Latin American Junta:
Argentina and Chile
DR MARTA ZABALETA
SPSL Beneficiary 1979–1981
Buenos Aires, 22 November 1976
I am expelled
by the Argentinean military junta, ordered to be at the
airport with my Chilean daughter to board the plane
on which my Chilean husband, still in detention, will
be flown to the UK, due to distant British ancestry.
Heathrow, 23 November 1976
I have survived
detention and torture in Chile. In Chile and Argentina
I am a highly qualified economist, but I land at
Heathrow as the invisible ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ of
The Latin American Council
of Social Sciences has arranged a Glasgow University
research fellowship for my husband. For two years,
four of us share two rooms. I am not even allowed to
use the library. World University Service (WUS) awards
my Chilean husband a grant, but does not support
Argentineans, despite my protests of discrimination.
Several people make contributions to help us survive.
With a week’s notice to leave our
Glasgow ‘home’, we move to a small house in Essex,
helped by Amnesty International (AI). I volunteer for
AI on Wednesdays, where two of us record some 8,500
cases of disappearances in Videla’s Argentina. I apply
to read for a doctorate.
Pauline, my husband’s WUS
caseworker, arranges an interview with Liz Fraser (SPSL
Secretary 1978 - 2002). She doesn’t speak Spanish.
I don’t speak English. She questions and I answer,
moving my head, my eyes, my feet. She takes notes.
The climax of the interview: “Do you intend to settle in
this country?” The word ‘settle’ is a total mystery to me.
There are two options, I think: to be positive and say
yes, or... I answer, “Yes!” Liz’s face lights up. She gives
the table a little slap and says goodbye. An SPSL form
follows. It asks: Have you ever felt persecuted for any of
the following reasons? a) political, b) racial, c) religious.
I add, ‘d) for being a woman’ and a tick. I receive small
grants from SPSL and others on which we live during
my studies. The SPSL grant covers childminding and
travel costs for weekly visits to Sussex University. I don’t
want to uproot my children again.
Museum of London, 2005
A meeting with
the curator of ‘Belonging’, an oral history project
dedicated to refugee contributions to London culture
and society. There are three CARA grantees, in addition
to myself, Liz the interviewer. It is the first time I
have seen Liz since 1979. I tell her I completed my
D.Phil in Development Studies in 1989 (IDS); she explains
how difficult it was to fund childcare and travel, rather
than fees and books. How times have changed.
Essex, 27 March 2013
I am still a mother, but I
haven’t been a wife for 20 years. Forty years on, I still
live in exile, but less invisible, and proud to have been
supported by the SPSL during one of the most bitter
and significant periods of my life.
Dr Zabaleta D.Phil. IDS, Sussex University. Argentinian-
British Social Scientist, writer and poet, first jailed in
Argentina in 1954 aged 17 for defending female secondary
school students. Marta is widely published and translated.
Mother and best friend to Yanina and Tomas Hinrichsen, she
has been an active human rights campaigner for 55 years,
with particular interest in international women's rights