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Bialet Massé, maker of the country

Little known among Argentines, remembered in Cordoba for the San Roque Dique, this Spanish scholar and builder founded the foundations of anthropology and workers' rights.

Wise. That is the entry in Vicente Cutolo's dictionary of Argentine biographies. And he's the only one who deserves the label on the seven volumes.  Juan Bialet Massé (1846-1907),  who had already formed generations of bachelor and university students in Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja and Córdoba  , in his chair of forensic medicine, which he introduced in Argentina, and was one of the most “select” minds according to the newspaper “ La Prensa”, was imprisoned on October 8, 1892 for “the crime of having built the dam” A date that should remain in Argentine infamy. The Catalan engineer referred to the San Roque Dam, inaugurated three years earlier, and that Eiffel, the very one of the Parisian tower, described the reservoir as the greatest civil work of the time. It was part of the “Plan of Irrigation Works of the Altos de Cordoba” presented in 1883 to the  provincial government of Juárez Celman,  in partnership with the engineer  Carlos Casaffousth  , then cellmate. Spitting  Bialet Massé  at a   depict president Juarez Celman   , “I write to you from the police department where I am imprisoned for the crime of to have built the dam. I guarantee you by my honor that the dam is good, and it is fine despite some damage caused by the abandonment but don't panic. It is true that you have to knock down the Dam so that there is nothing left that comes from the Juarez! Barbarians!!!“, summed up a moment where the  Juarez Celman brothers  were the scapegoats for the conservative economic debacles of 1890 and 1893. And that dragged to the bottom any modernising project in the Mediterranean province in the eyes of centralist power. Something that did not happen with the San Roque dam that still stands next to the new infrastructure inaugurated in 1944.

The defamation campaign had started with the same constructions under way, public works that also included the leveler of Mal Paso, the North and South canals, several bridges now iconic in the mountains, aqueducts such as in Saldán, and irrigation canals that are now proud of the Cordoba people. While the purposes were irrigation and flood prevention, the minds of  Bialet and Casaffousth, and their partner Félix Funes , envisioned the provision of potable water, electricity and  even a navigation channel to the Paran River.aacute;.  Something that was suspended, about to sign, when foreign investors got the false rumor of the “dilapidated state of the dam”. If this project by  engineer Huergo had been a reality,  regional producers would have saved 50% on the freight they paid to the railways, controlled by the English.

The pinnacle of the attacks was the “campaign of fear” that led to the famous “the Dam is coming”, which alarmed the Cordobese of the capital in the early hours of July 27, 1892. A few months later,  Bialet Massé  would end up in prison, something that would lead him to the bankruptcy  of his beloved “La Primera Argentina” factory in Santa María —current Bialet Massé, Cordoba-, the first national,  and where he valued the properties of native lime already known to the  Jesuits . The use of Argentine materials in the dam allowed a 50% saving compared to French lime, and English cement. And water never reached the neighborhoods of La Docta, either in the 1890 or 1897 growing. Nor in the 1903.In life  Bialet Massé  only once repaired the dam for 5,000 pesos, a figure much lower than the 400,000 requested by a false engineer sent by the  national government . But the damage was done and the sage spent fourteen months in prison during the trial process. As a lawyer, a career he took in twenty months, he made his own defense. And he was free of guilt and charge with his partner.  Leopoldo Lugones  in 1917 would be one of his staunch defenders in the columns of “La Nación”, the newspaper of the Mitre  who had supported the defamatory campaign.

 Republican here and there 

Little is known about the first three decades in Spain of the agronomist who directed in record time for the reservoir to 7 thousand men, many hydraulic specialists who came from Europe to stay, “moving to the spring of my hand, organized like a machine” industrious man participated in the first Spanish republic and, some circumstances that place him in extremist sectors of Castelar facing absolutism, led him to emigrate to Argentina in 1873. I would never return to the Iberian peninsula. He presents his letters and medical diploma to the government of  President Avellaneda  and goes it to the national colleges of the Interior. In San Juan he married  Zulema Laprida, granddaughter of Francisco , president of the Congress of Independence of Tucumán in 1816, and relative of  Paula Albarracín, Sarmiento's mother . And it seals its profoundly Argentinian destiny. He writes manuals and codes in medicine and law; and represents Córdoba in the National Pedagogical Congress of 1882, which would promote the Universal Free Primary Education Act.At the same time he claims as a builder and miner entrepreneur in the Punilla Valley and cotton in the Chaco. A personal effort that will be crowned with the  San Roque Dique, his greatest civil work for Argentines,  and at the same time that caused its economic collapse due to the insults and pressures of national politicians and foreign companies.

