Made “an Illustrious Citizen of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires” by the City Legislature earlier this year, the Senate yesterday awarded former Buenos Aires Herald editor and current Sunday columnist Robert Cox the Commemorative Medal of the Bicentenary of the May Revolution 1810-2010 for his courageous and unconditional commitment to democracy and human rights during the last military dictatorship.
The tribute, led by Senator María Eugenia Estenssoro (Civic Coalition-Buenos Aires), president of the Systems, Media Communications and Freedom of Expression Committee, included a debate entitled “Journalism and Democracy: past, present and future challenges”, a subject in which Cox, after his years at the Herald’s helm, is an expert.
Chaired by Senator Estenssoro, panellists included Página/12 co-founder Jorge Lanata; author and former journalist Senator Norma Morandini (Civic Front-Córdoba) who, like Cox went into exile during the dictatorship; and Hugo Alconada Mon, lawyer and author of Los secretos de la valija.
Held in the Provinces Hall, a wooden panelled room with a stunning stained glass ceiling and a statue of José de San Martín, as Cox took his front row seat accompanied by wife Maud, there were calls of “Señor Cox, hello.”
Estenssoro led the tribute. “This is a man of great value, a brave one too. Robert Cox is an exemplary human being, as an editor and a journalist. Thanks to his courage and personal commitment and that of his team, the Buenos Aires Herald was the only newspaper during the dicatatorship in the 1970s to report what was going on and reveal not only the name but also the surname of those people who had disappeared.
“In addition, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo found their voice in Cox as he was the only one who would listen to them and publish their stories, not only in the Herald but internationally as well,” she added. “His unconditional commitment to democracy, freedom of expression and human rights is the reason he is receiving this Commemorative Medal.”
Besides the panel, other guests included US-born journalist Uki Goñi, friend Harry Ingham, Juana Muñiz Baretto whose politician father was killed in 1977, Perfil journalist Silvina Walger, Deputy Fernando Iglesias (Civic Coalition-Buenos Aires city) who has mutual friends with Cox and Senator Eduardo Enrique Torres (Renewal Front-Misiones.)
Torres gave a heartfelt speech, returning to the dictatorship. “Like Bob, I too was suspected of opposing the military regime many times but it was one Englishman who affected the lives of all Argentines,” he said.
That navy-suited Englishman, after receiving a matching coloured velvet box complete with gold medal, thanked everyone for their generosity, then added to the debate’s theme.
“I believe democracy and human rights exist in Argentina,” he said to applause, “and I will continue working towards that, to strengthen democracy here as I realized just how terrible those years were and just how important journalism was.
“What happened to me still surprises me. My circumstances saved me although I don’t know how. But I see Argentina through rose-tinted spectacles now — I’ve been to AFIP, ANSES…everything’s great,” he joked.
Returning to the 1970s, he added: “But it wasn’t easy. It’s important not to forget the past but to use it to improve on the future. Argentina can be a great country although it will be hard work. And it will take freedom, freedom, freedom.”
First published in the Buenos Aires Herald on 25 November, 2010