Infidelities: Morality, Revolution, and Sexuality in Left-Wing Guerrilla Organizations in 1960s and 1970s Argentina

Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 23, No. 3, September 2014
© 2014 by the University of Texas Press
DOI: 10.7560/JHS23304
Infidelities: Morality, Revolution, and Sexuality
in Left-Wing Guerrilla Organizations
in 1960s and 1970s Argentina
Isabella Cosse
Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas,
Universidad de Buenos Aires

“He wouldn’ t s e e me . He di ed thinking I was a traitor,” former
Montonera guerrilla Ana Testa says as she looks into the camera. She had given her account of how she had been tortured, but now she was remembering a different kind of pain. After she was liberated from a clandestine detention center, her partner, Juan Silva—who would later be “disappeared”—could have gone to her, but he refused.1 This is not a mere anecdote. In it are enmeshed the views on love, activism, and morality held by many of the revolutionaries.

This article looks at the role played by sexuality in the construction
of a revolutionary morality as a key dimension for understanding
the left-wing guerrilla groups active in Argentina in the 1960s and 1970s.
In Argentina, as in other Latin American countries, the liberal regime
that crystallized in the nineteenth century strengthened a family type based
on the indissolubility of marriage, gender inequality, and patriarchal power.
Under that model, female infidelity was not tolerated, as an adulterous wife
represented a serious threat to patriarchy, challenging the phallic power of
the male and, with it, patrilineal descent and inheritance. In contrast, it was
acceptable for men to be unfaithful, and their authority over women was
This article is based on a paper originally written for the “Sexuality and Revolutions in
the Latin American ‘Long Sixties’” roundtable of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians,
Amherst, MA, 9–12 June 2011. I would like to thank Valeria Manzano for inviting me to
participate in that roundtable, the Berkshire Conference for providing me with a travel grant
that made it possible for me to attend, and Margaret Power and all the other participants for
their comments. I would also like to thank the Journal of the History of Sexuality’s anonymous
readers for their feedback, which allowed me to improve my article, and Mathew Kuefler for his
careful editing work. Finally, I thank Laura Pérez Carrara, who has translated this article and
has shared with me the sadness evoked by the stories narrated here, stories that belong to a
past that is still open.
1 Montoneros: Una historia, dir. Andrés Di Tella (Buenos Aires, 1994).
416 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
firmly established under a civil code (enacted in 1869) that denied legal
rights to unmarried couples and out-of-wedlock children and offered no
protection to female heads-of-household.2 In the 1960s, the cornerstones
of this family model were called into question as never before, challenging
widely accepted values such as the sanctity of marriage and long-held assumptions
about gender roles that determined the inferior status of women
and male authority in the family. Infidelity sparked heated debates because
it was at the heart of the sexual double standard. In fact, under Argentina’s
1922 criminal code—still in force in the 1960s—a husband was only considered
adulterous if he kept a mistress or was found with another woman
in the bed he shared with his wife, but for a wife it was enough to have had
a casual encounter with another man.3
In contrast to Europe and the United States, where sexual changes
were fostered by what Jeffrey Weeks termed the “permissive moment,” in
Argentina the traditional family was challenged against a backdrop of rising
authoritarianism, moral crusades, and deteriorating social and economic
conditions.4 It was in that context that armed groups emerged, encouraged
by the Cuban Revolution and the labor and student struggles that were
stirring the country and the world. In the years that followed, as Argentina
became more and more involved in the continental war against subversion,
the state launched increasingly brutal repressive actions, stepping up authoritarianism
and intensifying political polarization. This eventually culminated
in the 1976 military coup, which institutionalized torture, murder, and
enforced disappearance as methods for combating political dissidents and
social activists, claiming as many as thirty thousand disappearance victims,
according to estimates by human rights organizations.5
In recent years, feminist historiography and gender studies have offered
new approaches for rethinking this crucial era, whose echoes are still felt
today in Argentine society. One line of investigation has shown the persistence
of women’s inequality within guerrilla organizations, revealing that
the issue took a back seat to the more important strategic goal of seizing
political power.6 This does not mean that these groups were indifferent
2 For an overview, see Dora Barrancos, Mujeres en la sociedad argentina: Una historia de
cinco siglos (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2007).
3 Código penal (Buenos Aires: Kraft, 1968).
4 On the “permissive moment,” see Jeffrey Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation
of Sexuality since 1800 (London: Longman, 1992), chap. 13. For more details on
Argentina, see Isabella Cosse, Pareja, sexualidad y familia en los años sesenta (Buenos Aires:
Siglo XXI, 2010).
5 For an overview, see Daniel James, ed., Nueva historia argentina, vol. 9, Violencia,
proscripción y autoritarismo (1955–1976) (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2003).
6 For a pioneer study, see María del Carmen Feijoó and Marcela Nari, “Women in Argentina
during the 1960s,” Latin American Perspectives 23, no. 1 (1996): 7–27. For a recent
study, see Alejandra Oberti, “Género, política y violencia: Vida cotidiana y militancia en las
décadas del sesenta y setenta” (PhD diss., Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de
Buenos Aires, 2011).
Infidelities 417
with respect to such matters. Far from it; members of left-wing guerrilla
groups held strong views on family, sexuality, and romantic relationships,
which did not deviate from traditional ideas, imposing a “compulsory heterosexuality”
(as noted by Florencia Mallon in the case of Chile), exalting
virility, and promoting an ideal image of the revolutionary couple, which
was both heterosexual and monogamous.7 They also disapproved of the
sexual revolution as much as conservatives did, although not for the same
reasons, viewing it as an imperialist strategy that would throw the people
off the revolutionary path.8 Guerrilla groups also sought to exert control
over their members’ bodies and discipline their sexuality in what Vera
Carnovale has termed “full organization.”9 More recent studies, along
the lines proposed by Victoria Langland for Brazil, have highlighted the
sexual and gendered portrayal of activists and guerrillas—particularly
women—as the “enemy within” in both antisubversive propaganda and
repressive practices.10 Other studies have explored the sexualization of
activists and captivity survivors, who were believed by their own peers
7 For the concept of “compulsory heterosexuality” applied to Latin America, see
Florencia E. Mallon, “Barbudos, Warriors, and Rotos: The MIR, Masculinity, and Power
in the Chilean Agrarian Reform 1965–74,” in Changing Men and Masculinities in Latin
America, ed. Matthew C. Gutmann (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 179–215.
For Argentina, see Osvaldo Bazán, Historia de la homosexualidad en la Argentina: De la
conquista de América al siglo XXI (Buenos Aires: Marea, 2004); and Flavio Rapisardi and
Alejandro Modarelli, Fiestas, baños y exilios: Los gays porteños en la última dictadura (Buenos
Aires: Sudamericana, 2001). On heterosexual monogamy, see Cosse, Pareja, sexualidad y
familia, 142–47; and Andrea Andújar, “El amor en tiempos de revolución,” in De minifaldas,
militancias y revoluciones, ed. Andrea Andújar et al. (Buenos Aires: Luxemberg, 2009),
149–70. For Brazil, see James N. Green, “‘Who Is the Macho Who Wants to Kill Me?’: Male
Homosexuality, Revolutionary, Masculinity, and the Brazilian Armed Struggle of the 1960s
and 1970s,” Hispanic American Historical Review 92, no. 3 (2012): 437–69.
8 Karina Felitti, “Poner el cuerpo: Género y sexualidad en la política revolucionaria de
Argentina en la década de 1970,” in Political and Social Movements during the Sixties and
Seventies in the Americas and Europe, ed. Avital H. Bloch (Mexico: Universidad de Colima,
2010). See also Valeria Manzano, “The Making of Youth in Argentina: Culture, Politics,
and Sexuality (1956–1976)” (PhD diss., Indiana University, Bloomington, 2009), 363–74.
9 Vera Carnovale, Los combatientes: Historia del PRT-ERP (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI,
2011); and Oberti, Género, política y violencia. See also Paola Martínez, Género, política y
revolución en los años setenta: Las mujeres del PRT-ERP (Buenos Aires: Imago Mundi, 2009).
An early study is Feijoó and Nari, “Women in Argentina.”
10 Valeria Manzano, “Sex, Gender, and the Making of the ‘Enemy Within’ in Cold
War Argentina,” Journal of Latin American Studies 46, no. 3, forthcoming August 2014;
Marta Vasallo, “Militancia y transgresión,” in Andújar et al., De minifaldas, militancias y
revoluciones, 19–31; and Débora D’Antonio, “‘Rejas, gritos, cadenas, ruidos, ollas’: La
agencia política en las cárceles del estado terrorista en Argentina, 1974–1983,” in ibid.,
89–108. These developments continue a line opened by Victoria Langland, “Birth Control
Pills and Molotov Cocktails: Reading Sex and Revolution in 1968 Brazil,” in In from
the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War, ed. Gilbert Joseph and Daniela
Spenser (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 308–49. In a different vein, see
Margaret Power, Right-Wing Women in Chile, Feminine Power and the Struggle against
Allende, 1964–1973 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002).
418 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
to have traded sexual favors for their lives and were consequently cast as
traitors in testimonial novels written in the 1980s.11
While these studies have shed significant light on the gender and sexual
dimensions of guerrilla organizations and political and ideological struggles
in the 1960s and 1970s, most have offered a somewhat simplified reconstruction
of the role of sexuality within such organizations and paid little
attention to its connection with their contemporary society and to the
historicity of the process. In this article I propose a more complex analysis
through three approaches. The first aims to give substance to the heterogeneity
of sexual morality experiences, views, and positions. The second
highlights the porous lines that separated the world of activism from the
wider culture and society of the time.12 The third involves a diachronic
reconstruction that considers the specific characteristics of the different
historical moments that can be distinguished in the period over which this
fast-paced political process unfolded.
My hypothesis is that sexuality represented a dense arena of conflicts
within guerrilla groups. Multiple positions vied against each other within
organizations characterized by social and cultural heterogeneity and gender
anxieties. These cannot be understood outside the context of a society permeated
by intense debates—and deep uncertainties—over the changing family
and sexual orders, which resonated particularly with young people. Tensions
thus existed between the rigid morality preached by these organizations and
the actual experiences of their members. These tensions were resolved or
processed differently over time and became more pronounced as repression
escalated and the organizations became more militarized, thus strengthening
the direct connection between romantic fidelity and political loyalty.
B ased on this hypothesis, I look at how infidelity in heterosexual couples
was experienced, discussed, and addressed in the two leading guerrilla organizations
active in Argentina during the period studied: the Montoneros
and the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (People’s Revolutionary
Party, or ERP), the second of which was the military wing of the Partido
Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (Workers’ Revolutionary Party, or PRT).
The article is divided into three sections. The first examines certain foundational
elements that were at the root of the interlinking of the political
and the personal in both organizations. The second reconstructs the ways
in which the members of these organizations processed the conflicts in
their love lives under conditions of clandestine living and armed struggle.
11 Ana Longoni, Traiciones: La figura del traidor en los relatos acerca de los sobrevivientes
en la represión (Buenos Aires: Norma, 2007); Valeria Manzano, “Betrayal, Loyalty, the
Peronist People and the Forgotten Archives: Miguel Bonasso’s Narrative and the Peronist
Left’s Political Culture, 1984–2003,” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 16, no.
2 (2007): 183–99.
12 This is the perspective of Manzano, “Making of Youth”; Cosse, Pareja, sexualidad y
familia; and Alejandro Cattaruzza, “Un mundo por hacer: Una propuesta para el análisis de
las culturas juveniles en los setenta,” Entrepasados 7, no. 2 (1997): 67–76.
