La Patagonia rebelde (The Patagonian Rebellion)  (1974)

 

 

Director:   Hector Olivera

Starring:  Pedro Aleandro (Felix Novas),  Hector Alterio (Commander Zavala),  Luis Brandoni (Antonio Soto),  Franklin Caicedo (Farino "El chileno"),  Horacio Dener (obrero),  Coco Fossati, José María Gutiérrez (Gobernador Méndez Garzón), Fernando Iglesias 'Tacholas' (Graña 'El español'), Alfredo Iglesias (Ministro Gómez), Maurice Jouvet (Don Federico), Néstor Kirchner (Extra), Carlos Lasarte, Caudio Lucero (Comisario Micheri), Federico Luppi (Jose Font, 'Facon Grande'), Carlos Muñoz (Don Bernardo).

This is a true story about farm workers in Patagonia (plains region of Argentina) who attempt to get better working conditions from their employers.  Two socialists come to town to support the worker action. 

 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

"This film is an interpretation of a historical event taken from the book The Avengers of Tragic Patagonia of Osvaldo Bayer. For narrative reasons, some of the facts, names and ranks have been altered. "

Buenos Aires, January 1923. A man in bed suddenly awakens at the sound of gunfire. Is it real or was it a dream?

In the city a man with a strange look on his face and holding something in his hand wrapped in a paper bag, takes up a position in the doorway of a building.

A man in bed gets up and goes into the bathroom. On a chair is his military uniform all laid out for him. Zevala gets dressed and goes out on a little balcony to take a look. Just across the street from him is the fellow holding something in a paper bag. The man moves to the other side of the road.

The officer comes out onto the street. The man waiting for him throws a bomb down in front of the officer. He is hurt but not dead. So the man on the street shoots the officer five times.

Three years earlier in Rio Gallegos. There is a meeting of the Sociedad Obrera. A man says that hotel owners are despicable exploiters. They especially hate hotel owner Carballeira. The workers at the Hotel Argentino work from 6 a.m. to midnight. And these workers only get paid 80 pesos. Anyone who complains about the wages or the time worked is fired. The worker only has two options: "Either die of hunger or kowtow to them." He then demands that a strike be called. The matter is discussed for awhile but then all the men jump up to call for a strike. A vote is taken and the strike is approved.

A bunch of managers get together to combat the strike. They choose Méndez Garzón to be their spokesman. Méndez says he cannot lead them because he is governor of the territory. They are interrupted by Carballeira who thanks the men for choosing his hotel in which to eat. The business people say they are in solidarity with Carballeira because his hotel is the only one that managed to scorn the strike.

Just then several strikers rush into the hotel kitchen shouting "scab" and throwing the hotel workers out of the hotel.

The union leader, named Antonio Soto, walks with a union official name German. He tells German that what he needs is a woman to love. German says that his family is back in Germany. He has a wife and children but they are still in Germany. On the other hand, he reasons, having a woman is not necessarily a good thing.

Carballeira comes to the union meeting. He says the judge asked him to settle this strike with the workers. To settle the strike the officials say that Carballeira must pay all the back wages of his workers and also pay a fine to help pay for the strike. Carballeira is shocked, but he pays up. The workers give him a big hurrah and lots of applause.

The hotel owner leaves. The men now start singing a song of resistance directed at the selfish capitalists. A group of Chileans, however, who are paid less than the Argentine workers, remain in their seats and do not sing along with the others.

The union leader says they will use the fine money to buy a printing press. He says this will help them deal more effectively with the rural people. A man stands up to say that the ranch owners are greater exploiters than both traders and merchants. The union leader says they will organize the ranch workers.

The printing press is put to work. The sheets of paper are given out to various men who ride to different locations to distribute the sheets. A fellow, named Jose Font, who owns a fleet of wagons, helps support the union.

The Governor says that the union is a nest of rats who want to destroy nationality, nationhood and ownership. The judge tells the Governor to be careful. There must be no breaking of the law.

The judge goes to inform the union that union activities are permitted.

The Governor, however, has a different approach. He has the union official and others arrested. Unionist leaflets, newspapers and books are confiscated. The Governor tells Soto that the party is over!

Other unionists decide to go on a general strike. The wagon fleet owner, Mr. Font, sends three men out to Clark's Descent, two others to La Esperanza and two more to El Cifre.

