Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
this essay last updated November 9, 2010
Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science
Mary Baldwin College
Staunton VA 24401
(Protected by the copyright laws of the United States. Exclusively for use in studying for POLS 249 and 128 by enrolled students of Mary Baldwin College. Not for citation, quotation or any other use without written permission of the author).
I. Introduction and outline of topics
In this reading the political evolution of Argentina will be described and analyzed. Within a largely chronological account, the major Argentine political forces and the difficulties they have encountered in mastering national development will be explored. Argentina's political evolution has been rocky: between 1930 and 1989, no elected civilian president completed his constitutionally prescribed term of office to peaceably surrender it to an elected successor. In the late 1980s, a peaceful presidential succession finally did take place, when the administration of elected President Raul Alfonsin was replaced by the elected administration of President Carlos Menem. On December 10, 1999, Pres. Menem peacefully transferred power to his elected successor, Fernando de la Rua, further underlining the routinization of democratic processes. These routines rapidly came to an end as social peace and governmental authority collapsed under the strain of rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in 2001-02.
If a measure of political stability is but a recent development, genuine economic stabilization is a challenge still to be mastered. In the 1990s, the Menem Administration wrestled with difficult problems, most significantly a massive foreign debt, primarily owed to private US and European banks. Debt has saddled the nation with crippling interest payments and it has continued to consume a large portion of export earnings. Various strategies adopted in the 1990s to mitigate the impact all ultimately have failed, and Argentina has remained mired in recession with high unemployment into the new millennium. The longer Argentine tradition in times of difficulty --military seizures of power by disgruntled officers-- remains a possibility. Repeated military revolts challenged civilian authority as recently as the 1980s and 1990s. But with no real alternative economic course in view, few officers are anxious to assume a position of responsibility.
The modern evolution of the entire Argentine political system, like the cycles of the Argentine economy, is a history of hopes raised, then dashed. Accordingly, to grasp the difficult course modern government faces there, we must first recognize the roots of tthe problem. We will become familiar with today's political actors within the following chronological structure: the era of independence; Social and Economic Change 1880-1914; the Politics of Stalemate of the 1930s and 1940s, Peronism and Political Response; The Post-Peron Military-Influenced Political System; The Dirty War; and the Emerging Democratic Argentina.
Basic Facts. First, let us take in a capsule overview of Argentina as democratization began (figures from Europa 1993). In mid 1991 Argentina was a nation of over 32 million persons (348); one in three of whom live in metropolitan Buenos Aires, the federal capital and surrounding province. The total labor force in 1990 was over 12.3 million, with men (8.8 million) greatly outnumbering women (3.4 million) in gainful employment (349). Argentina long has been a rich agricultural land and in 1990 the largest crops were cane sugar, wheat and soy beans (349). Unique among Latin American nations, meat is plentiful: cattle (50.5 million) greatly outnumber people; there are also over 28 million sheep in Argentina (349). Meat exports long were the principal commodity shipped from Argentina onto the world market but, by the early 1980s, agricultural products had become the leading Argentine exports. Food and meat processing plays an important role. In 1988 and 1989, exports of prepared foods and tobacco had passed raw agricultural exports in value (353), a leading position in which they remain.
Trading partners. Before the great decline in the economy of the USSR and post-Soviet Russia, the Soviet Union was one of Argentina's leading customers. For the three years ending in 1985, the USSR received exports from Argentina of greater value ($1.6 to 1.2 billion) than Argentine exports to the US or any other country. As the USSR declined, so did Argentine exports to it: $.64 billion in 1987; .85 billion in 1988; .82 billion in 1989. Exports to the US then returned to the premiere position they enjoyed in the 1960s and 1970s. By the final stages of the Cold War, the US was Argentina's leading export destination: .89 billion (1987), 1.18 billion in 1988, 1.15 billion in 1989. U.S.-Argentine trade grew sharply in the 1990s. Thus, the role played by the US in the Argentine economy has run parallel to the resumption of good diplomatic relations between these once close allies. While not always on friendly terms prior to the Cold War, Argentina and the US have had mutual military obligations under the Inter American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, or Rio Treaty since the late 1940s. Other important trading partners in the 1990s included: Netherlands (#3 destination of Argentine exports; #14 site of origin of imports by Argentina), and Brazil (now the #2 destination of Argentine exports; and the #2 site of origin for Argentine imports). Export trade with Japan has remained steady, though imports from Japan significantly have declined in the recent years (353). Argentina has a well developed industrial sector, long protected by government policy but significantly privatized in the 1990s. The key human resources from which to produce a modern labor force exist: there are 483 Argentine universities and 1057 colleges (353). In 1990, for the first time tourism earned more foreign exchange for Argentina than did exports of any category (LAWR 1991a: 11), and with political stability across the 1990s, tourism grew apace.
II. The era of independence
Prelude. The early colonial settlement of the Rio de la Plata region of Southern Hispanic America came both from Europe (i.e., the founders of Buenos Aires) and from the leading center of Spanish influence in South America, Peru. Spanish settlers from Peru came to inhabit the northwest of the modern nation. Inasmuch as precious minerals were not in abundance in either region, little attention in Europe was paid to the Buenos Aires colony or the interior settlements.
Unification into a nation state. Between 1810 and 1819, Argentines joined with other Hispanic Americans in revolt against the Napoleonic rulers of Spain and their successors. This struggle led to formal independence in 1819. Jose de San Martin, and others, are revered as national heroes of this struggle. After gaining independence, national government remained weak and the regionalism which characterized the early settlement continued to impede development of a national economy and politics. After a period of civil wars which pitted forces from the interior against forces from the capital, and which were won by the latter) in 1862, the nation was unified under the leadership of Pres. Bartoleme Mitre. Under his leadership, stronger national political institutions were created, the capital became a federal district rather than a distinct province, and a uniform judicial system was created.
Economic development, by and large, languished between 1540 and 1850. Originally, Argentina was a peripheral supplier of mules to mineral rich Peru, not an exporter to Europe. Animal raising continued to be important well into the 19th Century: fully two-thirds of the value of Argentine exports, 1830-50, were derived from shipments of cowhides abroad. The reasons for these types of economic activity are relatively simple: demographically, Argentina had too few people to compete in labor-intensive forms of production. Given this fact and the level of technological development in the mid-1800s, Argentine agriculture could not compete with goods produced in Eastern Europe and the US/Canada in the lucrative Western European market. Thus, non-labor-intensive forms of export production dominated: cattle grazing (for hides for export), sheep raising (for wool for export), etc. Given the absence of refrigeration at the time, wool and cured hides were among the few marketable commodities able to be produced in Argentina in a way that could compete in Europe.
III. Social and Economic Change after 1880
Governmental background: Between 1862 and 1930, Constitutional governments ruled without interruption. During the first decades of this era, political rights were narrowly distributed and, for all intents and purposes, formal democracy was a game in which only the upper classes had rights to compete. Nevertheless, in an atmosphere of relative political stability, the task of modernization and economic development proceeded -- at a breakneck pace.
To solve the labor shortage, European immigration was encouraged, especially after 1880. In a pattern parallel to the experience of the US, Argentina added 1.24 million (net) new residents, 1880-1900. This was a major change: only 150,000 Europeans had migrated there, 1860-80. For the most part, these immigrants came from Italy and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Europe. A substantial number of these latter newcomers were Jews. By the 1990s, Argentina's 300,000 [Weisbrot: 17] to half million Jews made it the fifth largest Jewish community in the world (Grolier: 2-3). These migrations made much more pluralistic the extant social order which, by and large, was composed of Roman Catholic Spanish descendants.
Infrastructural development during the latter part of the 19th century was rapid. This allowed for a great expansion of agriculture for export and it also permitted an Argentine industrial base to form. Railroads: In 1862, there were only about 2000 miles of Railroads; by 1912, ten times as much rail track spanned the vast nation (Snow: 439). Argentina is still the world's eighth largest nation in land area, so a modern transportation system is key to national economic development. Direct investment by British capitalists played a big role in the creation of this crucial system: in 1908 alone, of 1.4 billion pesos foreigners invested in Argentina, 57% were invested in railroads.
Much of the development of other types of infrastructure (port facilities; power plants; urban trolley lines, etc.) also was financed by British capitalists' purchase of Argentine government bonds. After 1890, much foreign capital (typically British) also was directly invested in urban industrial factories. Industrial development was spatially (i.e., geographically) concentrated in the Buenos Aires region: in 1914, 23,000 of the 35,000 Argentine industries were located there. In 1895, a similar pattern also had been found: 13,000 of 16,000 industries were in the capital. This type of concentrated capitalist development in other nations has correlated with the rise of labor unrest and the growth of ideologically radical political parties. Both of these social trends were manifest in Argentina at the turn of the century.
Total direct foreign investment in 1892 (836 million pesos) more than quadrupled (to 3.5 billion pesos) by 1913. These investments created factories and the goods these factories produced, by and large, were not exported, but rather were used to produce goods to replace expensive imports. (This is known as an "import substitution model" of economic development). This is quite different from the role of foreign investment in the Third World in the period since the middle 1960s, which typically has financed the development of industries for the production of goods for export. With increased amounts of locally produced goods on the market, the standard of living of many Argentines began to rise. Argentines developed modern habits of frequent meat-eating: even today Argentines lead the world in the per capita consumption of meat.
External capital created some new problems for the nation. As early as 1894, about 48% of Argentina's public debt was owed to foreign banks and individuals; by 1913, this proportion had risen to more than 56% -- and the debt itself had grown by nearly 40% in these same years. Periodic, timely payment of interest and principal on these foreign debts affected Argentina's relations with powerful nations. Politically, the nation had few choices: the option to not raise taxes in order to make these payments really did not exist. Thus, a constraint was introduced into the ability of the Argentine government to set priorities in the allocation of resources. Demagogic politicians, in time, would seize upon this issue as a handy way in which to define Argentine nationalism in terms of opposing foreigners.
Agricultural Expansion: Formerly, Argentine agriculture was a small part of the national economy; goods were produced for consumption in the small Argentine market. After technological developments (e.g., refrigerated shipping) and infrastructural development (e.g., railroads) permitted its expansion, agriculture came to dominate the economy of the changing nation in the last quarter of the 19th and the first two decades of the 20th centuries.
In aggregate terms, Argentine agricultural grew over 1500%, 1862-1914. Acreage expanded from under 1.5 million acres (1862), to 4.89 million acres (1895), to 24.3 million acres (1914). Agricultural expansion drew the most dynamic sector of the national economy into the world food trade. Between 1880 and 1890, aggregate trade grew 150%; in the next 23 years (1890-1923), it would expand five fold. Total volume of trade (all products) expanded from 243 million pesos (1890), to 282 million pesos (1902), to 1015 million pesos (1913). Thus, when worldwide agricultural prices took a steep nose dive (from which they never really have fully recovered) in 1913-14, a substantial, externally-produced strain racked the Argentine economy. The leading product of export remained wool throughout this period; however, after 1880, agricultural goods passed hides as the #2 export.
Socially, agricultural expansion did not have the same effect on Argentina as it did in the US. In the American experience, land proved to be a social "leveler," permitting what some historians have called an "equality of condition" to sustain the development of a largely middle-class society and democracy (at least until the closing of the American frontier, around 1890). Unlike the American experience with the conscious policy of transfer of government-owned lands to large numbers of independent farm producers (e.g., through the Homestead Act), most Argentine land remained outside control of state decision makers. Spanish colonialism had alienated from public ownership virtually all lands, a pattern unbroken in the national era. A rigid rural class structure had developed: large farms ("estancias") were owned by a patrician upper crust; wage laboring "gauchos" served as their field hands/cowboys. Nineteenth century peasant immigrants from Europe found few opportunities to own land in the countryside; those few who did move to rural areas generally leased, but did not own, new farms.
