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By Pablo Cingolani
I do not remember the details of the first meeting with Frites, nor his appearance, his clothes; I did visit him in a one-story house on Balbastro street, in the Parque Chacabuco neighborhood of Buenos Aires, which served as the headquarters of the AIRA. There, I also attended a (semi-clandestine) meeting of the CMPI, the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, which held in Buenos Aires in 1978.
One morning in January we met Carlos Mamani Condori to talk about history and stories from a window to the enchanted city that inhabits us at the foot of Tata Illimani. The conversation flowed without stones, pushed by the fresh waters of the barley, and I told him the story of an Argentine boy, who when he was 13-14 years old, thanks to his neighbor from Tapiales - the Soviet-style monoblocks that rise to a side of the highway that connects Buenos Aires with the Ezeiza airport-, a friend of my mother, I met the coya chief Eulogio Frites, then president of the Indigenous Association of the Argentine Republic (AIRA).
They were the hardest years of the military dictatorship that was devastating Argentina, annihilating a whole generation of idealistic young people from the cities. Eulogio was born at the other extreme: the puna, pastoral and ancestral, the Argentine highlands, nestled in the northwest, feudal and bloodsucking, bordering Bolivia. It was the heart of Andean Argentina - where Kusch had already spoken about it - but which, in those years, was as far mentally from the capital of the River Plate as the Kamchatka peninsula, in Siberia. Now, things continue more or less like this, confirmed my friend sociologist from Las Espigas, Roque Taborga, who works in support of the communities of Puno.
I don't remember the details of the first meeting with Frites, nor his physiognomy, his clothes; I did visit him in a one-story house on Balbastro Street, in the Parque Chacabuco neighborhood of Buenos Aires, which served as the headquarters of the AIRA. There, I also attended a (semi-clandestine) meeting of the CMPI, the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, which met in the bloody Buenos Aires in 1978. The meeting of the CMPI, I told Carlos, meant for those who write, quite a revelation and an initiation, which perhaps he had never imagined like this. In the premises of Balbastro, in the dim light, with the curtains closed, surely with the fear of many on the surface, there were the indigenous leaders of many nations from various countries of the Americas and even Europe, as they attended the summon a representative of the Inuits.
The North Americans impressed me a lot: dressed in their ceremonial attire, their feather ornaments, their necklaces, they handed out a mimeographed sheet where the Prayer for the Land of Black Elk was printed, Black Elk, the holy man of the Sioux, the one that says:
“Great Father, Great Spirit, once again hold me on the ground and lean back to hear my feeble voice. (…)
You made me walk the good path and the path of difficulties, and where they intersect, the place is blessed. The day goes, the day comes, forever, you are the life of things. (…)
Listen to me, may the people again
Find the right way
And the protective tree. "
He was the only white man there, in the midst of a climate of brotherhood but cut to the dagger by what was happening outside, the bleeding that overshadowed everything. But it was “brother Pablo” - as Eulogio honored me by introducing myself. "A young man in solidarity with us," explained the top leader of the Argentine indigenous people and a hundred eyes looked at me to fill me with a light that does not alter.
Carlos had been surprised by this story. I wonder:
Are you really talking about Don Eulogio Frites?
Yes, Eulogio Frites, the leader of the coyas ...
How incredible, Pablo! What a beautiful story! Eulogio Frites is already for us Aymara historians, like a kind of myth; He fought for the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples when very few did ...
His excitement increased. He told me about the idea of being able to bring him to the heart of Kollasuyu, to Bolivia, to La Paz, to be able to meet him with other courageous and wise elders and be able to listen to him and receive his teachings. I made a commitment with Carlos to search among the papers that I kept in Buenos Aires, the testimonies of my encounters with Eulogio, to share them here, with him and with the young people of the Association of Aymara Historians. It was a risk: I had to immerse myself in a chaotic mountain of writings, of publications, of things that I had stored in a dark storage, a basement. With those papers –which I have here with me today, in La Paz-, I told him, we will see what Eulogio was like, what things he spoke, and we can nurture the intention of a meeting with him. If we want it, we will find it. We finished celebrating the recovered history, and then we left. In my heart, the irredeemable beauty of Chuquiago Marka possessed more strength.
* * *
Eulogio Frites… Eulogio Frites… where to start? Boxes and boxes, that pleasant dust of aging papers that also suffocate you with the truths found signed in them ... in the end, I caught them in the tangle and found more than I really expected.
