The death of my friend and colleague, the Argentine journalist Jose “Pepe” Eliaschev, brings to mind a story that deserves to be told. Pepe died of pancreatic cancer in Buenos Aires on November 18, 2014. He was 69. He had for decades been a popular commentator and host on Argentine radio.
As young newsmen at The Associated Press in New York in the 1970s, Pepe and I were proud conspirators when some supervisors on the Latin America desk tried to censor or limit news about the right-wing Argentine military dictatorship.
I was on the World Desk at AP headquarters in New York. My job was to edit, transmit and sometimes report world news in English for our worldwide service in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Pepe sat several yards away at La Prensa Asociada — the Latin America desk, translating and transmitting news into Spanish for Mexico, Central and South America. As in the case of Pepe, some were from countries whose repressive regimes made journalism difficult and dangerous.
Others were right-wingers and even made sneering remarks in Spanish, assuming no one could understand. They didn’t know I spoke Spanish. In particular, some of the Latin editors supported the Argentine dictatorship, which at the time was deep into on a Dirty War and would end up killing or “disappearing” more than 20,000 people.
Pepe told me that some of the bosses were intercepting—“disappearing”—news stories that might be “embarrassing to Argentina.”
We knew, though, they couldn’t block stories if the English-speaking side of the desk originated or selected stories to publish – for example, the Carter administration’s human rights concerns, or questions about the role of the Catholic Church.
So Pepe would let me know when someone tried to weed out a story that might reflect badly on the Argentine dictatorship. All I had to do was resurrect the story on the international line in English. They were then forced to translate and transmit the report to the South American news lines.
This was significant, because many newspapers in Latin America self-censored their own reporting at home for reasons of safety; stories originating from AP in the United States could more easily be published.
One story in particular came in 1978 – the height of the Dirty War. Pepe told me that one of the members of the organization Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo was in New York and ready to be interviewed. I was able to write a national and international story about the group’s efforts to find children stolen from their imprisoned and murdered parents.
Pepe and I kept our heads down – that story and others appeared on the Latin wire as was only fair and fitting to our role as journalists. The goal was to make sure that all the news was available regardless of politics. It’s a proud memory of my old friend.