Similarly, concentrated industrialization transformed the social fabric of the urban areas, creating new problems and tensions, especially in Buenos Aires. Overall, the Argentine industrial proletariat (i.e., factory workers) grew from about 175,000 (1895) to 410,000 (1914). Unlike the experience of these new classes with the US system of representative democracy, however, Argentine workers' political rights were limited.
By world standards, Argentina had begun a process of economic development not altogether unlike that of the British successor states. Foreign immigration and foreign investment had been combined with a nation rich in natural resources. On the eve of World War I, Argentine per capita GNP (130 British pounds per year) roughly resembled that of Canada (196) and was narrowing in its gap with the US (210). For comparison purposes, the similar figures for that year for Britain itself were 247; France, 224; Australia, 343.
From this apparently auspicious beginning, Argentina has remained substantially underdeveloped, racked by many of the severe social and economic problems of much less well endowed Third World nations, albeit not in as acute a form. Only in the mid 1990s have some of the fruits of this great potential begun to be enjoyed by large numbers of Argentines. To understand the political dimensions of this disappointing performance, we must examine the Argentine political process and its propensity to create stalemate, rather than to solve national problems.
IV. The Politics of Stalemate:
Argentine politics began the 20th Century ill-suited to the requirements of a democratic age. Peter Snow (439-443) described Argentine politics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries aptly, calling it a system only "perhaps appropriate... [for] a politically inarticulate mass." The superficial appearance of Argentine democracy belied the fact that all parties were, in essence, collections of upper-class notables. In a preindustrial society, illiterate peasants might have been drawn into networks of patron-client connections through such a system. But Argentina at the turn of the century needed industrial workers who could read to operate increasingly sophisticated machinery. Further, it had imported huge numbers of immigrants from two parts of Europe that were veritably seething with debate over ideologies of democracy and socialism. Even illiterate Italians were becoming politically aware at the turn of the century. Moreover, the fulcrum of the new Argentine political economy had become a powder-keg, owing to the great concentration of working and middle class people in Buenos Aires. Correspondingly, the "gentleman's democracy" of the elite was challenged by unsuccessful urban revolts in 1890, 1893, and 1905; and the political movement of the middle classes, the Radical Civic Union (AKA, Radical Party) simply boycotted electoral politics so long as corrupt processes of vote counting denied it a fair chance (to 1912). One of the defining features of Radicalism, in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America, was its opposition to the concentration of power in society, an ideological position that combined the class-conscious thinking of socialism with the cultural anti-clericism of much of the educated middle class. During most of Argentine history, the conservative Roman Catholic Church has been a pillar of defense for the propertied interests of society.
In an effort to stave off revolution, conservatives chose a course of reforms. Argentine conservatives led by Pres. Shenz Pena instituted the secret ballot and eliminated the former method of voting by "party ballots." Universal manhood suffrage was granted and compulsory voting was mandated. The reforms also permitted minority parties to gain representation in the legislatures. Accompanied by honestly administered elections, Pena (who died in 1914) and his successor engineered a broad democratization of political structures, and ironically, insured their own removal from power. The electorate mushroomed, from 190,000 (1910) to 640,000 in the first election under the new laws. In 1916, to the great alarm of conservative landowners and industrialists alike, the middle-class based Radicals, led by Hipolito Yrigoyen won the presidency in the first authentic, freely-contested election in Argentine history. While the Radicals in office proved to be less a threat than conservatives had thought, they did continue to expand the rights of all industrial workers. Trade unionism was authorized. Public housing projects were created and regulation of private housing conditions was begun. These policies appealed to the interests of the working and middle classes; other steps, such as keeping Argentina neutral during World War I appealed to a nationalistic streak among Argentines. By 1928, most of the 1.46 million Argentine voters owed their allegiance in one form or another to the Radicals. The Radical Party itself had, in true Argentine fashion, split into two factions by this time. The Conservative forces had, in effect, been slain by a sword of their own creation: representative democracy. Yet, their private economic power had gone essentially unchallenged by Radical administrations content simply to expand state employment as a means of rewarding their followers.
The birth of Extra Constitutional Governments, 1930: Sensing the fruitlessness of electoral routes to a resumption of Conservative control over the presidency, the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies seized upon the portentous events of 1929-30 (i.e., global economic depression), to appeal to the military to step in to save the nation by "military revolution." Yrigoyen had exacerbated their frustrations by refusing to allow the seating of some local governments elected by the opposition in 1930 local elections. In the patrician General Uriburu they found a man ready to take charge. A pattern often to be repeated, 1930-1988, then began: troops of the "Campo de Mayo" Army base (near Buenos Aires) descended on the seat of government, fought pitched battles to subdue civilian opposition, arrested Yrigoyen (deporting him to Martin Garcia Island, in the Rio de la Plata), moved into the Casa Rosada (Argentina's "White House"), and called in the foreign ambassadors to inform them a new Argentine government existed. Only one civilian government since 1930 has completed its elected term of office uninterrupted by a similar event. The era of the military coup d'etat had begun.
Between 1931 and 1943, the institution of the Argentine Army stood behind a series of seemingly civilian presidents while retaining most final authority. Radical politicians dissatisfied with Yrigoyen put on new party suits (National Democrats) to front for the disbanded Conservative Party as their presidents: Augustin Justo (1931-37); Roberto M. Ortiz (1937-40). The real Radical Party, however, boycotted the military-run 1931 balloting and was fraudulently "outvoted" in the 1937 contest. In fact, the ranking officers of the Army actually made policy during these years. At the core of their vision for a new Argentina was nostalgia for the old Argentina: rural ranching and agricultural interests were favored over industry. In a remarkable concession to British interests, in 1933 the Roca-Runciman Pact was signed with the British government. Its terms provided that Britain would not reduce its imports of Argentine beef. For this guarantee -- relevant to the livelihood of perhaps 20,000 ranch owners -- Argentina surrendered control over its meat-packing, its public utilities, and its urban transportation system (i.e., trolleys) to British investors (Lewis: 22). The deceptive essence of depression-era Argentine politics became more visible when "President" Ortiz became incapacitated (blindness from diabetes) in 1940 and was replaced by a successor, Ramon S. Castillo, far less inclined to resume democracy than had been Ortiz. (Ortiz had permitted the Radicals to win a few seats in the 1940 election). Castillo's anti-democratic agenda alienated a faction of the military who were inclined toward Ortiz's policies of gradual democratization. But this element in the military was distinctly smaller, and less politically significant than another, more malignant military faction: the G.O.U. (All sources agree about the extreme politics of the GOU, but some disagreement exists among sources as to what the acronym meant. Richard Walter  names the group Grupo Organizador y Unificador, which I would translate as "organizer and unifier group." Skidmore and Smith , on the other hand, translate it as "Group of Officials United," for Grupo de Oficiales Unidos; elsewhere they have attributed the name to be Grupo Obra de Unificacion, or Group Work for Unification). In a manifesto secretly composed and circulated in 1943, GOU mmembers stated their sympathies: "Today Germany is giving life a historic direction. We must follow this example... Hitler's fight, in times of peace and in times of war, will have to guide us from now on" (quoted in Krauze: 35). Col. Juan Peron was a leader in the GOU at this time.
Secret Societies: the seed bed of Argentine fascism. In 1943, officers affiliated with the GOU seized power, granting formal office to their appointee (Gen. Pedrp Ramirez) once again. His administration discounted the importance of political parties by banning them, choosing to rule through a military committee, or junta. One leading general, Arturo Rawson, declared "Now there are no political parties, but only Argentines" (Skidmore and Smith: 85). The junta was strongly nationalistic: it reneged on the 1933 Roca-Runciman Pact and nationalized British streetcars (trolleys). Gen. Ramirez also was a populist: rents were frozen, then reduced; minimum wage laws were extended to include farm workers. Ramirez and the GOU military government created a highly dictatorial break with Argentine traditions: a "state of siege" was declared; secret police and spy networks were established; alleged communists were purged from the civil service and from the labor movement; newspaper editors were jailed.
As this repression was refined over the next three years, one of the principal members and governing policy makers of Ramirez's junta, Undersecretary of War Col. Juan Domingo Peron, expanded his influence. Peron, like most of the GOU members, had traveled extensively in Mussolini's Italy, admired the (seeming) unity of the people there, openly sympathized with the cause of the Axis in World War II, and in many other ways was unsympathetic to democratic government. Through his role in the governing junta, Peron was able to promote officers loyal to him personally. Troop strength expanded 300%, large pay raises were granted at all ranks, and shortly the military budget consumed 1/2 of the national budget. Through his role as head of the Department of Labor and Social Welfare, the public gained knowledge of his important role in creating the "new Argentina." Wages went up. Social Security benefits were extended to nearly all workers. Previously unorganized sectors of the economy were unionized. Labor unions were drawn into an alliance with this energetic rising officer. With a charismatic personality of his own, and through his association with a former dance hall girl, radio singer known as Evita Duarte, Peron quickly gained a public following, especially among the urban poor, called descamisados ("shirtless ones"). Though twenty five years her senior, Peron married Evita, October 1945.
In 1944, Peron was named Vice President, but he would not stop at penultimate posts. Peron's was a classically fascist ascent to power: when alarmed GOU officers attempted to jail the ambitious colonel, mass street demonstrations, orchestrated by trade unions, demanded his release. Peron also contributed to a strain in Argentina's foreign relations. Relations with the Allies had begun to deteriorate earlier, as the frequent praise of Nazism heard from many GOU officers annoyed Allied diplomats. Under Peron's guidance, matters worsened. German sailors from the small battleship "Graf Spee" were greeted as heroes in Buenos Aires; US exports of manufactured goods were cut off to Argentina; and, in a series of sharp public denunciations of the trend of the Argentine military government, US Ambassador Spruille Braden and US Secretary of State Cordell Hull further aroused Argentines by referring to the regime as "fascist." US delegates were instrumental in the refusal of the Latin American nations to seat the Argentine delegation at the 1945 First Inter American Conference, held at Chapultepec Palace (Mexico City). Little salve was put on these wounds by Argentina's tardy declaration of war against Nazi Germany (March 27, 1945).
Peronism and the phenomenon of Evita: After marrying the singer Eva Ibarguren Duarte, Peronism was able to enlarge its appeal to the Argentine masses. Evita was key to this project. Evita herself, though, was a bit of an enigma. She came from humble origins, born fatherless in provincial Junin. She grew to her teen years living with many siblings and her mother in one room. In the capital Eva transformed herself into Evita-the-sophisticate. Evita formed foundations. Evita toured the slums. Evita showed the compassionate side of Peronism, always with a gracious smile. In 1947, for Christmas, Evita gave away five million toys. Evita was embraced by the masses: in 1951, she was named godmother at 804 separate weddings! (Krauze: 34). She later would opine "the poor like to see me lovely, they don't want to be championed by some lady who doesn't dress well. They dream of me and I cannot disappoint them" (quoted in Krauze: 32). For the sake of her proper image in the eyes of the the poor, over the next seven years Evita acquired "1200 gold and silver brooches, three ingots of platinum, 756 pieces of silver and gold work, 144 ivory brooches, a 48-carat emerald, 1,653 diamonds, 120 wristwatches, 100 clocks made of gold...stocks and property, all of it worth tens of millions of dollars" (Krauze: 32). How this treasure came to be hers points to another key feature of Peronism: corruption. All of Evita's generousity was paid for either by the Argentine state, or by "voluntary" contributions of workers to her various "charities," none of which ever was audited and shown to be such.
