At the Eleventh Conference of Latin American Armies, in October of 1975, Argentina’s commander in chief of the military forces, Jorge Rafael Videla, pointed out to reporters inquiring about the fight against subversion: “In order to guarantee the security of the state, all necessary people will die”. When another journalist asked for clarification on the meaning of “subversive”, he replied, “Anyone who opposes the Argentine way of life”. 1 A few months following this declaration, on March 24, 1976, the military seized control of the nation; overthrowing the constitutional government, then lead by Isabel Peron.
General Videla, Admiral Massera and Brigadier Agosti became the newest leaders in a sequence of military coups. Although this trio would go down in history as the bloodiest one of them all, a series of four more military juntas also followed. In 1981, General Viola, Army Chief of Staff, succeeded Videla upon the conclusion of his term. Although barely assuaging, Viola attempted to reopen conversations with the political parties which were still banned.
The even more intransigent General Galtieri replaced him months later. Finally, in 1982, General Bignone was set up to manage the process of transitioning the government towards free elections.
This evil period in Argentine history brought the word “desaparecidos” -the disappeared ones-into everyday parlance. As a terrifying foretaste of what was to come, renowned Peronist leader, Bernardo Alberte, was visited in the early hours of the seizure by a federal police unit. He was then thrown out of his sixth-story apartment building, while his family helplessly witnessed the entire torture.
With this, one of many thousand deeds of horror, the new regime took hold of the nation. 2 It is estimated that during this period a total of 30,000 people were “disappeared”.
The political unsteadiness of Isabel Peron’s administration had, amongst other things, established the grounds for the military coup. Outrageous inflation, murders and profound divisions within the political factions made this intervention appear unavoidable to practically everyone. A cautiously planned campaign by conservative groups of the media, with the support of Argentinean landowners, as well as the pressure of the international financial sector, fashioned an image of these rulers as “honest men” that would guard the country’s interests against the bloodshed that could occur if guerrilla organizations gained control.
However, although the government by the army intended to provide a strong and unified front publicly, each one of them became notable for their internal power struggles, as well. Following the coup, the Constitution was replaced by, what is commonly known, as El Proceso (Statute for the Process of National Reorganization). This statute vested the military rulers with the capacity to exercise legislative, executive and judicial powers in their administration. Jointly, they now controlled trade unions, political groups and institutions of higher learning.
Censorship was pervasive, habeas corpus was undermined and all “constitutional guarantees” were suspended indefinitely. Hence, ninety percent of the courts’ judges were substituted by new ones. The regime, in their self-portrayal of “guardians of the Argentine values of tradition, family and property”, deemed any disapproval of their rule as “subversive behavior”. Therefore, anyone and everyone suspicious of such attitudes would be eliminated, in the interest of protecting the welfare of the nation. As stated by Videla: “The repression is against a minority which we do not consider Argentine. “3
The death penalty as a punishment for political crimes was incorporated to the string of new laws and decrees that not only amplified the power of the military, but also that of police officials. During a period of eight years, four different military regimes, took hold of all aspects of government, undertaking one of the most atrocious campaigns of despotism recognized in the Western Hemisphere. It would only be following the fiasco of the war for the Falkland Islands (known as the Malvinas Islands, to Argentineans) that democracy would be, finally, reinstated through the election of President Raul Alfonsin, in 1983.
Context of The Dirty War Following World War II, Argentina was positioned eighth amongst the most affluent countries in the globe. Buenos Aires was a refined city, known to the rest of the world as “the Paris of South America”. As described by Marguerite Feitlowitz, its exceedingly European people were noted for being “cultured, sophisticated and cosmopolitan”. Up until the mid-seventies, Argentina had the highest literacy rate in all Latin America. In addition, because of the fertility of its expansive and fertile soil, it is one of the few nations in the world that shall never require the importation of food.
Nevertheless, despite these achievements, this country has been socially, economically, politically “self-destructive”, as well. Politicians not only habitually consume their enemies, but also any restive allies too. An example of this was the fall of General Peron. General Juan Domingo Peron was a controversial leader that became president, for the first time in 1946. He was admired by the extreme left and extreme right alike. Peron was a strong supporter of the descamisados (“shirtless ones) and organized labor. He was also a fan of Mussolini and Hitler, and a lure for progressive Jews who also provided asylum to thousands of Nazis.
Peron became a strong adversary of the oligarchy by nationalizing services and industries and consequently keeping the employees in line with “a combination of giveaways and the iron glove”. 4 In 1955, the military toppled Peron’s government and the Peronist Party became outlawed. Juan Domingo Peron remained in political exile, in Spain, until1973, when he returned to be President for a second time in his career. The Montoneros was one of the primary guerrilla organizations to which the antisubversive campaign was originally directed.
Although this particular group grew out of the much larger Peronist union movement, by 1976 Peronist leaders not only openly condemned the Montoneros, but also hired paramilitary assistance in order to combat and kill guerrillas. However, by the time the 1976 military regime came to power, the revolutionary groups in Argentina had been all but obliterated. Its is estimated that the total amount of insurgent force members was limited to only about two thousand, while only twenty percent of them were actually armed. On the other hand, the number of the armed forces was close to a quarter of a million people.
