This performance, installation and video work features festive balloons and a printed out image that accompanied a tweet by Paraguayan President Marito Abdo Benítez, hung over a small waterfall. The artist shot the balloons and picture down with an airgun. The work references the following events:
On September 2nd, 2020, President Marito Abdo Benitez, tweeted: “We have had a successful operation against the EPP [domestic paramilitary terrorist group]. Following a confrontation, two members of this armed group have been neutralized. One officer was hurt. My sincere thanks to the entire team for their bravery in the fight against this armed group.”
I was at my farm in a rural and rather isolated part of Paraguay when Abdo tweeted this. I admit I didn’t pay much attention to it partly because I, like many others, don’t know much about the EPP. I believe that it exists, but I am not sure it poses the threat the government purports it does. In a way, the EPP seems to function as a convenient boogeyman or a decoy. Every so often, the government announces that it has killed two “bad men” in a remote location, far away from the capital. But don’t look over here, at the rising costs of living, or over there, at the latest corruption scandal.
This time, however, the tweet garnered unexpected attention. Over the next couple of days, there was a flurry of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram posts about the two members killed in the confrontation. Television anchors across all channels were constantly talking about this one incident. It was all over newsprint media as well. I remember texting friends on WhatsApp, asking what was going on. Everyone was confused. Then the Argentinean government got involved, further confusing everyone. What did Argentina have to do with this?
Information leaked slowly. The two armed members of the EPP were revealed to be women, which was not really surprising as women are vocal and visible members of the EPP. Interviews followed, each more convoluted than the previous. The bodies, which had been buried hastily due to “Covid regulations,” were exhumed. In another moment of critical clarity it was revealed that the women were between 18 and 25 years old. Forensic experts attested to the “sexual maturity” of the corpses. Finally, the truth came out. The bodies belonged to two eleven-year-old girls, cousins María del Carmen and Lilian Villalba. One had six bullets in her back and the other two.
A crisis of national proportions erupted. The entire state machine, including forensic teams, military personnel, journalists, and politicians all the way up to the President, was involved in the clumsy cover-up attempt. It became clear that the victims’ ages had only been leaked because they carried Argentinean documents. This begged the questions: How could an elite squad, financed by the US to the tune of 2 millions, confuse two small girls for armed men? How many times had this happened silently to Paraguayan victims? Had the military dictatorship really ended in 1989? Dictadura nunca más?
In the following days and weeks, the Paraguayan government and military came under mounting criticism fueled by local and regional demonstrations. The state presented one conflicting version of events after another, without ever backing down from its assertion of the “success” of the operation, despite the two girls’ murders. State officials deflected blame by claiming that the girls had been armed, had fired first or that their parents were the ones who had placed them in the crossfire.
Two years later no one has gone to prison for Lilian and Maria del Carmen’s murders. And, as of 2022, Marito Abdo Benítez is still President.
El 2 de Septiembre del 2020 el Presidente Mario Abdo Benítez twitteó: “Hemos tenido un operativo exitoso en contra del EPP. Luego de un enfrentamiento, dos integrantes de este grupo armado han sido abatidos.”
La obra Operativo Exitoso se aferra a este tweet y todo aquello que implica. La maquinaria estatal torpemente intentó suprimir evidencia del infanticidio en Yby Yaú, involucrando a militares, periodistas, doctores, investigadores forenses, ministros y al mismo presidente. Unos días después se revelaría, mediante confusas filtraciones de información, que las dos “integrantes” eran Lilian Mariana Villalba y María Carmen Villalba, un par de niñas de once años. Una revisión del tweet original pudiera leerse: “Hemos [ejecutado una matanza] en contra [de niñas indefensas]. Luego de [una emboscada], dos [niñas] han sido [asesinadas].”
El estado y medios oficialistas se esforzaron por controlar la narrativa en el período crítico que estalló a nivel nacional. El uso de lenguaje para describir la situación estaba diseñada para deshumanizar a las víctimas y sus familiares. El enfoque en los incidentes en el Panteón desplazó de manera planificada la cobertura informática del infanticidio en medios de prensa. Se planteó una batalla, real o imaginada, donde las niñas representaban una amenaza (mortal) a los soldados de la FTC y (simbólica) a la patria en general. A un mes de sus muertes toda mención de ellas había cesado en medios de prensa. Persisten la indignación, la inquietud y las preguntas, entre ellas: Si no portaban documentos argentinos, ¿se hubieran revelado sus identidades y edades? Si el estado intentó suprimir evidencia de este crimen, ¿qué otros crímenes habrá encubierto? ¿Dictadura nunca más?
Operativo Exitoso recuerda el uso de desinformación y señala la grotesca incongruencia entre el lenguaje oficial y los hechos. Nos sitúa en un monte, similar quizás a la escena del infanticidio, donde, según la abuela de las niñas, iban a festejar el cumpleaños de Lilian Mariana. Nos sitúa además, como audiencia, detrás del rifle de aire, apuntando el arma y apretando el gatillo.