On April 2, 1920, a shot shocked Uruguayan society: Congressman Washington Beltrán came out lifeless of the duel that confronted him with former president José Batlle y Ordóñez, who defended himself there from a treacherous journalistic editorial. Those historic pistols are now up for auction.
The Central Park court, National football headquarters, served as the stage for the armed combat between political rivals that marked a milestone in the history of Uruguay.
Until then, the Penal Code it prohibited fighting a duel -although it was practiced-; since the Beltrán-Batlle challenge, it was regulated by law 7,253 -which remained in force for 72 years, until 1992-.
From rivalry to tragedy
TO 25 steps away The two shots were fired from the encounter that, according to the Uruguayan journalist and writer Diego Fischer, as it was “first blood” it would end at the first minor injury.
The pistols used in 1920, in a duel that ended in death. Photo: EFE
However, the bullet fired by Batlle y Ordóñez (1856-1929), leader of the Batllista sector of the Colorado Party (PC) and founder of the newspaper El Día, had a more precise trajectory than that of Beltrán (1885-1920), deputy for the rival of the CP, the National Party (PN), and founder of the newspaper The country.
“Batlle was an expert marksman and Beltrán was a man who had never wielded a firearm, he was an expert in fencing but since Batlle was the one offended, he was the one who had the right to choose the weapons “, explains Fischer, author of the historical novel about the duel, entitled “What a toupee.”
That was, Fischer points out, the title of the editorial that originated the conflict, since in it Beltrán attacked the president twice (1903-1907 and 1911-1915) with qualifications such as “champion of fraud” to defend the PN from criticism launched from the side of the ‘colorado’ Batlle.
The President’s Pistols
With a base price of $ 2,500, will be put up for auction this Friday in Montevideo, along with other historical objects, two practice pistols that, as detailed in the catalog of the Zorrilla auction house, are of Belgian origin, Flobert brand and of caliber nine millimeters.
Although, as the auctioneer and director of the auction house, Sebastián Zorrilla, points out, there is no photographic documentation to prove it, these weapons are those recognized by Fischer as those used in the already centennial duel.
Photograph provided by the company Zorillo Subastas of a detail of one of the pistols. Photo: EFE
According to the author, the evidence of this emerged in the research he did for his book 11 years ago, when he was able to confirm that the head of state at the time of the mourning, Baltasar Brum (1883-1933), close collaborator of Batlle, donated the guns.
It was thus that, in contact with the Brum family, the author gave, in the apartment of the now deceased great-nephew of former president Conrado Hughes, with the weapons that will be auctioned and that, by testimonies collected, Fischer confirms as the same ones from the duel.
Another great-nephew of Brum ratified this version and added that those pistols are the same ones “that were presented in the duel with Herrera”, alluding to the one kept in 1922 by the ‘colorado’ and the ‘white’ Luis Alberto de Herrera –great-grandfather of the current Uruguayan president, Luis Lacalle Pou-, without consequences for any of them.
Another important factor, says the journalist, is that Beltrán’s autopsy reports describe a “star” shaped bullet hole and the barrel of the pistols, with carved wooden handles, is octagonal.
This aspect is pointed out in an article published in 2011 by forensic doctors Guido Berro and Antonio Turnes, who, with the case reports, made a historical autopsy of Beltrán. In it, the “starry” aspect of the bullet hole caught their attention so much that they could not rule out “that the projectile had some peculiarity or atypia.”
Now, little more than a century later, those pistols that they “shot” a law that survived more than seven decades and whose end came because of its character “anachronistic” and “strange to the current coexistence guidelines.”
The author is a journalist for EFE