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date: 22 January 2018

Rock Nacional in Argentina during the Dictatorship

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Argentina, dictatorship, censorship, protest music, pop music, resistance, rock nacional, disappeared, Dirty War, Charly Garcia, Proceso, lyrics, concerts, fanzines

The Project and Methods of the Proceso Regime

Artists have always known censorship. Certainly the history of the arts in Argentina has had its share of intervention by various regimes. Yet when general Jorge Rafael Videla declared in 1975, “As many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure,”1 it heralded much more than simply another round of repression and restriction for artists. Argentina’s last dictatorship, from 1976 to 1983, known as the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional, had a systematic and conscious plan to radically transform the entirety of Argentine public life. The Proceso, as it was known, used terror as a tool to impose its ideological project of realigning the country farther to the right. It planned to revamp the economy, public expression, and the very minds of Argentines.2 The military junta employed the media to an unprecedented extent to promote, impose, and even mandate an anachronistic, antimodern and antidemocratic ideology that they hoped would reverse the new liberal democratic cultural norms of individualism, egalitarianism, and diversity being embraced by the younger generation in Argentina.3 The military government did not merely institute censorship reinforced by terror. Rather, it attempted a thorough and systematic redefinition of words, in the hope of creating an official national language that would exclude certain ideas and parties. In a move akin to the fictional Orwellian Newspeak in the novel 1984, which “made all other modes of thought impossible,”4 the regime in Argentina set out to manipulate language so as to control what could be thought: “We know that in order to repair so much damage we must recover the meanings of many embezzled words,” said junta member admiral Emilio Massera in a speech in 1976.5

Clearly, such an ambitious undertaking would require a concerted and highly orchestrated effort, involving many in the government, military, and police. Indeed, plans were laid well in advance: Argentine generals even contacted neighboring Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the Brazilian junta before the coup in order to “outline the main steps to be taken by the future regime.”6 On March 24, 1976, the coup began and those steps were implemented. First, the regime seized and censored all media. Second, the usual broadcasts were replaced by a flood of official pronouncements, immersing Argentines in the rhetoric of official ideology. Third, as it continued to inundate the country with propaganda, the regime targeted a specific enemy: decadent, subversive youth culture.


The regime’s first step was a cultural apagón, or blackout: an immediate seizure of the media, in which all print, visual, and audio outlets were strictly controlled.7 Blacklisting and intimidation of actors, filmmakers, producers, technicians, and writers shut down the media and entertainment industries. An important part of that intimidation was its ambiguity and randomness: artists and writers were stymied, as they could never be certain if an act or word would incur punishment, or whether their penalty would be incarceration or death. In fact, there was never a clear indication of what exactly was allowed and what was banned. As a consequence, self-censorship developed rapidly. Many librarians, teachers, editors, publishers, artists, writers, booksellers, and musicians opted to silence themselves or each other. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a rapid decline in publication, even of material that was not officially censored. For example, as Table 1 shows, the number of books published declined from 21.4 million the year before the Proceso began, down to only 2.7 million just five years later.

Table 1 Quantity of Books Edited in Argentina from 1970–1980 (in Millions)







a) novels, stories, poetry







b) biographies, literary criticism







c) bibliographies, encyclopedias, dictionaries, anthologies







d) books for children and adolescents







e) history, sociology, political science







Source: National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC) Statistical Annual 1979–80.

For Argentina, an educated country with a literacy rate of 97 percent, this constituted a rapid cultural impoverishment. One could argue that the dropoff might in part be attributed to the economic recession felt in those years. It is common for the sale of relatively high-priced books to fall during an economic downturn. On the other hand, in such times, as book sales fall off, sales of the less costly magazines usually rise, but as shown in Table 2, this was not the case during the Proceso years.

Table 2 Magazines with National Distribution (Millions of Issues in the Greater Buenos Aires Area)

















Source: National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC) Statistical Annual 1979–80.

There was a nearly 40 percent decrease in the publication of magazines during this period. The fact that low-priced, quick-circulation periodicals also showed such a summary decline in the years following the coup indicates reasons other than economic ones: extreme government control caused cultural stagnation.

Media Onslaught

The regime’s second step was to inundate the country with specious nationalistic rhetoric. Daily proclamations were couched in a discourse of logic and reason that emphasized strong values, a national “family,” and a wholesome lifestyle.8 The violent military takeover was described as the “result of serene meditation.” In these pronouncements, the junta pledged to “fully observe the ethical and moral principles of justice [and to act in] respect of human rights and dignity.” The generals and admiral were painted as principled men who would be “devoted to the most sacred interests of the Nation and its inhabitants.”9 Yet whereas official language was self-described as rational, any statements from the opposition were discounted as irrational or hysterical. In one speech, junta member Emilio Massera warned his audience to beware of words. They are “unfaithful,” he said. “The only safe words are our words.”10

Survivors of the Proceso explain that the terribly maddening thing about the regime’s discourse was that it constructed a language of nationalism that was almost believable, yet in so many ways conflicted with what one saw with one’s own eyes.11 The national language constantly emphasized rationality and life—while the regime’s own tactics included the senseless destruction of life. News reports made no mention of the growing number of disappearances that happened daily throughout the country, even as bodies washed up on shore in Buenos Aires. The official version of reality that was transmitted through the media seemed like fiction.12 But it was also inescapable: the rhetoric was notable not just for its unreality but for its sheer volume. The airwaves were inundated with speeches, proclamations, interviews, and other messages from the junta.13 It simply could not be blocked out. Yet with its own internal logic, the official rhetoric of the dictatorship was at the same time as comprehensible as it was incongruous, and the result was simply disorienting.