First of all, a notebook. Marca Gloria, with marbled, blue and orange tapas, with a spiral: the one that all Argentine boys used to go to school. The notebook was a small treasure trove of investigations anchored to its pages. To begin with, the interview - that's how I titled it - with chief Eulogio Frites, a manuscript that I will describe, with many notes that I can't quite decipher: so many years, three decades have passed, and so much water and so much fire through my head and my skin , but it is there, annotated in blue ink and even with a map of the Tawantinsuyu and the puna drawn by Eulogio's own fist.
I had other concerns: some notes on the most unknown national park in Argentina, Baritú, in the Yungas of Salta, and a letter sent to me by the Head of the Diffusion Department of the Provincial Tourism Office, Gloria Bozovich, dated 28 November 1979, where he indicated the sending of the information and the requested sketches, and clarified that "access to said reserve is extremely difficult."
The inevitable story within the story: four years later, something else, we would set out with my friends Fabián Luna, Marcelo Gargiulo and Horacio to travel those distances, descending from the puna and the valleys of the foothills of Salto-Jujuy. An unrepeatable trip - when there was no adventure tourism, trails for trekkers, or anything, except the shelter for peasants of the brave Claretian fathers of Iruya and the Prelature of Humahuaca who confronted the military denouncing the infamous exploitation of the coyas and the Bolivians in the sugar mills and the massacres that today are public knowledge-; a journey that took us to the southern confines of Baritú, following the sinuous course of the rivers, and appearing on the sad Isla de Cañas, an isolated settlement of Andean colonizers in the middle of the Oran jungle. From there, we went up to Bermejo, in Tarija, and as I always repeat: we walked to Bolivia, after a long journey through punas, mountains, jungles and valleys. (You can read the continuity of this trip in my article La Paz, marvel y vertigo).
When we walked those uninhabited places, we did not know, nor did we know ajayus, of souls from the territory, but we felt it, I felt something strong, submerged in those green solitudes, those tumbled sand and stone boxes, those forests full of low clouds, those sides: then I found out that there they had fought, they had died and Those of the EGP, the Guerrilla Army of the Poor, the mythical armed contingent headed by the journalist Masseti, the one who wrote that book about the Revolution in Cuba, the title of which already says it all, “Those who fight and those who cry”, had disappeared. In the mid-1960s, in sync with the Peruvian detachment that sought to open a focus in Puerto Maldonado and where the poet Heraud was killed: the prolegomena of Che's guerrilla in Bolivia in 1967, the times when in every jungle, there was a guerrilla, like sang (I think) Silvio Rodríguez.
* * *
How will the books that anthropologists write! How they will walk them, speak them, look them in the eye! It is rare, very rare, but I leaf and leaf, I search and search in the volume that Carlos Martínez Sarasola gobbled up, a book called Our countrymen the Indians. Life, history and destiny of the indigenous communities of Argentina, an important, beautiful book, founding for many reasons, edited in 1992 and reissued several times more, I read and reread it, I search and search and I can't find many or one of the words that I wrote down from Eulogio Frites in those 1977, 1978 .
How are books written about Indians? As will be? Could it be that it is not important that in 1971, in Plaza Flores, the Coyas and the Mapuches launched the first cry of unity in the history of the indigenous communities of the current Argentine Republic? Could it be that they forgot to note that in 1973, in Roque Sáenz Peña, in the heart of the Argentine Chaco where the genocide continued for a long time during the 20th century, Tobas, Matacos and Mocovíes got together in a historical embrace, overcoming hatreds that seemed irreconcilable, fostered by the colonialists?
Eulogio began to tell me these things and they are recorded in the blue-cover notebook: the process of recognition and search for the unity of the indigenous peoples who survived one of the most aberrant genocides in history: the one they suffered at the hands of the liberals who organized for their usufruct and benefit what is now known as the Argentine Republic.
A country that was born from the sword wielded by the Guarani hand of General San Martín, who also liberated Chile –in a strategic alliance with the Patagonian Pehuenches– and made the viceroys of Lima flee.
An indigenous root that was later systematically denied, cut off at the point of massacres, where, as the genocidal ones wanted, "no blood was spared" neither from countrymen, nor from gauchos, nor from Indians. Eulogio was the spearhead of an incredible rebirth, unexpected for the powerful: the Indians not only were still alive but were ready to defend their rights. That began to crystallize in the AIRA, the first self-proclaimed indigenous organization that summed up a sad, desperate, humiliating story, but that was seeking a channel of liberation and justice.
* * *
Quera: it was also the first time I heard about the hecatomb. From the mouth of Eulogio Frites, I learned about the ferocity of the combat and its inevitable slaughter and the profound impact of the slaughter, comparable to what happened here in Kuruyuki.