Clearly, the so-called threat posed by left-wing insurgency was merely an excuse to take complete charge and impose the regime ‘s own terror campaign. These new leaders set out to modify-through any means available-the political, economic, social and cultural makeup of Argentina and to establish themselves as the supreme and unchallenged rulers. 5 Political Culture: Recurring Phases of Gory Rule The history and political culture of this nation has, for long, been tainted by “recurring cycles of bloody rule”. Researchers date this modern military period back to the 1930s, when Jose Uriburu’s aggressive coup d’etat took place.
This would become the first military intervention since 1854. From this point and until 1976 there were a total of nine civilian supported military seizures of the government, two other presidents selected by the armed forces, two “blatantly rigged elections” and also two terms of “quasi-fascistic Peronism”. 6 On average, each of these governments lasted slightly beyond two and a half years. Military control in Argentine politics not only stems from the weakness and inadequacy of civilian institutions, but also from the particular power of the armed forces within its culture.
An irony in the history of this country is that not many officers took part in Jose Uriburu’s coup; however from that episode on the political culture of Argentina became highly militarized. Although the military forces have illustrated over and over how inadequate their governmental skills are, elected administrations have continuously sought the “protection” of their power. As summarized by French sociologist Alain Rouquie in his Pouvoir militaire et societe politique en Republique Argentine, “No president-civilian or military-has managed to stay in office against the wishes of he men in uniform.
” Despite all of its cultural sophistication, the foundation of the Argentinean society is quite medieval. Fashioned after the Praetorian Guard, its conventional triad is comprised of the “landowning oligarchy”, the armed forces and the Catholic Church. Argentina has consistently showed uneasiness about the “chaotic” nature of democracy. On the other hand, the cool and “heavy handed” strength of the military provided them with the perception that government was less vulnerable to corruption.
During the 1960s, high profiled newspapers-such as La Opinion–supported another series of coups. Because the military preferred an economy based on international capitalism, they were presumed to be more in sync with the interests of the upper and middle classes than the other factions which were after a statist economic policy with an emphasis in organized labor. In the 70s, a huge devaluation of the peso and rampant unemployment rates, exacerbated guerrilla conflict between ultra-right and ultra-left militia broke out. Violent behavior was widespread and everyone was in danger.
In 1974, in the midst of such turmoil, Peron dies and control is taken over by his wife, Isabel. As a reaction to the intimidation of the left, the Peronist administration forms the Triple A (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance. This “death squad” was originally under the management of the Federal Police and later on under the control of the Minister of Social Welfare. In 1975, Isabel Peron’s administration officially declared that subversion had been eliminated all “subversive elements”. Argentina, though supposedly democratic, was for all intents and purposes, under siege.
As mentioned earlier in this paper, the armed left had originated from the Peronist movement, although there were other factions, which had a Maoist cast. Naturally, the Che Guevara was highly regarded by them. Although the Montoneros was the largest of the opposing organizations, the Maoist-inflected People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) and People’s Armed Force (FAP) were seriously active as well. The United States and the National Security Doctrine In 1959, Fidel Castro’s rise to power was a source of much concern to Latin American conservatives and moderates alike.
A year later, Argentina implemented the Plan for Civil Insurrection Against the State (CONINTES). This plan was not only aimed at terrorists, but also anyone who identified with or assisted in concealing them. Therefore, lead by a senior officer, the country was split up into military zones. As was to be expected, Washington was not welcoming to Fidel Castro, since he was perceived as a possible weapon of the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The United States was resolute in its objective to keep South America on its side.
In 1963, Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara, addressed the United States’ Congress by asserting that, “Our best return on investment in military aid probably comes from the training of selected Army forces and key specialists in our military academies and training centers in the United States and abroad. These students are carefully selected by their countries so that they, in turn, become instructors when they go home. They are the leaders of the future… I don’t need to dwell on the value of having people in positions of power who have a first hand nowledge of how we think and act here in the United States. For us having these people as friends is invaluable… “7 The National Security Doctrine became the political foundation of the military juntas. Since the rule of right-wing General Ongania, soldiers were being methodically trained regarding the threat posed by anyone who did not remain associated to the military and Christian values that protected the world against communism. As many others, Ongania was considerably biased by the United States counterinsurgency courses and lectures that had promoted the doctrine all over South America.
This National Security Doctrine was comprised of a sketchy set of concepts and its “cohesive power restive in its definition of the ‘enemy’, as communism”. 8 A remnant of the Cold War, it was created in order to guard the economic power of the United States in South America. United States’ trepidation about “another Cuba drove their efforts to train Latin America against Marxism. This dogma held that a “third world war” was in peril between the “free world” and Communism. Commander of the Third Army Corps expanded on this further, by saying: On one side were the subversives that wanted to destroy the national state to convert it into a Communist state, a satellite in the red orbit, and on the other side, us, the legal forces, which by the authority of two decrees of the then ‘constitutional power’, participated in that struggle.