Vilification of Youth

The regime’s third step in its ideological cleansing was a media war against youth culture, which it saw as decadent and subversive. The barrage of official pronouncements carefully painted a portrait of “suspect youth” as sickly and twisted. Massera in another speech described how young people were lured into the world of rock music, then “initiated into a secret society” of drugs and free love. Inevitably, he said, some of them “traded their hallucinogenic drugs” and “spineless pacifism” for the “thrill of terrorism.”14 This association of youth with subversion assured that the “war against subversion” that the military government was waging would essentially be a war on youth. In fact, the majority of desaparecidos were in their teens or twenties.15

Not only were they physically removed from society through kidnapping, they were rhetorically disappeared from the media as well. The absence of young people was quite apparent in many different areas of public life, as if they had been proclaimed not to exist. Even advertising agencies, fearing that the image of the youth was problematic, did not include teens in their ads: they pictured only very young children, shown as smiling, neat, and obedient.16 This figurative disappearance was another way in which teenagers were made into unpersons. The social space occupied by the young was “an absence, a negation, a no-place.”17 The combination of physical and rhetorical nullification constituted “a double negation, as it is a negation not only of life, but also of death.”18

Responses by Musicians and Listeners to the Prohibitions of the Regime

In this bizarre atmosphere, young Argentines were confounded. Many of their normal activities—going out, meeting, talking about politics—were now difficult or impossible, and many rightly feared that they could be disappeared at any moment. All public assembly was prohibited; even Boy Scout troops were disbanded. It seemed that there was no safe place to get together to commiserate, as even church groups were spied upon.19 For rock musicians, the priests of the so-called cult of youth,20 the situation was even worse. Many singers and band members were arrested and threatened. Others were subject to undercover surveillance by plainclothes policemen.21 Musicians’ fear was compounded by the fact that they never really knew exactly which words were prohibited. Again, whether by chance or by design, enforcement was erratic and uneven, and writers could not be certain what might provoke retribution. The censors’ increasing linguistic aggression whittled away at artists’ vocabulary, leaving fewer and fewer words for them to convey their meaning.

One unexpected outcome of the prohibitions against freedom of speech and assembly was the flourishing of a music genre called rock nacional, a platform upon which a culture of resistance formed. When censorship would seem to leave artists literally at a loss for words, Argentine musicians found ways around its constraints. They thwarted censors by stating their meaning obliquely, using nonsense, obfuscation, metaphor, and allegory. Organized public meetings and formal youth groups were banned, but concerts turned into improvised rallies, private homes hosted music discussion groups, and rock magazines became a forum for sharing hope.

A New Language through Rock Music

As Marguerite Feitlowitz asks, what can we say when language itself has been tainted? What must we do in order to speak?22 Artists no doubt asked themselves the same question. They were excluded by definition from the state language that defined them as subversive. Furthermore, there was very little that was artistic in the tortured redefinitions of the regime’s rational discourse. As a result, some musicians, left literally speechless, stopped writing altogether; others, such as the folk singers Mercedes Sosa and Horacio Guarany, as well as the political troubadour Piero de Benedictis, fled the country. Many musicians, like Luis Alberto Spinetta, at first embraced instrumental music as a solution; but the eponymous debut album of Charly García’s band “Serú Girán” short-circuited the problem of censorship with a unique new proposal: “Invent a language.”23 The 1978 album forges a completely new language, as evident in the following song:

  • Cosmigonón
  • gisofanía
  • serú girán—
  • seminare paralía.
  • Narcisolón
  • solidaría serú girán;
  • serú girán paralía.
  • Eiti leda luminería caracó
  • eiti leda luminería caracó.
  • Ah … lirán marino …
  • ah … lirán ivino.
  • Parastaría necesari eri desi oia!
  • Seminare narcisolesa desi oia!
  • Serilerilán …
  • Eiti leda luminería caracó.24

The song’s lyrics obviously challenge interpretation, but even so, the use of an invented language on the album stood as a piquant protest to the linguistic impoverishment that musicians faced under the Proceso.

Setting aside the options of silence, exile, instrumentalism, and nonsense lyrics, artists who wanted to express themselves had to find other ways to deal with censorship. Some prominent songwriters gradually developed an increasingly oblique metaphorical style in their lyrics in order to avoid trouble with the regime; most notable among them were León Gieco, Luis Alberto Spinetta, and Charly García. The new lyrical language developed not by design, but by trial and error: quite often songs were rejected by the COMFER censorship board (Comité Federal de Radiofusión), and had to be either changed or removed from an album.25 Artists then often rewrote their lyrics, perhaps more than once. This interaction with censors showed them that many times meaning was not policed, just word choice; so as long as certain proscribed “hot” words were avoided, such as pueblo or libertad, a songwriter could avoid reformulation.26 This process of writing and rewriting within the parameters of certain requirements taught artists increasingly to refine their system of signification. Trial and error led songwriters’ lyrics away from the rational discourse that was appropriated by the regime, and toward the creation of a poetic discourse of highly refined metaphor.27 With sufficient creativity, clever writers could express themselves with relative impunity. The resulting lyrics took various forms. Luis Alberto Spinetta avoided the description of Argentine political reality in his lyrics, and instead offered solace to his listeners in mythical worlds.28 Charly García’s songs remained highly political, but were expressed in a language of allegory containing many layers of meaning that required active listening on the part of the audience, as well as perhaps a trained reception.29