Peronism and Political Response: In this climate of irresponsible populism and defiant nationalism, in 1946, Col. Peron won an overwhelming electoral victory in a military-run election for the presidency. His base of support was diverse and broad. In the cities he drew strongly on the support of those who recently had migrated to urban areas, on lower class and on unionized households' votes. In the provinces, areas which previously had voted Radical, but which had a record of local party quarrels with the national Radical Party, heavily supported Peron. Many rural areas where the Socialist Party had shown strongly in earlier elections also backed Peron (Wellhofer: 239-44). Despite the unification of Conservatives, Radicals, Socialists and Communists into a single ticket against his "Labor" (later "Justicialista," or Peronist) party, Peron supporters won both houses of the legislature, all provincial governorships, and every single provincial legislature, except one. Even this was too much opposition for Peron: in 1949, he had nearly the entire Supreme Court impeached.
Defiantly, Peron continued to play the nationalist card and in the process squandered a major portion of the national treasury in order to purchase outright the (British-owned) railroads and the (US owned) national telephone company. As President, Peron continued to pursue a nationalist course. He encouraged Peronist labor unions to strike against foreign-owned businesses, especially US-owned meat packing firms.
Social policies: After initially accepting the support of the highly conservative Argentine Roman Catholic Church (1946-54), Peron broke with Rome when Church officials criticized his plans to allow illegitimate children to share in their fathers' estates and his plans to legalize divorce and prostitution. Unable to take criticisms, Peronist mobs then were unleashed: dozens of Churches were vandalized while indifferent police stood idly by. Three bishops were deported; pro-clerical schoolteachers were fired. Though he had reintroduced Catholicism into public school curriculum (1945), Peron backtracked and purged the schools of religion as his relations with Rome worsened (1954-55). In desperation, many Catholics appealed for relief; Rome responded: Peron was excommunicated (1955).
A similar mixture of official intimidation combined with unofficial violence (encouraged by the Peronists) to force the closure of opposition journals (1948, 1951). When one opposition paper (La Prensa) continued to criticize him, it was seized by the government and turned over to a Peronist union. While the neo-Nazi, nationalist Deutche La Plata Zeitung received exemption from taxation, the opposition press strained under rationing of newsprint. Bullied, many publishers sold out to pro-Peron businessmen, or were simply shut down by the government. All radio stations also were placed under government control; one favorite of Evita, Radio Belgrano, became her personal property.
Other institutions of a free society also were twisted by the hand of Peronism. The National University gradually lost all autonomy, foreshadowing still more direct politicization of higher education in the 1970s and 1980s. Angelic portraits of Juan and Evita were added to the decorations found throughout children's primers (Krauze: 36). Less accomodating publishers had their works censored; authors perceived as anti-Peron were jailed. For example, Victoria Ocampo, editor of the journal Sur was jailed, as was the mother of Argentina's world-renowned poet and short story writer Jorge Luis Borges. Borges himself lost employment at the National Library, and was reassigned the job of chicken inspector. All of this repression was coordinated in classically fascist style by an official committee to investigate "anti-Argentine activities." The slogan: "Peron cumple, Eva dignifica" (Peron accomplishes; Eva dignifies) began to appear throughout the land.
Peron's authoritarian style also came to be reflected in the constitutional documents of his regime: amendments were passed that permitted his reelection to the Presidency (despite the fact that the existing Constitution barred his reelection). This was the fruit of his Party's 1948 electoral victory in which their already substantial majorities were increased to in excess of two-thirds of each house of the national legislature (thus facilitating constitutional amendment). To give a reformist tint to mask the proto-fascist face of his regime, Peron's legislature obligingly extended the right to vote to women, in 1948.
Evita brought nepotism into the regime as well. Her brother became an influential secretary in the government, a brother-in-law became as senator, another became inspector of customs, yet another was named a judge. This spreading of the wealth reflected a cool indifference to democratic concepts such as merit recruitment and the insulation of the bureaucracy from politics. Indeed, Juan himself was indifferent to these values on principle. He ended Congressional immunity early in his regime. Once, "when Evita visited the Supreme Court, the chief justice asked her politely to sit down in the public area, next to his own wife, rather than on the bench by his side, and Evita had him dismissed from the court" (Krauze: 36). Later, the Peron's would fire virtually all non-Peronist judges.
But official terror was the deeper face of Peronism. The Colonel presided over an administration quite willing to arrest, torture and execute political opponents, even those who had not committed any criminal offense. There is at least some evidence that Evita herself gave the order for the electric prod to be applied in the torture of women workers at the telephone compnay who had refused to pay dues to her union (Krauze: 35).
Economic policies and developments: Like all modernizing authoritarian regimes, Peronism portrayed itself as an arrangement better able to sustain the economic development of the nation than the chaos of democracy. The enduring problems (export reliance; foreign debt) were scarcely addressed, however. Nevertheless, Peronism achieved visible results in the minds of many Argentines due to its "take charge" aura and its many visible accomplishments. In 1946, Peron announced that economic decision making henceforth would take place with a framework of "Five Year Plans," a cute idea borrowed from Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Huge demonstration projects were undertaken, underwritten by the federal treasury. One of these, the San Nicholas steel mill, eventually produced over 200,000 Tons of steel a year. But the modernization it seemed to represent was a mirage: the iron ore and coal it used had to be imported. Protective tariffs were erected to force Argentine industry to buy the locally produced steel; the effect was to cause European nations to bar the entry of Argentine steel products produced by such protectionism. Similarly, Peron's nationalization of the railroads was widely popular, but by making their employment rolls a vehicle for solving lower class unemployment ("featherbedding"), the seeds of bankruptcy for the Argentine state were planted. Correspondingly, the profitable meat packing industries (also nationalized by Peron) were run down, as revenues were plowed into social welfare budgets, rather than used for modernization to keep the packing industry competitive with foreign producers. Finally, the deficit-spending brought on by the colossal expansion of the government under his regime could not continue when revenues from meat exports fell in 1951-54 (owing to a drought in the interior). Thus, the "economic miracle" of Peronism --and all of the rising expectations of the working and lower classes it had excited-- floundered and collapsed in a recession, 1954-55.
Yet, the people never truly abandoned Peron. Part of this mystery can be explained instrumentally: Peron delivered valuable goods to large numbers of people. His "big government" solutions to unemployment and foreign enterprises distressed economists, not the unemployed masses. By patronage, first the Army, then the labor unions, and finally many lower and working class consumers fed at the Peronist trough. Peronism also sustained itself by engaging everyone with a dazzling show of hollow symbols. Emblematic of this phenomena of rule was his wife's "Evita Peron Welfare Foundation," the semi-official charity that dispensed highly visible benefits on a few poor souls (and failed to provide any accounting whatsoever of the many millions of pesos "donated" to it). Those who believed in Peron always could point to the hospitals, poor peoples' housing projects, clinics (etc.) that the foundation had underwritten; skeptics remained convinced that large Swiss bank accounts in Peron's name were the principal beneficiaries.
Thus, the legacy of Peronism became an enigma. Objectively, his regime was an unmitigated disaster; subjectively, he was the most popular (and most hated) of 20th Century Argentine rulers.
Peron's "populism ruined the economy of Argentina... It sowed social resentment and a cynical mentality of entitlement among the Argentine masses. It was a huge collective deception: human beings as permanent children, the powerful as Santa Claus, life as an endless Christmas... There were military regimes that preceded Peronism in the history of Argentina, but Peronism had the distinction of weakening and adulterating all political institutions and civil liberties..." (Krauze: 36-37). His denouement came as had his rise: a military uprising ousted Peron in 1955. Recognizing the volatility inherent in his presence, the leader was forced into exile, first in Panama, and later in the ideologically more congenial company of Franco's fascist Spain. But Peron's ghost did not leave Argentina; for the next two decades the hope (and fear) that he might return confounded the development of a meaningful, democratic national politics. To guard against this prospect, military juntas would reenter politics time and again.
VI. The Further Decay of Democracy, 1955-76
As we have seen, the political process from 1930 to 1955 laid a weak foundation for democratic government. Peronist forces, both as a party and as the labor movement, impeded resolution of social and political problems as they awaited the return of their day in the sun in the form of their leader. Military officers, burned once by the ambitions of one of their own, repeatedly meddled in the affairs of civilian governments, too. In this atmosphere, the Radical Party could not sustain any program designed to address fundamental difficulties in the Argentine economy. Political decay corroded the nation.
The Aramburu military government (1955-58). As the leader of the coup d'etat which removed Peron, Gen. Eduardo Leonardi turned power over to Gen. Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, who ruled from November 1955 to 1958. Notable achievements of this administration included the first official banning of the Peronist (i.e.: Justicialista) Party; a prohibition on labor union strikes (after Peronist unions attempted an unsuccessful, June 1956 revolutionary uprising); the continuation of Peron-era press censorship policies; and the passage of new amendments to the Argentine constitution again barring the reelection of presidents. (This anti reelection provision remained a hallmark of the Argentine presidency until it was removed in late 1993). Aramburu then left office through a scheduled election. (Ex-President Aramburu later was murdered by Montonero guerrillas, during the "dirty war," 1976-83).
The Frondizi civilian government (1958-62). Radical Party candidate Arturo Frondizi was brought to power by election in 1958 (though Peronists were barred from the ballot). A strong nationalist before assuming office, Frondizi-the-policymaker abandoned that politically useful pose in order to move the nation forward (see Szusterman). Economically, he believed that foreign investment was needed in order to create the basis for Argentine development. Right wing economist Alvaro Alsogaray (who, in the 1990s would serve Peronist President Carlos Menem) was made the minister in charge of getting inflation down and ending corruption in public enterprises. Frondizi did not abandon all reformist pretensions, however. Notable political achievements of his period were: the re-legalization of the Peronist Party and the re-legalization of trade unions. Peron himself, however, remained persona non grata. Ultimately, Frondizi managed to alienate virtually every significant sector of Argentine society. Despite valiant efforts to curb inflation, consumer prices more than doubled. Though the civil service and railroad work forces were slashed, the overall large size of the remaining state sector continued to work as a drag on development plans. Nationalists criticized the fact that US oil companies were given exploration rights. In the end, the overall gross national product began to decline (fully 3% in 1959 alone); Frondizi's path to development had failed. When the shifting sands of public opinion gave the Peronists a clear victory in elections held in 1961, the days became numbered for Frondizi's democratic opening. He was removed by a military coup d'etat, March 29, 1962. Detained on Martin Garcia Island, the military junta declared that Frondizi had forfeited his office for not having asked permission of the Congress to leave the capital, as Article 86, section 21 of the constitution had required! 1
The Guido presidency (1962-63). Civilian Jose Maria Guido, the president of the Senate, was appointed President by the Army in March 1962. Technically, the military claimed he lawfully "succeeded" the "absent" president. But, in the words of Paul Lewis (1993: 148), an expert on Argentine military affairs, "Guido acted as a flimsy constitutional facade for de facto military rule." He presented his administration as a transitional one, leading back to democratic rule because the military command had concluded their interests lay in such a transition. After scheduling a July 1963 election, however, traditional Argentine politics resurfaced: Frondizi joined with the Peronists to back a "Popular Front" reformist candidate (Sr. Solano Lima). The Armed Forces, in apparent fear over the likelihood he might win, declared the Front candidacy illegal. In the election that ultimately was held, about 18% of the ballots cast were blank ones, apparently in response to Frondizi's and the Peronists' appeals to "vote blank ballot." "Blank" was not sworn in as president, however; Dr. Arturo Illia was.