Infidelities 419
It underscores the gender and class tensions in the case of the ERP and
the way in which sexual morality was linked to political disputes within
the Montoneros. The last section explores the organizations’ increasing
militarization and the simultaneous development of codes of sexual and
moral conduct that established a direct relationship between political loyalty
(understood as sacrificing one’s life for the cause) and fidelity to one’s spouse
or partner, as more and more militants fell victim to torture, kidnapping,
and disappearance at the hands of the state.
To reconstruct this process I have had to rely on sources that are
necessarily fragmentary. The traces of that past—both written and oral
accounts—are marked by the historical circumstances in which these militants
lived, as they came under attack by repressive forces, were forced to
go underground, and were disappeared. Thus, for my analysis I had to piece
together fragments and decipher evidence culled from memoirs and written
and oral accounts (including twenty-five interviews I conducted myself
and thirty drawn from the Archivo de Memoria Abierta in Buenos Aires);
documents, magazines, and newspapers issued by these organizations; and
novels published during the period studied.13 To overcome these difficulties
I have applied an analysis that involves the constant contrasting of sources
and facts, taking into account the specificity of the discourse of each type
of source and placing them in the contexts in which they emerged.14 These
methodological precautions aside, it is not my intention to produce a linear
narration but rather to create a multifaceted prism—with different sides
and perspectives—to shed light on how love, sexuality, and revolutionary
struggle were intertwined in guerrilla organizations.
Foundational Elements: The Armed Left and Sexual Morality
In 1959 the Cuban Revolution opened up a new political horizon across
Latin America. In Argentina, Peronism—a movement that had granted
workers their social rights—had been banned since the 1955 military
coup that had deposed its leader, Juan Domingo Perón. The victory of the
Cuban guerrillas spurred heated debates over strategy among advocates of
social change, dividing the Left. In the early 1960s a number of Peronist
factions emerged in Argentina, pushing to radicalize the movement, and
the first guerrilla groups were formed there. The social and economic
crisis that had aggravated the historical exclusion of peasants and workers
13 Archivo de Memoria Abierta is a collective memory project that gathers interviews and information
on victims of state terrorism established and maintained by the Acción Coordinada
de Organizaciones de Derechos Humanos, Buenos Aires. For more information, see http://
14 For challenges posed by “recent” history, see Marina Franco and Florencia Levín, eds.,
Historia reciente: Perspectivas y desafíos para un campo en construcción (Buenos Aires: Paidós,
2007). On oral history, see Paul Thompson, La voz del pasado: La historia oral (Valencia:
Alfons el Magnánim, 1988).
420 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
was compounded by a weak democracy and a stream of military interventions.
Young people from both the middle and working classes—many of
whom were the first in their families to gain access to secondary school
and higher education—led the growing social and political unrest, which
prompted new movements and organizations across the country. In 1965,
in the small, poverty-stricken northern province of Santiago del Estero, a
local Americanist movement and a Buenos Aires Trotskyist group merged
to form the PRT. A few years later, the PRT’s military arm would become
one of Argentina’s leading guerrilla groups.15
The decision to create an armed wing came in the aftermath of the military
coup staged by Gen. Juan Carlos Onganía in 1966, which suspended
parliamentary activities in Argentina, outlawed all political parties, stepped
up repression and censorship, and brought the University of Buenos Aires
under the control of the state. But these measures failed to suppress social
unrest, fueling instead the radicalization of young activists. Che Guevara’s
death in 1967 had a similar impact, as his demise heightened the revolutionary
aura that surrounded him and the need to continue his struggle. For
the Left, Guevara represented the ideal new man of indomitable courage
who was willing to give his life for the revolution.16 His image embodied an
eroticized virility and a way of loving that fell outside the reproductive goals
of the bourgeois family, as Diana Sorensen has posited. That image united
a community of “warriors” and provided the backbone of a phallocentric
identity.17 But it also had a human side that was sensitive and compassionate
and that conferred an exceptional quality to the guerrilla virility symbolized
by Guevara: a virility that combined tenderness with bravery and the
strength of the combatant with the sensitivity of a new man who felt deeply
for his fellow human beings and was loved by them.18
Che Guevara’s death rekindled debates over the question of taking
up arms. During this time, the PRT was caught up in intense discussions
that resulted in key ideological guidelines that would shape the party’s
long-term actions. These internal disputes legitimized a rhetoric based
on morally disparaging one’s opponent through accusations of “betrayal”
(of the revolution, of the working class, and even of the party). The triumph
of the proponents of armed struggle consolidated the dominance
of Roberto Santucho, a leader whose family was very influential in the
party, and thus the intertwining of political and personal relations (key
15 For an overview of this period of Argentine history, see James, Nueva historia
argentina, vol. 9.
16 Hugo Vezzetti, Sobre la violencia revolucionaria (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2009), 131–
65; Carnovale, Los combatientes, 183–222.
17 Diana Sorensen, A Turbulent Decade Remembered: Scenes from the Latin American
Sixties (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), 15–53.
18 Isabella Cosse, “Militancia, sexualidad y erotismo en la izquierda armada en la Argentina
de los años setenta,” in Historia de la moral sexual y los comportamientos sexuales, ed. Dora
Barrancos, Donna Guy, and Adriana Valobra (Buenos Aires: Katz, forthcoming).
Infidelities 421
in any small organization) became linked to kinship and family relations
(with their hierarchies, conflicts, and loyalties).19
With these changes, it became acceptable to invoke the greater good of
the party to interfere in the love lives of its leaders and defend the institution
of marriage. This was not the result of philosophical discussions but a byproduct
of the intersecting of the party’s internal strife and Santucho’s own
marriage crisis. Santucho had married Ana María Villareal (known as Sayo) in
1962. They were both upper-middle-class university graduates who belonged
to their provinces’ intellectual elites. While Ana María’s home province,
Salta, had a more patrician past than Roberto’s Santiago del Estero, both
were set apart from the rest of Argentina in their strong mix of Catholicism
and traditionalism, characterized by the sexual double standard, patriarchal
power, and the submission of women. Roberto’s was a classic example of
the province’s families, as he was the eighth child of a local caudillo (charismatic
and popular leader) whose extramarital affairs were no secret. But
like many middle-class youths, Roberto and Sayo defied established family
values, although without breaking completely with tradition. While they did
get married, they refused a church wedding; and while they agreed to participate
in the honeymoon ritual, they transformed it into a political learning
trip, emulating Che Guevara’s epic journey across Latin America. After the
honeymoon, they settled into conventional married life, with the traditional
division of gender roles. Roberto threw himself into political activism, and
Sayo devoted herself to motherhood, although supporting her husband and
even participating directly in party politics. Roberto convinced her that his
frequent long absences were necessary to further the cause. He offered her a
love nurtured by political commitment and envisioned their future together
as inseparable from the revolutionary struggle.20
In 1967, amid all the infighting in the PRT over strategy, the couple
faced a major marriage crisis. Roberto fell in love with Clarisa Lea Place, a
university student and fellow party member twelve years his junior. Clarisa
was recognized for her unswerving loyalty as a militant, and, according to all
accounts, she loved Roberto deeply. Pola Augier, her best friend and roommate,
recalls how Clarisa believed Roberto would one day leave his wife for
her. But that never happened. Sayo, who was living at the time at the Santucho
family house, found out about her husband’s infidelity, and it quickly
became a matter of collective discussion within the organization. The affair
was affecting internal party matters. Francisco, a former PRT activist, explains
that the marriage crisis was undermining Roberto Santucho’s image in the
19 See Pablo Pozzi, Por las sendas argentinas: El PRT-ERP; La guerrilla marxista (Buenos
Aires: EUDEBA, 2001), 148; and Carnovale, Los combatientes, 261.
20 María Seoane, Todo o nada: La historia secreta y la historia pública del jefe guerrillero
Mario Roberto Santucho (Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1991), 27–87. On fertility rates, see Edith
Pantelides, “La fecundidad argentina desde mediados del siglo XX,” Cuadernos del CENEP,
no. 41 (Buenos Aires: CENEP, 1989), 21 (table 3.6). For other “discreet” youth rebellions,
see Cosse, Pareja, sexualidad y familia, 71–101, 115–31.
422 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
political discussions under way, so his comrades tried to prevent the matter
from spreading beyond party leaders.21 More importantly, the idea that the
party’s members and especially its leaders had to be an example of revolutionary
morality and that a militant’s private life was inseparable from his or her
political commitment was by then accepted as natural in the organization.
When the issue of Roberto’s infidelity was discussed among PRT leaders,
the majority disapproved of his behavior and reprimanded both lovers,
ordering them to end the affair. Pola remembers her friend telling her that
she had been harshly criticized and humiliated. These political pressures
were combined with family and personal pressures. In Roberto’s case, he
was also admonished by his youngest brother, Julio Santucho, who had
recently joined the party after leaving a Jesuit seminary in Spain where he
had been preparing for the priesthood. In a letter to Roberto, he told him:
[You] forget that this unique moment we are living is not about trying
out new forms of relationships, but about living according to a revolutionary
morality with the greatest selflessness and austerity possible:
an honest and solidly built home, an unbreakable fidelity, a Justice
in everyday life that must be the reflection of the highest ideal of the
revolutionary. . . . Mutual devotion [in a couple] cannot be broken by
the will of either of the parties involved without committing an injustice.
In fact, it can never be broken, because when we give ourselves to
another we do so fully and forever, without calculations or restrictions.
The same is true when we give ourselves to the revolution, because
both forms of devotion stem from the most intimate depths of our
spiritual being, a being that surfaces to be realized in the construction
of a new world. A new world where social relations will be novel not
simply because they are arbitrarily different, but because they will be
stripped of all selfishness and pettiness.22
The letter defines revolutionary love and views the romantic feelings that
two activists can have for each other as intricately linked to their political
ideals. In stark opposition to the affective individualism typical of Anglo-
Saxon modernization, Julio proposed an ideal of love shaped by the
Judeo-Christian tradition, which placed social obligations above personal
decisions and morality above passion. Romantic devotion was equated
with revolutionary commitment in that they both demanded a complete
renunciation through which individuals transcended their self-interest and
became full and accomplished beings.
Julio’s advice evoked ideas that were popular both outside and within
the revolutionary Left. These ideas had echoes of Christian humanism but
also of the writings of Erich Fromm, whose book The Art of Loving was
21 My interview with Francisco R., PRT activist from Tucumán (Buenos Aires, 10
January 2012).
22 Letter transcribed in Seoane, Todo o nada, 123–24.
Infidelities 423
a best-seller in Argentina at the time.23 On the one hand, Julio’s advice
reflected a conjugal ideal that extolled companionship and mutual fulfillment,
a notion that had emerged as a reaction against the authoritarianism
of traditional marriages. Julio, however, rejected the possibility of salvaging
the marriage if it meant that Sayo had to accept her husband’s affair,
as Roberto seemed to hope.24 On the other hand, Julio’s words illustrate
the extent to which sacrifice was glorified within these organizations in
a way that tied the tradition of Christianity to the imaginary of the Left,
for which giving one’s life for the cause—as Che Guevara had done—was
the duty of every revolutionary. Drawing on the two traditions, the letter
contrasted authenticity with moral hypocrisy and placed the former at the
core of both romantic devotion and political commitment. The ideal “new
man” was thus connected with the tradition of Argentina’s historical Left,
which had been informed by an orthodox reading of Marxism that rejected
the double sexual standard but defended love-based monogamy.25
The marriage crisis had a swift denouement: Santucho gave in to the
pressures of both party and family and opted for what was best for him
politically, which was ending the affair. When Clarisa found out, she was
devastated, ashamed of her lover’s behavior, and hurt by how she was
treated by the party leaders. “They treated me like a prostitute,” she told
Pola Augier, who defended her. She believed that the “natural” solution
would have been for the two lovers to stay together. She lost all respect
for Roberto, whom she had admired as a leader. As with “most men, he
seized on his sense of responsibility as the perfect excuse,” thus demonstrating
that “family was sacred” for the “leaders of the north,” who were
still influenced by Catholicism and the preconceptions of that time, despite
their Marxism.26 Another party member, identified only as “Comrade L.,”
viewed the episode in a similar way: Santucho had yielded to pressures from
fellow party leaders and in the “name of the proletariat” had renounced
“the most beautiful thing” that had ever happened to him—Clarisa.27
23 On Christian humanism in Argentina, see José Zanca, “El humanismo cristiano y la
cultura católica argentina (1936–1959)” (PhD diss., Universidad de San Andrés, Buenos
Aires, 2009).