A clear example is García’s “Canción de Alicia en el país,” a musical take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.30 In the song, the lyric voice informs Alice that her dream has ended, and that she is back in hard-knocks reality now; though oddly, the nightmarish place she has come back to is more oneiric and surreal than any dreamscape. The song suggests that the odd place is Argentina: “We are in No-man’s Land—but it’s mine” (Estamos en la tierra de nadie—pero es mía). This is certainly not a wonderland, but rather a hard land where “the tongue-twister twists your tongue” (el trabalenguas traba lenguas), and “the murderer murders you” (el asesino te asesina). Playing on popular nicknames for former presidents Illía (the “turtle”) and Onganía (the “walrus”), the song evokes Argentina’s less bloody past and contrasts it with the current state of affairs: “The dream has ended: there are no more walruses or turtles” (el sueño acabó; ya no hay morsas ni tortugas). Instead, ominously, “the witchdoctors want to return” (los brujos piensan en volver), suggesting the bloody former police commissioner José “Witchdoctor” López Rega, responsible for the first disappearances. A gruesome image stands in as a representation of the current regime: “A river of heads, crushed by a single foot” (un río de cabezas aplastadas por el mismo pie). Yet in this unreality, those responsible are not punished but rather enjoy the life of the oligarchy and “play cricket in the moonlight” (juegan cricket bajo la luna). Victims have no recourse to justice: “You will have no power, neither lawyers nor witnesses” (no tendrás poder, ni abogados, ni testigos). Instead they are perversely cast—mirroring the doubletalk of the official media—as the victimizers and as criminals: “the innocent are the guilty, proclaims His Majesty, the King of Clubs” (los inocentes son los culpables dice su Señoría, el Rey de Espadas). Though the lyrics do not criticize anything clearly or directly, it is not difficult to read into them a message: the past, which was far from perfect, seems idyllic compared to current reality—a society ruled by a violent military government, the King of Clubs (literally, the king of swords—which is so cruel that it approximates the unreal. The lyric language in songs such as this allowed rock musicians to regain their voices, while their poetic discourse itself stood as an inherent criticism of the bankrupt, purportedly rational discourse of the regime.

Community through Rock Fanzine Readership

Rock listeners, meanwhile, were also searching for ways to express themselves, and many found it in the pages of rock magazines and underground fanzines. The best-known was the rock magazine Expreso Imaginario. According to Jorge Pistocchi, editor of Expreso, the most important part of the magazine was the “Letters from Our Readers” section, which ran to many pages because it generated so much response. It was a “communication phenomenon,” in that messages were constantly passed from readers to editors, from editors to readers, and from readers to readers.31 In reality, the letters section became a social space that partially compensated for the inability of young people to gather publicly in clubs. In that space, a community was created, based on rock nacional as medium for youth resistance.

Examples from Expreso show how interpretations developed of what rock was “about.” One can also see concrete examples of how beliefs and attitudes spread to others. On the one hand, the editors and writers of the journal themselves associated a certain ideology with rock, and these ideas came across in their articles (to the extent that censorship allowed). Jorge Pistocchi, editor of Expreso, states in retrospect his beliefs about the period: “The idea of Expreso was to create a medium for communication between different groups, to strengthen ourselves and to support musicians, and to promote festivals and concerts as meeting places. We did what we could to form a kind of resistance.”32

However, this positionality of resistance vis-à-vis the regime is perhaps most strongly reflected in the statements of readers at the time. Readers such as “Ernesto” stated in their letters that “the magazine stores up the monthly expectations of many people who aspire to change the established order of things.”33 Another belief that developed and was often expressed by readers was the concept of rock nacional culture as an alternative discourse, a way to combat negation and silence. Daniel says, “Expreso helps to stop the fear, to destroy the crazy lies.”34 Most importantly, perhaps, the letters section gave the readers hope that they were not alone: “I think we all formed a little underworld where we all lived separately until you arrived, Expreso, and gave us a way to talk together,” says Guillermo.35 Juan says, “Letters like this one help me realize that there are a lot of us in this together.”36

Rock fanzines and magazines like Expreso Imaginario were a forum in which silenced social actors could share their voices. Moreover, in that forum a community was built surrounding rock music that featured a culture based on solidarity and an attitude of resistance and opposition to the official order. In this regard, the regime’s prohibitions on speech and assembly stimulated exactly the attitudes it wished to quell.

Education through Listening Groups

As shown above, the rock nacional phenomenon was not only about the music itself, but also about interactions based upon it that created, disseminated, and reinforced certain beliefs and interpretations. This is an important characteristic of music: it expresses meaning not only through sound and lyrics, but also through what is said about it. Part of listening to music is learning how to “place” it, since “we can only hear music as having value … when we know what to listen to and how to listen for it.”37 Learning how to “place” or “listen to” texts is an important part of acculturation or becoming part of a community; this process is clearly visible in another element of rock nacional that could be called the “listening group.”