The Illia Presidency (1963-66). Medical doctor Arturo Illia served a brief three years as president before the Army again interceded to end his civilian administration. Among the notable achievements of this government were the persistence of Peronists' support (37% in the 1965 legislative elections), the freeing of most political prisoners, and the extensive foreign borrowing by the government. Over $3.5 billion was borrowed during Illia's brief tenure; inflation raged at a rate of 63% (1964-65).
New style "bureaucratic authoritarian" Military Governments (1966-73). Retired Lt. General Juan Carlos Ongania was a man convinced that incipient communist revolution had to be arrested throughout Latin America. These were qualifications enough: he was appointed President by the military high command, June 29, 1966. For the next seven years military administrations ruled Argentina: Ongania, 1966-70; Gen. Roberto Levinson, 1970-71; Gen. Alejandro Lanusse; 1971-73. During Ongania's tenure fanatical ideas came to be received as reasonable in many corridors. Nicknamed "the pipe" (i.e., "he's straight, he's hollow, and he's empty") by his detractors, Ongania mental simplicity found the most paranoid fantasies to be credible. Communist conspiracies were said to lie beneath women's short skirts, to be the source of men's long hair, to be the hidden message in Rock and Roll music. All were corrupting Christian culture. Moreover, Jewish cabals were said to have hidden influence world wide, and especially in Argentina. Drug use was alleged to be an international conspiracy to poison youth and make them vulnerable to subversion. University faculties especially were said to be "contaminated" by these several "viruses." Under the guidance of such zealots, the longstanding autonomy of Buenos Aires University was ended as Ongania placed it under a military administration which lasted, in various forms, until March 1986 (LARR:M/CA 1986: 3). Undeniably, some student radicalism did at times assume revolutionary proportions, as in the 1969 uprising in the industrial center of Cordoba, where workers briefly joined students in riots that then were brutally suppressed by the military (Pion-Berlin: 210).2 Ongania, nevertheless, later maintained that his was a comparatively enlightened administration, saying in 1995: "My government was a dictatorship. I admit it, but it was a soft dictatorship..." (LAWR 1995a: 2).
The return of the living fossil: Peronism in the 1970s. In the decades after 1955, the wild amalgam of supporters of deposed dictator Juan Peron had continued to evolve. As we have seen with the events in Cordoba, leftist Argentine students in the late 1960s responded to the tenor of the times worldwide, and to their own military-dominated university situation, and took to the streets. Many found in Peron's populism a precedent upon which they could pin their hopes for mass support for radical politics. These were the "Left Peronists" who competed with other revolutionaries (e.g., small groups ofTrotskyites, and the larger Monteneros) for the support of the young. On the other hand, labor union leaders in the late 1960s and early 1970s continued to look to the exiled dictator for guidance for their interests' return to influence. This labor faction of the Peronist movement, combined with Justicialista Party officials, became known as the "Right Peronists." Both groups sought the return of the leader; beyond that, little in the way of a common denominator existed within the Peronist opposition.
Leftist Terrorism: Among the left Peronists in the early 1970s developed a fundamentally anti-democratic tendency: the Montonero movement, so named to commemorate a 19th Century gaucho rebellion. These advocates of the New Left saw potential for revolution in Argentina based on the violent theories of martyred Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Fidel Castro and French intellectual Regis Debray. In civil society and especially in the universities, an analysis which supported these perspectives had emerged in the later 1960s, called "dependency theory." In its main tenets, dependency theory argued that Argentine underdevelopment was no accident; that this underdevelopment was the necessary byproduct of the growth of international capitalism in all of the Third World; that the international ties created by commercial and trade relations to the capitalist North (especially to the US) were primary features of national life; that these conditions shaped and altered all associated social subsystems including the political system; that the apparently "national" institutions most closely linked to these internationalizing processes (trade groups and their state regulators; the military) were in fact virtually denationalized and had grown incapable of protecting the interests of average Argentines; and that therefore for any domestic change to occur to the benefit of the lower and working classes, the patterns of dependency upon the Euro-North American world power structure would have to be severed, probably by armed revolutionary violence. This point of view widely was embraced almost religiously by those on the Argentine left, even as substantial social scientific evidence emerged which refuted the empirical validity of its central propositions.3
Thus, in the 1970s, both the left and the right attributed Argentina's central problems not to be a function of flaws in Argentines and Argentina's political arrangements, but to be the result of international factors. Events soon sharpened the stakes involved in this clash of ideologies. After the Cordoba uprising and repression, it was the leftist Monteneros who took up the gun and the bomb. It was they who were responsible for the 1970 assassination of a former President, retired Gen. Aramburu, among many others. This movement completed for the energies of the discontented with the E.R.P. or "Revolutionary Peoples' Army," an 1971 offshoot of the tiny Trotskyite Revolutionary Workers' Party. The existence of these principally urban terrorists frightened the legal opposition (i.e., the Radical Party and the Right Peronists), who feared repression against all on the left due to the extremists' misdeeds. To the right, the Monteneros' actions also rendered more plausible the fears of an increasingly restless officer corps; advocacy of repressive solutions became more often heard among leaders of the military government. But top officials had wearied of governing, and a timely exit was planned.
Thus, in 1973, the military government permitted an election in which Peronist Hector Campora was elected to the presidential office on the slogan "Campora in office, Peron in Power." His electoral support came from an unlikely coalition of Christian Democrats, Labor Unions, Socialists and, at least apparently, the revolutionary leftists. Briefly, the Montoneros suspended armed operations. After Campora's inauguration (June 1973), and despite constitutional language barring Peron's return, Campora set out to achieve the long awaited event. In a gesture to placate the military, and on the advice of his principal advisor, Jose Lopez Rega, Campora prepared a purge of leftist Peronists from public life. Then, after demonstrating to the rightist factions in the military that Peron was not aligned with the left, the ex-president Juan Peron was amnestied and invited to return to Argentina. Peron's supporters on the left, however, believing their hard times now would soon end, greeted the announcement of his imminent return with jubilation. With the disorganized stage thus set, Campora resigned the presidency (July 1973), paving the way for Peron's return (September 1973), an event that foreshadowed the coming chaos. Disparate factions of Peronists took to shooting at one another as the old man departed the airport. Shortly thereafter came his third election to the presidency (October 1973): in one of the most enigmatic of all Argentine phenomena, the leader received a baffling vote in excess of 60% of all cast.
The brief Peron administration, October 1973 - July 1974, could hardly do more than release the many irreconcilable views, pent-up grievances and incoherent angers long near the surface of Argentine, and Peronist party, politics. Denounced in May 1974 by the president --Peron called them "stupid, smooth-chinned and mercenary youth" (Amnesty International 1976: 8)-- the Montoneros and ERP resumed their campaign of revolutionary armed struggle. Weakened by illness and age, Peron continued to listen to Jose Lopez Rega, now appointed Peron's personal secretary, a man convinced that Peronism's historic calling only could be achieved with supernatural, occult guidance -- and a healthy dose of violence. Lopez Rega, who consulted astrologers daily, in 1973 had organized the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance (AAA). Their first target was Radical Senator Solari Yrigoyen. Within two years, this quasi-civilian "death squad" was widely known to operate with official encouragement. For example, in 1975, a Lt. Paino testified to an Argentine Congressional commission that some of these "death squads," including the AAA, were financed by the Ministry of Social Welfare (Amnesty International 1976: 7-9). Vicious kidnappings and assassinations by the AAA (and others) savaged the left; and the Monteneros' assaults on rightists continued. Such spiraling political violence so punctuated the short 1973-74 Peron tenure that it now must be regarded as an ironic counter-point to the stability and unity with which his earlier administrations had been remembered. Better than "democracy," anarchy aptly describes this period: over 300 labor leaders alone were murdered in 1974.
Weakened and ineffectual, Peron then died, leaving his wife Maria Estela Martinez de Peron (AKA "Isabella" de Peron) to assume the office of the Presidency. Unhelpfully, the unstable and illiberal Sr. Lopez Rega continued as the principal advisor to the inexperienced president throughout her faltering, three year administration.
Confidence in such a situation dwindled, especially in international markets. The foreign debt continued to mushroom. Inflation roared: from a breathtaking 335% (in 1974), during Isabella de Peron's brief tenure the situation measurably worsened, to an incredible annual rate of 700% at the time of her March 1976 removal by military coup (Amnesty International 1976: 7). Middle class Argentines, especially, were shocked by the rapid erosion of buying power of their salaries, and their already weak support for legal government correspondingly evaporated.
But politically, economic trauma may have been less salient than the weariness of nearly all Argentines with street politics and street violence. In November 1974, Isabella Peron's constitutional government declared a "state of siege" suspending many constitutional liberties. Three thousand suspected subversives were placed in preventive detention (Amnesty International 1976: 7). Pion-Berlin (1987: 209) has demonstrated that Argentina, 1948-1977, was one of the most violent political societies in the world. Among 125 nations, it ranked 22nd in political riots, 19th in protest demonstrations, 7th in politically motivated assassinations, and 4th in assassinations of governmental officials. The years of 1975-76 were its most violent. Across broad sectors of Argentine society, by the mid-1970s patience had run out.
VII. The Generals' Dirty War (1976-1983)
On March 24, 1976, military officers led by Gen. Jorge Videla arrested Sra. Peron and placed themselves in control of the nation. Ostensibly intervening to restore order amid near civil war, the murder rate more than doubled in the first three months of this military government. From 1976 to 1983, various military committees (juntas) ruled, with three different titular heads: Gen. Jorge Videla to March 29, 1981; Gen. Roberto Viola from that date to Dec. 11, 1981; and Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri from that date until civilian Raul Alfonsin took office in December 1983. The generals' administration marked the darkest chapter in Argentine history, taking the country to the brink of bankruptcy, both economically and morally, and ultimately disgracing the nation in an ill-conceived international war against vastly more powerful Great Britain, which Argentina roundly lost.
Economically, the military governments distanced themselves quickly from Peronist policies of wage/price controls and government domination over the economy. Charmed by the free market theories of economists at the University of Chicago (especially by Nobel laureate Prof. Milton Friedman), Minister of Economy Jose A. Martinez de Hoz set about dismantling the runaway public sector. Dubbing this crusade a "Process of National Reorganization," the regime set its sights on inflation, which was the scourge found most annoying by the middle and upper classes. Minister de Hoz allowed prices to rise and devalued the peso: workers' wages fell, in real terms, 56% from 1976 to 1978 (Pion-Berlin: 212). But at least those with falling wages had jobs. Many soon didn't: between 1975 and 1980, the Argentine industrial work force declined in number by 26% (Rock and Avellano: 192). The situation for workers, 1976-83, reached such a state of depression that one analyst (Turner) has contended that as many as 800,000 (of a total of seven million Argentine proletarians) emigrated to other countries during the tenure of the military government. Most left for personal financial, not political, reasons. As the regime consolidated its position, interest rates were allowed to soar, cutting the expansion of domestic business' production (e.g., industrial output declined 19 percent, 1979-81). Despite these drastic developments the problem the policy was meant to cure, remained little changed: overall inflation rates continued at astronomic levels. Despite muted pressure from business, labor and consumer groups, the military regime --which was accountable to absolutely no one other than itself-- "stayed the course." The ruination of Argentina's economy thus continued, as evidenced by the failure of several of the nation's leading banks in 1980. Officers themselves were spared these effects largely by taking advantage of their new authority to extort or steal without limitation from those living within their "zones of command." At first this just amounted to looting the possessions of detainees during the process of their arrest. Later, domiciles of relatives, bank accounts, other properties owned by families of "disappeared" persons, and whatever else could be taken, were taken. While these practices varied from area to area, the larger pattern was one of unscrupulous theft, veiled from public view by no press coverage and the immunity supplied by official uniforms.
