Tango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarria

“When the Tupamaros abandoned the armed struggle, they had accepted the order reluctantly; but passive resignation disappeared when the military torturers got amnesty.

They bumped into each other in the street one day and talked. While Triple-O and others of his kind lived unpunished, enjoying the oblivion and money they’d stolen from their victims, none of the former prisoners could take deep breaths of fresh air, laugh cheerfully, play with their children, or have a moment’s happiness in the piss-awful world. ”

Torture, Dirty Wars, right wing-military juntas. Just mention those terms and we know that the victims, even if they survive are never going to receive “Justice.” Well, for a start, I don’t know how you ensure exactly how a torture victim is supposed to get Justice. And I don’t know how the families of the thousands “disappeared” by paramilitaries or rightwing military juntas (I’m thinking Argentine or Uruguay here) are supposed to ever feel satisfied by some sort of court-ruling or a few years spent in jail by the perps. There can be no Justice for some crimes.

But how would you feel if those responsible for murdering your loved ones led lives of luxury often on the proceeds on their victims? What would you do if presented an opportunity to exact revenge against a man who’d tortured and humiliated you? Daniel Chavarria answers these questions in the novel Tango for a Torturer. And as a former Tupamaro from Uruguay, he’s the perfect author for this novel

Tango for a Torturer is set in present day Argentina, and the story revolves around two men: Aldo Bianchi and Alberto Rios. Aldo Bianchi is a former Argentinean revolutionary who now lives in Italy. On the surface, Bianchi appears to be a successful man, but a trail of broken marriages hint at some emotional difficulties in his past. While traveling to Cuba, Bianchi discovers that Rios, a sadistic torturer, is living it up in Cuba. Rios “a serious bastard and an excellent actor” who was once known as Triple-O, a Major in the Uruguayan army, now divides his time exercising, dining, sailing his luxury yacht, humiliating prostitutes and writing a book called (appropriately enough) Fruitful Cruelty.

Aldo Bianchi enacts a careful plan of revenge against the man responsible for the tortures and murders of countless numbers of people, and he carefully casts a web of intrigue around his enemy with the help of the voluptuous Cuban prostitute, Bini.

While this is ostensibly a work of fiction, Chavarria weaves in some very real names–including Dan Mitrione. And Rios/Triple O is a “dedicated student of Dan Mitrione in 1970, in the Scientific Persuasion courses that the CIA expert taught in Montevideo for police officers and members of various paramilitary groups.”

Chavarria outlines Mitrione’s Method of Operation:
“At Mitrione’s suggestion, that year the paramilitary groups took dozens of beggars, alcoholics, beachcombers … into custody and distributed them around various prisons for the Techniques of Persuasion laboratories. Mitrione preferred drunks to political prisoners as his guinea pigs. Human dregs don’t conspire against their governments. The inhabitants of drains, docks and bridges don’t hide secrets that can only be extracted under torture. Hence their usefulness: They make for excellent teaching tools and can withstand “the maximum degree of intimidation” What’s more they die without anyone reporting them as missing or demanding compensation.”

Tango for a Torturer is a phenomenally good read, and the fact that the plot highlights some rather dirty, shameful buried periods of history makes it even better. Translated by Peter Bush, it’s a smooth read from cover to cover, and each twist and turn of the plot keeps the reader guessing until the book’s satisfying conclusion.

Akashic Books 341pp.



Filed under Chavarria, Daniel

3 responses to “Tango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarria

  1. Thanks for this one. I think it’s a tremendous read.

  2. PS: what a film it would make!!

  3. Yes it’s very powerful, isn’t it?

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