24 On companionship, see Cosse, Pareja, sexualidad y familia, 115–53. In the letter,
Julio said: “You can’t ask [Ana María] to deny herself, to obliterate herself as a person; you
can’t use people as if they were instruments that can be picked up and discarded on a whim.”
Quoted in Seoane, Todo o nada, 123–24.
25 See, for example, the opinions voiced by Socialist and Trotskyist congressmen in Diario
de sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados, 14 May 1964, Buenos Aires, Congreso de la Nación,
331, 341. For a view of socialist morality in the early twentieth century, see Dora Barrancos,
La escena iluminada: Ciencias para trabajadores, 1890–1930 (Buenos Aires: Plus Ultra, 1996).
26 Pola Augier, Los jardines del cielo: Experiencias de una guerrillera (Buenos Aires: Sudestada,
2006), 116; also available online at
/article.php3?id_article=463 (accessed 25 November 2013).
27 Rolo Diez, El mejor y el peor de los tiempos: Cómo destruyeron al PRT-ERP (Buenos
Aires: Nuestra América, 2010), 34.
424 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
The episode crystallized a close interlinking of the personal and the political,
whereby the subordination of matters of the heart to party concerns was
twofold. First, party authorities were seen as having the right to interfere in
each other’s love lives in the understanding that as leaders they had to set
an example of moral integrity and that their love lives could potentially have
political effects. Second, the importance attributed to romantic fidelity mirrored
the value placed on political loyalty, crucial in a group in which political
opponents were perceived as traitors. These multiple influences operated over
a backdrop of deep-seated patriarchal values, with its naturalization of malecentered
authority and the accepted male tradition of keeping a second home
for a mistress, but they did so in different ways. In some cases they reaffirmed
Marxist orthodoxy, while in others they cemented the very essence of the
sexual morality that the new revolutionary morals were supposed to challenge.
It is worth noting that disagreements with this tendency to interfere in the
personal life of party members did not translate into formal dissent or party
defections. In this case, for example, Clarisa and Pola did not leave the party
but participated shortly thereafter as the only two women delegates at the
Fourth Congress, held in 1968, where Santucho prevailed in his call for armed
struggle and the first step toward the founding of the ERP was taken. The
other female voice at this congress was Sayo’s, although she had no voting
powers. Her presence, according to Pola, represented an acknowledgment
by party authorities of the “stability” of the Santucho marriage and an insult
to Clarisa, brought on by “the hypocrisy of [the party’s] monastic forces,
which were trying to impose their morals.”28
Radicalization was not limited to the PRT. In 1968, in step with student
unrest in cities like Paris, Mexico, and Montevideo, protest movements erupted
across Argentina, culminating in 1969 in the Córdoba worker and student
uprising, which would be known as the Cordobazo and which dealt a mortal
blow to Onganía’s dictatorial regime. In that climate that same year, the Fuerzas
Armadas Revolucionarias (Armed Revolutionary Forces, or FAR), which
had been formed by Marxist militants to support Guevara’s guerrilla efforts
in Bolivia, adopted urban guerrilla tactics and joined forces with Peronists.
The year 1970 also saw the emergence of the Montoneros, an armed
group that identified with Peronist ideas, massively attracting young activists
and soon becoming one of the country’s leading political forces. The
Montoneros went public with a highly symbolic action: the kidnapping and
assassination of Gen. Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, who had led the ousting
of Juan Domingo Perón in 1955 and had ordered the execution of the
military officers who had risen in defense of Peronism the following year.
This action, which sealed the fate of the already weakened Onganía regime,
took up the Peronist resistance tradition in a substantial way.29
28 Carnovale, Los combatientes, 112; and Seoane, Todo o nada, 125, 136.
29 Richard Gillespie, Soldados de Perón: Los Montoneros (Buenos Aires: Grijalbo, 1987),
Infidelities 425
The Montoneros also contained foundational elements that engaged with
sexual morality through the interlinking of the personal and the political.
The organization was the result of the merging of various groups with different
histories but connected by a common Peronist identity and the goal of
achieving socialism through armed struggle. In the early stages, the founding
members were especially influenced by the Christian tradition. Several of
the original leaders—including Fernando Abal Medina, Mario Firmenich,
and Carlos Ramus—had met in 1967 through the Catholic priest Carlos
Mujica, a major activist for the poor in 1960s Argentina.30 Graciela Daleo
recalls joining the group as a life-changing experience, both personally and
emotionally, for all those involved. Christian asceticism marked their shared
everyday life. They ate frugally and embraced Christian humility. This did
not prevent them from socializing, including flirting with each other. But
their relationships were tinted with piety and governed by formal courtship
rules. Graciela, for example, had been pining for Jorge for years, but when
he finally asked her to be his girlfriend she told him she had to think about
it and offered her cheek for a chaste good-bye kiss. Jorge, in turn, asked
her to keep their relationship a secret until he could find a way to tell his
mother.31 In other social circles these formalities were considered stilted
and old-fashioned and were being shed.32
The group gradually consolidated and in 1967 created the Comando
Camilo Torres, named after a Colombian guerrilla priest killed the year
before whose memory allowed them to reconcile their Christian beliefs
with the decision to take up arms. The brigade was formed by some thirty
young militants, all under the age of twenty-five, and focused on propaganda
activities, handing out pamphlets and distributing their magazine,
Cristianismo y revolución (Christianity and revolution). Daleo recalls that
the group “observed very strict moral norms,” so she was outraged when
one of their leaders, Juan García Elorrio, took advantage of his partner’s
frequent absences to flirt with other women in the group. A year and a half
later, the brigade had disbanded, and by late 1969 some of its members
had decided to form a new group.33 Daleo, who had taken a break from
activism, received a visit from her friend Mario Firmenich, who in the past
had taken a romantic interest in her and now wanted her help with the new
organization. She remembers that when Firmenich contacted her one of
the things he made clear was that the new organization would not tolerate
any complications due to personal entanglements. “We treat these matters
very seriously. The New Man cannot be irresponsible in his relationship
30 Lucas Lanusse, Montoneros: El mito de sus 12 fundadores (Buenos Aires: Vergara, 2005),
31 Graciela Daleo, quoted in Eduardo Anguita and Martín Caparrós, La voluntad: Una
historia de la militancia revolucionaria en la Argentina, vol. 1, 1966–1973 (Buenos Aires:
Planeta, 2013), 23–32, 107.
32 Cosse, Pareja, sexualidad y familia, 25–51.
33 See Gillespie, Soldados de Perón, 81–86.
426 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
with his partner. Among us, nobody marries and separates on a whim, just
because they feel the urge.” He immediately added: “And we don’t tolerate
treachery [agachadas]. We’re very clear on that. We deal with traitors by
executing them, you know.” According to her own account, Graciela did
not ask who “we” were for security reasons. Shortly thereafter, she learned
that by “we” Firmenich meant the Montoneros.34 The value placed on
fidelity by the Montoneros owed much to Christian sexual morality. But it
was also linked to the Peronist tradition embraced by the Montoneros, as
“loyalty” had been a defining feature of Peronism from the onset, to the
point that the date on which the movement celebrated its anniversary was
called Loyalty Day.35 The concept took on its fullest and most sacralized
meaning in a dichotomous discourse that opposed “good” to “bad” and
“us” (working-class culture and the people) to the “other” (the oligarchy
and unpatriotic forces).36 The Montoneros took up this tradition when they
presented themselves as the avenging force that would bring Perón’s traitors
to justice and would defend the people against the enemies of Peronism.
In sum, in both organizations there were certain key foundational elements
that defined their revolutionary system of morality, including placing
a high value on sexual self-restraint, opening the personal lives of party
leaders to scrutiny from their peers, and encouraging rigid rules. The process
leading up to the creation of the ERP was marked by discussions over
how revolutionary couples should behave, pitting those who defended the
importance of stable relationships against those—mostly young people and
women—who believed in passionate love and the individual’s right to fall
freely in and out of love. There were no such discussions during the forging
of the Montoneros, but its founding members were strongly influenced by
asceticism and a rigid morality, and the organization would soon incorporate
new groups that were emerging from different ideological traditions and
had contrasting views on the subject. Lastly, both the Montoneros and the
ERP—and the armed Left in general—exalted the figure of Che Guevara,
holding him up as a symbol of an eroticized virility that combined bravery
and human compassion. But at the same time in the two organizations,
loyalty was seen as a substantial element of the connection between romantic
ties and political obligations.
Intense Lives: Conflicts of the Heart and Disputes over Morals
By 1970 young people were becoming increasingly radicalized, and their
antiestablishment stance was not limited to politics. On the contrary, young
34 Daleo, quoted in Anguita and Caparrós, La voluntad, 1:326, 354.
35 Fernando Alberto Balbi, De leales, desleales y traidores: Valores morales y concepción
política en el peronismo (Buenos Aires: GIAPER, 2007), 97–201.
36 Silvia Sigal and Eliseo Verón, Perón o muerte: Los fundamentos discursivos del fenómeno
peronista (Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 2003), 71–74.
Infidelities 427
people—militants and nonmilitants alike—were rebelling in different ways
against traditional family, sexual, and social values. According to a survey
of people under the age of twenty-five featured in the magazine Análisis
(Analysis), some young people viewed marriage as an obsolete institution,
while others preferred to fill it with new meanings, seeing it as a way of “living
together” or as an “enjoyable duty.” Despite these differences, there
was a common rejection of the double standard of sexual morality. Most
considered that adults were hypocrites because they accepted the separation
between “physical love” outside the home and “spiritual love in the home”
that provided a euphemism for adultery.37 They questioned the “system”—a
term that encompassed the whole of the political, social, and moral establishment
and that itself reflected the generational clash. In Argentina, as in other
countries, the family as an institution was widely perceived to be in crisis, but
there was great uncertainty as to what that crisis would entail. This situation
alarmed Catholic and traditionalist organizations, which countered with an
avalanche of public statements, actions, and political lobbying calling on the
government to defend the basic principles of family, order, and tradition that
they claimed defined the nation and that they believed were being threatened.
The Left was not unaffected by these changes in the family and in romantic
relationships. On the contrary, in these organizations they became especially
contentious, as the conviction that an ideal “new man” had to accompany
the dawning society forged by the revolution was not linked to any particular
dogma or ideological definition of revolutionary morality nor to actual considerations
regarding family, couples, and sexuality. Hence the open nature
of the specific meanings ascribed to the new morality, which was defined
only by abstract ideals and suggestive images, thus increasing the possibility
of conflicts arising in concrete interactions. These conflicts were particularly
significant within the Left because of the political commitment that tied
together all aspects of life, including social, romantic, and sexual relations.
