Military dictatorships that took the power in several countries of Central and South America during the second half of the XX century threw thousands of people into exile. Officials of the defeated governments, political and union leaders, academics, artists, journalists, militants of left-winged organizations, relatives, among others, were forced to emigrate before the serious social and political insecurity that prevailed in their respective countries of origin, and because many of them were the object of harassment and persecution.
They were catalogued as suspects, they were cornered, they did not have another choice but to request asylum to the few embassies that were granting it; and in certain specific circumstances, such as those of the 1973 military coup in Chile, to the closest diplomatic head office, to be honest. We can say that Mexico was one of the countries that granted asylum to these Latin Americans in different moments.1
The entry into Mexican territory of political refugees from different nations of Latin America during the aforementioned period, did not represent a new phenomenon. As it is well known, Mexico has traditionally stood out for being a place of asylum and refuge for political refugees from different countries around the world. Undoubtedly, an example of this was the asylum granted since the late 1930’s and during the 1940’s to a wide number of Republican Spanish persecuted by the regime of Francisco Franco, and to other European groups that tried to escape the fascist regimes of those times.
Already in the first half of the XX century, small groups of exiles had already settled in the country: Cubans, Nicaraguans, Dominicans, Colombians, but they were reduced groups without continuity. In contrast, the Latin American exile that took place from the fifties and approximately until the late eighties, differed in number and persistence. Their arrival stopped being a transitory event to become a long term one.
The study of this process has only been started. Differently from the Republican Spanish exile, which has generated a profuse bibliography,2 the examination of the several exiles from Central and South America-although having generated several thesis researches and testimonial works-, is still a field to be explored. Until very recently, one of the difficulties the researcher interested in such a subject had to face consisted in that the documentary sources were not available to the general public, since we are talking about recent processes. This was the case for the documentary material of the Historic Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (AHRSE due to its abbreviation in Spanish), whose consultation, even today, is limited.3
This is why the book Asilo diplomático mexicano en el Cono Sur (Mexican diplomatic asylum in the South Cone) has the merit of being one of the pioneer works about Latin American exile, because it is based on original and novel information contained in the aforementioned archive. It is a first result of the inter-institutional research project called “Dictatorships and Asylum Experiences in the Mexican Embassies of the South Cone”, jointly developed by the Diplomatic Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the Dr. José María Luis Mora Institute. The main objective of the project is the recovery of the first experiences of the political refugees in Mexican embassies.
By means of this work, some of the participating authors of said project pose and start the examination of the asylum problematic from a double perspective: on the one hand, from the point of view of the Mexican diplomats who are in charge of the application of the asylum right, and the responsibility of granting or denying it. In this way, it presents the performance of Mexican officials in three concrete situations: Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. On the other hand, it takes into consideration the first experiences and cultural confrontations of the petitioners.
The work is organized in three copious parts. The first one is entitled “Itinerary of the coups d’état”, it gathers three essays that show the main aspects of the political confrontation that led in the seventies to the establishment of military dictatorships in Argentina (1976), Chile (1973) and Uruguay (1973). It has no other purpose but to review and analyze, the case being, the historical situation prior to the asylum problematic in said countries.
Marcelo Cavarozzi and Ricardo Gutiérrez’s essay, entitled “La construcción política de una crisis: el gobierno peronista de 1973-1976” (The political construction of a crisis: Peron’s government of 1973-1976), analyzes the social and political conditions in force during the last government period of Juan Domingo Perón, and the deterioration of the subsequent government. According to the authors, the division and confrontation inside the very Peronist movement provoked a severe political instability that led the armed forces to become involved in the conflict in order to “restore order”.
The second essay, by Tomás Moulian, entitled “La Unidad Popular: de la polarización al golpe”(Popular Unity: from polarization to the coup), mainly examines the posture assumed by the various political forces during the government of Salvador Allende. For the author, the lack of agreement between the forces gathered in the movement of Unidad Popular and Democracia Cristiana, was a central factor in the creation of extraparliamentary politics driven by the government and much more supported by the presidential figure. This situation, which generated a severe political confrontation between the different forces and a lack of governability, provoked the military coup in September, 1973.