Repression freed the regime of any constraint imposed by domestic public opinion and, indifferent as they were to human rights complaints voiced, after 1977, by the US Carter Administration and other oracles of international opinion) the officers began the ship of state itself down a river of borrowing, a frenzy spurred on by private international banks' search for safe investments in secure places like Argentina (or so it then appeared). Odd as it may seem, to international bankers few environments appear to have been considered safer for capital than Argentina in the late 1970s. A national debt of $8 billion when the generals assumed office (1976) grew to an astonishing $43 billion by the time of their exit from the Casa Rosada (1983).
In legal terms, the new military government continued the existing state of siege begun under Sra. de Peron, but they discontinued those provisions which formerly had allowed accused subversives to choose to leave the country rather than remain in preventive detention. Secret trials of civilians, without benefit of defense counsel and with no records of the proceedings being recorded, began to be conducted by military tribunals. The constitutional-legal apparatus acquiesced to this violation of existing legal codes and, by so doing it became "apparent that the Supreme Court... has broken with one of the most fundamental tenets of the Constitution, for the Executive Power is now engaged in the exercise of judicial functions" (Amnesty International 1976: 13). Maximum jail terms for various crimes, and the institution of capital punishment for some offenses, were established by decree, absent any appropriate amendment of the legal codes by the legislature. Indeed, the legislature was in no position to ratify the changes: it had been disbanded.
Unlike many previous military interventions which had been said to be "constitutional," and "temporary" (at least at their outset), the leaders of the 1976 coup d'etat characterized themselves as paragons of a "military revolution." This would be a permanent change, they declared. Embracing (ironically) the very language first coined by Soviet Communist leader Josef Stalin, official "enemies" were identified by military-anointed "President" Jorge Videla (1976-81). Shortly thereafter, many of the named individuals began simply to "disappear." The regime claimed they were "guerrillas" now hiding or in exile. But throughout the nation a new phenomena, families searching for their missing members, began to be noted. Why would exiles' families search hospitals and morgues? Many wondered, but few -- even among the affected families-- publicly asked for clarification of the "disappearances." In a speech in 1976 to the Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires, Admiral Emilio E. Massera declared that the junta was in "a war between dialectical materialism and idealistic humanism.... We are fighting against nihilists, against agents of destruction whose only objective is destruction itself, although they disguise this with social crusades" (Rey: B6).
In fascism and Nazism, the "big lie" always crowds out other mundane truths. And the fascist essence of this military revolution went to great lengths to squash mundane truths. In April 1976, "Communique 19: Crime of the Press" was issued. It declared that "the Government has forbidden the publication of all news items concerning terrorist activity, subversion, abductions, or the discovery of bodies, unless officially announced" (Amnesty International: 15). Journalists who, nevertheless, investigated and uttered words critical of the trend toward fascism were menaced: over 60 were killed outright in the junta's first four years. By decree it was declared that anyone "offending the dignity of the military" was libel for a 10 year jail term. Self-censorship quickly came to be standard practice: only the English-language Buenos Aires Herald and the defiant La Opinion (edited by the now acclaimed journalist Jacobo Timerman) continued to publish information about the growing number of "disappeared" persons. They did so at great risk: the saga of Argentine journalist Timerman was commemorated in his memoir, "Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number." He was arrested and for months tortured for pursuing the story of the "dirty war," coming to symbolize the collapse of Argentine politics from pseudo-civility into a macabre situation obsessed with "national security." As Timerman once said: "For the first time in Latin America, we have the repetition of the Nazi phenomenon of extermination. And I say extermination, not because of numbers--it is not the statistic that counts. It is the concept-- the idea" (Tribune: 8). Even after his release from torture and his forced exile to Israel, Timerman was a watched man. As he delivered the speech scathingly critical of the military government quoted above, Argentine secret police agents in mufti interrupted and harassed the man, voicing the same accusations as he had endured under torture. The author of this essay witnessed this to take place more than 10,000 miles outside Argentina, at the Hillel Foundation adjacent to the campus of the University of Missouri, in 1980.
In the US, as in Argentina, most journalists ignored the story of incipient Nazism in the Americas. Disgustingly, some even rationalized the purges and lauded their authors. One of the most fawning devotees of the dirty warriors was no less a luminary than National Review publisher/editor William F. Buckley. Eventually, in 1985, the proven stench of his odious fellow travelers became too much for that icon of anti-communism to bear and Buckley recanted some of his earlier praise for the 1976 junta: "I have become convinced, in the last fortnight, that the government of Argentina, during 1976 and 1977...was being run by morally disgusting people." But, despite Timerman's travails and the publication of his widely read memoir, despite avalanches of evidence of repression of journalists from international human rights groups and the U.S. Department of State, as late as 1985 Buckley still contended that "in Buenos Aires, in 1977, there was a free press" ("Lessons...": D7).
Whether condemned (as by Timerman), ignored (as by much of the Western press) or rationalized away (as by the august publisher of the National Review, William F. Buckley), by mid 1976 in Argentina it was abundantly clear that the ghost of Gen. Ongania had reappeared. Priests and nuns vanished in the company of heavily armed men. University faculties not only received guidance about appropriate curricula: disliked professors simply were not accounted for after arrest (Amnesty International, 1976). Hundreds of students associated with leftist organizations began to be detained, their families harassed, their possessions stolen. Suspected communists, socialists, Montoneros, liberation theologists, Zionists, and any other "alien" ideology according to the Argentine military were subjected to covert violence around which official denials of involvement inevitably spewed. Then the spouses and parents of these individuals began to "disappear;" then their children (and grandchildren); then their neighbors and friends. Journalists and the psychological profession also were especially hard hit. In such an atmosphere little of the liberal society that Argentina might have become could survive. As General Videla said, "this is a state of war and the government has the right to use any method it sees fit."
These are not the idle accusations of one American college professor with an admitted bias in favor of the protection of human rights and the rule of law. Later, an official Argentine government report on the "dirty war" was written, in 1986 (Nunca Mas). It has stated that: "All sectors fell into the net: trade union leaders fighting for better wages, youngsters in student unions, journalists who did not support the regime, psychologists and sociologists simply for belonging to suspicious professions, young pacifists, nuns and priests who had taken the teachings of Christ to the shanty areas; the friends of those people too, and the friends of the friends, plus others whose names were given out of motives of personal revenge, or by the kidnapped under torture" (quoted in Gleijeses: 47). Distressingly, throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, many Argentines already knew these things were happening: their silence was morally as deafening as the screams in detention centers were loud.
It also should be noted that US diplomats in Argentina, notably Tex Harris, used their mission to chronicle the state terror. Mexican diplomats converted their embassy into a sanctuary to protect targeted individuals. Former President Hector Campora, for example, lived for several years within the Mexican Embassy compound (Simpson).
By establishing itself as the arbiter of all values, the Argentine military traveled the anti-communist road to National Security unconstrained by institutional checks. Congress was shut down, and many members were arrested. The quaking judiciary, too, was purged and its jurisdiction over "national security cases" was removed. The right to bail was suspended, as were judges prerogatives to suspend sentences. Criminal codes were altered by military fiat: the maximum sentence for disturbing the peace, for example, formerly was 30 days; under Videla it was altered to 8 years. A "State of Siege" was declared, authorizing unspecified military actions. The Peronist Party and 47 other political parties and organizations were banned. Politics, insofar as they involve a competition among different forces, ceased to occur.
Public Opinion. Yet, for most Argentines, life at the day-to-day level was substantially similar to earlier times of military rule. Many middle class families appreciated the removal of doctrines which challenged their values from the educational institutions. Undeniably, many from all classes appreciated the end of leftists' bombings and the assassinations of politicians of all stripes. During the "Process of National Reorganization" much appreciation of the return to order could be heard on the streets, boulevards that had been arenas of a conflict which had so polarized public life in the early 1970s. By and large, the Catholic Church remained silent about the abuses; some bishops there, e.g., Argentine Bishop Jorge Novak, even have called the Church's behavior "cowardly" and worse (NYT 1995b: 57). In all likelihood we will never know how many Argentines appreciated the extent to which the abandonment of humane values was the currency by which the military purchased this deceptive public peace.
After the 1983 revolution, nearly every Argentine claims to have resisted and to have been appalled by the "dirty war" and its warriors. Over the next two decades, Argentines have been forced to confront the grisly facts of the "dirty war:" at least 8900 persons (and many believe the sum to be far higher, over 30,000), men, women and children, were tortured and killed by the Argentine military, without any legal procedure authorizing or justifying it. As many as 2000 individuals were shoved from open doors of airborne military airplanes to fall to their deaths in the Atlantic and the Rio de la Plata (NYT 1995c: 1). Babies by the hundreds were seized from their imprisoned mothers, and given away to others to adopt. Cases involving this outrageous practice, 1976-82, led to the arrest of high military officials as late as 1998; trials and final reunification of families remained uncompleted into the new millennium. Thus the final accounting of the costs to Argentine dignity of the fascist ideas long current in the Argentine officer corps remains to be tallied. What is most abundantly clear is that mere ideas had become real fascist practices of anonymous military men, in civilian garb, in Ford Falcon cars, all over Argentina, 1976-82.
VII. The Emergence of Democratic Argentina
Had the generals not embarked upon a disastrous war against the British over the Falkland Islands (AKA "Islas Malvinas"), the "dirty war" might never have ended and the generals' order might still prevail. But, on April 2, 1982, for the glory of the Fatherland --as have all earlier, ultimately-deposed Fascist states-- the Argentine military began its fruitless flirtation with military adventurism. After initial success, the Argentine Naval and Army forces were completely defeated by the power of the British response. The Malvinas again became the Falklands. In the face of the demonstrated poor judgment of the commanders of this sojourn into military amateurism, popular protests initially spearheaded by human rights activists, e.g. Hebe de Bonafini and other "Mothers of the Plaza of May," gained strength (see: NYT 1996a: 4; and more generally, Simpson; and Guzman Bouvard). Gen. Galtieri resigned in disgrace, to be replaced by a caretaker administration, headed by Gen. Reynoldo Bignone. By 1983, public demands for an end to military government, advanced through a loose multi-party coalition which held street demonstrations, 1981-83, had reached a revolutionary scale. Disgraced and without a clear alternative, Bignone called a December balloting.
The 1983 Democratic Transition. After a vigorous campaign pitting Peronists and Radicals, a fair election was held in October 1983. For the first time in many years, the candidate of the Radical Party, Raul Alfonsin, defeated Peronists and all others, winning a majority of popular votes for his Presidency (51.8 percent), and an Electoral College majority of 317 of 600 votes. Peronist support for their candidate at the presidential level, Italo Luder, fell to 40.2 percent; all others took a mere 8 percent of the presidential vote. (Luder later was appointed Defense Minister in the Menem government, 1989). Further, the Radicals also gained control over both houses of Congress, winning 129 of 254 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (compared to the Peronists' 111 seats); and a majority in the 46 member Senate (all election results from Maolain: 1-2).
