John Samuel Tieman: Mi Amigo, Bill Salatino, El Montonero
It was always Bill, pronounced Beel, so Argentine, never Guillermo or Memo.
Bill was what you imagine when you picture a Latin America revolutionary. Tall. Handsome. Played the guitar. Leftist Peronist. I liked him the second I met him.
When I moved to Mexico City in 1982, my first group of friends were mostly leftist scholars and communist revolutionaries. Former Montoneros and Sandinistas. There were guys that broadcast a daily radio show to the FMNL in El Salvador. The scholars were mostly Marxists, with the occasional democratic socialist economist.
Bill had been a squad leader. His military specialty was robbing banks. Bill took great pride in the fact that, when he left Argentina, he fought with the Sandinistas. He was in the final assault upon Somoza’s bunker in Managua. Following a few years as a political refugee in Canada, when I met him he was living peacefully in exile in Mexico City. He could not return to Argentina because of the ongoing “Dirty War”.
In Argentina, Bill was captured and tortured. Of course, I never asked the details. But I got a grim insight from his delight when his Mexican wife got pregnant. He mentioned in passing that he didn’t think he could have kids because of the torture. Eventually, he had a boy and a girl.
He was a proud man in that way that only Argentines can be proud. Many Mexicans would say arrogant, superior. In Bill’s case, it came as a form of dignity. Like the dignity he showed the Canadians.
After fighting with the Sandinistas, Bill went into exile for a few years in Canada, where he learned French and English. He lived in Ottawa. He hung-out with folks from the Cuban Embassy.
One day, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called him in for questioning about his associations with known Communists. He refused to answer.
Finally, after hours of questioning, in exasperation his interrogator says, “We are the Royal Canadian Mounted Police! How dare you take that attitude when we question you?”
To which Bill replies, “I am an Argentine! How dare you question me without torturing me first?”
As I write, I am three days away from visiting Buenos Aires. I planned to visit with Bill and other friends.
I’ve just been informed that Bill passed.
While the anecdote above is humorous, I hope it is not lost upon my reader that Bill was a man of great courage, who took up arms against a ruthless regime that tortured and “disappeared” thousands of his fellow Argentines. He further had the courage to fight for the liberation of Nicaragua.
Some will say to me, “But this guy was a leftist revolutionary!”
To which I say simply this. If this man was not a patriot, if this man was not a hero, then those words have no meaning.