In order to circumvent the prohibition on public meetings, many groups of friends began to get together in private places, particularly to share music. As one listener remembers:

Those were the days when people started to listen to records together. Like my friends and I—about ten or twelve of us—would all get together at this one guy’s house and listen to records all together. Because it was the only way to … to repeat the atmosphere of the concerts, you know? Nobody kept their records at their house because we had them all collected at the one kid’s house. It was like a collective, a community. The music was the only thing that made us a community … It was the only community we had!38

It is significant that young people listened to albums together, rather than each buying separate albums and listening alone, as this act was a further embodiment of the youth solidarity that the regime so despised. Though the listening groups were not the result of a conscious or organized effort, there are many reports of their existence, indicating that these spontaneous gatherings were common.

These groups became an important part of the creation of meanings related to rock nacional. As in the fanzines, interpretations were constructed and shared. However, the immediate nature of the experience allowed music to be heard, then discussed right away. Furthermore, extended face-to-face conversations would naturally allow interpretations, attitudes, and beliefs regarding the songs to become much more developed than they could be in a written forum such as a magazine. Finally, in such events one listener could initiate or acquaint a newer member with accepted ways to listen to a text. As one listener recalled, “You know the song about Alicia? It was my buddy Piancatelli who explained to me what that song was about … it talks about the generals. That part about ‘the witches will come back’? That’s about ‘Witchdoctor’ López Rega.”39 An allegorical song such as “Alicia en el país” can be appreciated at a number of levels, even without fully engaging the lyrics, but peers in listening groups taught others to appreciate lyrics and to read them in a certain way. Guille remembers: “When Charly sang ‘The Walrus is gone, the Turtle is gone’ he was talking about Onganía and Illía, ya know? We all knew that.”40 Moreover, the transmission of “correct” ways to interpret specific texts and general cultural codes did not take place only between peers of the same age: as younger brothers and sisters accompanied their older siblings, the younger generation was also socialized into the group. In the context of media censorship and limited access to recordings, this function was highly significant. The case of “fourteen- and fifteen year-olds chorusing songs made popular a decade before, many of them banned and withdrawn from the record shops”41 makes very clear that listening groups were more than simply a way for kids to identify with each other; their musical training was a challenge to the regime.

Resistance through Live Concerts

All of these covert responses to the regime’s repression—by individual musicians or by small groups of listeners—culminated in another type of response, much larger and more visibly oppositional: that of live performances in concert. As the Proceso wore on, opposition to it grew, and so did the popularity of rock nacional. Its concerts drew ever larger crowds. Since the beginning of the regime, live concerts had served as a meetingplace for young people, but toward the end of the regime in the early 1980s, this phenomenon became more pronounced, and shows often had up to 60,000 fans in attendance.42 As a result of the sharing of ideas in the fanzine forums and listening groups, listeners came to these concerts with a certain set of expectations. They had preconceived ideas about the meanings they would associate with the music, and about the identity that they would share with their peers. Not only fans but many artists also held similar beliefs. Charly García stated, “The audience and the artists had a very oppositional attitude, a very strong resistance to the ideological penetration. I think rock nacional was a focal point of resistance.”43

García’s statement is generalized to all the audience, but in reality, the ways in which listeners engage with music are uneven and complex. Though one listener might consider lyrics in their entirety, another might focus on one or two lines repeated out of context. Likewise, one song might be interpreted by most concertgoers in the way most readily suggested by the lyrics, while another could be spontaneously given new meaning. For example, in the song “Confesiones de invierno,” the lyric voice describes how he was once unjustly jailed without cause, and explains, “I got the bail money from a friend, but the bruises were a present from the officer” (La fianza me la dio un amigo, las heridas son del official). This can easily be read as an implicit criticism of police brutality, and indeed was generally received by audiences in that way. In video and audio recordings of concerts of the time, this one line (las heridas son del oficial) received a huge ovation from the audience, who presumably understood the criticism and identified with mistreatment by an officer. However, a fragment of lyrics taken out of context can also become associated with a new meaning, such as a line from “La grasa de las capitales.” The song’s lyrics condemn superficial society, concluding with the repeated line “We won’t put up with it anymore” (No se banca más). In some concerts, though, when the audience sang along, the defiant way this line was shouted indicates that it had been attached to a new referent, that perhaps hostility toward the military government was being channeled through this reappropriated line. As a concert report from 1980 describes, “Today Charly García had forty thousand voices shouting ‘We won’t put up with it anymore’ live on national television.”44