Starting a relationship, moving in together, or deciding to have a child were
all decisions with potential political effects. Roberto, an ERP militant from
Buenos Aires, recalls long, painful arguments with his wife: she wanted to
have kids, but he thought the timing was wrong because of their commitment
to the cause, and she was afraid the revolution would take too long and
she would miss her childbearing years.38 Breakups upset militants, and, in
many cases, they became a source of conflict that affected the entire group.
In particular, these ruptures escalated from personal to collective concerns
when they involved a close interlinking of intimate and political aspects, as
was the case with infidelity, which, according to many accounts, emerged
as a frequent problem. These conflicts expressed disagreements over sexual
morality and the meanings that guided militant behavior, which became more
and more important and visible as the organizations expanded.
37 “Cómo se aman los jóvenes,” Análisis, no. 422 (15 April 1969): 40–46.
38 Interview with Robert, Buenos Aires, 10 August 2009.
428 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
B oth organizations began to grow exponentially in 1970. The number of
PRT militants doubled between 1970 and 1972, and membership grew even
more dramatically after it reached 1,500 in 1973. This expansion altered
the organization’s makeup. The proportion of young people, women, and
(mostly male) workers increased. Regional representation also changed,
with new members coming from a wider range of regions, although the
northern provinces still provided the bulk of new recruits. In 1975 half of
the members were under the age of twenty-five, and two-thirds were under
thirty; one-fourth were women; and there was an even number of members
from working families and middle-class backgrounds.39
The data available on Montonero membership are not as detailed. We
know that when the organization started out it was made up predominantly
of middle-class activists, though recent studies have shown that early members
also included working-class activists. By 1971, for example, Montonero
membership included Peronists and textile industry unionists from workingclass
areas in the province of Buenos Aires.40 In any case, the organization
also grew at a dramatic pace. In 1971 Juan Domingo Perón himself, still
exiled in Madrid, pinned his hopes for victory on this “marvelous youth”
that was defying the power of the armed forces.41
In 1973 the Montoneros and FAR merged to form the largest political
youth movement, with thousands of affiliated members. Their rallies
were instrumental in lifting the ban on Peronism (although Perón himself
remained banned) and securing the party’s victory in the elections, which
were held that March and restored democracy. The military in power allowed
the elections to be held in the hope that it would weaken guerrilla
forces, but the Montoneros came out of the voting strengthened and
having reached their greatest political influence.42 The new president of
Argentina, Héctor J. Cámpora, opened up a brief but intense “Spring” during
which political prisoners were pardoned and censorship was somewhat
relaxed. The new government even encouraged what was referred to in
the mass media as a destape sexual (literally, “sexual uncovering”), which
was accompanied by the emergence of new discussions on issues such as
divorce and a greater visibility of feminist and homosexual organizations
and which in turn revived right-wing and conservative discourses in defense
of the family and sexual order. Despite this more open atmosphere,
the Cámpora government lasted only forty-nine days, and no measures
connected with family relations or sexual behavior were adopted.
In that climate, the growth and the unification of the two groups heightened
the importance of ideological differences on sexual morality. Accounts
39 Pozzi, Por las sendas argentinas, 71–80.
40 Javier Salcedo, Los Montoneros del Barrio (Caseros: Universidad Nacional de Tres de
Febrero, 2011), 31–66.
41 Gillespie, Soldados de Perón, 152–53.
42 Ibid., 152–93.
Infidelities 429
from former militants provide evidence for the impact that love conflicts had in
everyday interactions, but they also reveal that the different kinds of romantic
and sexual relationships that were being openly discussed were all within the
margins of the dominant heterosexuality. Homophobia was widespread even
in left-wing organizations. Homosexuals were viewed as a threat to internal
security, based on the preconception that their sexual orientation rendered
them weak and unable to withstand torture without being broken. They were
also believed to discredit the organizations, giving support to the Right in its
accusations of “sexual debauchery” in the armed Left. I found no evidence
of infidelity or love triangles involving same-sex couples. That does not mean
such conflicts did not exist; instead, the prevailing homophobia forced homosexuals
to hide their sexual orientation and precluded any discussion of
homosexual relationships. The fact is that homosexuality-related issues were
not dealt with openly in either organization.43
In contrast, conflicts involving heterosexual couples frequently spurred
heated discussions within the organizations over the ways in which militants
engaged in and dealt with a wide range of romantic entanglements. There
were husbands with lovers who were tolerated by their wives; there were
also women who cheated on their husbands or formal partners by having
affairs or flings; and there was no shortage of love triangles and passionate
one-night stands. There were often less prototypical situations, when cheating
on one’s partner was not a premeditated decision but a fortuitous and
chance result. María, a Montonero guerrilla, was in a passionate relationship
with Gustavo when, in late 1972, circumstances brought her together with
Roberto, whom she started seeing only weeks after she broke it off with
Gustavo. These overlapping relationships were both helped and hindered
by the physical separations that militant activity or imprisonment imposed
on couples, as was the case with ERP member Silvia, who, while her partner
was in prison in 1973, became romantically involved with another man with
whom she worked closely in the party. There were also casual encounters
that arose from a mixture of physical attraction and emotionally charged
moments, as occurred with Francisco and María Elena before they went
out on their first guerrilla operation.44
These stories were not all that different from what other young people
were experiencing in the 1970s, a time when separating sex from emotional
commitment was accepted as natural. That did not mean, however, that
“wearing horns” was taken lightly by men. The “macho” stereotype was
still powerful in Argentine society, and being cuckolded was experienced
by men as an affront to their masculinity, even among young artists and
43 Rapisardi and Modarelli, Fiestas, baños y exilios, 140–73.
44 Interview with Francisco R., Tucumán PRT militant, Buenos Aires, 10 January
2012; Marta Diana, Mujeres guerrilleras: La militancia de los setenta en el testimonio de sus
protagonistas femeninas (Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1996), 72–75; Pozzi, Por las sendas argentinas,
430 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
intellectuals, as is illustrated by the caricatures and lampooning featured in
the humor magazine Satiricón. For women, it was increasingly a symbol
of the sexism against which they had to rebel.45 What made these stories
different for clandestine militants was that such turbulent affairs of the heart
were played out against the backdrop of guerrilla warfare and thus took
on special characteristics. Rules imposed by the organization for security
reasons meant that members had to compartmentalize the different areas
of their lives and that all private information had to be kept confidential.
It was easier to maintain “double relationships,” as they were dubbed,
using a term that echoed the world of espionage and fit in perfectly with
the mystique of a clandestine life. As a female ERP member explains, compartmentalization
meant that “infidelity” was only discovered when “they
[the men] were captured.” She recalls one case in which an activist was
found to have been involved with three women, “one in each of the teams
he led.”46 The nature of their actions also meant that they looked death
in the face every day, a risk that redefined their entire lives. And sex was a
part of that. Montonero member Rolo Diez remembers how they saw it
then: “Why renounce sweet love when we knew we could be dead soon?
Why put off for tomorrow the passionate screw we could have today?”47
In other words, the entanglements, affairs, and casual encounters—which,
with such a young membership, often represented a militant’s first sexual
explorations—accompanied the breakneck pace of their dangerous day-today
living and the emotional demands of the constant death risk they faced.
How was it that such intimate affairs came to light? It should first be noted
that many affairs—probably most of them—were never publicly discussed by
the group. In many cases the parties involved were able to keep them private.
Such was the case with Elena, who lived a “great, but forbidden, love” when she
“crossed paths” with another militant.48 It also happened that fellow militants
learned of such affairs and decided not to make them public. In many cases,
however, shared living and prolonged close interaction made it difficult to keep
love crises private. Often, affairs or relationship crises were made public by the
very people involved. The affected party might turn to the group (more or
less formally) to settle the conflict or seek reparation. Estela, an ERP member,
confessed to her husband that she had had an affair with a fellow member
and, at his suggestion, agreed to take the matter to the group for discussion.49
Another ERP activist recalls how most thought it was “natural for a couple’s
problems to be discussed with the group.” And she adds, laughing, “everyone
had something to say, but they were polite about it.”50
45 Jorge Sanzol, Roberto Hanglin, and Ceo, “¿Qué hace su mujer cuando usted no está?,”
Satiricón, no. 25 (February 1975).
46 Quoted in Martínez, Género, política y revolución, 100.
47 Rolo Diez, El mejor y el peor, 46; emphasis in the original.
48 Diana, Mujeres guerrilleras, 201.
49 Carnovale, Los combatientes, 257.
50 Quoted in Pozzi, Por las sendas argentinas, 139.
Infidelities 431
The ways in which discussions were processed and measures were adopted
were also diverse. In both organizations, when such a problem came up the
procedure was often to conduct an intervention of the cell (the basic unit of
operation), which involved a critical peer review and self-critical examination.
Under democratic centralism (the principles of internal organization
that governed these groups and that allowed for the possibility of discussion
within a vertical structure), this step could lead in turn to an intervention of
the body situated above the cell in the organization’s hierarchic structure,
although this did not always happen. In both cases these interventions
(whether of the cell or the bodies above it) did not necessarily entail a sanction
but could instead prompt discussions or negotiations situated halfway
between the formalities of a vertical organization and the self-regulating
negotiations of groups of young peers. Manuel, for example, describes how
when a sentimental problem involving a couple came up for discussion in his
Montonero cell, it was settled among the members themselves, as all were
friends.51 The intervention might be led by party authorities, which could
be conducted in a manner similar to the patriarchal authority exercised by
a father or an older friend. This paternal or older brother role was adopted,
for example, by Luis Ortolani, a former communist and ERP leader, when
he supposedly stopped an angry female member from leaving her husband
after she found out he was “putting horns” on her. Ortolani’s solution was
to advise the husband to “satisfy [his wife] in bed.”52
During these early years, prior to Perón’s return, neither organization
had a fixed set of predetermined penalties for sanctioning members for
their sexual indiscretions or their misconduct in handling their personal
relationships. Stances were instead adopted on a case-by-case basis, and
any decisions on actions to be taken were open to discussion—within the
limits of armed and vertically structured organizations—and influenced by
the specific circumstances. There were multiple factors that came into play
in each decision. In what follows, I have chosen to examine more closely
class and gender determinants in the case of the ERP and internal power
struggles in the case of the Montoneros.
The Role of Gender and Class in the
Resolution of Love Conflicts in the ERP
By the early 1970s relationship problems had become more visible amid the
rapid growth in membership in the ERP, the massive influx of women, and
the radicalization of political actions. In contrast to the Montoneros, the
ERP incorporated the issue into its policy documents. Luis Ortolani, head
of the ERP’s Córdoba division and an instructor in the training school for
51 Interview with Manuel, Buenos Aires, 27 March 2011. On this topic, see Carnovale,
Los combatientes, 354.
52 Luis Ortolani, testimony on record at the Archivo de Memoria Abierta, 2010.
432 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
leaders, drafted a moral rulebook of sorts. Concerned over the effect that
sentimental crises were having on members, in 1972 he published “Moral
y proletarización” (Morality and proletarianization) in the political magazine
La gaviota blindada (The armored seagull). According to Ortolani
himself, his intention was to address problems that he had witnessed among
members, namely, the imposition of arbitrary measures for alleged moral
offenses and the need to regulate relationships to prevent male members
from taking advantage of their female peers.53
In the text the family was defined as a political and military unit formed
by a monogamous and heterosexual couple who were expected to bear
children for the revolution and participate wholly in the life of the masses.
