The history of Ana Maria-Gonzalez captured global attention, both for the audacity and repercussions of the action which she led (the assassination of a Police Chief) as well as for the relationship she had built with the family beforehand. She became a symbol of the Montoneros in an epoch when they were facing extermination at the hands of General Videla’s brutal military dictatorship. We present here (what we believe is the first ever) English translation of the original interview with her by the Spanish magazine Cambio 16. The reporter had to flee Argentina, accompanied to the airport by Spanish diplomatic officials, under the constant threat of assassination by the military.
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Cambio 16, Madrid, August 14, 1976
“Tomorrow at exactly 12, go the intersection of Cordoba Avenue with Junin Street and wait at the bus stop. A person will come up to you with a watch on their right hand and a copy of the magazine Siete Dias. He will ask you what time it is and you will have to say that it is an hour earlier or an hour later then it actually is. Next follow him. Present yourself well-dressed, in a suit and tie, you are going to a party.” The next day, an hour after noon, the man sent with the copy of Siete Dias and his journalistic follower passed the small garden and entered a salon that’s rented for weddings, baptisms and communions. In the background, above a table, appetizers and bottles of red wine were glimmering.
The location seemed tranquil and the location was, because of the uncertain times passing in Argentina, in an orderly neighborhood. Two blocks away, a police station; six blocks in the opposite direction, another one. If that wasn’t enough, 10 more blocks and you have the comfort of an Army barracks.
The 15 guests of the party showed up with impeccable suits and ties. As is traditional for these kind of reunions everyone overlooked some of the small details: for example that the participants have left behind in their houses their distinguished spouses and, on the other hand, that everyone is equipped with a pistol or machine gun. Not very far from the pastries, a second table holds a curious collection. Long-range anti-tank grenades, SEM 4 hand grenades, rocket-launchers, armor-piercing bullets — all of which are part of the homemade arsenal of the Montoneros. Three people wear a guerilla uniform.
Only 2 women participate in the strange party. One of them has a sweet voice, is smiling and beautiful, wearing the white socks and the red jacket of a student. She has for more than a month been the enemy number one of the Argentinian police. The national media has published on a number of occasions that she has been found dead or that she has fled from the country. In her first public appearance, Ana Maria Gonzales, 18 years old and with a pistol in her belt, explains to Cambio 16 the details of what has become known as “Operation Cardozo”.
HOW TO HUNT THE HUNTER “The operation started to take form when the newspapers reported that General Cardozo was named the new Federal Police Chief. At this moment I put myself in contact with the cadre to who I reported and I advised them that I went to the same school as the daughter of the general. So we decided that I would attempt to establish a friendly relationship with Maria Graciela in order to enter their house.”
At the beginning there were a number of difficulties, “above all because of the relationship that me and Maria Graciela had in the past school year, during which we only met to insult each other based on political differences. So we came to the conclusion that it would be very difficult and that I could only go to their house to look for study notes or something similar”. In the first week of classes the montonera Ana Maria was able to enter into contact with the daughter of the Police Chief “on the basis of a made up story or two about my romantic situation and the need I had for support from the school group. I began to participate in the study group of which Maria Graciela was part of along with two other daughters of military officers. After two weeks I began to visit and have a decently strong relationship with the family. It was common for me to call Maria Graciela and tell her: look I’m feeling really bad and need to talk to someone. I’ll go to your house”.
“I entered the apartment of the Cardozos for the first time at the beginning of May, 45 days before the “operation”. However a month later while going with two comrades to a meeting she was detained. “I immediately told the police that I was a friend of Maria Graciela Cardozo and the rest of my schoolmates. Above all because her number was in my phonebook. If this wasn’t the case, my situation could have become much more complicated. At first they didn’t really take this seriously, but after the torture sessions and having been unable to prove anything they changed their position completely. They began to treat me sweetly, buying me chocolates… when I was freed I immediately got in contact with Maria Graciela. I told her what had happened, and afterwards there was a bit of a distancing on the part of the family as they became more alert.”
This situation continued for ten more days, at the end of which Ana Maria began to visit again. She visited two more times “with which we completed gathering all the information we needed for the operation. Which is to say, until this moment we didn’t know exactly where we would put the explosive. Our intention was to place it under the bed, a location where it would certainly hit at the right hour, but we didn’t know what would be the excuse to enter the bedroom and place it there.” she says. “Then I was able to enter on the basis of the telephone (there were two, one of which was in the bedroom). Taking the measurements and everything else, we had all the information we needed to launch the operation.”