This case highlights the extent to which such gatherings had become an alternative venue for public speech rather than just a place to listen to music. In rock nacional concerts, the boundary between those on the stage and those gathered around it was loosened, and the fans, instead of being passive listeners, were often as much participants as the musicians themselves. This can be seen in the soccer chants that sometimes overtook an entire stadium, particularly those against the government, beginning with “Anyone who doesn’t jump is a military man” (el que no salta es un militar), which provoked the curious spectacle of the whole stadium jumping in unison upon their seats.45 However, as time went on, the chant was slowly replaced by another: “It’s going to end, it’s going to end, the dictatorship is going to end” (se va a acabar, se va a acabar la dictadura militar). Such a phenomenon actually converted bemused musicians into a sort of audience who could only watch and interpret. This case reached its most dramatic point when at later concerts the favorite chant became “Firing squad to all those military men who sold out our nation” (paredón, paredón, a todos los milicos que vendieron la nación).46 The concert report of a mass rock meeting in Obras stadium toward the end of the regime exemplifies the extent to which concerts had become akin to mass rallies. The band Serú Girán stopped and listened while fans chanted, “The dictatorship is going to end” (¡se va a acabar, la dictadura militar!) and then “The Disappeared—Tell us where they are!” (Los desaparecidos, ¡que digan dónde están!). Charly García danced to the rhythm of the chant for a while, then responded, “Sing, sing … you want to sing that? Great, sing it. But no one’s going to answer you. So we’re going go on with the music. But those who are disappearing now soon won’t disappear anymore. And let me tell you: what we’ve got now will soon have to disappear.” As the crowd gave him a standing ovation, he continued: “You can have faith in that.”47


The junta’s plan for the transformation of consciousness was clear, conscious, and overt, requiring an equally active counterculture. Though the reassertion of youth identity through rock nacional was not an explicit or intentional project, spontaneous acts of collaborative resistance did take place. The result of social interaction in spaces such as fanzines and listening groups was the formation of attitudes and beliefs, which later underlay and found their culmination in mass concerts, in which members of rock culture identified with the music and with one another. Particularly noteworthy is the fact of self-awareness: at concerts such as those described, a significant number of those present participated in a dialogue with the musicians in which the agenda was openly political. As such accounts illustrate, clearly rock culture did become a focal point of resistance and serve as a weapon of resistance to the ideological penetration with which the regime sought to nullify youth identity.

The regime’s tight media control and systematic implementation of terror was intended to reform the thinking of the entire country. But although Argentines did learn to self-police, it is clear that the regime’s appropriation of public life could not be complete. This specific example from Argentina’s history shows that censorship, no matter how extreme, is always already doomed to failure. The control of words cannot ever completely bring about control of the human mind. Such an attempt can only lead to more tenacious and clever forms of disobedience. Indeed, in its attempt to control the populace by force, the regime actually strengthened the oppositional attitudes it was trying to eliminate. Ironically, without the government’s repression, artists would likely not have developed such a refined metaphorical tool. Young people would probably not have yearned so to seek solidarity with their peers, and listeners would not have been so determined to look for political meaning in their pop music. In all likelihood, rock nacional would never have reached the heights of popularity it did. In its attempts at control, the military junta unknowingly fueled the creativity and passion of a rock genre and a youth culture, in effect creating one of its own fiercest opponents.

Discussion of the Literature

The case of censorship in Argentina during the Dirty War was first studied by Andrés Avellaneda, who considered that the salient characteristic of the machinery of censorship at the time was the absence of a committee or office where artists could get approval for their work, which caused uncertainty.48 Agreeing with his views, Reina Roffé added the concept of “paracensorship,” a system formed of organizations that supported the regime and that acted on its behalf.49 For them and other critics such as Daniel Balderston, David William Foster, Tulio Halperín Donghi, Francine Masiello, Marta Morello-Frosch, and Beatriz Sarlo, the main factors defining censorship in this period were “fear” and “uncertainty,” which led many academics, writers, artists and musicians to self-censorship or exile.50

In the year 2000, the discovery of secret files hidden in an old building in Buenos Aires shed new light on the modus operandi of the censors during the military dictatorship. Hernán Invernizzi and Judith Gociol demonstrated through their thorough analysis of the secret documents that there was indeed a highly sophisticated censorship organism.51 The group did its work secretly, and its practice was to eliminate all traces of its actions—including not only files and documentation, but also people. Invernizzi continued his investigations and published Los libros son tuyos, a detailed, well-documented account of the role of Eudeba, a university publisher that was used to disseminate the regime’s ideology.52

In 1998, Marguerite Feitlowitz published her groundbreaking A Lexicon of Terror, in which she studied in detail the language and propaganda used by the Proceso.53 She developed a glossary of terms used in concentration camps and explored the effects of the regime’s linguistic incursions on the language of Argentines today. Diana Taylor explored the construction of the political spectacle from a performative perspective, analyzing concentration camps, drama plays, street signs, posters, and other public expressions of resistance to the regime.54

Of the vast quantities of journalistic investigation of the Dirty War, the work of Horacio Verbitsky is crucial to understanding events. Verbitsky published the confessions of one of the military officials who participated in the “death flights,” about the press coverage of the Malvinas/Falklands war in 1982, and about the conflicted relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the military junta.55 For those interested in the press coverage of the events from the months that led to the coup d’etat until democracy was restored, Eduardo Blaustein and Martín Zubieta published a very complete compilation of the main newspaper and magazines coverage between December 1975 and November 1983. In Decíamos ayer: La prensa argentina bajo el Proceso it is possible to find the images and texts broadcast during the 3,000 days covered.56