Soon federal sailors are being used to guard the docks.

There is another meeting of the business owners. The spokesman says that all the estancias are paralyzed by the general strike. During the meeting the capitalists are informed that President Yrigoyen orders the immediate release of the detained unionists and the opening back up of the Workers' Society. The Governor says the radicals in the government don't know what they are doing.

Soto is out of jail now. He thanks the rural workers for his freedom. And now they must work to establish the first rural workers' agreement.

The union presents its demands to the Governor and some other bigwigs. The Governor basically won't agree to any of the union's demands. Soto says that the rural strike will continue.

Another meeting takes place. The news is that 100 scabs are being brought into the town.

The unionists wait in ambush for the 100 scabs. When they come into the trap, the unionists start killing the police and the scabs. The other scabs are so scared that they run off.

Ten policemen come to arrest those responsible for the ambush. The police are met by a lot of bullets from the well-armed unionists. Five policemen are killed.

Soldiers are now brought in to teach the unionists not to mess with the law. The commander is not given any specific mentions of what he is supposed to do. He is only expected to do his best. He writes to the Minister and says: ". . . I must tell Your Excellency that I've found here that those responsible for the chaotic situation in the territory of Santa Cruz, are the authorities themselves." The behavior of the police has been appalling.

After 45 days of striking, the strike comes to an end. As part of the agreement to settle the dispute, the workers have to now turn in all their weapons. Commander Zavala, a Lt. Colonel, negotiated the settlement. When he goes to eat at Carballeira's hotel an old woman calls him a traitor. The Lt. Col. jumps up to protest but the soldiers are urged by hotel staff to pardon the lady for what she said. He says it's clear that the upper class doesn't like the outcome of the Lt. Col.'s negotiations. A Mr. Novas says: "You've handed over the triumph to the bandits."

The land and shop owners start hitting back at the union organizers and union leaders. They kick one union leader out of a shop and fire other men who will have little prospect of getting another job. So Soto calls for a boycott of some of the vindictive store owners.

The Governor has his job taken away from him. And now the Governor sees the boycott demonstration. He tells his friend Felix: "There you have it, that's the peacemaking he's left us." The ex-Governor says he will settle this matter in Buenos Aires, once the new Governor officially takes over for him.

The workers listen to a labor song sung by a woman and a man. The upper class is having a banquet. They, however, forgot about the boycott of one of the shop owners, who is at the banquet. The waiters will not serve the food. The chef and his staff come out of the kitchen to say the food is ready but no worker will serve the food as long as a certain shop keeper is not kicked out of the banquet. The chief says the bloodsucker gets out immediately or no one will serve the food.

The union leaders start comparing notes and realize that the upper class has deliberately been making excuses for why they can't follow the negotiated contract. The leaders now feel that the upper class has tricked the worker with their piece of paper.

At the union hall a spokesman says: "The landowners are not fulfilling the agreement." He wants volunteers to go talk to the workers in the rural areas to explain to them what's happening. Then when spring comes back, they will be ready for a serious fight for a decent settlement with the big bosses.

New arrives that the Chilean Embassy in Argentina is very concerned about the strikes in Argentina. The British are now saying that another strike will damage British interests in Argentina. The rich men now start their meeting.

The police start rounding up union leaders again. The union people start talking about this newest wave of arrests. One of the men remarks: "Politicians and exploiters are all mixed up in it." In Gallego all the leaders were arrested.

The union leaders now go alert the workers about having another general strike. They will meet at Lago Argentino. The talk is about establishing a Socialist Revolution in Patagonia. One group calls itself the Red Council. They rob someone's house of its money and weapons and engage in the rape of a woman.

Soto and a large group of men come out to confront these men. Soto says they are nothing but bandits who have nothing to do with the strike. A little later he talks to the home owner and gives him a note that after the strike is over the Workers' Federation will pay them for the damages and the provisions.

Now the politicians and rich men are up in arms about recent events. They say that the territory is overrun by bandits, who kill land owners and rape their women. And Lt. Col. Zavala will be leading the troops once again. They even go so far as to say there's a chance that they could lose all of Patagonia. So what they need is for the anarchists to be wiped out.

