The 1978 World Cup was played in Argentina during the military dictatorship, when there were hundreds of clandestine detention centers in our country; one of them, the largest, was a few blocks from the Monumental stadium, where the championship final was played. Also –and less is said about it– there were "legal" prisons full of political prisoners. The quotes are due to the fact that in these "legal" prisons there were death pavilions, from which some prisoners were taken out to be killed. At that time, I was in the Villa Devoto Prison, where the military concentrated all the political prisoners of the country.
They brought women from Tucumán, Salta, Rosario, Santa Fe, La Pampa, Neuquén, from all the provinces, from almost all the cities and from the countryside, because at that time there were peasants organized in the so-called Agrarian Leagues. They distributed us in two buildings, one divided into pavilions with about thirty women per pavilion, and another building with 28 cells for four people each. We rotated every so often from one pavilion to another, from one building to another, so that we didn´t create bonds and had to start from scratch to organize the routines with the other prisoners. We called it, "the merry-go-round"; it was a sad merry-go-round, which broke the affection bonds that were indispensable to us to survive.
We became more than nine hundred women in the prison of Devoto, of all ages and cultures and that fact, while enriching us, created all kinds of confusions, interdicts, obstacles and nonsense. Ours is a very big country in which, more then, different customs, sometimes antagonistic exists, and different looks in which the ancestors of one culture and another played a role. We know that women are given to analyze the reality from that instrument called "sentipensar" that Eduardo Galeano recommends, that is to say integrate feelings and thoughts in the elaboration of ideas.
Of course we debated which position was the correct one to adopt regarding the realization of the World Cup; some were in favor, for the joy that it could give to our suffering people, and some were against, for the joy it could give the military if everything went as they had thought: to show a country without problems so that the dictatorship no longer be a pariah in the international context. We debated with passion, until we were tired and in the end we did what we should have done on the first day: let each person handle her emotions as best she could.
I was in pavilion 35. We had uniforms already? I do not remember, I think so, pants and blue jackets. Navy blue. We didn´t have radios, nor newspapers, nor TV, so we learned about the matches when the common prisoners communicated with us, from the pavilion´s windows, through a sign language that was made with the fingers.
They were experts in speaking with their hands. A scheme was assembled when one of us was up to the window to communicate with a neighboring building. They couldn´t be more than ten minutes in the window, to avoid being discovered and punished. From these experts we learned when Argentina played. Through the visits we learned about the efforts of the mothers of the disappeared to speak with the international press.
The prison guards put the matches that Argentina played at full volume. Some prison mates said that they were sadists; others had the theory that at that time we were all Argentines and they did that as a momentary truce. We didn´t understand what the radio transmitted, the noise of the inflamed voices of the announcers, we couldn´t discern a word of what they said; we listened to the goals, but we didn´t know which team scored them. We also listened to the fans, the shouts, the joy of that part of the country that had permission to get together to watch football, that had permission for a moment of happiness, a happiness that hurt us, but at the same time excited us.
I believe that each one of us lived in their own terms that duality, the situation of being a political prisoner and of being, at the same time, Argentine; the desire for Argentina to win along with the desire for Argentina to lose so that the military didn´t capitalise on the victory. I was in my bed, at the back of the pavilion, but there were comrades crowded to the bars encouraging the advances of the team on the field, shouting goals that perhaps were not ours. Moments of high voltage, in which the dream or the utopia of having all the Argentines to have a single heart was reborn deep inside our minds. That didn´t existed for the simple reason that the dictators and the beneficiaries of the dictatorship didn´t have a heart, to say it with some innocence. And yet, I still want to believe that the Homeland is the Other. When I “feel sorry” comes the image of Milagro Sala and the other political prisoners of today, and I tell myself with Henry David Thoreau that when the system imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.