The guerilla organization set July 16th as the date for the operation. The circumstances contributed to make it easier: the study group of which the montonera student was a part set a date with advanced notice to study in the house of Maria Graciela Cardozo, on the afternoon of the 16th. “This day” Ana Maria continues her story, “I went to school late, with the explosive already in my purse. As was usual, the bodyguards of Maria Graciela Cardozo took us all together to her house in a Ford Falcon with its sirens, guns and scopes helping guard the bomb. We began to work, doing drawings and at a more or less reasonable hour, at which it was already quite likely that the mother or father could return (it was 6:40 in the afternoon), I asked for permission to call someone on the telephone. First I went to the bathroom, where I activated the mechanism. Afterwards I went to the bedroom, put the bomb under the bed, started to leave, and after a few steps realized I had placed it too low. I returned, put it closer to where the head would be, then I went and told Maria Graciela that I was feeling very bad, that I would go home. I finished some drawings, asked them to bring me them the next day, and I went.”
“ONE OF THE WORST SACRIFICES” The death of the chief of police and the circumstances around it moved the country. News of the friendship between the executor of the operation and the daughter of the victim added dramatically to the deed. Ana Maria Ginzalez justified her actions implacably. “I faced one of the worst sacrifices of a militant: living with the hated enemy. For a month and a half I had to visit the home of Cardozo as a school friend of his daughter, while he led the kidnapping, torture and assassination of dozens of comrades. I had to share the table with and endure with a smile his commentaries, every time a man of the people was assassinated.”
How was General Cardozo in person? Ana Maria states that there weren’t many opportunities to talk with him. “The relationship was very superficial, which is to say, the times we talked around the dining table, he would touch on the tortures and the refined modern methods of it. I declared that the guerillas didn’t have any reason to do what they did and that they simply had nothing better to do with their lives. That this showed the strength of the police in defense of the institutions, the family and everything else, with which the use of torture was justified. Afterwards, the relationship with me was very good: he liked me a lot; I was gifted tickets to the theater… As for the rest, they weren’t in the home very much and when they were they watched TV or slept.”
The same night as the explosion, the police went to the home of the guerilla, which they found empty with the parents absent. Afterwards the apartment was destroyed by another explosion. “I told my family the day of the operation, that it was very likely that the house would be searched because a number of papers were captured which had my name in them. The best idea, given the situation with the government in which the families of militants were not respected, and so I said to them “Well, this is the situation, the best you can do is go to the home of a family member, at least for tonight. Tomorrow things will be much clearer.” The following day we contacted them, they had already seen the news anyways. Since this moment I haven’t been in contact with them. I know through other sources that they are all well.
The type of bomb that killed Cardozo has been a cause of great speculation. Some sources have declared that it worked based on a pressure trigger. Horacio Mendizable, Military Chief of the Montoneros, intervenes in the conversation: “It had a timed double mechanism which we set to detonate around 1:30 in the morning. The explosive had 600 grams of TNT and was inside a package the size of a cologne bottle so it would appear like a present for Father’s Day”.
The official declarations of the authorities immediately pointed to the ERP as responsible for the act. Interviewed by Cambio 16, Mendizabel stated that he didn’t clearly understand the aim of this government version because “they know it was us, and she (Anna Maria Gonzalez) has a past as one of our militants.” Another elegantly dressed participant at the party offers his interpretation: “It’s more convenient to attribute the death of Cardozo to the ERP, because they have internationalist symbols: they are accused of being marxists, subject to international discipline; we by contrast do not have relations with the Soviet Union; we are “The Muchachos”, we’re a part of national folklore”.
The political objective of the assassination of General Cardozo seems clear for the executioner: “We talked about it a lot, above all towards the end, in which because of my detention the situation became very complicated” says Ana Maria Gonzalez. “We saw an operation like this as very important to strengthen the morale of our comrades. In this moment we have been suffering many losses and, even though we had efficient military actions, they did not break through the media blockade of the enemy. With an operation like this there wouldn’t be any problems with propaganda because it would unstoppably emanate throughout public opinion. On the other hand, the objective was very clear. Eliminating the Chief of Police didn’t have any way around it.”
Horacio Mendizable, sitting at an improvised conference table, jumps in: “I want to emphasize an important element here. The comrade is a soldier of an organization and what she tells here as an anecdote is a decisive act which reflects the morale of our troops. After being detained and tortured 15 days before the operation, she continued going to the home of the Chief of Police. This shows something more than cold-blood, it shows a solid ideological conviction, because it was even discussed with her and she insisted on going forward with the operation”.
