Former Herald editor Robert Cox given honorary doctorate by Rosario University

“Cox was an example, a voice, and a hope for thousands, millions,” dean said

Former Buenos Aires Herald editor Robert Cox’s outstanding bravery in covering crimes against humanity during the most brutal period of Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship has earned him an honorary doctorate from the National University of Rosario.

The doctor honoris causa, or honorary doctorate, is the highest honor the university can give, and was awarded for the values of defending democracy, peace, and human rights.

Cox and the Herald’s newsroom were among the only journalists to report on a daily basis on the massive forced disappearances and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the state’s repressive apparatus. Cox’s journalism resulted in face-to-face confrontations with notorious high-ranking officials of the dictatorship at a time when citizens were being disappeared by the thousands. 

Many were tortured in a circuit of clandestine detention centers coordinated by the highest authorities of the junta before being murdered. Some were doped, loaded into military aircraft, and pushed to their deaths in the River Plate in the “death flights.” Often, their families simply never saw them again. The dictatorship forcibly disappeared and murdered 30,000 people over its nearly eight years in power.

Intensifying state threats ultimately forced Cox to seek exile — but his work during some of Argentina’s bloodiest and darkest years saved lives and consecrated him as one of the leading figures in Latin American human rights journalism.

“In moments of terror, darkness, fear and silence, Robert Cox was an example, a voice, and a hope for thousands, millions,” said Alejandro Vila, dean of the humanities and arts faculty at the National University of Rosario (UNR, by its Spanish initials), during the award ceremony on June 23.

After receiving his award, Cox said that the massacres committed by the dictatorship constitute a “holocaust.” He started his speech by describing the case of his friend, María Consuelo Castaño Blanco, who was kidnapped with her three daughters. “Her father came to see me, and I decided to publish the kids’ photos on the front page,” he recalled. Castaño later described in her book, Más que Humanos, how she waited in detention as the repressors called the disappeared, one by one, to be murdered. 

“She was three names from death,” Cox said. “She was quickly saved, but put in the Campo de Mayo [detention center]. The military did a travesty of a trial to try to cover up what they were doing, just because the Human Rights Commission was in Buenos Aires.”

At Castaño’s book launch, she presented Cox and Uki Goñi, a journalist who also reported on the military’s atrocities for the Herald, to her girls, now grown up. She told them, “Look at these three young women. Think that they’re alive because of [you],” Cox recalled. 

He went on, “And in that sense, the Herald is something very, very special.”

“That little newspaper in English”

Rubén Chababo, UNR Professor of Letters and Latin American director of the International Federation of Human Rights Museums, took the microphone to give a tribute to Cox’s work. 

“A whole generation clearly remembers the role played by the pages of the Buenos Aires Herald, that little newspaper in English, and the role that Robert Cox played at its helm in what was, as we have said, one of the darkest times our society has experienced,” he said.

Chababo gave the example of the Herald’s appeal to foreign press during the 1978 World Cup and its editorial titled “A Political Time Bomb” from May 17 that year. 

“Although the presence of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo has been ignored by the local press – it read – “they constitute part of the program of almost all foreign journalists and television teams. Their sad story has traveled round the world, and it is their image on TV screens that will give the image of Argentina during the next football championship for the football world cup.” 

He went on to describe the case of Julián Delgado, editor of El Cronista Comercial and Revista Mercado, who disappeared on June 4, 1978, just three days after the World Cup started. The Herald covered it on June 13. Albano Harguindeguy, the junta’s de facto interior minister, summoned Cox to the Casa Rosada and scolded him for running the story, telling him that Delgado had died by suicide. The case is described in a book by Robert’s son, David Cox. 

On another occasion, Cox attended a press conference, with a live recorder in his hand, and insistently questioned Harguindeguy about disappeared journalists. Harguindeguy claimed that many of the reports were U.S. fabrications, and argued that US had done worse during the Second World War. Months after that, his young son Peter received a letter threatening death if Cox didn’t leave Argentina. The family went into exile in the United States, and he didn’t return until the trial of the juntas. 

Key witness

These direct confrontations with the junta’s senior authorities would make Cox a key witness when he returned to Argentina in 1985 to testify in the trial of the juntas, because his testimony helped refute the argument that the massacre of thousands was not, as the generals claimed, the work of a few subordinates who got carried away, but a systematic plan implemented by the highest levels of the dictatorship’s authority.

It is easy, Chababo said during his tribute, for us to look back and assume that we would have been on the right side of history. He said that honoring Cox prompts us to reflect authentically about the past.

“It is no use to reconstruct yesterday in a heroic or mythic key, nor to wish to see ourselves in that past always occupying the role of the best, or of those who did not yield, when the evidence has shown us so many times that the past is characterized more by its light and shadow than clear-eyed visions.”

“The great majority of people for whom Cox pleaded in the pages of his newspaper or in personal interventions in officials’ offices were at the polar opposite of his ideological universe, and many of the victims would have seen Cox’s thinking as that of an enemy to defeat,” Chababo said. “However, that is where Cox’s thinking shines.”

The former Herald editor, now an honorary doctor, thanked the audience at the end. “We will keep fighting. Thank you.” On those closing words, the room broke into a standing ovation. 


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