The same national government that had previously harassed him now called him in 1904. They recognized their work in labor law, there a first code for the protection of domestic employment, although they also wanted to contain the anarchist danger with someone who told the railroad workers in their own mountain headquarters, “I am not going to say here, that of war at bourgeois, fire on capital, the sacred rights of the proletariat, commune, dynamite... these are macanas, which serve only to slow down the progress of the worker, warm his head and remove what is left of the savage in the bottom of every man, transmitted by inheritance and which civilization has not yet been able to uproot...The first duty of every worker, and especially of the railroad, is to instruct himself... Instruction and order, union and law, freedom and responsibility, perseverance and moderation, this is the dogmas of the worker, which lead to an end: the sure triumph of Justice.” So a liberal reformist, Bialet Massé,  was the first choice for President Roca's Minister, Joaquín V. Gonzalez  . Based on his novel “Report on the State of the Working Classes in the Interior of the Country”, the first codification of the labor legislation, the resisted and rejected National Labour Law , made by several hands between Gonzalez, the socialists of Alfredo Palacios and Bialet Massé himself.  Criticized from Paris   by   Carlos Pellegrini,   “I have read the draft Labour Law. It is a rotten pot, because there is everything: regulation and organization of work, industrial hygiene, immigration regulation, Indian missions, prostitution, Hebdomadarian rest, etc.”, in a veto attitude that would be followed by the chamber before the popular exchange with the  S&enz Peña.  Something smelled bad in Argentina and it was workers' rights.

 Bialet Massé  continues in private projects in agricultural colonies and in the first industrial census in Córdoba, while rejecting the rectorate of the University of La Plata for not renouncing Spanish citizenship. He died in Buenos Aires in 1907 due to throat cancer, one of the first voices of Argentine workers.

“Many, even mine, told me crazy, and some even believed it in good faith and with great certainty. Oh! crazy, who would give me to conclude another such madness!!!. The thread of life is such thin at sixties. But to die as you were born and lived, to climb and even glimpse the landscape of the summit, it is beautiful to die and if it is madness, it is beautiful madness of fate”, rescues his biographer Norberto Hubner de  Bialet Massé ,  a madman about Argentina .

 Bialet Massé, the first worker 

“Without knowing how to read, they have a lot to teach” said the Catalan sage of the Creoles and the Indians who were humiliated by the 80s generation “The Indian is being exterminated” and  Bialet Massé  asked  Roca  directly at memory of her great-granddaughter, Patricia Días Bialet, “Will you want to exterminate the entire town? Who are the exterminators going to stay with if they kill everyone? And what will they live on? Will they bring a phalanx of angels from heaven to make a new people?”. He continues to explain the work of his great-grandfather, a companion of Argentine socialism, “He proposes, like other people of the time, eight hours of work. It is very interesting because he was a doctor and makes the whole trip with a device called a dynamometer, which allows to measure the strength and physical condition of people. All the people he interviewed were tested at different times of the day and wrote down all that data. The conclusions he draws are very important. For example, on the subject of work he says that the exploiter makes the worker work 15 or 16 hours, because he thinks that he does more. He says, “On the contrary, if the worker works eight hours he produces more.” What does this mean? That a person who works eight hours has the optimal energy to increase production. He doesn't get tired because he sleeps well, he eats well. Obviously she is happy, she is satisfied, she has time for family, for children, for recreation, theater,” she argued in a direction that would only pick up the nationalist conservatism of the thirties, and then Peronism.  Bialet Massé  raises an impressive panorama of deep Argentina with “ Report on the State of the Working Classes in the Interior of the Country (1903),  so unfortunately enduring that it made Osvaldo Bayer wonder “What did the Argentines do in a hundred yearsafter this report?”, which continued to hurt with the documentary “Bialet Massé, a century later”, directed by Sergio Iglesias.

Inaugural work of Argentine anthropology, with its flesh and blood people, “what happens in the laborerages of La Sábana and its continuation in El Chaco? In truth, it is not done with the Indian but to exaggerate the exploitation that is committed with the Christian, despite his ability with the work of the axe. Taking advantage of his ignorance, his work is stolen... the entraigo becomes effective with the traps and the bar, by a complacent policeman. The so-called colonization was done with the obligation to plant cane for an establishment,” he said long before American and English anthropologists conducted participant observation.  Bialet Massé  worked in the harvest from sun to sun before writing. In  Chilecito (La Rioja ) he went down with the miners to check that “the atmosphere is sulphurous and cold. The thermometer I carry measures 0 degrees to 15 meters, equal to 25 and 39 meters. In a recess formed by ice blackened by dust, I leave a silver plated and we continue. On the return I pick it blackened by sulfide and silver arsenic, it is irrefutable proof that gases poison,” said who was one of the best scientists of the nineteen hundred. And seeing the last lagoons of San Juan, exterminated during the montonera wars, he laments thinking that they would have been “the settlers of tomorrow” along with the immigrants, even better, teaching their knowledge to an inexperienced “gringos” —perhaps giving a cultural key to failure of the argentine agrarian colonization. On horse, mule and railroad he traveled from the pampas to the mountains with the most wonderful music of “a great nation, with a rich and happy people... Homeland of my children and grandchildren! — one of his daughters, Zulema, would work with Nobel Prize laureate Bernardo Houssay and would be a hero as a doctor during the Nazi bombings in London —  Argentine Republic, hail!“And whoever wants to hear, let him hear.

Sources: Bialet Massé, J.  Report on the State of the Working Classes . Buenos Aires: Hyspamerica. 1986; Gutiérrez, G.  Bialet Massé's “report” and the birth of national anthropology in Crisis magazine no. 37 May 1976. Buenos Aires; ;; 

Rating: 5.00/5.