Zavala feels that the workers have let him down. So he plans a move on the Spaniard Outerello who is in the province of Santa Cruz at Puerto Santa Cruz (on the Bahia Grande and Gallegos River) and Paso Ibañez. In the north of the province of Santa Cruz Jose Font is in control of the railway line from Puerto Deseado to Las Heras. Soto is in the foothills of the Andes.  And there's the infamous Red Council in Santa Cruz province.

Lt. Arrieta and fifteen soldiers will search for the Red Council and to harass the Spaniard Soto.

Capt. Arzeno will clean up the center and north of Santa Cruz. Arzeno reminds Zavala that the number of workers in each column is four or five times the size of the soldiers available to the army. Zavala says their orders are crystal clear. They have  to completely destroy the Patagonian Rebellion. Anyone who resists is to be killed without hesitation.

Arzeno tells Zavala that gentlemen Matthews and Saunders want to go along with the troops. The men can act as guides for the troops. Zavala gives his okay.

On a cold, windy day a lookout sees up on the ridge a long line of soldiers coming toward the buildings being used by one of the worker columns. He fires a warning shot. The men come out of the buildings and now Zavala gives the order to fire. The men quickly run back into the buildings except for those who take up position behind some huge canvas bags.

One of the workers looks through his binoculars and shouts to the men to stop shooting because it's Zavala out there. The workers raise a white flag. Zavala comes down to talk with the workers.

The worker leaders are shocked when Zavala tells them that he can only offer them unconditional surrender. Those who resist will be killed. The worker leaders will think about what they should do.

Most of the workers start moving out and away from the buildings. Zavala with his troops march into the area. The main union leader has conditions for their surrender. Zavala gives the order to shoot the main leader four times and then seize the other leaders. So a firing squad is formed and the main leader is executed.

By telegram Font is informed that Zavala is leaving Gallegos for Deseado. A policeman is captured and beaten up. Font tells his men to release the man.

The soldiers are now ready to confront Soto and his men. Because Soto trusts the army he tells his men to put their weapons down. Then the army opens fire on the workers. Soto sees his men shot to pieces.

German now hears that Zavala has killed around 100 workers. He is shocked to hear the bad news.

A fellow officer asks Zavala: "Isn't it too much punishment for what these men have done?" The Lt. Col. says he doesn't like to kill the men. But this is the only way they can win because there are too many workers to take on directly.

Zavala's men are boarding a train. Zavala himself accepts some flowers from a small girl and her mother. Font has a line of automobiles filled with workers ready to move out. They drive to the railway line and go to the station at Tehuelches. They are waiting for Zavala.

As the train approaches the station, Font's cars arrive. Zavala has his men fire as soon as possible. The workers start running for cover. Others, from behind the cars, fire back at the soldiers. The soldiers take heavy fire, so they drop to the ground. After a few more soldiers are killed, the army gets back on the train.

Font tells his men to stop firing because it's only Zavala.

The train starts running backwards away from the workers.

Zavala tricks the union leader Font into coming in for a talk. But Font is immediately arrested. Font's second in command talks to the soldiers. As he talks, he is shot through the throat. Now they take Font out for a walk. They execute him.

The police capture a group of workers sleeping in a building. It turns out that the men are members of the Red Council.

The ex-Governor of Santa Cruz now brings a big delegation of men to congratulate Zavala on his great work. He also says that these men are forming a white guard and are here to offer their support. And they want Zavala to be the military governor of Santa Cruz.

The police bring in members of the Red Council. Their photo is taken for the newspapers of Buenos Aires.

German tells Soto that they have to fight back. They have been living out in the countryside for two and a half months without accomplishing anything. Soto says most of these men don't even know how to fire a weapon. German tells the Spaniard that the Spanish are not disciplined, not organized. He will teach the men how to use their rifles and revolvers.

A workers comes to ask Soto when will the action begin? Shearing time for the sheep will be here soon and, if the shearing isn't done, it will be a hard winter for his men.

Here comes Zavala and his men. They set up camp for the night.

The union leaders are just talking and talking and the men are getting angry. The man who told Soto to get moving and do something, now speaks to the whole crowd. He shouts out that they are wasting time! "Everybody here knows that Zavala is camped at Rio Perro. Right here!"

German speaks up for resisting the soldiers. He reminds the crowd that the murderer Zavala killed Ramon Outerello. But then the upstart leader starts saying that they should end this strike. German says the only thing they can do now is to fight. Now Soto argues that they should attack the individual estancias and take hostages. If the soldiers come, the workers will fade away into the mountains. The upstart says no. They want to talk to the army.

