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July 21, 2013

The other Ford Falcon: Argentine Political Repression Tool

nunca-mas-book-argentina-Much is being made these days about so-called “world cars”, cars that are developed for worldwide assembly and sale. The current Ford Focus is one such car, built in several locations worldwide. This is a very strategic concept for Ford… but it’s not the first time it was done.

In 1960, the Ford Falcon was also built in multiple locations worldwide. Many readers will be familiar with the Australian version, at first glance identical to the North American version but slightly modified underneath for tougher road conditions in Australia. It was offered from 1960 onwards and remained a variant of the North American Falcon until the late sixties when Ford of Australia took it in its own direction. And the Australian Falcon is still with us today, although not for long.

But most readers will not be familiar with the version produced by Ford of Argentina, from 1962 thru 1991. It barely changed in styling in all those years, although  the overhead valve 6 cylinder engines were supplemented by the Ford 2.3 liter Pinto engine in 1983.  Otherwise, it was much the same car until the end of it’s almost half-million run, when it had become dated mechanically.

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Argentinean Police Falcon

But it had also become a symbol of political repression and terror. In 1973, while under the rule of the dictator Isabel Peron, the Alianza Anticommunista Argentine brigade was formed by right-wing elements of the government. It was also known as “Triple A” or “AAA”. This was a right-wing death squad created to take severe action against communist and left-wing elements, as well as anybody else who got in its way. The AAA was believed to have “disappeared” as many as thirty thousand people, most murdered under torture in secret jails, and only very few people were released. Most literally disappeared and were never accounted for. The killings often began with a kidnapping in the middle of the night. The Ford Falcon, dark green, with blacked-out windows and without license plates, was the vehicle of choice for the military and police squads to kidnap their victims and move them between the secret detention centers.

As Argentinians try to come to terms with their past, the Falcon remains a potent symbol of these crimes.

Nelva De Falcone lost her daughter to the AAA. Her 16 year old daughter’s crime was protesting high bus fees. She helped form the Mothers of the Plazo De Mayo, a group of Argentine Mothers formed to call for an official accounting of the loss of their family members. Nelva herself was tortured by the police with a cattle prod, while her husband was forced to watch. Her daughter has never been accounted for.

“Whenever a Falcon drove by or slowed down, we all knew that there would be kidnappings, disappearances, torture or murder,” reflects renowned Argentine psychologist and playwright Eduardo “Tato” Pavlovsky in a recent article. “It was the symbolic expression of terror. A death-mobile.”

falcon_acosta

To this day, the Falcon remains a powerful reminder of the past. “They are a symbol of repression,” said Miriam Lewin, a 49-year-old journalist who was kidnapped in a Falcon in the 1970s. Daniel Acosta, an artist who was kidnapped and held for five years, created this sculpture showing the infamous vehicle that took so many other Argentinean away.

Even the Ford corporation itself was not exempt from blame. In May 2013, Argentina charged three former Ford executives with crimes against humanity. They allegedly had almost 2 dozen union workers kidnapped and tortured because of union activism. Workers were also watched and threatened on the line by military troops.

A documentary, Falcon: Can A Car be Guilty of Murder?“, questions the ghost of the Ford Falcon. Nonetheless, to some, the Falcon remains a necessarily popular car. With many of the half million built still on the roads, it remains a popular working-class car as well as a remembrance by younger Argentinians of their family’s early days. But political repression has a way of coming back in difficult economic times: in 2005, an unknown group kidnapped the wife of an employee-run factory. She was taken away in a green Falcon.

George Santayana (1863 – 1952), a poet, novelist, and essayist wrote “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it”. The Argentinean Falcon will forever remain a symbol of repression and terror.

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