Alfonsin and the Radicals campaigned in 1983 on a platform that demanded prosecution of those responsible for the "dirty war" of 1976-83. Addressing this highly emotional issue has been and continues to be one of the most difficult challenges for Argentine civilian government. Initially, the administration went forward slowly: military courts were permitted initial jurisdiction over allegations of war crimes (Zalaquett). After dragging their feet for 18 months, military tribunals issued a verdict under which no officer would be reprimanded for exigencies committed during the dirty war. Civilian appeals courts, however, had been granted rights of review over these military proceedings. In March 1985, state prosecutor Julio Strassera filed charges against Gen. Videla and eight other former rulers; five faced formal charges for murder, torture, kidnapping, illegal search, robbery and falsifying documents. The trial, which opened in April 1985, heard over 800 witnesses, but on no single day did all of the accused sit in the court to listen to their accusers' tales of terror, torture and missing relatives (not to mention missing property). Defiant to the end, the defendants sneered at the administration of democratic justice, Admiral Massera saying "nobody has to defend himself for winning a just war, and the war against terrorism was a just war" (NYT 1985: 7).4 The court disagreed: in the end, in December 1985, Admiral Massera was sentenced to life imprisonment, as was Gen. Videla. Three other defendants received sentences of from 4 1/2 years (i.e., Air Force Commander Brig. Gen. Orlando Agosti) to 17 years; four were acquitted of all charges. The prosecutor appealed the sentences to the Supreme Court, asserting that they were too light but they were all sustained. By 1990, only one of these convicts (Agosti) had been released (May 8, 1989; LAWR 1989e: 8).
The conviction of the former military head of state Videla and four others rooted contemporary Argentine democracy in the soil of justice, but it also created problems for Alfonsin's administration. On the one hand, human rights activists were emboldened by the verdict and escalated their demands that all military persons who participated in torture, kidnapping and murder be tried for these crimes, not just top officers. On the right, groups sympathetic with the military brought pressure to end all prosecutions and to heal the national trauma by demanding pardons for the convicted war criminals. With great delicacy, Alfonsin's administration continued to press forward. In September 1986, Ramon Camps the junta's police chief during the dirty war was brought to justice: he was convicted of 73 counts of torture and sentenced to a 25 year term in a trial that saw six accomplices also convicted. One of his co-defendants, Dr. Jorge Berges received a 6 year sentence for his role as physician monitoring the effective use of torture; another official, La Plata police chief Miguel Etchecolatz, received 23 years for 91 proven counts of torture (but see below).
Other figures from the dark past also were brought onto the road to justice. Ex-Minister Jose Lopez Rega was detained in Miami (USA) in Spring 1986 and extradited to Argentina. Tried and convicted for crimes related to the 1000 plus killings committed by the AAA he organized during the Peronist interlude of 1973-March 1976, Lopez Rega died in a prison hospital, June 1989 (LAWR 1989f: 8). Guerrilla terrorists also were convicted of crimes growing out of terrorist incidents from that troubled period, notably Montonero leader Mario Firmenich, who was arrested in Brazil in 1983, extradited to stand trial in Argentina in 1984, and who was jailed for a 30 year murder sentence despite Menem-era (i.e., 1989) pardons which released 64 lesser known leftist convicts (Robinson 1989: 54).
In Winter 1987, the Alfonsin administration brought an end to new indictments and prosecutions for war crimes with the passage of the Final Period law (Punto Final). This measure --highly unpopular with human rights groups -- contributed to slackening public support for the Alfonsin administration which expressed itself in various forms in 1987-88. First, the Peronist Party won clear victories in legislative elections in November 1985, causing the Alfonsin administration to rule without a governing majority in the national legislature and foreshadowing a Peronist presidential victory by candidate Carlos Menem over Alfonsin's Radical Party successor, Eduardo Angeloz, in 1989. Second, public disaffection with Alfonsin seems to have contributed to a mood of assertiveness among factions of the recently discredited Argentine Army. During Easter Week 1987, a group of officers led by Lt. Col. Aldo Rico, attempted unsuccessfully to overthrow the government: massive street demonstrations in favor of democracy appear to have contributed to the decisions of most military commanders not to support Rico's revolt. Alfonsin generously responded by having Congress enact the Obedencia Debida (due obedience) law, under which amnesty was granted all military personnel under the rank of colonel for any and all crimes that may have been committed during the "dirty war." Thus, a grand total of less than fifty officers ever were judicially held accountable for the crimes of the "dirty war." In a slight gesture in a contrary direction, Alfonsin also began paying pensions to relatives of "disappeared" persons, in 1987 (DOS 1988: 371-372).
Thus, dealing from a weakened political base with the submerged antagonisms of the military establishment remained the most pointed political problem for the Alfonsin administration and its successors. Indeed, institutionalizing civilian control over the military likely will remain of paramount concern for democratic governments of Argentina well into the 21st Century. For example, in January 1988, Lt. Col. Rico escaped from the lenient house arrest to which military courts had confined him and mounted yet another new revolt centered around the northern Argentine garrison at Monte Caseros. Before it was suppressed, Army units in seven other cities temporarily had joined in the insubordination. Ultimately, three Alfonsin-loyalist soldiers were killed as the uprising was quelled on January 19, 1988; 60 officers and 222 enlisted men were jailed for participating. In December 1988, Rico's mentor, Gen. Mohammed Ali Seineldin, attempted yet another mutiny to free Rico and to overthrow the Alfonsin government; he too was jailed after the unsuccessful coup.
One encouraging sign for Argentine democracy lay in the fact that, through all of these affairs, military chief of staff Gen. Jose Dante Caridi firmly supported Alfonsin and constitutional democracy. However, in so doing he himself became a target: Seineldin's 1988 uprising demanded Caridi's retirement and, one month after the coup was suppressed, Caridi unexpectedly announced that "poor health" necessitated his stepping aside (LAWR 1989a: 3). The tensions between civilian and military authorities remained barely beneath the surface over the next two years. For example, the commander of the Second Army Corps (which directly suppressed Rico's revolt), Gen. Juan Mabragana, immediately after restoring order stated that similar uprisings would recur until "an amnesty for all those who participated in Argentina's dirty war" was granted (WP 1988: 17). Moreover, these were not small transgressions which military leaders asked civilians to overlook: fully 2000 officers took part in these various coup attempts; and 432 were taken before courts martial (LAWR 1989c: 8).
The 1989 Succession: in the Shadow of the Military. As the presidential election of 1989 neared, Peronist candidate Carlos Menem attempted to take advantage of the anxieties and fears associated with these rumblings from the dark past: convict Rico prominently endorsed Menem's candidacy and interviews with Rico himself were widely published wherein he was quoted as expressing a desire to run for office on the Peronist ticket in the future (LAWR 1989d: p. 8). On May 14, 1989, Menem and the Peronists (47.3 percent; up 7.1 percent from 1983) out polled Angeloz and the Radicals (36.9 percent; down 14.9 percent from 1983). However, in the concurrent Congressional election, Menem's Peronists' won 127 seats, thus failing to constitute a majority in the lower house, as Radicals (93 seats) and other smaller parties (34 seats) held the balance. Alfonsin and the Radicals, however, lacked much will to try to thwart the new Menem government: the outgoing president handed over power fully five months before his actual term expired.
Pardons. Mindful of the fact that during the previous administration loyalist and rebel soldiers had remained divided more on means than on ends, the new Menem administration (inaugurated July 8, 1989) chose in October 1989 to confer a pardon on Rico, Seineldin and 162 other officers charged in these 1987-88 affairs and in outstanding indictments related to the "dirty war" (Robinson 1989: 45). Unsatisfied with the clarity of this signal to the military, Menem undertook further acts. In May 1990, he expressed his intention to soon use his Presidential pardon power to free Videla and Massera (who were serving life terms); Viola (who was serving a 16 year term); former Navy Commander Armando Lumbruschini and Air Force Commander Ramon Agosti (who already had been released, but whose names would be cleared by a pardon); Police Chiefs Ramon Camps (who was serving a 25 year term) and Pablo Ovidio Ricchieri (who was serving a 14 year term). In short, Menem's goal was to excuse virtually all of Argentina's remaining "dirty warriors" who then were residing inside prisons. For the odd sense of "balance" in such gestures, Menem also announced his intention to commute the two 30 year sentences then being served by Mario Firmenich, the Montonero leader. After jailing a critical Seineldin (October 1990) failed to stop a further, bloody Seineldin-led attempted coup in December 1990, Menem decided to act: actual pardons for all of the "dirty warriors" named above were decreed by Menem on December 29, 1990; leftist Firmenich, who concurrently was pardoned, for good measure was pardoned a second time, in February 1991 (LAWR 1991f: 11).
Reactions were hardly enthusiastic when the generals were forgiven. At least fifteen thousand rallied to protest on the evening of the releases. Former prosecutor Strassera, Argentina's Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, resigned in protest immediately after Videla et.al. were released, saying "the greatest violators of human rights are now at liberty." Catholic Bishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Novak, stated that the pardon was "the final triumph of violence... and a humiliating defeat for the democratic system" (Robinson 1991: 18). In March 1993, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights declared that all of the pardons and exemptions granted by Argentine presidents and courts were incompatible with Argentina's international treaty obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights (Podesta: 42). But the pardons remained in effect, though little healing was produced.
On the contrary: at his release former president Gen. (retired) Videla demanded more: "there remains pending a full institutional vindication" (LAWR 1991c: 2), a demand for which Menem stated "I feel pity toward him" (LAWR 1991d: 8). The head of the defense committee of the Argentine Congress, Peronist Miguel Angel Toma, was more sharp still: "The army and the armed forces do not need to be vindicated, much less at the request of criminals," he stated (Robinson 1991: 18). The pardons healed little, apparently. Thus, the veiled threat of future military uprisings --the menace against which Menem so gestured -- remained. Col. Seineldin, long the "dirty warriors'" best advocate, in January 1991 himself received a life sentence from a military court for his part in the failed December 1990 coup (LAWR 1991e: 12); he remained in custody as late as October 1995. His remaining military allies, the carapintadas as they have come to be called, have remained defiant.
Human rights activists chafed at the affront to justice involved in the pardons. After all, they reasoned, most perpetrators had never been tried in the first place. Thus, new tactics had to be found in order to advance the cause of justice in the later Menem years: indictments would be sought for crimes beyond those for which the leading "Dirty Warriors" had been tried, convicted and pardoned. Attention shifted to two new foci: compensation for the victims, and prosecution of the abductors of the missing children, most often babies born of mothers abducted and kept living long enough to give birth, before the mothers were murdered. In August 1997, the Menem Government issued $3 billion in bonds to be used to compensate Dirty War victims. In July 1998 former President Videla was again incarcerated, this time on charges of having ordered the abduction of children of the "disappeared" during the Dirty War (Current History 1998: 288); in November of that same year, junta member Emilio Massera --who also had been convicted earlier, and pardoned in 1990 on Dirty War charges-- was detained for carrying out the kidnapping of the babies (Current History 1999: 45). Retired Navy Commander Admiral Ruben Franco also was detained on similar charges in December 1998 (LAWR 1999a: 12). This renewed focus expanded in 2000, when purging the remaining Dirty Warriors from the military was implemented by Menem's successor, Pres. Fernando de la Rua: 1500 military and civilian intelligence agents were forced to retire (Current History 2000: 188).
Leftist terrorism. The residual influence of an unrepentant military and right wing has been only one among many Argentine political legacies which contained the potential for violence in the 1990s. As early as January-February 1989, leftist guerrillas reappeared and unsuccessfully attacked the barracks at La Tablada (January 23) and Villa Martelli (February 7). These serious incidents in which more than 40 died, were quickly suppressed; but they indicated the persistence of antidemocratic forces at both ends of the political spectrum. Only in 1995 were leaders of the People's Revolutionary Army, e.g. Enrique Haroldo Gorriaran Merlo, arrested for these uprisings and extradited from their exile in Mexico City (NYT 1995e: 13). These armed revolutionary leftists still have not been fully neutralized: in April 1996, radical assassins murdered Dr. Jose Berges, one of the most notorious of the military doctors during the "dirty war," a man who kept his "patients" (that is: torture victims) alive so that further tortures could torment them (NYT 1996b: 9).