The first academic work on Argentine rock was published by the sociologist Pablo Vila, who highlighted the vital social role played by concerts as a common place for resistance. For many years, Vila’s was the only research available on this topic, and his articles explored the vilification of youth, resistance through live concerts, community building through rock fanzine readership, and education through listening groups. Vila more recently stated that the initial phase in the development of Argentine rock occurred during two consecutive military dictatorships (1965–1983).57 This particular contextual origin meant that musicians inevitably engaged in a balancing act between creativity and political reality, resulting in a specific kind of content and lyrics in this genre’s songs. Argentine Sergio Pujol chronicled the events surrounding the rise of rock nacional during the years of the dictatorship.58 Sociologist Pablo Alabarces analyzed the origins of the movement, emphasizing that Sui Generis’s music (the iconic Charly García’s first band), far from producing “escapist” songs to find some solace among the chaotic reality, in fact exploited the conflict, highlighting the contradictions in the social fabric of the time.59 For him, it was this band that institutionalized Argentine rock as a mass phenomenon. Claudio Díaz explored the different semiotic and symbolic changes that developed in the genre, including its rituals and performance and the role of the body in those.60 Some of the more recent work on the rock nacional culture as a response to the regime has been done by Timothy Wilson and Mara Favoretto. Wilson has described at length the development of metaphorical language to avoid censorship, as well as the “listening practices” of fans who created a culture around rock nacional.61 Mara Favoretto has explored many aspects of musical allegory in Alegoría e ironía bajo censura en la Argentina del Proceso, and particularly that of Argentine rock legend Charly García in Charly en el país de las alegorías.62

Among the studies of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Jean Pierre Bousquet, and Ana Peluffo have argued that the mothers’ success was based on their politicization of a public space and their original and creative ways of turning their weakness into the strength of the organization.63

Primary Sources

Amnesty International. Report of an Amnesty International Mission to Argentina, 6-13 November 1976. New York: Amnesty International, 1977.Find this resource:

CONADEP (National Commission on the Disappearence of Persons). Nunca Mas: Informe de la Comisión Nacional sobre la desaparición de personas. Barcelona: Seix-Barral, 1985.Find this resource:

Abuelas Plaza de Mayo.

Memoria Abierta.

Further Reading

Alabarces, Pablo. Entre gatos y violadores: El rock nacional en la cultura argentina. Buenos Aires: Colihue, 2011.Find this resource:

Balderston, Daniel, et al. Ficción y política: La narrativa argentina durante el proceso militar. Buenos Aires: Alianza Editorial and Institute for the Study of Ideologies and Literature, 1987.Find this resource:

Blaustein, Eduardo, and Martín Zubieta. Decíamos ayer: La prensa argentina bajo el Proceso. Buenos Aires: Colihue, 2006.Find this resource:

Díaz, Claudio. Libro de viajes y extravíos: Un recorrido por el rock argentino (1965–1985). Unquillo, Córdoba: Narvaja, 2005.Find this resource:

Favoretto, Mara. Alegoría e ironía bajo censura en la Argentina del Proceso (1976–83). New York: Edwin Mellen, 2010.Find this resource:

Favoretto, Mara. Charly en el país de las alegorías: Un viaje por las letras de Charly García. Buenos Aires: Gourmet Musical Ediciones, 2014.Find this resource:

Favoretto, Mara, and Timothy Wilson. “Los ángeles de Charly: Entre el ser nacional ideal del Proceso y el ser nacional real del rock nacional argentino.” Per Musi: Revista Académica de Música [Belo Horizonte] 30 (2014): 53–63.Find this resource:

Feitlowitz, Marguerite. A Lexicon of Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Gutman, Daniel. Somos derechos y humanos: La batalla de la dictadura contra el mundo y la reacción internacional frente a los desaparecidos. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2015.Find this resource:

Invernizzi, Hernán. Los libros son tuyos: Políticos, académicos y militares; la dictadura en Eudeba. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 2005.Find this resource:

Invernizzi, Hernán, and Judith Gociol. Un golpe a los libros: Represión a la cultura durante la última dictadura militar. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 2002.Find this resource:

Invernizzi, Hernán, and Judith Gociol. Cine y dictadura: La censura al desnudo. Buenos Aires: Capital Intelectual, 2006.Find this resource:

Pujol, Sergio. Rock y dictadura. Buenos Aires: Booket, 2007.Find this resource:

Sosnowsky, Saúl, ed. Represión y reconstrucción de una cultura: El caso argentino. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 1988.Find this resource:

Taylor, Diana. Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s “Dirty War.” Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Verbitsky, Horacio. The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior. New York: New Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Vila, Pablo. “Rock nacional, crónicas de la resistencia juvenil.” In Los nuevos movimientos sociales. Edited by Elizabeth Jelin, 83–148. Buenos Aires: CEAL, 1985.Find this resource:

Vila, Pablo. “Rock Nacional and Dictatorship in Argentina.” Popular Music 6.2 (1987): 129–148.Find this resource:

Vila, Pablo. “Argentina’s Rock Nacional: The Struggle for Meaning.” Latin American Music Review 10.1 (1989): 1–28.Find this resource:

Vila, Pablo. “Tiempos difíciles, tiempos creativos: Rock y dictadura en Argentina.” In Music and Dictatorship in Europe and Latin America. Edited by Roberto Illiano and Massimiliano Sala, 487–520. Turnhout: Brepols, 2010.Find this resource:

Wilson, Timothy. “Starmakers: Dictators, Songwriters, and the Negotiation of Censorship in the Argentine Dirty War.” A Contracorriente 6.1 (2008): 50–75.Find this resource:

Wilson, Timothy. “Argentina’s Proceso: Societal Reform through Premeditated Terror.” In The Development of Institutions of Human Rights: A Comparative Study. Edited by Lilian Barria and Steven Roper, 16–32. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.Find this resource:

Wilson, Timothy. “Un Pájaro Progresivo: Pop Music, Propaganda, and the Struggle for Modernity in Argentina.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 33 (2015): 89–107.Find this resource:

Wilson, Timothy, and Mara Favoretto. “‘Entertaining’ the Notion of Change: The Transformative Power of Performance in Argentine Pop.” Popular Entertainment Studies 1.2 (2010): 44–60.Find this resource:

Wilson, Timothy, and Mara Favoretto. “Actuar para (sobre)vivir: Rock nacional y cumbia villera en Argentina.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 29 (2011): 164–183.Find this resource:

Wilson, Timothy, and Mara Favoretto. “Los ángeles de Charly: Entre el ‘ser nacional ideal’ del Proceso y el ‘ser nacional real’ del rock nacional argentino.” Per Musi 30 (2014): 53–63.Find this resource:


(1.) “Videla denunció a los Montoneros,” Clarín, October 24, 1975, 14.

(2.) Timothy Wilson, “Argentina’s Proceso: Societal Reform through Premeditated Terror,” in The Development of Institutions of Human Rights: A Comparative Study, ed Lilian Barria and Steven Roper (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 18.

(3.) Timothy Wilson, “Un Pájaro Progresivo: Pop Music, Propaganda, and the Struggle for Modernity in Argentina,” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 33 (2015): 91.

(4.) George Orwell, “The Principles of Newspeak,” Nineteen Eighty Four (London: Secker & Warburg, 1949), 312.

(5.) Emilio Massera, “La Postergación de un Destino,” in El Camino a la Democracia, ed. Emilio Massera (Buenos Aires: El Cid, 1979), 146.

(6.) Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007), 88.

(7.) Wilson, “Argentina’s Proceso,” 24.

(8.) Mara Favoretto and Timothy Wilson, “Los ángeles de Charly: Entre el ser nacional ideal del Proceso y el ser nacional real del rock nacional argentino,” Per Musi: Revista Académica de Música [Belo Horizonte] 30 (2014): 59.

(9.) Marguerite Feitlowitz, A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 21.

(10.) Feitlowitz, Lexicon of Terror, 21.

(11.) Wilson, “Argentina’s Proceso,” 24.

(12.) Wilson, “Argentina’s Proceso,” 25.

(13.) Feitlowitz, Lexicon of Terror, 20.

(14.) Pablo Vila, “Rock Nacional and Dictatorship in Argentina,” Popular Music 6.2 (1987): 133.

(15.) Patricia Marchak, God’s Assassins: State Terrorism in Argentina in the 1970s (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999), 155.

(16.) Guillermo O’Donnell, “Democracia en la Argentina: Micro y macro,” in “Proceso,” crisis y transición democrática, ed. Oscar Oszlak (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1984), 28.

(17.) Pablo Vila, “Argentina’s Rock Nacional: The Struggle for Meaning,” Latin American Music Review 10.1 (1989): 16.

(18.) Vila, “Argentina’s Rock Nacional,” 16.

(19.) Alfredo Astiz, known as “the blond angel,” was an Argentine military officer of youthful appearance who infiltrated a church group to spy on human rights organizers. In 1977, everyone in the church group was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. (Testimony of Lisandro Raúl Cubas, Legajo N° 6974, Informe Nunca Más, CONADEP, 1985).

(20.) Marchak, God’s Assassins, 155.

(21.) Timothy Wilson, “Starmakers: Dictators, Songwriters, and the Negotiation of Censorship in the Argentine Dirty War,” A Contracorriente 6.1 (2008): 55.

(22.) Feitlowitz, Lexicon of Terror, xii.

(23.) Miguel Angel Dente, Transgresores: Spinetta/García/Páez (Buenos Aires: Distal, 2000), 86.

(24.) Charly García, Serú Girán. Music Hall, 1978.

(25.) Miguel Grinberg, Cómo vino la mano (Buenos Aires: Distal, 1993), 128.

(26.) Eduardo Del Puente and Darío Quintana, Todo vale: Antología analizada de la poesía rock argentina desde 1965 (Buenos Aires: Distal, 1995), 43.

(27.) This process is most evident in the music of Charly García. Through all of his albums of the period (with his three bands, Sui Generis, La Máquina de Hacer Pájaros, and Serú Girán), García’s lyrics remained consistently critical of society and of the government; but there is a clear trajectory in his style from open denunciation, to more veiled criticism, to very metaphorically encoded meaning. For a detailed treatment of this topic, see Wilson’s “Starmakers: Dictators, Songwriters, and the Negotiation of Censorship in the Argentine Dirty War” and also “Un Pájaro Progresivo: Pop Music, Propaganda, and the Struggle for Modernity in Argentina.”

(28.) Mara Favoretto, “Luis Alberto Spinetta y su mitología: Su antídoto contra todos los males de este mundo,” Question 1.45 (2015): 107–110.

(29.) Mara Favoretto, Charly en el país de las alegorías: Un viaje por las letras de Charly García (Buenos Aires: Gourmet Musical Ediciones, 2014), 168–170.

(30.) Charly García, Bicicleta (SG Discos, 1980).

(31.) Pablo Vila, “Rock Nacional, crónicas de la resistencia juvenil,” in Los Nuevos Movimientos Sociales, edited by Elizabeth Jelín (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1985), 105.