So two leaders go to Zavala's encampment. And, of course, true to his pattern, Zavala gives the order to execute the two leaders. Zavala says now he wants to execute that Antonio Soto fellow.  The two leaders are executed.

As Soto pleads with the workers not to abandon the strike and not to trust Zavala, the Lt. Col. leads his soldiers against the workers. And once again the upstart speaks up for unconditional surrender. [I'm thinking this fellow must be a spy for the army.] The workers agree to surrender.

Soto and German now just give up. Soto tells German that they should leave now. German says he's not leaving. Soto replies: ". . . I'm not meat to be thrown to the dogs." He will continue the fight, but elsewhere. He starts to leave.

So the men surrender. Soto looks down from the mountains at the workers all lined up in two lines.

Where is Antonio Soto? No one says anything. So they start asking individual men. Those that say they don't know are shot in the head underneath the chin. This causes the upstart to shout that he is Soto. But an officer says that's the Chilean who proposed the surrender. Zavala has him immediately executed.

Now Zavala shouts for the delegates to step forward. No one steps forward. So Zavala just selects out six men. He has the six striped naked and tied to a fence where they will stay all night.

Somebody talks and now Zavala knows that Soto with three men are riding to Chile. Zavala gives the order for Lt. Arrieta and ten men to go after Soto.

Apparently, Zavala plans to kill all the workers.

In the morning, German and five other workers are taken out to be shot after digging their graves. In fact, all the workers are taken out in small groups and shot.

Now the rich men and politicians create a new agreement on a contract with the workers. All the wages of the men are drastically reduced. The rich men clap for themselves. Then a banquet is held to celebrate their victories in Patagonia. Zavala is honored for his accomplishments.

 

 

Good but sad film.  And again it makes one think of the fascist streak in Argentine history.  A strike mostly by rural workers is brutally put down with the deaths of at least 1,500 strikers, many of whom were shot down after surrendering.  No inquiries into the fascist-like massacre of the workers were made.  I was shocked by the brutality dished out to the striking workers.  In film, I have seen governments and employers do a lot of terrible things to striking workers, but this one is tops on the brutality index. 

The film itself makes the union leaders and workers look pretty stupid.  From the killing of the first union leader, the other leaders should have known that the military were going to be vicious in handing out punishments to the strikers.  That should have reverberated all around the province of Santa Cruz.  And when the military started firing at the striking workers. a couple of times the strike leaders had their men stop firing back because they thought the commander Zavala was friendly to the workers' cause.  When an unknown man virtually takes over the leadership of the striking workers, it makes leaders Soto and German look stupid.  They should have had a sergeant at arms and had the guy thrown out of the meeting.   Instead, they let the man take over and decide on what course the "assembly" would decide.

There were many more strikers than military men, but the union leadership was totally naive and wishy-washy.  Many striking workers were killed because of this. 

Luis Brandoni (as union leader Antonio Soto) was good because he did look and sound so wishy-washy. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

Wiki summarizes: "Patagonia rebelde (or Patagonia trágica) ("Rebel Patagonia" or "Tragic Patagonia" in English) was the name given to the violent suppression of a rural worker's strike in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz in Patagonia between 1920 and 1922. The uprising was put down by colonel Héctor Benigno Varela's 10th Cavalry Regiment of the Argentine Army under the orders of President Hipólito Yrigoyen. Approximately 1,500 rural workers were shot and killed by the Argentine Army in the course of the operations, many of them executed by firing squads after surrendering. Most of the executed were Chilean and Spanish workers who had sought refuge in Patagonia after their strike in southern Chile in 1920 was crushed by the Chilean authorities. At least two soldiers, four local policemen, one gendarme and a number of ranch owners and their family members also died during the campaign."

Kurt Gustav Wilckens, a 35-year old German immigrant from Silesia, was deported from the United States for his radical political views. He killed Varela in a gun and bomb attack outside the officer's recently acquired home at Humboldt-Santa Fe in January 1923 because of his desire "to wound through him the brazen idol of a criminal system".   A distant relative of Varela, José Pérez Millán Temperley, now kills Wilckens in Villa Devoto prison while awaiting sentencing.  Then Wilckens' assassin is shot and killed by another inmate instigated by Russian anarchist Boris Wladimirovich.

 

 

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