SELECTIVE OBJECTIVES “This helps to show-” continues the military chief, “ that in a people’s war the enemy has no possibility of retreat. They attack our neighborhoods, our militants, but we can continuously hit at their center. This is of course not our essential line, which is the opposite. The enemy tries to misrepresent our doctrine with explosives. We have never utilized these indiscriminately but rather highly selectively.”
The placement of the bomb which, the past July 2nd, destroyed the cafeteria of the Federal Security Superintendency offers, according to Mendizabel, similar characteristics to “Operation Cardozo” although the explosive was of course much larger: 9 kilos of TNT and 5 of steel balls through a timed mechanism which was “introduced in the building by a comrade who was infiltrating them and who had entered the week before with a similar, dud package as a test. When we saw that everything went well, we launched the operation, which also showed the high morale and the calmness of our comrades because he was eating lunch there and the explosive was set to go off 7 minutes after he left. It was a cafeteria in which everyone worked with a pseudonym, you would never hear a last name. Everyone had big sunglasses, which is to say it was a very secretive environment there.”
MYSTERIOUS OBITUARIES. The official sources of the government consulted by Cambio 16 agree on this point with the declarations of the guerillas. The balance of the explosion was that of 41 deaths and a hundred injured. In the building no-one was unaffected because “the bomb, as well as destroying the cafeteria — where no-one escaped alive — produced bursts of gas and the entrance door was blasted 30 feet away where two police were standings guard.” The official communications gave a balance of 21 dead lower officials, yet in the newspapers a mysterious number of obituaries of high officials, dead the same day, began to appear. Among them the General Commissioner Anzulovich, the Intelligence Assessor of the Superintendency, Huber the Captain of the Prospero Asiain, who was the link for Navy intelligence, and Comissioner Reiz, a key figure in police documentation. Reiz had set up a costly system of computers — Digicom — which police cars had access to, through which any car could request the details on a person and have them appear immediately on the screen.
The sixty million dollars won by the Montoneros for the kidnapping of the Born brothers has, for a long period of time, ended any financial problems for the organization. They have become alongside the Palestinians, the most well-funded guerillas in the world. This economic potential will in grand measure be utilized to increase the military potential of the Montoneros, who have clandestine arms factories. On the table reserved for weddings and baptisms they show off the “Energa”, the proliferation of which is the subject of extensive study by the Argentinian Army. It’s a long-range anti-tank weapon which is fired by another Montonero apparatus, the “Musket”. It has a tremendous penetration power against cement walls and steel blinds. The projectile, for all appearances, has devastating effects as it injects gas pressure at temperatures higher than 3500 degrees centigrade, reducing everything around it to ashes.
The guerilla organization has as an immediate program for the future, in the face of the huge offensive unleashed by the military Junta, what Mendizabal calls a “defensive strategy”. At the same time as the preparation for the counter-offensive, which they talk of in terms of building a “Montonero Army” the form of which is under discussion, capable of leading the masses during a grave economic crisis which will be accompanied by partial insurrections. These will serve — according to the guerillas — to convert the organization into a popular movement which will take advantage of the legacy of 30 years of the struggle of Peronist workers.
The Montoneros have clearly distanced themselves from the ideological foundations of the Peronist philosophy which inspired them for many years. “One thing is the Peronist philosophy” the military chief declares, “and another thing is Peronism as an identity of the working class and the people, an expression of their struggles. We are clearly socialist and we want the Montonero movement to allow for the construction of socialism in Argentina, something Peron did not allow for.”
UNEXPECTED GUESTS Meanwhile, the Montonero reception has brought on four unexpected guests. Two clueless visitors who passed looking for some receipt, the manager of the location, and a girl who upon seeing the guns on the other side of the door starts to whine “don’t kill me, don’t kill me”. They have all been kept in the kitchen. Mendizabal sends Ana Maria Gonzalez to console the girl. “Sorry for the inconvenience, this is a people’s war and we have to take security measures.” Shortly afterwards the machine guns and pistols return to their hidden places, the grenades and bombs to their dessert boxes. 15 minutes later, the unexpected guests timidly circle around the kitchen door and realize that they are alone. The party is over.
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Buenos Aires, February 23, 1977- Ana Maria Gonzalez, the guerilla “Montonera” who last June assassinated the Chief of Police in Buenos Aires, was killed in a fight last night according to sources with Argentine security forces. According to the official version, Ana Maria Gonzalez was surprised by a vehicle checkpoint in San Justo, 20 kilometers to the south-west of Buenos Aires. The death happened, according to these sources, in the first week of January…..