A Cruel History Lesson In Argentina's Vanishing Submarine

The recent disappearance of a navy submarine reveals some persistent traits from Argentina's dictatorial past: lessons from the ocean's victims and Jungian wisdom.

Argentine Navy HQ in Buenos Aires
Argentine Navy HQ in Buenos Aires
Norma Morandini*


BUENOS AIRES — We are enslaved by what we deny, and transformed by what we are able to truly accept. This wise reflection was made by someone who had closely observed the deepest recesses of the human mind, Carl Jung. The Swiss-born pioneer of analytical psychology believed one of the great existential tests is to manage to learn from all that is hurtful and disagreeable in our lives.

If we do not grow from such experiences and learn from the pains they inflict, we risk reproducing such regrettable situations over and over again, as if some cosmic force were testing us continuously. That is how I see two very different tragedies that share one source: the Argentine Navy.

Like an instructive coincidence, just as reports spread that 44 crew members of the San Juan submarine had disappeared, verdicts arrived in the ESMA trials investigating the Argentine armed forces' role in the "Death Flights," in the 1970s — when leftist prisoners were thrown from planes into the sea. The courts gave 29 Navy officials life sentences for their collusion in the flights and ensuing deaths of prisoners taken from the notorious ESMA or Navy Mechanical School. My brother and sister, Néstor and Cristina, were two of those killed this way. They too have disappeared in the depth of the ocean.

There is a disturbing symbolism here, as if an invisible, underground current were linking their destinies and those of the 44 crew members. It is not a forced comparison.

We duly pin the blame somewhere else, and postpone solutions.

Those of us who lost loved ones back then haven't had any trouble in forcing our minds to comprehend their deaths without ceremony or goodbyes. The ESMA trials have renewed in us a pain now also felt by relatives of the San Juan crew.

If Jung is right, we Argentines seem doggedly determined to ignore the deeper causes of our ills and thus are condemned to repeat the periodic deaths of our youth, which should warn us of the things we want to ignore. We duly pin the blame somewhere else, and postpone solutions, hiding them deep beneath falsehoods and ideological prejudices without seeing the humanity that explodes in such overwhelming and painfully didactic moments.

Forty years separate the old Navy of Eduardo Massera, that arrogant admiral who stated at the trial of Junta chiefs, "I am responsible but do not feel guilty," and this Navy, subordinated like all the armed forces to the laws of democracy.

The San Juan submarine at the Mar del Plata naval base — Photo: Martin Otero

And yet our attitudes and our hearts have not democratized. The uniforms still convey the distrust and secrecy that were the hallmarks of the dictatorship and have survived into the democracy.

Instead of experiencing the ills of our time with a sense of civic responsibility — from corruption to violence, poverty and authoritarian methods — we shift the blame and remain unable to build within our democratic pact, a new society free of the stains of the past. Likewise, our fondness for symbolic acts and ideology links younger generations to a dark past of violence, rather than to a truly democratic education that will turn them into citizens who feel responsible for their country's destiny.

End-of-year barbecues have been held at the ESMA school, where they also commemorate the Death Flights. Nearby is the Malvinas (Falklands) Museum where they glorify the same planes that had thrown prisoners into the ocean. Such frivolity ties us to the past, and impedes a real relationship with our pains. There is no moral superiority in suffering. The Falklands War did not absolve the horrors of the military dictatorship — how could it, when more youngsters, sailors of the General Belgrano battleship, sacrificed themselves in the cold waters of the South Atlantic?

Since modern history has taught us that the end does not justify the means, and a killing is not rectified with another, it might be time now for us to learn from the past and transform ourselves into a society freed of the hate, distrust and concealment that characterize the authoritarian identity. Justice prevents vengeance and allows us to live together more humanely. That is when we will have learned from the teachings of Jung, who believed that knowledge may be born from our mistakes, but is carried in the heart.

*Argentine journalist Norma Morandini is a former senator.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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