They've got their little lists Rights: An Argentine playwright was exonerated after Argentina's "dirty war" ended in 1983, but the United States has denied him entry because his name appeared on a list of terrorists.

Sun Journal

December 22, 1996|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Somewhere there is always a list of people under suspicion. They float around, these lists, pop up in unexpected places; they continue to do damage long after their compilers are gone from the scene.

Carol E. Robertson says she has never had any illusions about perfect democracy, in this country or any other. But that hadn't prepared her for her recent unpleasant surprise -- when her invited guest from Argentina was denied entry to the United States and, according to him, mistreated by immigration agents in Miami. His name was on a list.

Robertson is an anthropologist. She travels in remote places. She studies the uses of music among indigenous peoples in Africa, Polynesia and South America. How they employ it to heal, in ceremonies and sacred theater.

She does much of her work on horseback. She wears boots. She lives rough.

Fifteen years ago, she was in a remote place in Argentina called Malleo. This is a Mapoche Indian reservation in Patagonia. It is a rocky region about 5,000 feet up on the eastern slope of the Andes. There she was arrested.

The early 1980s were dangerous times in Argentina; the infamous "dirty war" was drawing to its end. A homicidal military regime had tortured, killed and "disappeared" thousands of people it perceived as enemies of the state.

These were people of the political left, for the most part, people involved with the poor, students, priests and nuns, academics in the "subversive" disciplines of the social sciences, and some actual armed guerrillas.

Robertson is an American. She thought she had nothing to worry about, even though her nationality might be construed as ambivalent: She was born in Texas to American parents, then taken to Argentina two weeks later, where she spent her first 16 years growing up in the mountain city of Mendoza.

Over the years she returned frequently to her childhood home, to work among the Mapoches, a remnant of the fierce Araucana nation that centuries ago stopped cold the Inca empire's drive south, and later fought Spain to a standstill.

Malleo is one of those places of bright light and black shadow typical of the topography of the southern Andes. As you pass through, it is suddenly darkly forested, then just as abruptly bleakly bright and arid.

The nearest town is Junin de los Andes, about 15 miles away. There is a military post there whose commanders felt much of the paranoia that prevailed throughout the country at the time.

In 1981, they got it into their heads that Communists were living on the Mapoche reservation, or worse: priests disseminating liberation theology. So a raid was planned. Troops swept up about 20 Indians -- their chief, Pianefilu, and Carol Robertson among them. They were all trucked back to the barracks and interrogated.

Two days later Robertson was released, but ordered to remain in Junin de los Andes and report every day. Three days after that, the local bishop arrived and led the whole crowd back to the reservation. Robertson continued her work, remained about a month, then returned to College Park.

During Robertson's brief detention in Junin de los Andes, a man named Pablo Seydell was going through much worse. He was in his fifth year of imprisonment. The military had slammed him into jail as a subversive in 1976, when he was 18.

Seydell later became a well-known Argentine theater director, and married one of Robertson's childhood friends -- Mariu

Carrera, an actress and playwright.

When democracy returned to Argentina with the ouster of the military in 1983, Seydell was released. He was cleared of all the vague charges against him, paid an indemnification, and given an official document that attested to his innocence.

But his name had been put on a list, and this list had traveled far.

A few years ago Robertson and Carrera met and renewed their girlhood friendship. They began to collaborate. So it was that in ,, October of this year, Robertson invited Seydell to come to the University of Maryland to direct a play written by his wife. The play is called "Pegadito a la Vida," (Stuck to Life.)

Invited under the University of Maryland's auspices, Seydell packed and went off to the airport in Mendoza. There the past came back to him with a snarl. He was told by the police he couldn't leave because he was being investigated in connection JTC with a violent incident in 1986. Seydell could not convince them he had no part in it, had never been charged, and was even emphatically cleared by a judge of all involvement.

But the police had their list.

Seydell and his wife run a theater in a poor section of Mendoza. He started it with the money he got from the government for his eight years of false imprisonment. The theater puts on plays that try to explain the insanity that overcame Argentina during the years of the dirty war, 1976-1983.

Both are well-equipped for the work: Carrera's first husband disappeared during those years, as did her brother and sister-in-law. Seydell lost his brother and sister.

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