It explicitly rejected any innovation in relationship styles and the new
importance ascribed to sexuality, claiming it was a way of keeping women
subjugated and of perpetuating bourgeois morality. But even as it criticized
these bourgeois ideas, it also tacitly accepted the bourgeois conception of
marriage and gender inequality as a natural order. Fidelity was extolled and
upheld against the sexual double standard, which tolerated male adultery
while it censured unfaithful women, and also against the behaviors associated
with the sexual revolution, which posited the liberating nature of sex
and the end of ties between men and women. The duties owed to the party
were conflated with those owed to one’s spouse or partner. Romantic fidelity
and political loyalty thus entwined guaranteed order in the organization
and structured party morality.54
As Alejandra Oberti notes, the confrontational style of the document shows
that the orthodoxy it rested on was a response to the nontraditional practices
and ideas that existed in the organization.55 Some party members say it was
mandatory reading material, and others claim it was later banned. Whatever
the degree of institutionalization, the document—the only political text from
the organization that addressed revolutionary morality—was undoubtedly a
key reference for members and was widely read and discussed. According to
Diez, one of the criticisms it received when it first came out was that it was
dated because it defended monogamy.56 These differences were not expressed
in categorical political confrontations or clearly articulated positions, but they
did permeate daily dynamics. The recourse to penalties reveals a concern over
the heightened sexual activity of members. While many turned to sex as a
release and a way of experimenting, Ortolani and other leaders clearly saw
the need to use internal discipline to regulate these behaviors.
Ortolani explains that he became concerned when he observed the everyday
interactions between male and female militants. He remembers, in
53 Luis Ortolani, “Moral y proletarización,” Política de la memoria: Anuario de investigación
del CeDInCI (Buenos Aires), no. 5 (December 2004): 93–102.
54 Ibid.
55 Alejandra Oberti, “La moral según los revolucionarios,” in ibid., 77–84.
56 Diez, El mejor y el peor, 37.
Infidelities 433
particular, a rumor that there was a small group in which, before going out
on an operation, “everyone had sex with everyone” because they believed
sex “recharged” and “pumped them up to attack the enemy.”57 While the
veracity of this self-justifying account is debatable, there is no doubt that the
document was a reaction aimed at regulating and ordering nonmonogamous
relationships and that such relationships were not isolated instances. By
then sexual experimentation had become widespread among certain youth
sectors. For example, in Córdoba—Ortolani’s home province—a group of
left-wing university students advocated free love and lived in communes
with open couples.58 While nothing that radical existed in the ERP, there
were obvious differences of opinion. Pedro Cázes Camarero recalls both the
“moral self-righteousness” of Santucho (“he was very formal and machista
and gave too much importance to discipline”) and those he described as
“liberals” and among whom he included himself. “We came from a kind of
hippie, laid-back experience and found that whole peasant and Vietnameseinspired
moralism a pain in the ass,” he says.59
The ERP’s conception of morality was structured by class. The organization’s
members assumed the vanguard role of the working class, which
they idealized as the embodiment of revolutionary values. This meant
that petit-bourgeois and intellectual members had to combat their own
class tendencies through a process of proletarianization. But the party also
took on the task of defending what it believed were proletarian virtues—
although some proletarianization was necessary even to know what such
virtues were. As Carnovale notes, this inconsistent and paradoxical reasoning
opened the door for combating any departure from the party line as a
petit-bourgeois deviation and a product of the individualism, arrogance,
vacillation, and factionalism typical of that class, as well as a betrayal of
proletarian values.60 In his memoir, Diez explains the term mameluquear
(from mameluco, Spanish for “worker overalls”), commonly used to refer
to the weight that working-class considerations had in decision making, as
workers were favored or judged more leniently (including by giving them
greater responsibilities, excusing their weaknesses, or dropping any accusations
against them), while pequebu (from the Spanish for “petit bourgeois”)
members were treated more harshly.61
The issue was even more complex because for militants it was patently
obvious that so idyllic a view of the working class was at odds with the real
values held by actual workers. This was particularly evident in the case of
infidelity. The party saw infidelity as a product of the moral hypocrisy of
the petite bourgeoisie and contrasted it with the honesty that supposedly
57 Ortolani testimony.
58 Interview with Alicia Kinerstol, Buenos Aires, 8 February 2013.
59 Seoane, Todo o nada, 179.
60 Carnovale, Los combatientes, 228–40; Pozzi, Por las sendas argentinas, 239–44.
61 Diez, El mejor y el peor, 42.
434 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
reigned in working-class marriages. But the reality among workers—even
those who were in contact with middle-class militants—was quite different,
as gender inequality and the sexual double standard dominated their
personal relationships. Working-class militants themselves often excluded
their wives from their political activities, and working-class women in turn
opposed their partners’ engaging in political work because they were afraid
that female militants would seduce them and take them away from their
families. It was certainly true that their husbands were enjoying—perhaps
for the first time—the benefit of being members of a certain class, as their
status as workers and representatives of the “dark masses” made them more
attractive to the opposite sex. This sparked conflicts in the family and set
many wives against the organization. In some cases, their suspicions were
justified. As a female ERP member active in a working-class neighborhood
recalls: “The Party was breaking couples up; I mean, the guys were going
crazy over the women militants [compañeras], . . . [and] there were a lot of
jealous fits.” These interclass romances had political repercussions, as party
leaders had to divert their attention from other matters to save marriages
and calm down angry wives.62
Gender tensions cut across these class tensions. While the incorporation
of women in guerrilla training camps expressed a commitment to gender
equality, it also fueled the fears of those who valued the contribution of
women but—heeding Che Guevara’s advice—believed they were better
suited to the rearguard.63 Some still saw women as the weaker sex and at
the same time were afraid they would challenge male power. Their concerns
were compounded by the uneasiness caused by the new behaviors that were
being adopted by women everywhere—not just in guerrilla groups—as they
embraced their sexuality and became more demanding of their partners.
These fears raised specters that fueled the imagination, and all sorts of
debaucheries were pictured. Not only were cells where “everyone had sex
with everyone” imagined, but charismatic men were also thought capable
of turning “operative houses into their own personal harems.”64
These anxieties explain why the first to be charged with infidelity and
penalized by the ERP’s national authorities was a woman. In the early
1970s an entirely male politburo decided to punish an unfaithful wife
who had been reported by her husband after he found her in bed with a
fellow ERP member. According to Ortolani, the woman had only been
62 Quoted in Pozzi, Por las sendas argentinas, 128, 224, 225, 237.
63 Ernesto Che Guevara, Manual de guerrillas, ca. 1961, available online at http:// (accessed 25 November 2012). On this subject,
see also Vania Markarian, El 68 Uruguayo: El movimiento estudiantil entre molotovs y música
beat (Bernal: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes Editorial, 2012), 134.
64 Ortolani testimony. See also Diez, El mejor y el peor, 35–37. These fears are also highlighted
in the article “Las compañeras en la Guerrilla,” published in Estrella roja, no. 65 (1
December 1975): 18–19. “Operative houses” were those where activists lived, where they
carried out political tasks, and from which they launched military operations.
Infidelities 435
unfaithful to her husband that one time, and the sexual encounter had
occurred when the other man—a close friend of hers—had turned to her
for comfort after learning that his brother had been killed in combat.
“Nothing exorcises death better than sex . . . so it naturally led to that,”
Ortolani explains. By imposing this penalty on a woman, the leaders were
adopting a position in favor of men, defending the damaged manhood of
their peer who had been cuckolded.65
The decision had repercussions. Certain leaders expressed their disagreement,
recalling that no penalty had been imposed when the now wronged
husband had earlier cheated on his wife. This exposed the unfair treatment
of women and revealed how their behavior was measured with a different
yardstick. When the decision was published in an issue of Boletín interno
(the organization’s internal bulletin, of which no copies have survived) it
fueled fears that the many clandestine relationships that existed would be
discovered, and reports would increase. As an ERP member told Ortolani,
if infidelity reports started pouring in, it would be catastrophic for the leaders’
credibility, because there were many of them, including himself, who
were seeing two or even three women at the same time.66
There was no hegemonic position on these matters in the PRT or ERP,
not even among the higher commands. As Diez recalls: “The situation was
getting out of hand for party leaders, and penalizing every moral infraction
would have meant purging the central committee. These romantic frenzies
were most prominent in the Tucumán regional division. Even historical leaders
—shining examples of proletarianism and revolutionary standing—had
morality issues. It put them in an impossible situation. Some members of
the central committee voted consistently against imposing penalties. Others
defended the principles but looked for alternatives that would not undermine
their authority and applied different solutions to identical problems.
Still others criticized these irregularities and inconsistencies.”67
As some expected, many women whose partners were among the higher
commands turned to the central committee to protest against sexual double
standards. This was the case of Peti, who went before the central committee
with a complaint against her unfaithful husband and succeeded in getting
him removed from the position he held and the other woman demoted
to student status in the party training school she directed.68 This does not
mean that the central committee always decided in favor of the woman. On
the contrary; gender inequality was strengthened by the party’s criticism
of the sexual behavior of female members who entered into new relationships
while their previous partners were in prison. Although for the most
part both cells and authorities accepted these relationships, they demanded
65 Ortolani testimony; see also Pozzi, Por las sendas argentinas, 222–24.
66 Ortolani testimony.
67 Diez, El mejor y el peor, 40.
68 Described in Diana, Mujeres guerrilleras, 61–73.
436 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
“transparency” from women, who were required to be open about their new
partners to avoid giving the idea that they were being unfaithful. The use of
the term “transparency” revealed the enormous value placed on it in what
was a simplified view of romantic relationships that ignored the extreme
circumstances into which these guerrillas had been thrown and denied the
possibility that they could find themselves in ambiguous situations or be
emotionally attached to more than one person at the same time.69 Neither
did it take into account how badly an imprisoned—and most probably
tortured—man could take the news of his partner having replaced him with
another man, or how difficult it would be for the woman who had loved,
and might still love, him to tell him she was seeing someone else.
Gender and class tensions were very much a part of the problems caused
by sentimental crises. The forging of the “new man” undoubtedly sparked
countless conflicts that seared the everyday existence and subjectivity of
these guerrillas but that were also intensely political. Their views on sexual
pleasure and eroticism could not be dissociated from the way in which they
perceived their political relationships, both among themselves and with the
party, and from the position they believed they had to take with respect to
the moral status quo and the new morality they had to construct. Sentimental
conflicts could, moreover, be used politically in ideological disputes
within and outside the organizations.
Political Strife and Sexual Behavior in the Montoneros
On 20 June 1973 Juan Domingo Perón returned from exile and was welcomed
by thousands of supporters in a mass rally that quickly turned into
a bloodbath when right-wing Peronists turned on Montonero militants,
leaving dozens dead. This massacre marked the beginning of a period of
escalating violence and internal strife that continued even after Perón was
elected president in September 1973.70 Far from reconciling the two warring
factions, this triumph seemed to fuel their mutual hostility, with the
members of each faction holding themselves up as the true representatives
of Peronism and viewing the other’s members as adversaries who were
either traitors or infiltrators.
B oth factions became embroiled in a battle to prove who was more
devoted to their leader, to the people, and to the nation in a confrontation
that also had gender and sexual undertones. Right-wing Peronists launched
a campaign against the guerrilla groups that attempted to discredit them
by calling them “drug addicts, homosexuals, and home-grown and foreign
mercenaries.”71 These accusations heightened homophobia among the
guerrillas themselves, who responded to right-wing Peronists by chanting
69 See Carnovale, Los combatientes, 258–59.
70 Sigal and Verón, Perón o muerte, 150–52.
71 “Solicitada, 20 de junio—Ezeiza—20 de julio,” La opinión, 20 July 1973.