He told me about the slings, stones, spears and rusty rifles of some who had participated in the armies of Belgrano in the War of Independence, who fought against the repeating carbines of the Argentine army in the battle of Quera, on January 4, 1875.
The history of the puna was split in two again: before and after Quera. It was the same time of the Melgarejista offensive against the indigenous communities that was experienced in Bolivia, the lands of the Argentine puna did not escape this usurping fever. A governor of Jujuy with the surname Álvarez Prado, by imposition of the large landowners, annulled with a stroke of the pen all the decrees of previous governments that protected communal property. Violence became inevitable and on December 3, 1874, at the Abra de la Cruz, the people of Puno defeated the provincial troops. The affront would be paid with exemplary harshness and viciousness in the fields of Quera. One of the war parties pointed out that “the encounter was hand-to-hand between our brave soldiers and the no less brave indigenous people of the Puna; Without having someone to lead them, they fought on their own, but with courage beyond all praise and worthy of better luck (…) The enemy has brought into action more than 800 men, including 300 with firearms and the rest, armed spear and sling; they have suffered 194 casualties and 231 prisoners. The combat lasted three consecutive hours… ”.
The couplet had said:
With slings and with stones
they proclaim that the earth
it has no owners.
After the spilled blood, the entire puna trembled and mourned its dead. The great Domingo Zerpa, the poet of the Pachamama de Abra Pampa, sang:
If there is someone to comfort me,
I don't want your consolation;
I want snow, snow, snow
that a little Indian has died
with a stone in hand
and in the eyes a star.
Also narrated by the brilliant pen of the National Prize for Literature, Héctor Tizón, from Jujuy, in his novel Fuego en Casabindo (1969), Quera continues to be part of the history of secret, clandestine and forgotten Argentina: the history of Andean Argentina, indigenous Argentina, the history of the Coya people which is also our history.
* * *
“The salar, like the moon in a mirror, reflected the moon and reflected, like a shapeless spot, the belly, the body of the horse that was galloping in that evening; the horse that had a soulless man embedded in its back. The horse was flying over the salt flat, which the moonlight then returned to its old sea-like nature. They both fled from the presence of the Huge Black Bull, with a fiery gaze, a disconsolate and furious inhabitant of the Salinas Grandes, before whose eyes without eyelids, unrepentant, eternally watchful, who does not lose his reason loses his life " the adventures of one of the persecuted from Quera; perhaps the most beautiful and meaningful text I have ever read about a salt flat.
Eulogio told me about the important source of resources that the Salinas Grandes meant for the coyas of Puno, favoring commercial and cultural exchange with the Quebrada de Humahuaca and the coyas vallistos. But salt was no longer freely cut: the military had awarded its exploitation to some private companies. "Now, we must buy the salt from them, from the new owners," said Frites. I noted: the millennial and historic owners of the Salinas must pay for their salt. The same thing that is happening today with the water of the Andes (that is also the name of the company), after the privatizations of public services that tied up Argentines during the 1990s.
* * *
The landmarks are also marked: next to the map of the puna drawn by Eulogio himself - where La Quiaca, Abra Pampa, Casabindo, Santana, the salinas are highlighted ... a notation made by him that indicates “dune (sandy) / Ciénaga (fertile) -, there are notes about the cultivation on the terraces that are called stubble over there, about the multiple varieties of potatoes, ocas (kind of carrot, sweet like sweet potato, claré), “yellow corn, red corn, white corn from the creek ”, lines that seem to want to compose a poem about the life of the puna, about its cosmic force, its resistance to continue being altered by external impositions.
In 1966, the maestro Rodolfo Kusch had written and published his essential Trip. Introduction to the Puna, in his book of radio stories, Indians, porteños and gods.
With Eulogio Frites, I traveled for the first time to the puna, a mental and sentimental journey, a journey that I made from his heart to mine, a journey where the stench and grandeur of Deep America was reflected and anticipated to me, by the that the Argentine thinker was toiling - who is buried in Maimará, before climbing the puna, where he lived the last years of his life - because, as he said, "in the highlands we return to poverty, or rather, we lose that feeling of easy wealth that the city offers us. Libraries, intelligence, spirituality, institutions, credits, they are worth nothing. There we return to zero, and inside it our pure life appears. And there we understand that living does not consist only in having things, but in this irremediable step from white to black… ”. No more no less.
Today, the yellowed papers of the AIRA and the coined words of Eulogio Frites move me without remedy, because there the traces of a destiny were anticipated; there were marked the tracks and the mountains that I would walk, the faces that would move me, the reasons and the causes that would become my life.
* Pablo Cingolani