(32.) Vila, “Rock Nacional, crónicas,” 105.

(33.) Vila, “Rock Nacional and Dictatorship,” 137.

(34.) Daniel (Letter), “Correo de Lectores,” Expreso Imaginario November 1976: 5, quoted in Vila, “Rock National, crónicas,” 89.

(35.) Vila, “Rock Nacional and Dictatorship,” 136.

(36.) Juan (Letter), “Correo de Lectores,” Expreso Imaginario August 1977: 2, quoted in Vila, “Rock National, crónicas,” 89.

(37.) Simon Frith, “What is Good Music?,” Canadian University Music Review 10.2 (1990): 96–97.

(38.) Vila, “Rock Nacional, crónicas,” 105.

(39.) Santiago, personal interview.

(40.) Guille, personal interview.

(41.) Vila, “Rock Nacional and Dictatorship,” 137.

(42.) Pablo Alabarces, Entre Gatos y Violadores: El rock nacional en la cultura argentina. Buenos Aires: Colihue, 2011, 78.

(43.) Pablo Vila, “El Rock Nacional: Género Musical y Construcción de la Identidad Juvenil en Argentina,” in Cultura y pospolítica: El debate sobre la modernidad en América Latina, ed. Néstor García Canclini (Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1995), 261.

(44.) Pablo Perel, untitled, Zaffl (December 1980), quoted in Rebelde: El Rock Argentino en los Años ’70, Dos Potencias, accessed January 2015.

(45.) Vila, “Rock Nacional and Dictatorship,” 139.

(46.) Vila, “Rock Nacional and Dictatorship,” 141.

(47.) Gloria Guerrero, “Crónica de Gloria Guerrero del recital de Obras Sanitarias,” Humor (March 1983); quoted in Rebelde: El Rock Argentino en los Años ’70, Dos Potencias, accessed January 2015.

(48.) Andrés Avellaneda, El discurso de censura cultural en la Argentina, 1960–1983: Notas para su análisis (Toulouse: Université de Toulouse-Mirail, 1985); Andrés Avellaneda, El habla de la ideología: Modos de réplica literaria en la Argentina contemporánea (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1983); and Andrés Avellaneda, Censura, autoritarismo, y cultura: Argentina, 1960–1983 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1986).

(49.) Reina Roffé, “Omnipresencia de la censura en la escritora argentina.” Revista Iberoamericana 51.132–133 (1985): 909–915.

(50.) Daniel Balderston et al., Ficción y política: La narrativa argentina durante el proceso militar (Buenos Aires: Alianza Editorial/Institute for the Study of Ideologies & Literature, 1987).

(51.) Hernán Invernizzi and Judith Gociol, Un golpe a los libros: Represión a la cultura durante la última dictadura militar (Buenos Aires, Eudeba, 2002); and Hernán Invernizzi and Judith Gociol, Cine y dictadura: La censura al desnudo (Buenos Aires: Capital Intelectual, 2006).

(52.) Hernán Invernizzi, Los libros son tuyos: Políticos, académicos y militares: La dictadura en Eudeba (Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 2005).

(53.) Feitlowitz, Lexicon of Terror.

(54.) Diana Taylor, Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s “Dirty War” (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997).

(55.) Horacio Verbitsky, The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior (New York: New Press, 1996); Horacio Verbitsky, Malvinas: La ultima batalla de la Tercera Guerra Mundial (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2002); and Horacio Verbitsky, El silencio: de Paulo VI a Bergoglio; Las relaciones secretas de la iglesia con la ESMA (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2005).

(56.) Eduardo Blaustein and Martín Zubieta, Decíamos ayer: La prensa argentina bajo el Proceso (Buenos Aires: Colihue, 1998).

(57.) Vila, “Rock nacional, crónicas”; Vila, “Rock Nacional and Dictatorship”; Pablo Vila, “Argentina’s Rock Nacional: The Struggle for Meaning,” Latin American Music Review 10.1 (1989): 1–28; and Pablo Vila, “Tiempos difíciles, tiempos creativos: Rock y dictadura en Argentina,” in Music and Dictatorship in Europe and Latin America, ed. Roberto Illiano and Massimiliano Sala (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), 487–520.

(58.) Sergio Pujol, Rock y dictadura (Buenos Aires: Booket, 2007).

(59.) Alabarces, Entre gatos y violadores.

(60.) Claudio Díaz, Libro de viajes y extravíos: Un recorrido por el rock argentino (1965–1985) (Unquillo, Córdoba: Narvaja, 2005).

(61.) Wilson, “Starmakers”; Wilson, “Argentina’s Proceso”; and Wilson, “Un Pájaro Progresivo.”

(62.) Mara Favoretto, Alegoría e ironía bajo censura en la Argentina del Proceso (1976–83) (New York: Edwin Mellen, 2010); and Mara Favoretto, Charly en el país de las alegorías: Un viaje por las letras de Charly García (Buenos Aires: Gourmet Musical Ediciones, 2014).

(63.) Jean Pierre Bousquet, Las locas de la Plaza de Mayo (Buenos Aires: Fundación para la Democracia en Argentina and El Cid, 1983); and Ana Peluffo, “The Boundaries of Sisterhood: Gender and Class in the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” Contracorriente 4.2 (2007): 77–102.