Rafael Wollmann | Falklands


Taking an iconic photo is sometimes about being at the right place, at the right time. No one could attest to that more than Rafael Wollmann.

The Argentine photographer had taken an assignment from a French photo agency Gamma to take a “geographical” photo-essay on a remote series of islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 300 miles east of Patagonia. He arrived there on his 23rd birthday, on March 23 1982 and spent the next week documenting the island life.

On the afternoon of April Fool’s Day, 1982, Wollmann was greeted by the grave voice, coming from the radio, of the island’s British governor, Sir Rex Hunt — whom he had interviewed earlier. “We have apparently reliable evidence that an Argentine task force could be assembling off Stanley at dawn tomorrow. You will wish to make your dispositions accordingly,” Hunt repeated in verbatim a telegram he received from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Wollmann stood in the middle of a pub, where everyone turned around to look at him — the only Argentinian in the pub. The Falklands War had begun.

Accused by Hunt of having being ‘planted’ by the Argentine junta (two days earlier, he had sent some of his films back to Argentina with air mail), Wollmann was detained briefly in Hunt’s chauffeur’s house, from inside which he took pictures. An unknown solider shot at him, mistaking his lens with some weapon, and missed Wollmann by only a few centimeters.

After Hunt had surrendered — in the full ostrich-plumed uniform befitting a British governor — and was bundled off to exile in Uruguay, Wollmann got out into the courtyard and took the photo above of British Marines being forced to surrender. He remembered:

“They were marching towards the courtyard of the governor’s house where they were delivering arms, then they went to the garden and were seated. They were already prisoners of war. I took a lot of caution, and I did not want to be imprisoned or they taking my camera, so I shot a picture and left the scene, not knowing what I was going to find when it was revealed.”

On April 3rd, Wollmann returned to Argentina, where a bidding war for his photos ensued. “I was able to pay for my house overnight” joked Wollmann.  Editorial Atlántida, an Argentine publishing house which had fired him four months earlier, put a private jet at his disposal to return to the islands. Wollmann gave his film to Gamma, which had initially hired him, and in France, another bidding war broke out between Paris Match and VSD magazines, which the latter won. It ran the photo with a deliciously schadenfreude caption: ‘England Humiliated’. In Italy’s L’Espresso, the title was “Hands up, England!”. Some would later argue that these images and captions prompted Margaret Thatcher to act decisively in dispatching troops to retake the islands.




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Pedro Luis Raota


When he died early at the age of 52 in 1986, Pedro Luis Raota was already a celebrated photographer, both in his native Argentina and outside. The “Ansel Adams of Argentina”, he was dubbed, and his photos routinely won awards on international competitions. He cofounded and then served as the first director of The Instituto Superior de Arte Fotográfico and was also controversially a favored photographer of the Argentine military junta which loved his photos which sentimentalized and lionized the country’s working class poor.

Born in Chaco, one of the poorest provinces of Argentina, Raota himself had humble origins making passport pictures in rural areas. His first major success came when he was 32 years old when he won the first Prize in a photographic contest organized by Mundo Hispánico, a magazine in Madrid with his work on lives of the gaucho and their descendants. His lens focused on the dark wrinkles of the gaucho families, marking their hard lives, and unbridled horses of the Pampa Húmeda. (The gaucho — the nomadic horsemen who defined the Argentine and Uruguayan pampas from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century — enjoyed heroic status similar to that of the cowboys in the United States).


Like Adams, Raota was a master of the darkroom; his images are always dramatic, with an exaggerated use of chiaroscuro. His original signed prints, each one hand printed by himself on Chlorobromide paper, are extremely rare and command high prices. It was widely rumored that Raota was engaged by the junta to produce propaganda, but the details were murky. When the Argentine junta collapsed, many people who wished to hide their close relationship with the regime destroyed many junta-era documents, complicating any investigation into the matter.

