ARGENTINA: The Clan (El clan, 2015)

The Dangers of Silence

by Ben Doncov

In the early 1980s, Argentina was reeling from a military coup and subsequent military dictatorship in which freedom of speech, expression, and protest were severely limited. This was enforced, among other manners, by kidnapping political dissidents and those who spoke against the government, in a campaign known as the “Dirty War”. In 1976, three documentary filmmakers, Raymundo Gleyzer, Pablo Szir, and Enrique Juarez were among the roughly 18,000 kidnapped by the government throughout its rule (Shpuntoff). This total included infants taken from their families and given to wealthy and powerful members of society, a topic that has been covered in many films, including the oscar-winning La historia Oficial.

The government used these strategies to spread fear among the population and create a culture of silence. Through this injection of fear into Argentine society, a “veil of silence” was created in which the entire population, and most notably the press, was “divorced from reality, whether by choice or ineptness, [as it] buried its head in the sand, hoping the unpleasantness would go away” (Knudson 102). This mentality and way of life became ingrained into Argentine society, both at a large scale with the government and press, and a small scale within the family.

In the early 1980s, the Puccio family was doing well for themselves. They lived in a wealthy suburb of Buenos Aires; the father, Arquimedes, had a comfortable job with high government connections, and one of his sons, Alejandro, was a star player on the national rugby club. However, in the midst of their prosperous life and success, they desired more money, more luxury, more power. Arquimedes launched a scheme where he would kidnap other wealthy individuals to receive a ransom and a payday. Through this, he mirrored the Argentine government and started his own kidnapping operation, employing his sons, with himself at the center. He would be the final say, everyone else was expected to listen, and no one was to say a word.

Alejandro played a major role in the kidnapping of their first victim, one of his own friends, Ricardo Manoukian. When Ricardo was killed due to his resistance, Alejandro began to second guess his actions and whether he should be participating in the kidnappings. However, at the first indication of this, Arquimedes made it clear that would not be acceptable and they both went on with both their public and secret lives. During this period, new realities made Alejandro question his participation in the family operation. His brother left the family for self preservation and he found himself a serious girlfriend, but Arquimedes gifted him a lump of cash for his work and his implicit loyalty. This did not deter him, as he skipped one kidnapping which went horribly wrong, ending with the victim shot dead in the street and Arquimedes assaulting him. Even with his act of defiance however, still nothing came out of his mouth. Despite the opportunity for a family and cracks starting to show in the plan, his pay day and fear of his father made him bury his head in the sand and continue to reap the benefits of the family’s position.

Alejandro’s silence from beginning to end serves as a cautionary tale showing the dangers of silence and how it reinforces compliance, no matter how significant or insignificant a situation might seem. What happened in Argentina with the Puccio family and the “Dirty War” is a lesson about the effects of a culture of silence and submission where the inaction of those with the power to bring change harms those actively being targeted.

Works Cited

Knudson, Jerry W. “Veil of Silence: The Argentine Press and the Dirty War, 1976-1983.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 24, no. 6, 1997, pp. 93–112.

Shpuntoff, Richard. “Politics and Poetics: A Brief History of Argentine Documentary Cinema.” International Documentary Association, 2 June 2009.

The Clan. Directed by Pablo Trapero, distributed by 20th Century Fox, 2015.