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Category: In the press

575. the sentinel, 01 may 2021

This article appeared in the online edition of the Kennesaw State University official student newspaper. Although this Georgia university publication has received awards & praise, there are a few major errors in this article that warrant some fact-checking & revision…


Cemetery built in Buenos Aires due to yellow fever to sell with Covid

In 1871, Buenos Aires experienced a serious health crisis. Struck by yellow fever, the Argentine capital saw the only two cemeteries in the city at the time overflowing at the very start of the epidemic.

Faced with death figures rising to 700 a day, authorities saw no other solution than to hastily open a new cemetery – that of Chacarita, which ended up receiving most of the 18,000 victims. of disease. At the time, Buenos Aires had no more than 180,000 inhabitants.

  • Comment: City historians generally estimate the number of yellow fever victims as 14,000, or 10% of the population of Buenos Aires, with burials taking place first in the Southern Cemetery & later in Chacarita Cemetery.

Today, 150 years later, expanded and with new areas intended only for those killed by the coronavirus, Chacarita cemetery is once again on the edge. The employees, members of the park and cemetery workers union, have asked the Ministry of Labor to be vaccinated as soon as possible, otherwise they will participate in a nationwide strike and stop collecting bodies and taking them to their graves.

“We were classified as essential from the first moment because we had to keep working to keep the flow of burials going. Now, at the time of vaccination, we are not considered essential and we go to the end of the line,” says Folha Salvador Valente, from Soecra (Union of Cemeteries Workers and Employees of the Argentine Republic).

“It’s not fair, we are much more exposed than the general population, we are on the front lines, as doctors, and we have already lost many colleagues.”

  • Comment: The SOECRA union secretary is Salvador Valente. Folha is a Portuguese word that means “leaf”, “sheet of paper” or “page”. Oh, I know where this is going…

A first request for priority vaccination and additional protective equipment, made in January, was refused by the government. For this reason, cemetery workers returned to register the same demand this week, now with the threat of a strike. If it is a national problem, it is in the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires, epicenter of the pandemic in Argentina, that the situation is most serious.

The traditional cemetery of Recoleta has been crowded for some time and today it functions more as an open-air museum, as it no longer receives new burials. There is also a more popular cemetery in the Flores neighborhood – another opening up an exclusive area for the dead by Covid – which, like Chacarita, is saturated.

  • Comment: Completely false that Recoleta Cemetery no longer receives new burials. It is still a functioning cemetery.

La Chacarita is the largest in the city in activity and one of the most emblematic of the Argentine capital. He buried the idol of the tango Carlos Gardel, the writer Roberto Arlt, the plastic artist Antonio Berni and the composer Enrique Santos Discépolo, among other celebrities.

The cemetery also housed the body of Juan Domingo Perón for many years, until his grave was attacked, and the hands of the former president uprooted and stolen, in 1987. The reason for the crime and the fate of the Perón’s hands remain unknown, in another mysterious story of local politics.

Argentina, Buenos Aries, Chacarita, cemetery, Juan Domingo Perón, mausoleum
Argentina, Buenos Aries, Chacarita, cemetery, Juan Domingo Perón, mausoleum
Perón family mausoleum. Photos by Robert in 2005, one year before Perón was moved to the Quinta de San Vicente.

“Chacarita is an Argentinian heritage. It is the cemetery that is home to popular culture icons, football players, tangueiros, actors, in addition to Perón to a certain extent. [após o sequestro das mãos, o resto do corpo foi levado a uma propriedade particular da família]“If the Recoleta cemetery is that of the aristocratic elite of the 19th century, that of Chacarita is that of popular culture,” says historian Felipe Pigna.

  • Comment: More random Portuguese! So this article was lifted from the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. But why use a Brazil source for an article about Argentina? Odd to say the least.

For the researcher, it is important to preserve the cemetery both as a place of functioning and as a memory of the porteños. “As much as the current pandemic is causing great suffering to the city, we must remember the nightmare of yellow fever and how frightened the people were. At that time, it was not known that the disease was transmitted by a mosquito. There was an important crisis policy and even the president [Domingo Faustino] Sarmiento left town, “Pugna recalls.” Buenos Aires was in charge of a commission of notables, doctors, politicians, who were also dying.

The historian recalls that at that time, the so-called “death train” also circulated in the city, a locomotive of a wagon that crossed the Argentine capital to pick up the dead from their homes.

