Las Heras in Buenos Aires (I used to pass by it in tram 35 in the late 40s and early 50s) and he had a particular liking for not delegating torture operations. This was a vast improvement (in efficiency) on stories that as a young boy he had made it a sport of sexually violating chickens and wringing their necks on approaching climax.
 In the 30s, Texas King Ranch owner, Bob Kleberg,had invented the electric cattle prod to make cattle move right along. It was Polo Lugones who had the original idea of applying Kleberg’s invention called a picana to unlucky prisoners’ genitals. To this day Argentines, cynically say, “We have to be world class in something. So we invented modern methods of torture.”
 In 1971 Polo Lugones committed suicide but it is not recorded if he used a gun or poison. His sister Pirí became a vocal opponent of the generals in Argentina in the early 70s. She was “disappeared”. Her son Alejandro also committed suicide but no details are known as to his methods.
 In the late 60s I met in passing a young and very handsome officer in the Argentine Navy. I was a conscript. The man had a perfect face with a beauty mole on his left cheek. He was so blond that he could have modeled a black Nazi SS uniform with perfection. 
 During the Falkland’s War he surrendered himself and his unit to an inferior (in size) British force without firing a shot. His method of disappearing people was to drug them and place them in helicopters or airplanes and fly over the River Plate’s mouth. These poor unfortunates were pushed off. So as to make them sink more quickly their stomachs were cut open. Since then Alfredo Astíz who is in prison for life has been known as the Blond Angel of Death.

Alfredo Astiz

Alfredo Astiz The point of the above is that while so much of the world rejoices at the fact that the military is now in control in Egypt few realize that the Egyptian Army has been in control since the advent of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956 and everybody after him had that extra star over the four star, that is, the leadership of the country. 
 Many know that the Egyptian Army assembles, under licence, American Abram tanks and even sells bottled water under the name of one of the general’s daughter. 
 Back in Buenos Aires in 1966, 1967 when I was a conscript in the Argentine Navy I was an aide to the Senior US Naval Advisor. I went a few times to a place called Electrónica Naval near Parque Lezama where Jorge Luís Borges used to walk arm in arm with Ernesto Sábato. In this establishment conscripts (receiving a salary of one US Dollar per month) assembled TV sets from parts that the Argentine Navy obtained for free or at cut rate prices from the US Military Assistance Program to repair radars, etc. These TV sets where then put into nice wooden cabinets made by cheap labour, courtesy of more conscripts and then sold to the public at great profit.
 From the documents that I translated to English or from English into Spanish there were a few that were confidential or top secret. I was given clearance from the US to see and translate the documents. The documents were secret because they mentioned how much the Argentine Navy was spending in mostly obsolete US equipment. From the size of the numbers I could extrapolate how much more money was being spent by the Argentine Army and Air Force. 
 My guess is that those numbers would be puny in comparison to the money spent by and showered on the Egyptian Army.
 Because of my position as aide to the US Captain I had advance notice to the coup that would unseat Arturo Illía (a gentle country doctor) from his position as president of Argentina on June 28, 1966. General Onganía was to be the first of a long line of Generals, Admirals and Commodores (from the Argentine Air Force) that would rule over Argentina with the proverbial iron fist that seems to be so agreeable to people who think that military order is a good thing.
 My fellow conscripts and I made fun of all those serious officers who liked to “play soldier”. We did not know then that the orderly bunch would do so with repression, torture, murder and that premier Argentine invention of disappearing people. We did now know then that the lovely school Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) on the wide boulevard General Don José de San Martín where we often went to deliver documents would be an infamous place of torture and a headquarters for the Blond Angel of Death.

I sometimes wonder if General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk are exceptions to the rule on the repressive actions of the military when they achieve “civilian” power. 
 Leopoldo Lugones shifted from the left to the far right by the time he pulled the plug on his life in 1938. Germany had yet to invade Poland and he was never to know. Lugones’ fame as a writer faded but in 1960 Borges published a collection of essays, stories and poems called El Hacedor (The Maker). These works were introduced by a wonderful poem by Borges in honor of the elder Lugones. 
 “Leaving behind the babble of the plaza, I enter the Library. I feel, almost physically, the gravitation of the books, the enveloping serenity of order, of time magically desiccated and preserved. Left and right, absorbed in their shining dreams, the readers’ momentary profiles are sketched by the light of their officious lamps, to use Milton’s hypallage. I remember having remembered that figure before in this place, and afterwards that other epithet that also defines these environs, the arid camel of the Lunario, and then that hexameter from the Aeneid that uses the same artifice and surpasses artifice itself:
Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbras.