Infidelities 437
in marches: “We’re not fags, we’re not junkies, we’re FAR and Montonero
soldiers” and other antihomosexual slogans.72
The use of such homophobic slogans by both the Left and the Right
coincided with the challenges to the sexual and gender order that were stirring
Argentine society. Feminist organizations were questioning for the first
time in the country’s history motherhood; gender, abortion, contraception,
and sexual education were debated in the media; and politicians presented
new bills on divorce and joint custody in parliament. Perón focused, as in
his first two presidencies, on the importance of the family as the foundation
of society and celebrated a domestic life built around the woman’s role as
mother and housewife and the man’s role as breadwinner. Accordingly, the
government passed a pronatalist decree that restricted the sale of contraceptives.
73 The government’s pronatalist measures represented a triumph
for the traditionalist Catholic organizations and far-right sectors to which
Perón turned for support. This family-centered agenda happened within
a context marked by spiraling violence, further isolating the Montoneros,
whose members were hunted and killed by paramilitary forces.
This political situation posed a challenge to the Montoneros as a relatively
new organization that lacked a solid structure and a firm ideological backbone.
74 When it merged with the FAR in 1973 its diversity of ideological
traditions and personal loyalties became even more pronounced. Many FAR
leaders came from the Left and were students or intellectuals who were
part of the bohemian social scene and the cultural antiestablishment and
were thus open to sexual experimentation. This was the style, for example,
of the editorial board of the newspaper Noticias (News), founded by the
Montoneros in 1974 to combat the Peronist Right. It was formed by renowned
journalists and intellectuals, many of whom came from the FAR,
as was the case of the activist and poet Francisco “Paco” Urondo, who
headed the newspaper’s political section.75 As in other papers, the newsroom
provided a laid-back and exciting environment where political and
literary feats competed with drinking and sexual exploits. Martín Caparrós,
who worked for the newspaper when he was just sixteen, remembers how
captivated he was by the uninhibited and hedonistic atmosphere that surrounded
Paco and his group, who felt no guilt in indulging in the pleasures
of the flesh—or, as Javier Urondo recalls his father, Paco, saying, of “wine
and flesh [el vino y la carne],” alluding at the same time to the Argentinian
love of beef and of the female body.76
72 Quoted in Anguita and Caparrós, La voluntad, 1:681. See also Rapisardi and Modarelli,
Fiestas, baños y exilios, 157.
73 Karina Felitti, La revolución de la píldora (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2011).
74 Gillespie, Soldados de Perón, 142–52.
75 Gabriela Esquivada, El diario Noticias: Los Montoneros en la prensa argentina (La Plata:
Universidad Nacional de la Plata, 2004), 86–113, 117–37.
76 Martín Caparrós, No velas a tus muertos (Buenos Aires: La Flor, [1986]), 12, 13, 17.
Javier Urondo, testimony on record at the Archivo de Memoria Abierta, 2005.
438 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
Many of the intellectuals in this group had addressed eroticism and sex
in their artistic production. A few years earlier, in 1965, Pirí Lugones, a
Montonero militant, had penned a short story portraying the erotic games of
a group of intellectuals and a complicated love triangle. The story reflected
Pirí’s real-life stormy affairs and the wild parties she hosted, where rock stars
and famous novelists mingled with guerrillas.77 In a 1974 autobiographical
novel that was essentially a portrait of the revolutionary intellectual, Urondo
reflected on the meaning of love, how it differed from simple infatuations,
and what the future held for revolutionary couples. When he wrote the
novel, Urondo had just broken up with a prominent theater actress because
he had fallen in love with another woman. His new love, Liliana “Lili”
Massaferro, was a forty-seven-year-old editor, model, and actress famous
for her great beauty and her promiscuous youth who had thrown herself
into activism in 1971 after her oldest son was brutally slain by the police.78
In his novel, Urondo admitted that couples could experience “displaced
affinities” (most likely alluding to the “elective affinities” that Goethe had
used to explain the fleeting nature of attraction).79
A similar concern was a central theme of Nicolás Casullo’s first novel,
Para hacer el amor en los parques (Making love in the park), a semiautobiographical
account of the adventures of a group of friends who engaged
in short-lived affairs amid collective dynamics marked by camaraderie,
eroticism, and emotional commitment.80 The author, a Montonero leader,
believed that love was something that had to be experienced as often as
possible. In his circle, it was hard for women to say no to sexual advances, in
contrast to how things had been a decade earlier. In Casullo’s words, “saying
no would have sounded ridiculous, unacceptable,” as “the revolution was
also made in bed: the more orgasms you had, the more revolutionary you
were, and the more revolutionary you were, the more orgasms you had.”
Beyond the sexual boasting, this account eloquently shows that there was a
new social mandate to engage in sex as much as possible, which for women
often entailed social coercion.81
In any case, sexual freedom was not limited to men. Many young
Montonero women enjoyed challenging sexual puritanism. Mercedes
Depino remembers how she and fellow FAR militants viewed sexuality
differently from the original Montoneros: “We were very wild in that
sense [in couple relationships]. We were careless because of the sense of
77 Pirí Lugones, “Homenaje a Kinsey,” in Crónicas del sexo, ed. Manuel Mujica Lainez et
al. (Buenos Aires: Jorge Álvarez, 1965), 25–34.
78 Her son, Manuel Belloni, had been a member of the Fuerzas Armadas Peronistas.
Laura Giussani, Buscada: Lili Massaferro; de los dorados años cincuenta a la militancia
montonera (Buenos Aires: Norma, 2005), 145–50.
79 Francisco Urondo, Los pasos previos (1974; Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2011),
80 Nicolás Casullo, Para hacer el amor en los parques (Buenos Aires: Altamira, 2006).
81 See Anguita and Caparrós, La voluntad, 1:597.
Infidelities 439
freedom we had . . . because of our activism. We didn’t want to relinquish
our freedom in any way, . . . and suddenly, there was this fixed, closed
structure governing couple relationships.”82
Their experiences were obviously different from those common among
the Montonero leaders who came from a Catholic background. These
circles were dominated by family-centered ideas, which held the family
up as the foundation of society and combined the Peronist and Catholic
traditions.83 Mario Firmenich, for example, believed militants should have
five children—at a time when the average birthrate was half that—in order
to boost population growth with future revolutionaries, and he proudly
presented his family life as an example.84 In line with this sentiment,
Agrupación Evita (Evita Group), a Montonero popular front formed in
1973 and named in honor of Eva Duarte, Perón’s famous second wife and
a popular leader in her own right, sought to appeal to working-class women
as housewives and mothers. But the female militants in the group—for the
most part middle-class students—could not accept that domestic life was
the sole fate of women, and many considered being assigned to Agrupación
Evita a punishment. The interactions with working-class women, however,
opened the eyes of most to the issues faced by women and the political
connotations of gender inequality in the home.85
In sum, sexual issues were a source of disagreement among Montoneros,
but they did not give way to an official document setting out principles.
Instead, they were intertwined with political disputes. In 1974 the
Montoneros were wrapped up in intense political discussions over how to
deal with escalating attacks from paramilitary groups and Perón’s support
for such actions. On 1 May 1974 the Peronist leader drove the Montoneros
out of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, where workers had gathered for an
International Workers’ Day rally. The break with Perón fueled militarist
tendencies in the Montoneros, who decreed that the organization would
go underground. The decision was made without consulting its members
and sparked heated internal debates.86
At Noticias, this decision spurred disagreements with the staff over the
paper’s editorial line, and Urondo was removed from the newspaper.87 At
82 Mercedes Depino, testimony on record at the Archivo de Memoria Abierta, 2003.
83 Among the first Peronists there was a range of positions regarding family, but they all
shared a rhetoric that defended “the family” as “the basic cell of society,” the maternal role of
women (an argument used when women were granted political rights in 1947), and the protection
of children. See Isabella Cosse, Estigmas de nacimiento: Peronismo y orden familiar
(Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2006).
84 “Montoneros: Guerreros políticos (Interview with Mario Eduardo Firmenich),” in
Gabriel García Márquez, Por la libre: Obra periodística (1974–1993) (Buenos Aires:
Sudamericana, 2000), 111.
85 Karin Grammático, Mujeres Montoneras: Una historia de la Agrupación Evita, 1973–
1974 (Buenos Aires: Luxemburg, 2011).
86 Urondo testimony.
87 Gillespie, Soldados de Perón, 220–21.
440 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
the same time, Urondo’s own conflictive love life became public and triggered
a crisis that impacted the organization’s leadership. Paco had recently
begun a relationship with Alicia Raboy, a twenty-five-year-old Noticias
reporter, while still with Lili. Lili learned of the affair by accident and, according
to her own account, immediately requested a meeting with Julio
Roqué, their superior. She was among the women who, through their work
in Agrupación Evita, were becoming aware of the issues faced by women,
and she now reproached her partner’s behavior as not befitting of the “new
man.” She argued that it echoed old hypocrisies and that Paco was behaving
like the stereotype of a manager who has an affair with his secretary. She
demanded that the organization “really” lecture its members on the new
values that should be embraced by the “new man”; otherwise, the men in
the organization would be no more than “cowardly and unfaithful sexists,
just like any other member of the petite bourgeoisie.” Her denunciation
linked the importance placed on loyalty by Peronists with a rejection of the
petit-bourgeois lifestyle and the sexual double standard. The organization
took up Massaferro’s defense and penalized Urondo, bringing him down
several ranks in the Montoneros hierarchy.88
None of the accounts of this episode question the veracity of the penalty.
there are disagreements over what actually motivated it. Urondo’s
friends claim that the organization’s leadership took advantage of the
situation to reinforce his removal from Noticias.89 The accounts are
revealing in showing how these decisions could advance various political
agendas within the organization. In fact, Paco’s son, Javier Urondo,
who was seventeen at the time, remembers that in the Montoneros,
“monogamy was the only form of relationship accepted by the status
quo, but at some levels of the organization there was some flexibility.”
His father’s story shows that one could take advantage of that flexibility
but that the leadership also had the power not only to put an end to it
but also to use it against whoever did.
Political Loyalty and Romantic Fidelity
in Times of Torture and Disappearances
Perón’s death in 1974 crushed once and for all the hopes that had been
pinned on his ability to solve Argentina’s crisis. The administration of María
Estela Martínez de Perón—Perón’s third wife and widow, popularly known
as Isabel Perón, who succeeded him in the presidency—was unable to check
soaring inflation and quell the discontent it was sparking in the population
or stop the spread of social protests and guerrilla actions. The reaction of the
government, dominated by the far Right, was to further increase its support
for the armed forces. In 1975, after Martínez gave them the authorization
88 Giussani, Buscada, 215.
89 Esquivada, El diario Noticias, 223–25; and Montanaro, Francisco Urondo, 80–90.
Infidelities 441
to “wipe out subversion,” the armed forces launched a full-scale military
attack against radical militants, engulfing the country in torture and death.90
They began their offensive in the province of Tucumán, one of the main
strongholds of the ERP, in a crackdown that ushered in the final stage of the
revolutionary war. Initially, the organization sought to combine guerrilla
actions with legal activities, but it quickly shifted to a military strategy alone
in the belief that this would intensify political contradictions and precipitate
the revolution. The ERP began organizing a regular army. Military ranks
were established, power was concentrated in a single political and military
chief (Santucho), discipline was tightened, and a greater emphasis was placed
on revolutionary morality.91
Heroism was taken to a higher level with a new rhetoric. Estrella roja
(Red Star), the ERP newspaper, began featuring narrative accounts by
anonymous combatants who embodied the canon of virtues, among which
the most important were giving oneself entirely to the cause, even if it
meant death, and “resisting torture.” In these columns, loyalty was more
than just a political and moral mandate; it became emotionally charged
as it connected the living with the dead at a time when increasingly large
numbers of members were being captured, killed, or disappeared. The flip
side of this emotional imperative was discipline. The government’s military
offensive demanded, according to ERP leaders, greater internal order to
improve the organization’s own military capacity, with an “iron discipline”
among subordinates and a “skillful and efficient command” from leaders.92
In this context, the Tribunal de Justicia—a disciplinary panel approved
five years earlier—was finally formed and charged with administering justice
within the organization, setting its political agenda, and developing
the party. When it was created, no one thought anything of extending the
tribunal’s jurisdiction to the sex lives of its members. Far from it, when the
subject of sexual behavior came up at the meeting that created the tribunal,
everyone burst into laughter when a metalworker from a working-class
district of Buenos Aires finished his tirade against “double” relationships by
recommending that “anyone who wants to keep a second woman should
make sure to keep her very far away.”93
The first decisions issued by this justice tribunal were equally contradictory.