The aforementioned works, which focus on specific periods, this is, which are “short term” studies directed to the social and political context, are not very understandable for the reader, because they do not sufficiently clarify the historical circumstances that accompany the establishment of the dictatorships in Argentina and Chile.
Differently from the two previous essays, Gonzalo Varela’s one, entitled “La ruptura de la democracia en Uruguay (The breakage of democracy in Uruguay)”, deals with the study of the political confrontation in this country during the sixties and seventies, from a long term perspective: he narrates and highlights the historical process of Uruguay, form the independence until the events that led to the military coup in the seventies. The author narrates in an agile and clear way the economic deterioration that started to affect the country in the late fifties, the cracking of the political system based on two parties, and the inability of the political parties to solve the growing polarization of the Uruguayan society. The conjunction of these factors, says Varela, led to the 1973 military coup.
The second part of Asilo diplomático mexicano en el Cono Sur, is entitled “Dos enfoques sobre el asilo” (Two approaches about the asylum), and it presents the analysis of said problematic from two different angles: the first one, from the legal aspect; the second one from the field of subjectivity. In this way, the work performed by Luis Miguel Díaz and Guadalupe Rodríguez de Ita, “Bases histórico-jurídicas de la política mexicana de asilo diplomático” (Historic-legal basis of the Mexican policy of diplomatic asylum), traces the etymological and historical origin of the asylum, and briefly narrates the legal trajectory it has followed in the international field, particularly in Latin America and Mexico. It is a slightly tight summary of the history of this right, more than of its exercise.
The other essay that makes up this part of the book was written by Julio C. Lamónaca and Marcelo N. Viñar, it is entitled “Asilo político: perspectivas desde la subjetividad” (Political asylum: perspectives from subjectivity), and it details the first impressions and experiences of those involved. The authors center their attention in the case of the Mexican embassy in Uruguay in 1973, due to the fact that it is the situation they know better, having been part of it.
They explain, in the first place, that one cannot think of the word asylum without relating it to an exile. And they add that within the terror climate established in Uruguay since 1973, suddenly “a person heard he/she was a suspect, and that he/she was going to be called for any time”, this is, that one was a candidate to asylum, to exile. From this point of view, the authors ask themselves: what does it mean to be a refugee? And they give a simple answer: “The person who requests asylum (or refuge) is someone who, in the repression and terror regime, is persecuted because of his/her activity contrary to the government and who, knowing he/she is cornered, deliberately chooses to put out of danger his/her freedom and life”.4
This is why, at the beginning, almost no one realizes what this action implies. What is before us is putting our lives out of danger, escaping persecution, jail, torture. This introspection is performed afterwards. Through this work, the authors narrate their first experiences as refugees-exiles in the Mexican embassy. They expound various emotions they experienced-terror, fear, anguish, impatience, surprise- and the relationships of friendship, support, antipathy you can establish with your asylum partners.
This study includes a brief approach on the Uruguayan exile in Mexico which, according to the authors, “elapsed without major changes”, particularly as to work or occupation, since they do not give further details. Much more important was the part destined to final introspections in which the authors present the difference between being a migrant and being an exile. So they say that, whereas the former is the result of the illusion of “discovering, conquering or getting what we do not have”, the exile does not emerge from illusion, but from defeat, “from the tear from the land, tear from the language, and tear from the historical legitimacy”. They show several of the conflicts that appear before the exiles: adaptation, assimilation, or on the other hand, reject and exaltation of what has been lost. “Exaltation of the difference and the condition of the foreigner that looks for the ghetto and condemns assimilation”.5
In fact, between the migrant and the exile, the reason for departing is different, however, we can ask if in the last decades, Mexican migrants to the United States or Africans in Europe more than departing driven by the illusion of getting something, emigrate because they do not have a choice if they want to survive in front of the severe economic problematic that prevails in their places of origin. Don’t they also live the conflict of belonging to two different cultural worlds?, don’t the migrants also experience uprootedness? In any case, it is not about an evident difference, but about a very subtle one.