Underlying the leftists' appeal remained hard economic realities: Argentina's democracy was saddled near its birth (i.e., at January 1984) with an external debt of $44.3 billion (LAWR 1986: 9). The first years of the civilian administration (of Alfonsin) managed to keep inflation, 1984-85, barely on the graphs: a 1010 percent rise in consumer costs occurred (Rock and Avellano: 195); its last full year in office (1988) succeeded in reducing it only to about 390 percent (LAWR 1989b: 3). Menem's initial performance was worse still: inflation rose 195 percent in his first month in office (up from 114 percent per month in Alfonsin's final month), and publicly provided services (e.g. rates for power, water, etc.) rose still more, 200 to 600 percent (LAWR 1989g: 4)! For the year of 1989, inflation topped 4500 percent! Industrial production also fell, dropping fully ten percent between the first and second quarters of 1989. Despite its populist origins, the Peronist government of Sr. Menem would have to do something other than printing more money.
The Menem Presidency: a near miss at economic miracle. Pressed to increase exports in order to earn hard currency for debt repayment, the Menem administration abandoned the statist emphasis of its Peronist forbearers. He acknowledged the need to reduce the federal payroll and began to sell off assets from the bloated array of state businesses inherited from predecessors. It began in August 1989, when Menem began to prune state enterprises away from public hands. In the next year two state television channels were sold, the state telephone company was cut into two units and each ultimately was sold to private investors, 38 oil fields were put on the sale block, an 85 percent share in the national airlines was sold, private operators bought up rights to operate major toll roads between the capital and Cordoba and Mendoza, and the main cargo railroad was sold. Among those sold late in 1990 were many key industries, which included: the state telephone company (ENTEL), the power utility serving the capital (SEGBA), the postal service (ENCOTEL), the state coal mining company (YCF), the underground rail system in the capital (SBA), the port authority there, and shares in the state oil company (YPF), and all installations of the National Grain Board (JNG). A World Bank loan generously provided assistance in this process of reorienting the public administration toward a leaner role. By late 1990, total state employees had been reduced by only about 60,000, however (to 938,000; LAWR 1990b: 3); by the end of 1991, fully $10 billion in state owned assets had been privatized (Corradi 1992: 83).
Structural Adjustment. In the early years of democratization, 1983-90, rulers and opposition leaders frequently had flirted with demagoguery: the popular alternative in Argentina was to threaten to dishonor the foreign debt. Meanwhile, in Latin America's richest country, a nation which always has produced huge food surpluses, at least four million Argentines came to live in a state of absolute poverty, living a life of near starvation in the 19,000 shantytowns which came to form a mocking reminder of the hollow promises of that nation's rulers, military and civilian. Menem elected to break free from this useless cycle, to renegotiate firm agreements with the IMF creating a "structural adjustment program," and to stick to its terms. Privatization along with great reduction in public spending were both the IMF's conditions, and Menem's plan. He appointed a tough minded economist, Domingo Cavallo, to lead the way.
The Menem government opted for painful austerity programs to break the inflationary spiral which, in calendar 1989 had reached a breathtaking 4512 percent (LAWR 1990a: 6), and had remained a high 1343.9 percent for the year of 1990 (LAWR 1991g: 11). However, the monthly price rises slowed by early 1991, and Menem's overall plan had begun to show success. The year 1992's inflation rate, 17.5 percent (LAWR 1996: 20) bettered 1991 (LAWR 1991b: 8). Despite charges of corruption that touched Menem's own sister-in-law, as well as others charges focused on the suspicious purchase of Menem's personal Ferrari motorcar, the Menem government somehow survived. Key to Cavallo's strategy was his and Menem's policy of linking the value of the peso to the US dollar. By refusing to devalue it over the following years, stability was finally brought to the currency (so much so that in a financial pinch in 1999-2000, Cavallo's successor actually proposed "dollarization," i.e., the adoption of the U.S. dollar as the Argentine currency; this idea was nixed by the U.S. Federal Reserve, however). Correspondingly, as government spending was reduced by the sell-off of state companies, and as the state payroll fell, the fiscal pressure on the currency ebbed. In the years 1991 through 1994, consumers gained confidence as their purchasing power eroded far less than before Menem: prices rose only 50 percent over that three year period (LAWR 1993b); and by early 1993, inflation was only 7.4 percent (LAWR 1996a: 20; see also LAWR 1993c for month-by month statistics). Success had been achieved: inflation stood at a mere 3.9 percent for 1994 and 1.6 percent for 1995, the lowest rate in 51 years. Inflation finally had been beaten.
Domingo Cavallo the chief architect of the Argentine economic recovery, 1991-96, came under criticism throughout his tenure for the social costs of structural adjustment, and he resigned in August 1996 after proposing an ambitious set of tax and spending cuts, and was replaced by Roque Fernandez as Minister of the Economy. Unemployment did not abate, either during Menem's second term or in the first years of his successors' rule. In March 2001, Fernandez (who also held a Ph.D in economics from the University of Chicago) resigned; and Domingo Calvallo was brought back again as the chief economic minister in de la Rua's government. But Argentina's economy needed more than a symbolic savior to slay the dragons, and Cavallo's quiver proved empty. De la Rua was forced to resign the presidency late in 2001, setting the stage for the near collapse of the Argentine constitutional system in 2002.
Political Impact of the Menem Government's Economic Approach. Reform always has proven controversial in Argentina. Early on, Menem's new type of "Peronist" administration had received a limited vote of confidence from the electorate, in September 1991. In Congressional elections where one third of the lower house was contested, the Peronists remained the largest party, increasing their number of seats there to 119, a gain of seven. This sum still left Menem's party nine short of the absolute majority they had sought. (In 1991, electoral law changes had altered the composition of the legislature, and mandated staggered terms for the lower house). Extremists fared poorly: the irrepressible former Col. Aldo Rico founded a new political party to test the popularity of his positions (i.e., the "Movement for Dignity and Independence," aka, MDI and MODIN). They polled just over 10 percent of the vote in Buenos Aires province, and by 1993 slid to a bare 5.8 percent support in nationwide legislative elections (LAWR 1993a: 527). Populist anti-democratic appeals initially fell flat. Rico himself, however, wormed his way into the role of "Security Minister" of Buenos Aires province, a role in which he remained until Pres. de la Rua forced his resignation in April 2000 (LAWR 2000a: 168).
The austerity policies clearly had brought some economic stability and growth, and in the October 1993 legislative elections, Menem's Peronists made further gains. However, the traditional base of the Justicialista movement (i.e, the Peronists' formal name) always had included the disadvantaged and the common people of the working classes. By the time of a Spring 1994 election to create a constituent assembly, leftist former Peronists had broken from Menem and the Justicialista movement, fielding their own slate of candidates, the Frente Grande ("big front"). The new left pointed to the widening gap among classes in Argentine society (LAWR 1994e: 450-451) and to the persistent problem of unemployment, which stood at 10.9 percent in mid-1994, fully a point higher than a year before (LAWR 1994c). Later, unemployment would soar to over 18 percent, but only after Menem had re-secured his place in office and political power through 1998. Through the mid 1990s, organized labor (i.e., the Confederacion General del Trabajo, General Confederation of Labor, CGT), rebuffed the leftists and continued to back Menem.
Structural Adjustment Programs are never uniformly popular. Menem's own rise in popularity was not steady --as were comedians' and much of the public's assessment of his mental health. In his first months of office, the president enjoyed 85 percent approval ratings in public opinion polls. As late as December 1990, on the heels of an unsuccessful military coup, seven in ten Argentines still reported themselves to approve of Menem's performance. However, as the social costs of the austerity program became visible in family budgets, by late February 1991, less than one in three (30 percent) continued to express support for the reclusive and unpredictable president. These dim assessments fell a further ten points by mid-March (LAWR 1991g: 12). Journals mocking the leader by depicting him as headless on their cover (i.e., Linea, a Peronist publication) were seized by federal police that month, indicating that freedom of the press remained somewhat problematic in the land of the Pampas (LAWR 1991h: 11). As the Menem administration steadied the value of the peso by pinning it to the dollar (April 1991), as the scourge of inflation finally faded from Argentina, so did the jokes about Menem's freakishness end. Solid growth in industrial output took place straight across the 1990s, and fell only slightly in 1995. Industrial output was up 4.2 percent by 1993; automobile production soared 29 percent in 1993 (LAWR 1994a: 147), and was up a further 25 percent for the first eight months of 1994 (LAWR 1994d: 424). Growth quieted many domestic critics, but in a global economy, international perceptions also matter to states like Argentina.
As a result of market jitters accompanying the Mexican economic crisis and $50 billion US-international bailout of Mexico, December 1994-February 1995, Argentine stocks and government bonds suffered a sharp reversal. Stock indexes fell nearly 30 percent, suggesting that the full arrival of prosperity might be delayed for some years. Unlike Mexico, which saw a limited recovery after the crisis, Argentina remained mired in these doldrums for the rest of the decade, with unemployment rising steeply to over 18 percent. Labor unrest increased, especially in the surviving state sector: teachers' unions were among the most active strikers (LAWR 1996a: 20). It was fortunate that these negative turns came fully into view only after Menem was was re-elected president (Spring 1995). At election time, Menem still was viewed by many --but not all-- as a virtual magician. Those so inclined looked at the overall economy, an economy which was nearly a third larger than at the start of the economic recovery plan (1991): GDP had grown 30 percent by 1994. Voters' judgments tend to retrospective (e.g., recall how US President G.H.W. Bush was faulted in 1992 for a recession that had already ended before the November balloting?) In calendar 1994 --the full year held closest to Argentine voters' minds as they began casting presidential ballots--, GDP growth had reached nearly eight percent; exports were up fully 12 percent. With macroeconomic results such as these in hand, --and with the downturn of 1995 still too fresh to be appreciated by voters, Menem was unbeatable. Ironically, Menem's miracle was over even then: in the full year of 1995, however, the Argentine GDP actually contracted by about 4.4 percent; and growth was much slower in 1996 --two percent-- than had been the case in the early 1990s (LAWR 1996d: 146; see also: LAWR 1995e: 591). According to 1996 figures from the national statistical institute (Indec), we now know that many Argentines lost ground during the "miracle" of Menem's first term: in 20 of 25 districts surveyed in 1996, income distribution had become more unequal, 1991-96. Class stratification rigidified during the 1990s: the top 15 percent of Argentines receive 50 percent of income; the bottom half of the nation's inhabitants receive only about 14 percent of income (LAWR 1996c: 47).
Constitutional change: re-election of the president. In 1994-95, a deal was negotiated with the Radicals' to permit modification of the constitution to provide for the potential re-election of Argentine presidents. In exchange, the Radicals won from Menem concessions which limit the duration of, and powers of the presidency; and which strengthen the independence of the judiciary. Presidential terms were shortened from six to four years. Restrictions also were placed on the presidential power to rule by decree: no decrees could have the effect of law in the areas of penal justice, taxation, elections or in regard to political parties. Election laws were changed to permit election of a president on the first ballot if 45 percent of the popular vote (or more) went to a single candidate. A candidate with 40 to 45 percent of the popular vote also would win if that person had a ten percent lead over his/her closest rival; otherwise a run-off balloting would occur among the top two finishers (LAWR 1994d: 424). Under these terms, presidential elections were held during May 1995; Menem received a second term from the voters on the first ballot, with 49.5 percent (LAWR 1995b: 217). His Justicialista party also won an outright majority in the Chamber of Deputies, polling 137 seats in the 257 seat chamber.
