RIP Ernesto Sabato

Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato, whose novel “The Tunnel” is hailed as an existentialist classic and who presided over a probe into the crimes committed by the nation’s military rulers, died on Saturday aged 99.

“Humankind cannot live without heroes, martyrs and saints,” Sabato, an intellectual known as a tireless activist for justice and human rights, once said.

His death was reported by local media and confirmed as his wife, Elvira Gonzalez Fraga, said he had suffered from bronchitis.

Ernesto Sabato seen in the 70s

Ernesto Sabato, who trained as a physicist before becoming a writer, had three novels to his name — “The Tunnel” published in 1948, “On Heroes and Graves” published in 1961 and “Abaddon, The Exterminator” in 1974.

Known for his bald pate, tinted glasses, brush mustache and open-necked shirts, he was viewed as a hero by many in his South American homeland.

Ernesto Sabato died aged 99

After the end of Argentina’s notorious 1976-83 military rule, Sabato was chosen to preside over the National Commission on the Disappeared (CONADEP), which investigated the fate of tens of thousands of Argentines who disappeared at the hands of the military – kidnapped, tortured and killed.

Looking at findings on the 'Dirty War'

The commission compiled 50,000 pages of chilling evidence of systematic kidnap, torture and rape waged against anyone even remotely suspected of sympathizing with leftist guerrillas.

Its findings and recommendations that the “Dirty War” soldiers should be tried and punished were published in 1984 in a book called “Nunca Mas” (“Never Again”).

Sabato seemed ill at ease in the limelight even as he was idolized by many young people and students in Argentina. Lionized by the political left, Sabato nevertheless rejected any party affiliation.

Ernesto Sabato in Paris in 1990

“I don’t belong to any party, I just support anything I think is good for this sickly country and denounce anything I find false, despicable, dirty, corrupt and hypocritical,” he said.

He railed against the tendency to seek technological solutions to human suffering, a painful admission for a man who studied science in Argentina, France and the United States.

He embraced surrealism and abandoned science for writing. His first novel, “The Tunnel,” was hailed after its release in 1948 as an existentialist classic and won him fans including Thomas Mann and Albert Camus.

Ernesto Sabato

The irony of Sabato’s life is that while he did much to bring light to the cruelties of the Dirty War, his own writings were dark and brooding portrayals of worlds of secrets and madness.