Valente, from the cemetery workers union, recalls that today they collect corpses from their homes and accompany them to the grave. “Due to the current protocol, only a loved one can be present at the funeral, in addition to one of our employees. In other words, our role in this pandemic is essential,” he recalls. “There are private funeral homes that had to close because all the employees were infected. We are working overtime and at our limit. We want the vaccine so that we don’t have to interrupt our work.

In response, the government claims to be assessing demand, but Argentina suffers from a vaccine shortage. The main government contract with the Russian laboratory Gamaleia has been delayed and deliveries of the Sputnik V immunizer are taking too long. Likewise, drugs purchased from AstraZeneca and Chinese Sinopharm arrive in smaller quantities than promised.

So far Argentina has only vaccinated 15% of the population with one dose and 2% with both.


Glaring errors aside, cemetery workers should be considered frontline workers just like health care providers. They provide an essential service in normal times & even more so during a pandemic.

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556. covid-19 closure

As the coronavirus makes its way to Argentina, staff at Recoleta Cemetery are taking preventative measures to ensure everyone’s health & safety. As of 13 Mar 2020, the cemetery is CLOSED until further notice to all tourists. Below are two official communiques from Recoleta Cemetery:

We’ll let you know when they reopen, but in the meantime feel free to take a virtual visit by scanning through over 550 posts on this blog. More important: stay healthy & respect recommendations by health care officials. Recoleta Cemetery will be waiting for you when this health emergency ends!

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554. attempted robbery

Yesterday evening, the night watchman on duty noticed suspicious movement inside the cemetery & quickly informed the police. When officers arrived, they chased the trespasser through the rows of tombs & finally apprehended a 28-year old man.

In his backpack were five plaques that had been removed from their respective mausoleums. Two were dedicated to Raúl de Acevedo Ramos, one to surgeon Ricardo Finochietto & the other two are illegible in the photo below:

Obviously an attempt to sell the plaques as scrap metal —theft of metals is a common crime in Buenos Aires— police believe this could be the same person who stole a 300-kilogram marble & metal column from the monument to General San Martín in Retiro in December 2019. The full article by Clarín (in Spanish) also mentions robberies in Chacarita Cemetery.

Note: All photos come from the article linked above & are not property of this blog.

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553. still recommended

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Lonely Planet, 2018, 11th edition

Marcelo & I don’t live in countries where Lonely Planet guidebooks in English are readily available, so it’s always nice to pop into a real bookstore —while they still exist!— to see if our cemetery PDF guide is still recommended. Happy to find good news. The photo above comes from the latest edition (11th, published 2018) of LP’s Argentina guidebook.

Thanks for the continuing support!

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550. familia de saavedra lamas

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Saavedra Lamas

Born in Buenos Aires in 1878, Carlos Saavedra Lamas had family roots dating back to the earliest days of Argentina. As great-grandson of founding father Cornelio de Saavedra, perhaps Carlos seemed destined for success. But he did something no one ever expected… Saavedra Lamas became the first Argentine to receive a Nobel Prize.

His career path began as a lawyer & teacher, & in 1908 Saavedra Lamas started in politics as representative for the city of Buenos Aires in Congress. During the presidency of Victorino de la Plaza, he became the Minister of Justice & Public Instruction. Remember that the Victorino de la Plaza administration had to implement universal suffrage when President Roque Sáenz Peña died just after the law had been passed. One other interesting connection: Saavedra Lamas married Rosa, the daughter of Roque Sáenz Peña. But it was his next big government position that would send him into the international spotlight.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Saavedra Lamas

As Minister of Foreign Relations during the military-run Agustín P. Justo administration (1932-38), Saavedra Lamas negotiated peace between Paraguay & Bolivia during the Chaco War. At a nexus between four countries, the Chaco region had long been an area of contention. Argentina had most of the power, treating Paraguay as a feudal trade partner. Brazil feared the dominance of Argentina in South America, & Bolivia yearned for an outlet to the Pacific Ocean in order to avoid being landlocked by other nations. Recently discovered oil also played a role in the conflict. Saavedra Lamas persevered to find a peaceful resolution to the war by addressing the League of Nations & at the same time prevented the USA from intervening in what it saw as a “local,” hemispherical dispute.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Saavedra Lamas