The members appointed to the body were barred from serving
because they themselves had been disciplined for having been unfaithful
90 “El operativo independencia en Tucumán,” in “Ese ardiente jardín de la República”:
Formación, y desarticulación de un “campo” cultural; Tucumán, 1880–1975, ed. Fabiola Orquera
(Córdoba: Alción, 2010), 377–400.
91 Carnovale, Los combatientes, 276.
92 “Carta a Clara María de su compañero,” Estrella roja, no. 52 (9 April 1975); Alberto
José Munarriz, Estrella roja, no. 66 (15 November 1975); “La vida en el monte,” Estrella
roja, no. 65 (1 December 1975).
93 Quoted in Martínez, Género, política y revolución, 88, 98; and Pozzi, Por las sendas
argentinas, 241.
442 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
to their partners. At its first session, the tribunal heard the case of one of
its members, Lucio, who had “initiated a parallel relationship with another
woman” after his appointment. At the following session, a second member,
Matías, came under scrutiny when in an exercise of self-criticism after being
appointed he confessed to having secretly maintained a double relationship
over a period of eight months, although he had since ended it. The third
case of sexual misconduct among its members considered by the tribunal
was that of Leopoldo, who, in addition to being a member of this body, was
one of the commanding officers. Not only had he concealed his relationship
with another woman, but when it became public he had also continued
to see her and refused to “regularize” his situation, despite being ordered
repeatedly to do so.94 The penalty for each officer depended on the degree
of concealment of his alleged moral offense and his party rank. All three
were removed from the tribunal, but Matías, who had come clean on his
own, had examined his conduct, and did not occupy a leadership position,
was not suspended from the organization and received instead a recommendation
to be “reeducated.” The other two members received harsher
penalties: Lucio was suspended from the Central Committee for a year, and
Leopoldo was taken off the Executive Committee for eighteen months.95
Being suspended meant that they stopped receiving the stipend that most
full-time and clandestine activists depended on to support themselves, so
it was a harsh penalty. These cases show how common had become the
contradiction between an ideal of moral uprightness and the actual experiences
of the militants and their living conditions, which favored more
open, fluid, and fleeting coupling. But it also demonstrates how as these
organizations stepped up their militarism they also tightened their control
over all aspects of their members’ lives, effectively precluding any chances
of contesting the dominant morality.
B y 1975 the Montoneros were imposing strict rules of personal conduct
and applying harsh penalties to anyone who deviated from them. Evita
Montonera, the organization’s newspaper, revisited the issue of revolutionary
morality and torture. Drawing on the moral authority of Algerian
revolutionary leader Franz Fanon, the paper explained that political awareness
built up the moral fortitude necessary to withstand torture and posed
a question that many militants were probably asking themselves: “Can a
fellow militant [compañero] be justified for breaking under torture and
talking?” The answer given was categorical: “NO, nothing can justify it.”
Anyone who talked lacked the fighting spirit required of all revolutionaries,
and the penalty for all “traitors and snitches” was execution.96 As the
organization became more and more militarized and the number of torture
and death victims grew exponentially, the loyalty mandate was intensified
94 “Tribunal partidario,” Boletín interno, no. 95 (27 November 1975): 6.
95 Ibid.
96 “Juicio revolucionario a un delator,” Evita Montonera, no. 8 (September 1975): 21.
Infidelities 443
to the point that deviating from it could be punished by death. A corollary
of the greater value placed on loyalty was the glorification of the family and
the militant’s duty toward it. The paper highlighted the link between giving
oneself entirely to the cause and being “emotionally mature” in matters
of the heart.97 These views were in line with the exaltation of heterosexual
virility as a trait of the ideal guerrilla, which aimed at counteracting the far
Right’s portrayal of guerrillas as effeminates and drug addicts.
In this way, revolutionary commitment—not as passionate surrender but
as controlled determination—went hand in hand with emotional stability and
restrained and responsible love. But for many activists, life was far from being
ordered and stable. On the contrary, as Adriana Robles remembers: “Couples
were living under great pressure due to political circumstances and clandestine
life; relationships were being formed and breaking up” constantly.98
As with the morals upheld by the ERP, the glorification of the family
by the Montoneros confronted the antisubversive discourse that projected
onto guerrillas the fears that the sexual revolution (in its multiple and diverse
meanings) had sparked in significant sectors of Argentine society. The wave
of repression unleashed by the armed forces was accompanied by a vociferous
antisubversive rhetoric from traditionalist Catholic organizations and far Right
groups, which painted a picture of the enemy as a threat to both nation, family,
and religion. Guerrillas—and especially women guerrillas—were depicted in
such a way that their social and political antiestablishment stance was linked to
a destabilization of the moral, familial, sexual, and gender order. This image
was reproduced most starkly in the torturing of women guerrillas, as they
were subjected to viciously cruel torments that revealed the “double threat”
to the gender and political order that their lives posed and that brought about
a “sexualization” of the state’s extermination operations.99
It was within this context, then, that the Montoneros, like the ERP,
stepped up their militarism and tightened the measures that regulated their
love and family lives. In October 1975 the Consejo Nacional Montoneros
(National Montonero Council) decided to implement a political strategy
that prioritized military actions; at the same time, it also adopted the Código
de Justicia Penal Revolucionario (Criminal code of revolutionary justice).
Articles 4, 5, and 6 defined the crimes of treason, collaboration with the
enemy, confession, and breaking under torture. Article 16 defined infidelity
as having sexual relations with someone other than one’s partner and
equated it with the crime of “disloyalty.” The code stipulated that the two
parties involved in such an affair would be considered guilty even if only
one of them had a steady partner. This definition was a significant innovation
with respect to the code’s precedent, adopted in 1972, where infidelity
97 “Dos Jefes Montoneros caídos,” Evita Montonera, no. 9 (November 1975): 22.
98 Adriana Robles, Perejiles: Los otros Montoneros (Buenos Aires: Colihue, 2004), 118.
99 See Vasallo, “Militancia y transgresión,” 28; D’Antonio, “Rejas, gritos”; and Manzano,
“Sexing and Gendering.”
444 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
was not addressed. No penalties were specified; rather, these were left to
the discretion of the tribunal in each case. Yet a separate chapter listed
the possible penalties for all offenses: demotion, expulsion, confinement,
banishment, prison, and execution.100
The actual authors of the code are not known, and there is no information
about the discussions it generated, if any. But we do know that the
first to be judged under the code was Roberto Quieto, the organization’s
second-in-command, originally a FAR member. On 19 January 1976 he
was found guilty of betrayal while he was being held by the military. He had
been picked up twenty days earlier, when he was spending the afternoon
with his family at a Buenos Aires beach, breaking the strict security rules he
himself had set. In the weeks leading up to his abduction, his friends had
found him dispirited by the escalating repression and concerned over the
triumph of the positions advocating military action.101 The tribunal sentenced
him to demotion and death because he had allowed himself to be captured
alive and had allegedly given information under torture. Many Montonero
members criticized the ruling, which was ultimately not enforced, as Quieto
was never found alive, another victim among the disappeared.102
In the sentence, published in Evita Montonera, the tribunal claimed
that Quieto’s reaction to the kidnapping resulted from “severe selfishness”
and expressed his “individualistic and liberal” tendencies, which had been
apparent for some time not only in his “failure” to live in a safe house but
also in the “poor decisions” he had made in his family life. This was an
allusion to the refusal by his wife, Alicia Beatriz Testai, to participate in
armed struggle, thus allegedly putting her husband at risk whenever he
visited his family. But it was also a reference to the repeated crises in his
marriage, which were further complicated by his affairs with other women.
The sentence thus drew a parallelism between complicated family situations
and political treason that took on a clearly didactic tone.103
The same Evita Montonera issue that featured Quieto’s sentence emphasized
the intended lesson with an obituary that was its antithesis: a tribute
to “Manuel,” the El Litoral region commander. He represented the kind of
heroic leader who proved his loyalty by choosing to die rather than surrender.
According to the Montonero newspaper, this loyalty was in line with the
100 Consejo Nacional Montoneros, “Código de Justicia Penal Revolucionario,” 4 October
1975, Lucha armada 3, no. 8 (2007): 124–27. On the code, see Laura Lenci, “Justicia, política
y violencia: Un análisis de los cuerpos normativos Montoneros, 1972–1975,” Jornadas
de los partidos políticos, Buenos Aires, 25 April 2008.
101 This is confirmed by Lila Pastoriza, “La ‘traición’ de Roberto Quieto: Treinta años de
silencio,” Lucha armada 3, no. 6 (May–June–July 2006): 4–31; and by Alejandra Vignollés,
Doble condena: La verdadera historia de Roberto Quieto (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2011),
102 “Juicio revolucionario a Roberto Quieto,” Evita Montonera 2, no. 12 (February–
March 1976): 13–14.
103 Ibid. On the internal situation, see also Gillespie, Soldados de Perón, 264–72.
Infidelities 445
slain leader’s faithfulness to his wife.104 Ultimately, the aim of these articles
was to make sure that members knew what the organization expected of
them. The direct connection between sacrificing one’s life out of political
loyalty and leading one’s personal life according to the organization’s strict
moral guidelines constituted a single, explicit, and irrevocable mandate.
Quieto’s sentencing was a key piece in the construction of the demonized
figure of the traitor within the Montoneros. The growing number of
casualties was tragically accompanied by the denunciation of survivors, as
Ana Longoni has pointed out, in the understanding that the only way prisoners
could have come out alive was by surrendering information, which
made them traitors. For women it also was seen as meaning they were guilty
of sexual involvement with the enemy. This association of culpability was
based on a hero-traitor dichotomy that did not take into account the radical
asymmetry of vulnerability and domination between the tortured and subjugated
prisoners and their captors. It led the Montoneros to adopt a decision
that distinguished it from other left-wing organizations, as it instructed its
members to commit suicide if they were captured, producing cyanide pills
for that purpose and distributing them among its leaders and militants.105
These instructions contributed to more widespread fear. Paco Urondo
himself—a friend of Roberto Quieto—was deeply upset by the leadership’s
decision.106 Urondo was sent to the region of Cuyo by his superiors, despite
having requested a different destination because he was well known there
and feared he would face greater risk there. Shortly thereafter, on 17 June
1976, he was gunned down by members of the armed forces, but not before
he had swallowed the cyanide pill as instructed. The obituary in Evita
Montonera said nothing of Urondo’s request. Neither did it mention that not
long before his death he had been penalized by the organization because of
how he chose to conduct his love life and that he had refused to make any
changes.107 On the contrary, before he left for Cuyo, he made out a will where
he acknowledged Ángela, his daughter by Alicia. But their sacrifice—Alicia
was kidnapped in the same operation while trying to escape—had redeemed
them both: they had been made into a revolutionary example.