What was undeniable was that Raota’s photographic books were distributed in many countries though embassies throughout the junta years in a PR campaign. Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales, the national oil company, also used Raota’s photos in its calendars and promotional materials during the junta years. His photos represented a sanitized Argentina, wished and willed by the junta: an Argentina of romance, loyalty and community, depicted in period or regional costumes; a nation and a people untroubled by wars or economic ruination; wholesome, rural, pristine, conservative.



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Murder of a Reporter | Jose Luis Cabezas


On February 16, 1996, Cristina Cabezas posed for her husband on the beach in Pinamar. Her husband, Jose Luis, pretended to take photos, but the subjects were not his wife nor his daughter. Pinamar is an exclusive beach resort the Argentina’s Atlantic coast, visited by influential people, and also on the beach was the tycoon Alfredo Yabrán and his wife.

Reclusive Yabrán had been in news for six months. It began when Minister of Economy Domingo Cavallo accused Yabrán of being “head of a mafia entrenched in power.” Embattled Cavollo, who was about to be scapegoated for his ambitious reforms which had soured due to the Mexican financial crisis, blamed the then President of Argentina, Carlos Menem and cronyistic cadre of corrupt businessmen who surrounded Menem, of whom Yabrán was the most prominent.

Up to this point, Yabrán had been linked to only a handful of small companies, but Cavallo accused him of owning, through proxies, other major economic entities, including postal, printing, logistics, and security concerns. This network, Cavallo revealed, was used to traffic drugs and weapons.

The press did not have any pictures of Yabrán and struggled to get any: “My picture to me is like shooting myself in the forehead,” he once told an interviewer. “Not even the intelligence services have a picture of me,” he boasted. In his rare interviews, he demanded that the journalist be not accompanied by a photographer.

José Luis Cabezas got the photo, but it cost him his life. The photo was published on the cover of the magazine Noticias on March 3rd. Noticias was known for its exposes on corrupt politicians and businesses, and his appearance on the cover did not please Yabrán. Within a year, Cabezas was kidnapped, tortured, and killed with two shots to the head. The body was placed inside a vehicle rented by Noticias, and burned.

The scandal and gruesome murder that ensued led to series of events which doomed many of its participants. Menem forced Cavallo to resign; Cavallo was later briefly jailed on trumped-up charges of weapon trafficking. Menem’s attempt to run for a third term was ruled to be unconstitutional, and his party was thrown out of the office. After Cabezas’ murder, publicity forced Yabrán to come out of his reclusive lifestyle and face public scrutiny.  Under a judicial investigation, Yabrán committed suicide on 20 May 1998.

The Falklands War

Above, during the Falklands war, HMS Antelope was under attack from Argentinean fighters but the ship fended them off. After the attack, an attempt to remove unexploded bombs from the hull of the ship was blotched and the ship’s magazines exploded and she sank. The above photo taken in this moment of her magazines exploding was one of the most memorable of the original Falklands conflict. The Ministry of Defense’s tight control over the press photos backfired as the above photo was splashed on the front pages by the world press which was starved of any genuine war images.

I have written a lot about the Falklands already (here, here). War clouds are gathering over the Falkland Islands again. From the viewpoint of the Civil Service, these are policy actions Mr. Brown can take:

Doing Nothing: Although it is predicted that the Falklands sit over 3.5 billion barrels of oil, the odds of finding oil in the Falklands are slim. The terrain there is similar to the North Sea, but the independent studies put the chances of finding oil there at 17%.

Take it to the polls: The islanders don’t want Argentinean rule. Britain should stage a referendum there and the results will be the same as they were in Gibraltar, which shut the mouths of the Spanish.

Ignore Americans: Barack Obama doesn’t really believe in the special relationship with Britain. It is not important, but what is important that Gordon Brown wants to believe in such a relationship. Instead of wobbling, Mr. Brown should convey to Washington that if the US does not support the British claims in the Falklands, he can also say goodbye to the British troops in Afghanistan.

Diplomacy: Britain needs its EU business partners (Royal Dutch Shell, Total of France) to lobby for its claims internationally. With Russian gas always unpredictable, a simple British pledge to make Europe its primary buyer (if oil is ever found in the Falklands) would immediately unite the 27-member EU behind it. The EU is Argentina’s second-largest trading partner (after Brazil, with which Argentina runs a deficit) and Argentina will easily yield to pressure with its current debt problem.