These reflections bring me to the door of your office. I go in; we exchange a few words, conventional and cordial, and I give you this book. If I am not mistaken, you were not disinclined to me, Lugones, and you would have liked to like some piece of my work. That never happened; but this time you turn the pages and read approvingly a verse here and there¬ perhaps because you have recognized your own voice in it, perhaps because deficient practice concerns you less than solid theory.

At this point my dream dissolves, like water in water. The vast library that surrounds me is on Mexico Street, not on Rodríguez Peña, and you, Lugones, died early in ’38. My vanity and nostalgia have set up an impossible scene. Perhaps so (I tell myself), but tomorrow I too will have died, and our times will intermingle and chronology will be lost in a sphere of symbols. And then in some way it will be right to claim that I have brought you this book, and that you have accepted it.”

 Buenos Aires, August 9, 1960

“Los rumores de la plaza quedan atrás y entro en la Biblioteca. De una manera casi física siento la gravitación de los libros, el ámbito sereno de un orden, el tiempo disecado y conservado mágicamente. A izquierda y a derecha, absortos en su lúcido sueño, se perfilan los rostros momentáneos de los lectores, a la luz de las lámparas estudiosas, como en la hipálage de Milton. Recuerdo haber recordado ya esa figura, en este lugar, y después aquel otro epíteto que también define por el contorno, el árido camello del Lunario, y después aquel hexámetro de la Eneida, que maneja y supera el mismo artificio:
Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram.

Estas reflexiones me dejan en la puerta de su despacho. Entro; cambiamos unas cuantas convencionales y cordiales palabras y le doy este libro. Si no me engaño, usted no me malquería, Lugones, y le hubiera gustado que le gustara algún trabajo mío. Ello no ocurrió nunca, pero esta vez usted vuelve las páginas y lee con aprobación algún verso, acaso porque en él ha reconocido su propia voz, acaso porque la práctica deficiente le importa menos que la sana teoría.

En este punto se deshace mi sueño, como el agua en el agua. La vasta biblioteca que me rodea está en la calle México, no en la calle Rodríguez Peña, y usted, Lugones, se mató a principios del treinta y ocho. Mi vanidad y mi nostalgia han armado una escena imposible. Así será (me digo) pero mañana yo también habré muerto y se confundirán nuestros tiempos y la cronología se perderá en un orbe de símbolos y de algún modo será justo afirmar que yo le he traído este libro y que usted lo ha aceptado.”

 Buenos Aires, 9 de agosto de 1960.
 There is really no connection between the Egyptians, the Egyptian Army and the Fascist leaning Leopoldo Lugones except through Lugones’ son who with the picana made torture history. And yet I cannot help but marvel on how we humans can hopscotch hither and dither to mark our brief time here.
 A Leopoldo Lugones, audio with Jorge Luís Borges
 Historia De Mi Muerte de Leopoldo Lugones
Soñé la muerte y era muy sencillo;

 una hebra de seda me envolvía,
 y a cada beso tuyo,
 con una vuelta menos me ceñía
 y cada beso tuyo
 era un día;
 y el tiempo que mediaba entre dos besos
 una noche. La muerte era muy sencilla.
 Y poco a poco fue desenvolviéndose
 la hebra fatal. Ya no la retenía
 sino por solo un cabo entre los dedos…
 Cuando de pronto te pusiste fría
 y ya no me besaste…
 y solté el cabo, y se me fue la vida.
 The Story of My Death by Leopoldo Lugones
I dreamt death and it was very simple;

 a silk thread enveloped me,
 and every kiss of yours,
 with one loop less encircled me
 and every kiss of yours
 was one day;
 and the time that passed between kisses
 one night. Death was very simple.
 and little by little the fatal thread
 unravelled. I could not hold it
 except for end between my fingers…
 When you suddenly became cold
 and you no longer kissed me…
 I let go of the end, and my life left me.
 My translation
 Borges had the opinion the Lugones killed himself for love. He had had a sentimental affair with a very young woman for some years which his son frowned upon. His son Polo went to the girl’s family and threatened them. The only note that Lugones left behind was something that read, “ I couldn’t finish Roca.” He might have been working on a biography of Argentine General Julia A. Roca who was president of Argentina twice, the last time until 1906. It was Roca who had pushed the Argentine Indians west and south in a military campaign that was much more efficient and deadly than Custer’s.
 Only the circumstances were false

Link to: The Blond Angel Of Death & A Suicide At El Tropezón

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