During those months, as losses increased, the Montoneros adopted new
measures to control their members’ love lives. They required everyone to
report their relationships formally to their superiors and to wait six months
before living together. According to Adriana Robles, this measure was
adopted to address security concerns that made it hard to guarantee the
safety of higher-ranking members in safe houses. But it was also part of the
organization’s attempts to bolster its members’ “revolutionary spirit” by
104 “Un jefe Montonero no se entrega,” Evita Montonera 2, no. 12 (February–March
1976): 16.
105 Longoni, Traiciones, 119–23.
106 Javier Urondo, quoted in Vignollés, Doble condena, 208.
107 “Oficial 1o Francisco Urondo,” Evita Montonera 2, no. 12 (February–March 1976): 68.
446 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
adopting a stricter “moral stance.” Looking back, Robles says, “I realize
now that six months was a very long time to get to know each other under
the vertiginous lives we were living. But what impresses me most is that
[six months] was much, much longer than what many of us were going to
live.”108 In her case, she and her partner had to give up their house to another
couple who had been together longer and, perhaps coincidently, were
high-ranking members. This six-month rule was met with much disagreement.
According to Depino, many spoke against the decision. She herself
refused to formalize her relationship with Sergio Berlin, who would later
be kidnapped and disappeared. She was nonetheless ordered to examine her
behavior and admit her mistakes in order to avoid being penalized by the
organization.109 This disciplinarian approach gained increasing strength as
more and more activists were killed or captured. In a 1978 interview published
by a Spanish magazine, Horacio Mendizábal—a top-ranking officer
with a Catholic background who would later be disappeared—explained that
the Montoneros demanded that its members be as loyal to their romantic
partners as they were expected to be to the organization.110
This strategy, however, proved inadequate in countering the blows
from the armed forces, which had intensified their kidnapping, torture,
and disappearance methods against guerrillas and activists. The militants
who were still alive were no longer restrained by the harsh discipline of
the groups. Ana Testa and Juan Silva settled in Buenos Aires. Ana quickly
found a job, but Juan could not conceive of a life outside the cause. In
1979 he “hooked up again” with the organization, accepting its conditions:
if his wife refused to rejoin the organization, he would have to
live apart from her and their daughter. He left home on Father’s Day. “I
couldn’t understand it, because I was still completely in love with him
and he with me,” Ana said. Months later she was kidnapped and tortured
but was released alive. Her survival meant bending to a different morality
and pretending to have found her “true” femininity in order to make
her captors believe she had been morally reformed. She also witnessed
how other kidnapped women had to play along with their captors in a
perverse game of seduction.
Ana never saw her partner again.111 Juan refused to see her because he
believed that the only way she could have survived was by betraying the
organization. Shortly thereafter, he was kidnapped and disappeared. Ana
never had a chance to tell him that she had never been unfaithful and that
when she was tortured she had not given any information implicating him.
108 Robles, Perejiles, 118.
109 Depino testimony.
110 Viviana Gorbato, Montoneros, soldados de Menem ¿Soldados de Duhalde? (Buenos Aires:
Sudamericano, 1999), 305.
111 See, more generally, Vasallo, “Militancia y transgresión”; and D’Antonio, “Rejas,
gritos,” 89–108.
Infidelities 447
Her eyes still light up today when she speaks of him, and the love that still
lingers in her eyes makes her pain more heartbreakingly real.
This article opens and closes with Ana Testa because her story crystallizes
the dense and complex intertwining of love, sexuality, and revolutionary
commitment in Argentina’s guerrilla groups. My aim is to shed light on
the unique intersections of sexuality and politics in Argentina in the 1960s
and 1970s. To do that, I have followed three lines of inquiry.
The first explores the specific characteristics of the politicization of personal
relationships in Argentina’s armed groups. In Europe and the United
States, the overlapping of the personal and the political entailed acknowledging
the discrimination caused by gender inequality in a combination
of affective individualism and the human rights paradigm. In contrast, in
Argentina’s armed groups, the personal became political within a collectivity
that sought to build new moral foundations with the aim of banishing
capitalist values (including individualism) from social relations but also from
family and romantic relationships. Far from advocating individual freedom,
the revolution demanded that its members give themselves entirely to the
collective cause and place the revolutionary struggle before their personal
feelings, a logic that questioned the very separation between the private
and the collective and, instead, regarded the intertwining of the two as
natural. While this view was hegemonic, it coexisted with two variations.
First, there was a concern that sexual behavior and romantic problems
could affect military strategies—whether security measures, morale, or
internal conflicts—and political discussions. These groups glorified family
values and heterosexuality in part as a way of countering the accusations of
immorality and sexual excess hurled by repressive forces and the far Right,
but also because they were convinced that sexual debauchery weakened
them for reasons of security, internal order, or morality. Second, there was
a recognition of the political nature of male domination—or women’s
inequality, at least—bringing into the open the political connotations of
gender differences. These different notions of the political nature of the
personal often clashed and were scarcely addressed by both organizations in
their ideological discussions, although they were more important within the
ERP than in the Montoneros, which was also characterized by the influx of
family-centered ideas from the first Peronism and from Catholic tradition.
The second line of inquiry entails applying a social history approach
to the analysis of these armed groups. I explore this perspective from two
angles. First, by acknowledging the porous lines that separated these organizations
from the outside world, I gain new insight into the dissonance
between the sexual conduct and attitudes of individual militants and the
rules that sought to regulate their personal lives. These organizations—and
their members—were influenced by the same conflicts that were shaking
up the familial and sexual status quo in Argentine society in the 1960s and
448 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
1970s. This perspective leads me to assess the role of heterogeneity within
these organizations, valuing its importance for interpretative purposes.
Second, considering these groups from a social perspective requires that I
look more closely at the characteristics of their membership structure and
the daily interactions, interests, and conflicts that shaped the relationships
among members and between members and their organizations. This allows
me to reconstruct the different views on sexual morality that existed within
these organizations and that resulted in different attitudes, stances, and
judgments that, while not crystallizing in fully articulated positions—not
least because positions that deviated from the party line were frowned on
as factionalism—permeated the everyday and the ways in which conflicts
over sentimental crises were handled. Its analysis revealed that different
tensions, interests, and visions were at play in the conflicts created around
sexuality. Gender inequality and class differences were explicitly interwoven,
which underscored class contradictions and brought to the fore the anxieties
sparked by the incorporation of women into guerrilla activities as well as
by the new forms of femininity. While these are studied in greater detail in
the case of the ERP, they were also present among the Montoneros. Generational
differences also played a significant, although less evident, role.
The massive numbers of young people in these organizations accentuated
the conflicts regarding sexual morality, but generational factors combined
with class and gender differences without overshadowing them. The vast
majority of activists were young, and many were only just discovering
their sexuality while simultaneously embracing the revolutionary cause.
And they did so in a context in which the younger generations formed the
frontlines of a confrontation against familial, sexual, and gender orders of
which many militants also felt a part.
This cultural, social, and political context shaped the subjectivity of
militants. It enabled the existence of a variety of relationship styles, which
were accompanied by an equally diverse range of relationship issues within
the organization that were impossible to understand from rigid and simplistic
viewpoints. The very living conditions of the activists—underground
life, guerrilla fighting, constant brushes with death—favored a dynamics
of fleeting, contingent, and flexible relationships among the young people
who were being hurled into emotionally demanding political, collective,
and personal experiences. This reconstruction provides greater insight
into the intersecting of revolutionary politics and sexuality by focusing
on the conflictive tone that such interventions acquired and the existence
of different definitions, ideas, and attitudes toward the armed Left’s
commitment to building new moral foundations. While disagreements
arose in different situations and were sparked by varied factors, I have
highlighted the tensions caused by gender and class and those emerging
from subjective contexts, forms of social interaction, power structures,
and specific political circumstances.
Infidelities 449
The third line of inquiry looks to the diachronic dimension—the chronology
itself—as an explanatory factor that highlights the historical—and
thus mutable and to a certain extent contingent—nature of the concrete
measures taken with respect to sexual morality, as well as their ideological
and emotional importance. I have identified three key moments. The
first was the origins of these organizations, when foundational elements
operated to legitimize the need to control sexual desires, subject the love
lives of party leaders to collective scrutiny, and favor the establishment of
rigid moral standards. From the onset both organizations combined these
foundational elements with the notion of loyalty, though they were not
developed without some resistance. The second moment is defined by the
growing political importance and expanding membership of the organizations
(including women joining in larger numbers) and is characterized by an
explosion of sexual conflicts. Neither organization had an established system
of penalties to deal with these conflicts or to punish members who failed
to conform to the expected moral standards. Instead, behaviors that were
found at fault were dealt with on a case-by-case basis and after discussion.
The third moment is marked by escalating repression and the emergence
of state terrorism, which boosted the more militaristic factions within the
two organizations and led them to increase their control over the sexual
and love lives of their members. The development of penal codes for moral
infractions, which equated romantic infidelity with political disloyalty, served
to naturalize the parallels between how militants behaved in their personal
lives and how committed they were to the cause. Giving oneself entirely
to the cause and accepting order in one’s personal relationships were two
sides of the same coin, constituting an explicit and irrevocable mandate.
While the magnitude of repression and the growing number of members
who were being kidnapped and disappeared precluded any possibility of
challenging this view, they did not diminish its political, practical, and
emotional significance. Leaders still dealt with relationship crises at their
discretion, using them to settle internal disputes and set examples through
penalties, as well as to resolve logistic issues or step up security measures.
No less important was the use of sentimental bonds by repressive forces,
which, in their efforts to dismantle the organizations, threatened militants
with harm to partners or spouses and relatives.
No guerrilla was ever sentenced to death for being unfaithful to a romantic
partner, but family and relationship problems had political repercussions
inside and outside the organizations. From the onset, it was evident that
personal lives were a core dimension of activism and political struggle within
and outside these armed groups, and this is key not only for understanding
the characteristics, ideological definitions, and internal conflicts of the
organizations but also for shedding light on the political and ideological
confrontation and the cultural disruption that cut across Argentine society.
In 1975 that importance reached its maximum expression. Paradoxically,
450 I s a b e l l a Cos s e
as the state’s repressive forces implemented an unprecedented system of
extermination that would leave no trace of the bodies of the victims—not
before subjecting them to vicious sexual and psychological abuse—the
response from these organizations was to confuse romantic infidelity with
political treason and exert greater control over their members, for many of
whom affection, love, and sex had become the only weapons they had to
make them feel that life was still possible.
About the Author
I s a b e l l a Cos s e received her PhD in history from the Universidad de San
Andrés, and she is currently a researcher at Argentina’s Consejo Nacional de
Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas. Her publications include the books
Estigmas de nacimiento: Peronismo y orden familiar, 1946–1955 (Buenos
Aires, 2006) and Pareja, sexualidad y familia en los años sesenta (Buenos
Aires, 2010), as well as articles in journals such as Journal of Family History,
Hispanic American Historical Review, and Estudios interdisciplinarios de
América Latina y el Caribe. She has also edited with Karina Felitti and Valeria
Manzano Los ’60 de otra manera: Vida cotidiana, género y sexualidades
en la Argentina (Buenos Aires, 2010).



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