” The internal foe was more dangerous than those out of the country, however, because it endangered the basic Christian and Western ideals of the Argentinean society. The role of the armed forces was to protect Argentina’s “ideological purity”. The government started to intercede in other nation’s internal matters and joined the Southern Cone’s military dictatorships in combating “subversion”. Eventually, this model was “exported” to other countries-such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras-where the Argentine actively trained soldiers on repressive techniques against insurgency, as well. In order to synchronize military activities in these nations, General Viola, proposed the doctrine of Seguridad Continental (National Security).
This created a actual secretive system for the repression. Political refugees from Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia were warned that they would be deported, if they jeopardized, in any way, the national security of the country. Acknowledging the hazard the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) issued a global plea to assist in relocating the refugees elsewhere. According to the belief of the armed forces, the worldwide tactic of Communism now required that the state responded with a wide-reaching international approach.
The predictability of a third world war systematically conditioned the minds of the officers and soldiers running the day-to-day operations. Thus, allowing them to “justifiably” exercise the gruesome methods of repression that were being requested of them from the juntas in power. In his personal account on his kidnapping and subsequent detention, Timerman, editior of La Opinion, discusses what he would overhear from the officers, at he detention center where he was kept: “… attendance to weekly courses given by the army on such war, was obligatory for the entire staff of torturers, interrogators, and kidnappers.
The massage conveyed by this academy was simple: Communism needed To be stopped, and Nazi tactics and methods were the only effective tools For fighting the subversion” Since Argentina’s labor movement was the foundation of the Peronista Party, workers from the trade union was one the main targets of this campaign. Any demands for social or economic change coming from these groups, were interpreted as the inner workings of a communist scheme.
Therefore, Finance Minister Martinez de Oz (who was also president of Acindar-one of three steel industries–subsidiary of U. S. Steel, member of ITT and Pan Am Airway board of Directors) instituted economic strategies that disenfranchised these particular employees. Oz voided progressive labor regulation, froze salaries and increased the wages of officers of the military. As a result, international investment sector was favored at the cost of the national industry. In the meantime, the large credit lines extended by foreign banks and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) supported the economy. However, this period known as plata dulce (“sweet money”) wouldn’t last for long.
As put by journalist I. Guest: “Down came the barriers, up went the peso and in came the loans, again”10 Influences in Counterinsurgency Instruction In 1951, the United States Defense Department established its Military Assistance Program, in accordance to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. The purpose of such program was to arm and coach South American armed forces. The Inter-American Defense College in Washington was a highly regarded center, in the U. S. , where the “hand-picked” candidates would be qualified in counterinsurgency techniques.
Another infamous location, where eligible soldiers were rewarded with this unique training, was the United States Army School of the Americas (SOA). The SOA was, initially, established in 1946 in Panama Canal Zone and later on moved to the state of Georgia, in the United States. Here, fifty seven thousand Latin American soldiers were trained on blackmail, torture, bribery and murder. The courses were financed by the United States taxpayer’s money. Amongst the military men that were trained in this academy were Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, Panamanian drug trafficker Noriega and Argentina’s General Galtieri.
The academies’ manuals that surfaced in recent years advised that “hypnosis and truth” serum be utilized to induce interrogations. Additionally, it was also recommended that parents of political prisoners be arrested in order to encourage talk. The handbooks, which were translations from earlier American English versions, from the sixties, clearly violate today’s United States’ policy. As far a military “instruction” is concerned, the United States was not the only resource of knowledge for the armed forces of Argentina.
The French who had combated subversion in Algeria and Indochina also influenced the Argentine military curricula, as well. The Chief of Police of Buenos Aires between 1976-79, General Camps, was an admirer of the French’s take on repression, moreso than the American way. Camps, who believed that terror was a “rite of passage” and who proudly and openly, admitted his responsibility in over five thousand disappearances expanded on this point as follows: “France and the United States were the great disseminators of antisubversive doctrine.
They both. , but particularly the United States, organized centers to instruct in the fight against subversion. They sent advisors and teachers. They disturbed a huge amount of bibliography. Unfortunately,. All of that Ended in failure, although it was possible to analyze why they hadn’t triumphed… There was a basic difference: they were fighting outside their own territory, In countries of different race, a different language, different customs. That Situation is totally distinct from the situation in our Latin American countries.
It is important to clarify that the French optic was more correct than The North American; the former had a global concept; the latter were all but Exclusively military. All that was fine until we ‘reached adulthood’ and Applied our own doctrine which enabled us to triumph against subversion. “11 In the fifties, a military operation from France arrived at the Escuela Superior de Guerra in Buenos Aires (National War College), in order to teach courses in “Revolutionary War”-also known as “Anti-Communist Warfare” and “Anti-subversive Warfare”.
During the 1950s and 1960s, articles written by French officers, were published in the school’s journals. 12 During the 1970s the Argentine students, published new works that built on the earlier French principles of torture. Many Argentine researchers have acknowledged the influence of this particular mission in the shaping and of Argentinean military tactics and strategy. Clearly, the exchange of ideology at this College was of significant importance as it afforded the Argentine armed forces, yet added rationalization in their application of torture during their operations in the Dirty War.