Diego Goldberg

I am a first generation Argentinean. I was born and raised in a country with a tumultuous history. Since 1930 not one civilian president could end his mandate normally: they were always ousted by military coups. When I was at school, in 1958, President Frondizi was deposed. When I was at the University, in 1966, the police, mounted on horses, entered the faculty building chasing students and professors alike. This was the night President Illia was replaced by General Ongania. This general was in turn replaced by General Levingston, who was later replaced by General Lanusse. In 1976 President Isabel Peron was sent packing by General Videla. He was replaced by General Viola some years later and General Galtieri had his turn after him. All along, unions were disbanded, intellectuals persecuted, people jailed, thousands had to leave the country into exile, thousands more disappeared (the word desaparecido became internationally known, a doubtful achievement for the Spanish language). During those events, the Church, with rare exceptions among its prelates, was always silent, ready to accommodate the new powers in the palace.

Traumatic as these events were, I soon realized that mine was not a rare "nut case"country. All across Latin America the same pattern emerged, with exceptions and originalities according to local conditions. When I became a photographer -- a photojournalist -- I was soon a witness to these events in every country I visited: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico etc. And I began photographing them. I saw the different actors in a theater of inequity whose play I already knew: the harsh, messianic postures of the general and the pious look of the bishop, their sense of ownership -- some of bodies, others of souls.

For people in the North it is perhaps hard to understand the decisive role these two institutions have had in the tragic, devastating realities of this continent. There are also other similarities between both institutions. After all it is no coincidence that the Church sees itself as the "Army of God" and the armies themselves are devoutly Catholic. They are both structured similarly by their hierarchy, their chain of command, schools to form their cadres, a different status from the rest of society, etc.

Photojournalists (and I am obviously one of them) seem to be running from one place to the other, covering war and hunger, social upheavals and coup d'etats, as if they were plugging leaks of an ever-breaking dike. Most of our work is focused on the immediate consequences of dramatic events, but very seldom do we pay attention to the roots of conflict. We can all see the plight of the Rwandan people, the fight in Bosnia or the devastating effects of AIDS, but who knows why have things gotten to that point? I suggest that we should concentrate some of our efforts in trying to understand before, rather than always having to document the aftermath.

Diego Goldberg lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina and can be reached at