During the Chaco War, Saavedra Lamas drew up a Treaty of Non-agression & Conciliation (referred to in Spanish as the Pacto Antibélico) which stated that signatories would not recognize any territorial change in the entire hemisphere brought about by an act of war. By 1935, all nations in North & South America —with the exception of Bolivia & Costa Rica— had signed the peace agreement. What an amazing accomplishment in a decade full of nascent dictatorships & warmongering! Six European countries, including Spain, also ratified the treaty. As of 1948, another treaty superseded that of Saavedra Lamas but many nations still recognize the original. In 1936, Saavedra Lamas received the Nobel Prize for Peace, becoming the first Argentine to receive the honor. He passed away in 1959 & was buried with honors in Recoleta Cemetery.

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Saavedra Lamas, Nobel Peace Prize, medal

A bitter afternote: The actual medal given to Saavedra Lamas disappeared after his death, then turned up in 1993 in a pawn shop. It passed through several private collectors until being auctioned in March 2014 in Baltimore. A representative in Argentina’s Congress proposed buying it back… but as the second-only Nobel Peace Prize medal ever up for sale, it fetched an amazing price: $1,116,250 USD! Supposedly a private Asian collector now has a symbol of Argentina’s once prominent role in international peacemaking.

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538. bombs & anarchists

On 14 Nov 2018 around 17:15—less than an hour before closing time—a bomb went off inside Recoleta Cemetery. Marcelo immediately sent me a message via WhatsApp & within seconds I watched the story unfold on TN’s live YouTube broadcast from my living room in Spain:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, TN Vivo

The explosion occurred in the far left corner of the cemetery at the tomb of Ramón Falcón, & initial reports mentioned one of five home-made pipe bombs exploding… severely injuring one woman who was being attended by an EMT crew onsite. Forensic police arrived to investigate the scene as well as assess any potential threat from unexploded devices. Later that day, the following photos were released via the national news agency, Télam:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, bombing, Ramón Falcón, Télam

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, bombing, Ramón Falcón, Télam

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, bombing, Ramón Falcón, Télam

The story wasn’t difficult to put together. The injured woman, 34-year old Anahí Esperanza Salcedo, had been responsible for the bombing & suffered facial damage as well as the loss of three fingers when the device exploded early… apparently while taking a selfie.

Salcedo entered the cemetery with Hugo Alberto Rodríguez, both disguised with wigs & sunglasses. They identify as anarchists & wanted to destroy the tomb of Falcón, who had been assassinated by an anarchist 109 years ago. In the end, the tomb survived while Salcedo remains in critical condition.

Police officials consider this crime linked to another pipe bomb thrown into the front patio of the home of judge Claudio Bonadio later that same day. Bonadio is currently investigating charges of bribery & money laundering involving members of the previous government, including former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The following day federal police raided the anarchists’ base of operations in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of San Cristóbal & arrested 10 individuals after finding material used to make pipe bombs.

Marcelo went to Recoleta Cemetery to assess the situation two days after the bombing occurred. The first change he noticed is that bags are now being inspected at the entrance gate. While we aren’t sure if this checkpoint will become permanent, be prepared to have your belongings searched until further notice. Marcelo also confirmed the correct time of the bombing, misreported in local media as around 18:00… impossible since the cemetery promptly closes at that time every day. Forensic police were still working the scene during his visit:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, entrance gate, Marcelo Metayer

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Marcelo also heard people ask in several different languages where the explosion had taken place. Word had quickly spread about the incident. He’ll return next week for an update, so stay tuned! In the meantime, tombs that are located inside the orange dashed line on the map below cannot be visited. This corresponds to locations numbered 41 to 44 in the PDF guide:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, affected section from bombing

During 19 years of visiting & documenting Recoleta Cemetery, neither Marcelo nor I ever imagined this kind of violence taking place inside. Some speculate that it may be an attempt to disrupt an otherwise calm city preceding the G-20 summit. Whatever the reason, one lesson that Recoleta Cemetery demonstrates through almost 200 years of history is that violence is never the means to an end. And you can’t kill someone twice!

Update (22 Nov 2018): Apparently all cemeteries in Buenos Aires—Recoleta, Chacarita & Flores—will not allow visitors to enter with bags or backpacks, & handbags will be inspected by security. Photo courtesy of Susana Gesualdi:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Susana Gesualdi, notice

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