Gunboat Diplomacy: Britain still has four nuclear submarines sitting idle at the naval base in Clyde. The Ministry of Defense should mobilize at least two of them to the South Atlantic. Assembling an expeditionary force will send a strong signal while simultaneously deterring a war.

Electioneering War: Mr. Brown is a lameduck premier. This Falklands crisis is god-send to him. Tories will unite behind him if he choose a drastic course, and a war can lead to an election victory in still jingoistic Britain. It is imperative that the civil service should convey this information to its representatives in the United Nations. The international community must be convinced not to push the British government so far as to force Mr. Brown to send a naval task force.

The Yomper

On 2 April 1982, after a period of rising tension, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Although Argentina viewed the islands as theirs, the islanders, almost all of British descent, did not want to be ruled by a junta from Argentina. In a decision supported by the both sides of the aisle, Britain sent a naval task force that would ultimately consist of  38 warships, 77 merchant and auxiliary vessels, 11,000 military personal, and 261 aircraft. The Argentineans were already numerically superior and the United States believed that the British were attempting ‘mission impossible’, a view shared by many in the British Ministry of Defence.

The British public was overwhelming behind the deployment, but the government had learnt from the lessons of Vietnam War and worried that the support would wither away if some bad news from the front reached home. Thus, all the significant news, good or bad, were censored or at least delayed; in those days before internet, the reporters had to use the Royal Navy carriers to send their reports back home, which make the task easier. Only two photographers were onboard the task force too — one from Press Association and one from the right-wing Daily Express. Don McCullin was refused accreditation, and there were no pictures for 54 of the 74 days the conflict lasted.

In their place were jingoistic headlines: Yomp, Rejoice, I Counted Them All Out, I Counted Them All Back, Invasion, In We Go, Stick It Up Your Junta and the worst of all, Gotcha. The memorable images of the conflict included the departure of the fleet, a file photo of the Belgrano, the camouflaged Max Hastings, the reconstructed face of Simon Weston, burial of the dead at Goose Green, and Argentinian prisoners with P&O cruise labels around their necks.

The iconic image of the conflict was reprinted above: the original photograph taken by Petty Officer Peter Holdgate, Commando Forces Photographer, showed 24 year old Corporal Peter Robinson ‘yomping’, the Royal Marine slang for a long distance march carrying full kit. Taken in June 1982 as the Royal Marines proceeded along the Moody Brook track towards Port Stanley, Robinson took out Union Flag from his pack and attached it to the aerial of his radio with masking tape when he heard the news of the Argentine surrender. It was used by every British national newspaper, including The Sun which used its as its Falklands War logo. On the 10th anniversary of the occasion, Mrs. Thatcher unveiled a statue in front of the Royal Marines Museum honoring this iconic moment.

Eva Peron’s Restless Corpse

The story of Eva Duarte, who rose from an illegitimate child of a poor provincial woman in Argentina to one of the most powerful woman of her time, was nothing short of a fairytale. She met Col. Juan Peron when she was just 24, and as his lover, she not only built his political charisma but also started a populist movement to reinstate him when he was ousted in 1945.

Their marriage came in 1947, a year before Peron became the president of Argentina. When Eva’s lowly birth caused many upper-class ladies to shun her from their charities and garden parties, she started her own Eva Peron Social Aid Fund. The people were mesmerized by her ‘generosity’ while the First Couple used the Fund for their own luxurious lifestyle.

Then came tragic ending: Eva succumbed to cancer in 1952, just 33 year old. Her body was embalmed, a process made almost impossible since it was ravaged and emaciated by cancer. The embalmer was Dr. Pedro Ara who carried the perfectly preserved head of a peasant as a specimen of his work. Ara embalmed Evita only long enough for a public viewing, which stretched from a few days to a few weeks as the crowds kept pouring in. Two million people filed past her coffin, and seven were killed in the crush.

