Juan Carlos Esteban

Gardel and the Uruguayan Parliament

ardel and the Uruguayan Parliament

By Juan Carlos Esteban, with contributions by José Pedro Aresi

It is surprising, that either in the passing of the law 14.742 of May 2, 1996, or in the request of a DNA test presented by the Chamber of Representatives to the Executive Power on April 23, 2004 the above mentioned initiatives were omitted to be sent to the Parliamentary Commissions of Juridical Issues and Foreign Relations.

Both Parliamentary Commissions would not have been able to ignore or elude the Carlos Gardel’s probate proceedings of 1936 in Uruguay, and even less, the Executive Power itself, through the Minister of Foreign Relations and Justice and the Legal and Technical Advisor of the Presidency who supervised the decrees to be signed by the President of the Republic.

It must be regarded, then, as a serious mistake in the proceedings that indicates political urgencies rather than the rigor and prudence advisable on these circumstances. In all the cases, there was not the necessary approval by the Commission, based on the probate proceedings, which indicates a serious irregularity in the proceeding and passing of the above mentioned laws (By that time the public issue about his French origin was already well known).

It is an aggravating circumstance, also, that they had ignored the documentary grounds put forward in the refusal of the repatriation of his remains by the Argentine government. Had those omissions been avoided the necessary internal discussion needed by the Uruguayan society would have taken place and an ambiguous and untruthful situation, turned into a national issue, would have been cleared out and settled.

In the report to the Senate by the Commission Chamber is written: «this is part of an old argument: the birth place of the great singer». Officially, according to the report, it is said: «...that is not yet cleared, but obviously the national pride will be fully satisfied the day that such issue is definitively proved». (Daily Book of Sessions of the Chamber of Representatives No. 82 – Volume 374 of April 25, 1996. Second Ordinary Period of the XLIV Legislature 6th Extraordinary Session. Constitution and Legislation Commission).

«Meanwhile —it continued— it seems good that Tacuarembó, that has fought and fights to establish its paternity, be considered the center of the commemorations, etc.» And, in the small hours of the morning, pressed by reasons of political “urgencies”, the law was passed by unanimous decision (17 votes by 17 members present).

Such decision is originated in reasons of opportunity, lacking in historical rigor and omitting the following three important antecedents: 1) The official acknowledgment of the lack of explanation about his true origin; 2) The decision to desist of the then president Gabriel Terra who declined the claim for repatriation due to the evidences presented by the Argentine counterpart; 3)The Uruguayan record of the probate proceedings of 1936, which declared that Berthe Gardes was the universal heir to his son Charles Gardes’s or Carlos Gardel’s estate.

The chauvinist spirit that prevailed with flippancy and hurry voting those laws reappeared on May 5, 1998 in the 12th Ordinary Session, presided by Hugo Fernández Faingold, when several schools were named after Carlos Gardel (No. 230, Volume 388 of the Fourth Ordinary Period of the XLIV Legislative).

But the proceedings for the request of a DNA test turned out even more serious. In fact, after the inexplicable decision of the government in 1996 whose results strengthened a Uruguayan origin not proved, in January and February 1999, the then deputy Agapo Luis Palomeque unearthed the doubts before the Permanent Commission remembering «the need to scientifically and definitively determine the true ancestry of Carlos Gardel and, consequently, the place of his birth». In his enumeration of reasons the official doubts about his origin reappeared but were silenced again.

Lastly, four years later, on April 21, 2003 the representative of Florida, Arturo Heber Füllgraff, in a communication summary came back to this subject. This time the Commission of Education and Culture presided by Beatriz Argimon put forth the issue. On this occasion, the discussion had other features and the doubts reappeared in the enumeration of reasons, when it says: «a hypothesis is dealt», in spite of the fact that the two previous decrees were issued seven years ago and have become «irrefutable truths».

But what is most unfortunate is that once again the judicial proceedings and the resolutions of Gabriel Terra’s government in 1935 and 1936 are ignored and the Parliament decided, this time, to include Berthe Gardes in the DNA test because there is a book which is expressly cited in the discussion «“Carlos Gardel: Encuadre histórico” published in 2001 by Corregidor which sustains his French origin».

We cannot understand why a collegiate body, with ample powers to summon the intervention of the specific commissions of Justice and Foreign Relations, has to resort to a book that sustains the opposite position to modify a decision of such important nature.

Previously, at the debate of the 39th session of July 30, 2002 the representative Cardoso Ferreira ratified the oriental nationality of Carlos Gardel. However, on December 9, 2003 in the agenda as second item the DNA test is discussed again. This time there is no unanimous decision and, in the voting of the 36 present members, 7 voted against it. The representative Cardoso Ferreira ratified that there is no doubt «about where Gardel was born» but his colleague Orrico, with a different point of view, was against the DNA test because «under these conditions it will not contribute to the prestige of the Chamber to order a test which, in the best case, will be one more evidence but will never bring an absolute certainty. I think that this will only help to tangle up a hank that is already quite entangled. In sum —concluded the legislator— it will not produce definitive results and the argument will continue».

There is neither hank nor entanglements. They have at their disposal the leading thread meant by the probate proceedings in Montevideo and the decision of the Executive Power.

Regrettably three years more have passed and the intention of the legislator Füllgraff of finding out who «the possible parents of Carlos Gardel» were is frozen in the Archivo General de Montevideo, (probate proceedings) because the Executive Power has not taken action at all due to the impossibility of proving the fatherhood of Escayola Oliva before the Argentine government with attesting documents.

However, if there were a simple and plain willingness to put an end to the “entangled hank”, which is a burden on the Uruguayans, that would be settled with only a mixed commission of handwriting and fingerprint experts of both governments with state-of-the-art technology to examine the Gardel’s holographic will filed in the Archivo Notarial Argentino and Carlos Gardes’s fingerprints in the Police, printed in 1904, identical to those in the Passport of 1923 under the name of Carlos Gardel.