BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA-Uki Goñi, a journalist known worldwide for his book “The Real Odessa,” has the credentials to be busy and self-important.
However, that is not the case. In fact, he was willing to take the time to meet with six journalism students from the University of Mississippi to give them personal interviews and advice.
The students met Goñi in an Italian restaurant in the Palermo SOHO neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He encouraged them to have lunch while he told them of his life and work.
He began by giving his background as a man born in the United States whose family is Argentine. He moved to Buenos Aires at the age of 21 to work as a journalist at the Buenos Aires Herald, an English-language newspaper.
He was in Buenos Aires at the time of the Dirty War (when was that), when anyone who spoke against the government would disappear and never be heard from again.
Goñi said mothers of the missing people would come to the Herald looking for answers about their children. The Herald became an information center for what was really happening.
Goñi recalled coming home after his first day of work to see a plainclothes policeman outside his building. His landlord told him his phone had been bugged.
Goñi said it was a great introduction to journalism, but also a very scary time.
Some of Goñi’s colleagues asked him to accompany them to help the mothers in the search for the missing. Goñi always declined.
“I regret not getting more involved with the disappeared,” Goñi said. “But if I had, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Goñi talked about how he left journalism for a while to pursue music. He currently maintains a website with information about his books and music, ukinet.com. He came back to freelance journalism around 1994 and soon after began to work on “The Real Odessa.”
The book examines how Nazi war criminals fled to Argentina after World War II and were accepted into Argentine Society.
Goñi was most interested at how so many war criminals came and were accepted then the Dirty War happened. He asked himself, “Can it be a coincidence that so many war criminals came?” He wanted to understand how this could have happened. He drew the conclusion, “In Argentina we kind of had a slow adaptation to cohabitation with evil.”
Goñi said it was very difficult work to find information for the book. No one wanted to talk to him. At one point he had to pretend he wasn’t a journalist in order to have access to important records.
Since the book was published, Goñi has received criticism and attacks alleging his information in incorrect, even facing a lawsuit. He said he had expected this response and is lucky to have a publisher who stood by him through the lawsuit.
Goñi also spoke briefly of some of his regrets. He said he wishes he had been more involved with the people who went missing during the Dirty War. He also regrets not starting his book research sooner, since most of the people involved had died by the time he started. And finally, he wishes he had taken a video camera to the interviews he did for the book.
As the interview drew to a close, Goñi gave the students some advice. He said journalism is not only about writing stories that you find interesting. Sometimes you have to write stories you hate. Goñi said that is why it is so important to have something that is uniquely yours, such as a blog.
“It will keep you sane,” he said.