A second embalming, to prepare it for her mausoleum, planned to be larger than the Statue of Liberty, took two years and cost over $100,000 dollars. Before it was finished and the monument got past the digging stage, Peron was overthrown. The Perons’ homes were opened to the public–there were 15 custom-built sports cars, 250 motor scooters, Eva’s countless furs, jewels and $10 million in ‘ready cash’. Much more was deposited abroad, where Col. Peron would spent the next twenty years of his life in comfortable luxury. He survived his reputation, ruined as it was by the revelations that he had several love nests in Buenos Aires where 50-year-old colonel cavorted with teen-aged girls, to be reinvited to rule for the third time in 1970. But more about that later.

Back in 1955, the junta that overthrew Peron was stuck with Eva’s corpse, which they didn’t want to destroy nor bury (to prevent the grave from becoming a pilgrimage site). They cut off a finger from the corpse and analyzed it to make sure the object was really human. They moved it from site to site, and surrounded by a cast of curious characters that included a few necrophiliac guards, an army major who shot his wife while the corpse was in their apartment, a group of soldiers who accidentally bayoneted themselves while driving the corpse in a van, and insider informants to Peron camp who ensured that the corpse would be followed by flowers and candles that mysteriously appear overnight. Finally, the junta relented. In a futile attempt to prevent her from becoming a martyr, her body was smuggled out of the country and buried in Milan, Italy under the name of an Italian woman who died in Argentina. There in the land of Mussolini, anti-Fascist sentiments ensured that she remained buried. For the time being.

When Peron was reinvited to salvage Argentina which had since spiraled down into calamity, one of his conditions was the return of his wife’s body. At around the same time, a former president, Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, was kidnapped and executed by guerrillas, who refused to return his body until Evita’s corpse was returned to “the people”. Aramburu left a sealed letter detailing her secret grave, and Evita was returned. (Aramburu’s body was also returned to his family.)

Aside from a broken nose, damaged feet, and a few gashes on her face, Evita was actually in pretty good shape. She was kept at Perón’s villa, even sitting in the dinner room while Peron and his new wife Isabel ate their meals. Isabel combed the corpse’s hair in a daily devotion and, at Juan’s request, lie inside the coffin next to Evita to absorb some of her political magic. In 1974, Juan returned to power as president of Argentina. Upon his death, Isabel succeeded him and returned Eva’s body to Argentina where it was briefly displayed next to Juan’s body (below).

Isabel was overthrown in 1976. The new military leaders had Eva Peron’s body safely buried in the Duarte family tomb under three plates of steel in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. The tomb was said to be secure enough to withstand a nuclear attack or a restless corpse. Peron wasn’t so lucky–thieves stole into his coffin in 1987 and cut of his hands, demanding an $8m ransom. None was forthcoming, and so the hands were destroyed.

Hand of God


There was much bad blood between England and Argentina — two powerhouses of world soccer — well before a ball was kicked in anger at the quarterfinals of 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Four years earlier, the two nations had gone to war over the Falkland Islands.

Diego Armando Maradona, Argentina’s greatest-ever player, scored both his side’s goals in the 2-1 victory. For the first, despite appearing to head the ball, the player actually used his fist to loop it over the English goalkeeper. England complained vociferously to the referee, but the goal stood, and it was followed a few minutes later by a second in which Maradona dribbled the ball from the halfway line, passing most of England’s defenders in the process, and slotted it into the net as casually as if he were playing a practice match.

After the match, cocky Maradona said the goal had been scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God). Then the political undercurrents bubbled up, with Maradona claiming that the goal and Argentina’s victory were retribution for his country’s defeat to the English in the Falklands war. “We blamed the English players for everything that happened, for all the suffering of the Argentine people … This was revenge.”

Video and photographic evidence demonstrated that he had struck the ball with his hand, which was shown on television networks and in newspapers all over the world. The goal helped intensify the footballing rivalry between the two nations: Argentina went on to win the World Cup and the English now felt that they had been cheated out of a possible World Cup victory, while the Argentinians enjoyed the manner in which they had taken the lead.

Of all the photos, the above one by Bob Thomas gave a clear view of the incident that the referee had missed.