"I wasn't spying, I was doing a journalism internship"

Americo Balbuena entered the Information Corps of the Argentine Federal Police (PFA) in the last months of the dictatorship. By then, he was frustrated: he had wanted to be an engineer, but he had not been able to pass the entrance to the University of Buenos Aires. The new millennium found him, in December 2000, with a journalist’s title under his arm. Around that time, he began to frequent different community media spaces and that’s how he came across an old schoolmate who had founded one. In this way, he entered the Rodolfo Walsh agency. For more than ten years, “Pelado” Balbuena was infiltrated in that popular media outlet. However, in the trial that followed him in the courts of Comodoro Py, he said that It was not an illegal intelligence task but a kind of “internship” that he did to build his resume for when he should retire from the force.

Balbuena spent 30 years in the PFA, but wants to present himself as a journalist. In the minutes that he spoke before the federal judge Daniel Rafecas –who judges him–, sought to place himself in the role of a communicator who acted with professional ethics. None of those who accuse him – nor the lawsuit that they lead Myriam Bregman, Matías Aufieri, Liliana Mazea and Carlos Platkowski nor the prosecution– They talk about his journalistic quality, but how he used that role as a front to get information about social organizations for the intelligence structure of the PFA.

Balbuena met again while studying journalism with Rodolfo Grinberg, founder of Walsh who generously opened the doors of the space for him. For years, Balbuena was in charge of putting together the news agency’s weekly political agenda and officiated as a mover. Balbuena had something that was not common in alternative communication militants: time and money for gasoline. He told his colleagues at Walsh that he worked with a sister and a brother-in-law in a lumber company.

Balbuena enjoyed free time because, among other things, in his role as a member of the Analysis Division of the State and Security Department of the PFA, he had discontinuous schedules. In this way, he could alternate between the police and the “communication militancy”. During his investigative statement, the retired police officer sought to justify this situation.

Balbuena also sought to make sense of the fact that much of the information he collected never appeared in the notes he wrote at Walsh. He did it with many interviews that he did for Cromañón and even the lawyer María del Carmen Verdú, a reference for the Coordinator against Police and Institutional Repression (Correpi), said that Balbuena used to be interested with a certain fanaticism in knowing which security forces generated the most cases of easy trigger or what security measures were taken by the lawyers of that organization. Clearly that did not appear in the articles. “I would go to his house (by Grinberg) –Balbuena cut himself short–, I would give him the notes and he would even help me write because it was very difficult for me to give him the character he wanted to give him. What he wanted to publish he published; what he did not want he did not publish ”.

Balbuena had become especially attached to the founder of the Walsh agency. She would go to her house, attend her daughter’s birthday. He could deny none of this, he even remembered having played a very diligent role in the choriceada that was made on that occasion, but he tried to deny that any of this had to do with his role in the PFA Information Corps. “It was a socialization between people.”

The militants who testified before Rafecas and those who had testified in the investigation before Sergio Torres highlighted the sticky character of Balbuena. Oscar Kuperman – now deceased – had recounted that in 2008 he had agreed on a note with Mainland Radio and telefé at his house, but the surprise was great when Balbuena also arrived, without having previously summoned him.

“I really did not go to anyone’s house to make notes or to private meetings,” said Balbuena. “I always went to public places. I made notes to several of the people who appeared here or I met them in public places, they even held press conferences in bars. I attended the ones Rodolfo Grinberg told me to,” insisted the PFA spy.

“I did not have a friendly relationship, just a cordial relationship with all the people. I like the profession”, continued Balbuena. “It’s as if I make a note to you or to anyone: it’s the relationship between the journalist and the interviewee,” she said, seeking the complicity of the judge. The problem with Balbuena’s argument is that he could have a degree in journalism but he was a member of the PFA Information Corps and, according to his bosses who are also defendants in the trial, the Analysis Division to which he reported was dedicated precisely to do what Balbuena did at Walsh: gather information about those who were demonstrating.

“I tried to have a resume, that’s why I put my first and last name. The name I used was the real one, mine. I didn’t have to hide anything. What was my reason for hiding if what I was doing was an exercise of what I had studied? I have never used journalistic information for police purposes. I always acted in good faith and always with journalistic ethics,” Balbuena apologized. “It was like an unpaid internship,” he remarked without blushing.

The spy is in the dock with two of his superiors Alfonso Ustares –who was in charge of the Analysis Division between 2002 and 2007– and Alexander Oscar Sanchez –who commanded the Analysis Division between 2009 and 2013, when Balbuena’s infiltration was discovered. Ustares declared this Thursday for the first time and, to the surprise of his accusers, he ended up confessing how he expanded the agency to deal with social protest.

Sánchez had already agreed to be investigated on Tuesday, when the process began. This time he asked to respond to Marcelo Sain, who had testified the previous day. According to Sánchez, the PFA spies are known as “feathers” because they were discredited for the task of being the internal buggers of the force, not for engaging in political espionage.

Balbuena –who seeks to present himself as a political ignorant and to whom Sánchez attributed few insights by saying that It wasn’t exactly James Bond– is not the only illustrious member of the Information Corps who rose to fame. José Pérez, better known as “Iosi”, was infiltrated for years in the Jewish community, testified in court because he feared he had contributed the information he provided to the attacks against the AMIA and the Israeli embassy and is the protagonist of a book and an Amazon Prime series. Last year, Page 12 revealed the story of “Isabelita”, the spy who infiltrated the Madres de Plaza de Mayo during the dictatorship.

What the Balbuena school can do is the possibility that its infiltration is punished by justice. Next Wednesday, Rafecas will listen to the arguments of the parties and then define when he will announce the verdict in a trial that ends up being atypical — not only because the spies are on the bench but also because the secrecy with which intelligence activity is governed is being debated.

Disclaimer: If you need to update/edit/remove this news or article then please contact our support team Learn more

J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

Leave a Reply