Exile means an almost permanent uprootedness for the authors, a condition that may last for a period of time or for the rest of their lives. Only each individual knows when he/she stops being an exile; when he/she starts adapting to the new country; when he/she achieves a certain cultural similarity towards the society of refuge; when he/she feels him/herself a member of one or two worlds; when…
Lamónaca and Marcelo N. Viñar’s study is very interesting because it approaches various conflicts regarding the asylum-exile.
The third and last part of the book, entitled “Documentos del AHDREM: otra mirada” (Documents of the AHDREM, another look), is constituted by two essays: one by Silvia Dutrénit, entitled “Crisis políticas y visión de los diplomáticos mexicanos ” (Political crisis and views of the Mexican diplomats), and another one by Guadalupe Rodríguez de Ita, called “Experiencias de asilo registradas en las embajadas mexicanas” (Asylum experiences registered at Mexican embassies).
Both Works are based on the information registered at the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, under the items: Mandatory political reports, supplementary political reports, and Asylum. From this source, the authors analyze the characteristics of the studied subject matter within the Mexican embassies in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
Dutrénit’s work deals with the study of the subject from the point of view of the Mexican diplomats regarding the development of the social and political events in the different countries of the South Cone, which led them to grant asylum. In this way, according to the information sent by said officials to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the author explains the political scenario prior to the establishment of the dictatorships. The analysis is very valuable, but it is quite limited, since the very author points out that she is based on supplementary reports and not on the mandatory ones. The latter, due to their character, have a certain regularity and contain much more information about what happens in the particular country, which would have helped the author to deepen even more into the explanation; unfortunately “there aren’t any mandatory reports or they are missing”. Said difficulty does not deteriorate this work, on the contrary, it is a very pertinent and valuable study, because it specifies the importance of reconsidering the role performed by the Mexican diplomacy in the study of the subject matter of asylum-exile.
The last essay of the book completes the previous works because it distinguishes the characteristics presented by the asylum experience to the diplomatic headquarters in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Based on the documents contained in the AHSRE, the author, Guadalupe Rodríguez de Ita, makes a brief profile of those who requested asylum at each of the studied embassies, especially as to their profession, political option and number of refugees. She points out the petitioners who were granted asylum and those who were not. These data allows the author to perform a brief comparative study. In the last part of the essay, she clearly presents the similarities and differences among the three asylum experiences, as to the petitioners and as to the application of the right of asylum by the part of the Mexican diplomats. Due to the source on which she bases this work and to the chosen data, this work can be emphasized for its originality.
As a whole, the merit of the book resides in that it considers the study of the asylum problematic from different angles: the historical circumstances of the conflict, the legal point of view. But most of all, it presents the pertinence of reconsidering the study of asylum through the view of Mexican diplomats, and of the experiences of the refugees at the embassies, from their first impressions. Said suggestion and the source on which the work is based give it its originality and validity.
Mónica Palma Mora
Dirección de Estudios Históricos, INAH
Traslation by Denisse Piñera Palacios
- A brief relation and description of the citizens of Antillean, Central American and South American origin, who were granted asylum in the second half of the XX century can be found in: Fernando Serrano Migallón, El asilo político en México, Mexico, Porrúa, 1998, and in México, tradición de asilo y refugio, Mexico, Secretaría de Gobernación, Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados, November, 2000. [↩]
- To this respect, see the works about this exile in Dolores Pla, Guadalupe Zárate et al., Extranjeros en México (1821-1990). Bibliography, Mexico, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1994. Dolores Pla, Mónica Palma et al., “Extranjeros en México, III”, in Historias, num. 33, Mexico, INAH, Likewise, Dolores Pla mentions the works generated by the Republican Spanish exile and explains how it has been dealt with in Els exiliats catalans. Un estudio de la emigración republicana española en México, Mexico, INAH, Orfeó Català de Mèxic, Libros del Umbral, 1999. [↩]
- In 1995, I was denied the consultation of the files relative to Argentinean, Chilean and Uruguayan asylum by the director of the AHSRE, who argued that the revision of documentation only thirty-years old to the date of consultation was not allowed. [↩]
- Julio C. Lamónaca and Marcelo N. Viñar, “Asilo político: perspectivas desde la subjetividad”, in Asilo diplomático en el Cono Sur, op. cit., p. 88. [↩]
- Ibidem, p. 101. [↩]