This would be the high point of Menem's achievements. Discontent soon surfaced, but was expressed democratically: a Radical mayor (and future President), Fernando de la Rua (40 percent), was elected in Buenos Aires for the first time in 1996; the Justicialista candidate, incumbent Jorge Dominguez (nineteen percent), finished a poor third in the race. Less than two years later, the opposition coalition defeated Menem's Justicialistas in Congressional elections 46 percent to 35 percent (Current History 1997: 444). Two years later, in an October 1999 presidential election to select Menem's successor, opposition coalition candidate and Buenos Aires mayor Fernando de la Rua (48.8 percent) defeated Justicialista candidate (Governor of Buenos Aires state, and also future President) Eduardo Duhalde (38 percent). Moreover, the Congressional lineup after the 1999 election gave de la Rua's Alianza 124 seats to the Peronists' 99 (36 were won by other parties; LAWR 1999g: 494). In the upper house of the bicameral Argentine legislature, however, the Peronists retained a 36 to 25 advantage, though the 36 seats of the PJ was one short of an absolute majority.
Thus a two party system -- whose success elsewhere often has relied on a degree of bipartisan cooperation-- had emerged in the 1990s. The system-qua-system had stabilized and democratic patterns had emerged: leaders of contending political forces had alternated in power; and the constitutional system of democratic elections had proved to be the means for these transitions. Democracy was becoming institutionalized. These all were notable milestones for Argentina's politics.
Menem's achievements may not have included the creation of a partisan dynasty, but some credit still needs to be distributed to him for these contributions to political life. He consolidated democratization of the political system begun under Alfonsin; he sanitized the one political force most feared by the military in the past; and he moved the nation toward internationally accepted financial and economic policies. Realization of the promise of a more prosperous life proved elusive for many Argentines, but the hope associated with the Menem era at least contributed to institutionalization of peaceful methods of expressing opposition, and thus indirectly to the durability of civilian governance. Not only did Menem convey a measure of moderation in politics, he took important steps toward de-politicization of courts and military, toward privatization of the economy, and toward Constitutional reform. Compulsory military service was abolished (1994), augmenting citizens' autonomy from the state. Most importantly, Menem presided over peaceful succession to an elected successor, and all of this occurred within a framework of civilian government.
In international affairs, Menem helped return Argentina to a respected position in the community of nations. Under his leadership, Argentina joined international peacekeeping operations and normalized relations with all of its neighbors. An economic union with Brazil and others, Mercosur, was begun. Long simmering border dispute issues with Chile were formally resolved in 1999. Accused Nazi-era war criminals Nada and Dinko Sakic --long sheltered by Argentine Governments from Peron to the Military juntas-- were deported to face charges in Croatia (Current History 1998: 288 and Current History 1999: 45).
From abroad, these indications of a more lawful and cooperative Argentina defined perceptions. At home, however, they were tarnished by revelations in 1999 that the Menem Government illegally had exported weapons to Croatia during the period of the 1990s when a U.N. arms embargo was in place in regard to the whole of the former Yugoslavia. Moreover, the Argentine Jewish organization Daia alleged in 1999 that cases against 63 more Croatian war criminals who entered Argentina in 1947 then remained unresolved (LAWR 1999e: 324). Finally, while Nada Sakic was deported for her role in Nazi era war crimes, Croatia subsequently dismissed the charges against her (LAWR 1999f: 339).
In the two decades leading to the new millennium, modern Argentina had moved substantial steps toward creating both the economic and the political foundations for it to realize its long unfulfilled promise of national development. Yet, it is undeniable that some important wounds of the 1970s-80s remained unhealed, as the kidnapped children's cases illustrated. Labor-backed riots erupted in the mid 1990s (Cordoba, June 1995; Rio Negro, October 1995), but notably did not lead any major political institution or actor to abandon the democratic system. Political violence continued, but at a lower level than in recent decades: in December 1999 in Corrientes province, a public employees strike did result in deaths. But the steps taken by the Federal Government to deal with the emergency (i.e.: direct rule by the Federal Government) were neither unconstitutional nor especially brutal. Importantly, military officials did as directed by civilian authorities, respected limits on the forms of force needed to restore order, and played a useful, limited role in bringing the crisis there to an end. This illustrated the new pattern: military influence as an institution had ebbed; military authority was used to support, not to menace, the democratic system.
Crisis in the New Millennium. As Argentina entered the new millennium, a newly elected president, Fernando de la Rua (Radical Party), was confident enough in his authority to force the retirement of more than 1500 intelligence agents (February 2000). Civilian authority was clearly in evidence at the helm, so few Argentines were prepared for the abysmal failure of the political process when an economic collapse in 2001-02 set in motion the resignation of the president, rioting in the streets, and a crisis of authority unmatched in modern times in Argentina. Yet, even in the 1990s, social indicators revealed paper thin support for the process of democratization even in somewhat more prosperous times.
Public Opinion: No Civic Culture. Democratic Argentina might have seemed to have been on the march throughout the 1990s, but appearances can deceive. As democracy stabilized and institutionalized, public confidence in its institutions fell. Here are some indicators of this:
- A January 1996 Gallup poll (LAWR 1996b: 34) reported that only 30 percent of Argentines found politics important in their lives. Interest in politics seemed to fall as democratic opportunities grew.
- Slippage appeared most striking among youth aged 14-24: by 1999, nearly eight in ten (79 percent) of them told pollsters for the Demoskopia poll that they had little or no interest in politics (LAWR 1999b: 187).
- This was a sharp change: in 1984, nearly half of all Argentines (43 percent) answered "yes" when asked if they had an interest in politics and 23 percent said they had no interest; about a decade later (i.e., in 1996), those with no interest in politics had grown to 45 percent (up 22 percent) and those with an interest in politics had fallen eight percent to 35 percent. After the first 12 years of democratic governments, public confidence had fallen in all major political institutions.
- Public confidence in the judiciary also fell, from 57 percent (1984) to 27 percent (1995). In the 1999 poll of youth cited above, 73 percent said they mistrusted the Argentine judiciary.
- Among the general public, confidence in the Congress also has dropped sharply, from 72 percent (1984) to 15 percent (1995).
- Other social institutions vital to democracy also were affected by Argentines' growing mood of malaise: by the mid 1990s, only a third expressed confidence in the media (down from 45 percent in 1984) and only a tenth expressed confidence in trade unions (down from 30 percent in 1984).
- The sole positive sign in the 1990s' trends in public opinion was that Argentines were slightly more active than in 1984 in the types of social organizations in which the skills in compromise needed for a functioning civil society can be learned. Where less than one in ten Argentines formerly were active in voluntary organizations, affiliation in religious organizations by the mid nineties was up eight percent (to 15 percent overall reporting membership), and in other voluntary organizations involvement was up to 11 percent of the population.
- But youth mistrust of other social and political institutions remained high in 1999: 45 percent mistrusting the Church; 74 percent mistrusting the Army; and 82 percent mistrusting the police (LAWR 1999b: 187). These attitudes seem to have been a precondition for the mobilization of young people into extra-parliamentary street movements once the economy collapsed in 2001.
If failure to construct a civic culture supportive of state institutions and civil society weakened democratization, economic shortfalls compounded the nation's problems and made the political system more vulnerable. Social and political authority in Argentina long has been undermined by the persistence of a small stratum of society in poverty there. Despite years of growth in the early to mid 1990s, growing numbers were being left behind. An economic recession after 1998 broadened this subculture of Argentines in poverty to include many who formerly were middle class. By 1999 unemployment stood at over 14 percent of the workforce 1999, where it stayed through early 2001 (LAWR 1999d: 270; WP 2001: 26). Thirty-six percent of Argentines then lived below the official poverty line; and of these, nearly nine percent lived in complete indigence, according to official figures (LAWR 1999d: 270). By 2001, many Argentines were willing to take to the streets to demand change.
To combat these problems and to restart an economy mired in recession, Pres. de la Rua brought Menem-era economics guru Domingo Cavallo back into government as Economy Minister (March 2001), and obtained from Congress a one year grant of special Presidential powers. Included among these were Presidential prerogatives to trim taxes, raise tariffs, cut red tape and reorganize the large federal bureaucracy. But Peronists in the Senate were able to delete from this compromise package of extraordinary, temporary Presidential powers additional measures de la Rua had requested, including the power to cut state employees' wages and pensions, to restructure labor laws, or to further privatize state enterprises. Thus, many of the tools used earlier as part of economic successes of Cavallo during the Menem years seemed unavailable for his challenging service to the de la Rua Government. A short term calming was created by convincing foreign debt holders to accept renegotiation of the terms of their notes, extending Argentina's repayment time and easing pressures on its currency. But renewed social unrest in Fall 2001 forced de la Rua and Cavallo to adopt more stringent policies: bank withdrawals were limited to $US 1000 a month. Panic set in, as Argentines and foreign investors alike began to perceive the de la Rua Government as essentially dishonoring the national debt, and the social contract with other Argentines.
Rioting raged in Buenos Aires as days lengthened in December 2001. Bank account freezes and bank "holidays" abetted social panic: in one two day period in mid December, 24 died in political violence. In despair over his inability to control events, on Dec. 20, 2001 Pres. de la Rua simply resigned from office after weeks of urban unrest and rioting. Cavallo departed contemporaneously; he soon was jailed for two months in regard to financial irregularities.
Musical chairs at the Casa Rosada, 2001-03. In the span of mere months, Argentina would have a handful of "presidents," each to suffer the same fate as de la Rua. Senate President Ramon Puerta, a Peronist, briefly assumed office as prescribed by the Constitution when a vacancy in the Presidency occurs. On Dec. 23, Peronist Adolofo Rodriguez Saa, a Peronist provincial governor was appointed acting President by the Congress. He immediately suspended payments on the national debt, and announced a "new" currency would be issued (in addition to the existing official currencies, the peso and the U.S. dollar). As riots continued, Rodriguez Saa's week-long reign abruptly ended with his resignation. Congress then appointed (Dec. 31) yet another "president": (Peronist) Eduardo Camano. The very next day (January 1, 2002), Congress selected Eduardo Duhalde to be President, the fifth president in two weeks, but this time the mandate was to be to finish the remaining two years of the scheduled term of de la Rua. Among Duhalde's first acts was to abandon the eleven year peso-dollar parity, de-linking the Argentine peso from the U.S. dollar, further aggravating the financial situation. Unlike his predecessors, however, Duhalde was able to complete his term, passing in May 2003, the mantle of the presidency to Nestor Kirchner who acquired power through a fairly conducted national balloting in Spring 2003. Notably, however, Kirchner was not elected in a genuinely competitive election. He gained office when his chief opponent in a run-off election, former Pres. Menem, withdrew in the face of public opinion polls indicating a certain Kirchner victory.
Kirchner Era. Politics in Argentina stabilized somewhat during the Kirchner administration. As economic growth returned and political continuity again was able to quiet a restive public, the new administration was able to resume earlier steps toward historical justice. In March 2004, Kirchner's Government announced his intention to seek approval from the Argentine Congress for the creation of a fund to compensate children who were stolen from their parents during the "dirty war" of 1976-83. Up to $75,000 compensation per abducted person was proposed (WP 2004a: 13). In 2006, re-trials of some of the pardoned "dirty warriors" convicted in the 1980s were conducted. A former police chief of the city of La Plata, Miguel Etchecolatz, whose 23 year sentence in 1986 was aborted after just months in custody, was re-tried. Ironically, former President Raul Alfonsin testified on Etchecolatz's behalf, arguing that however flawed we may now believe the law that pardoned Etchecolatz to be, that law must still be respected if democracy is to take deep roots.
The Shadow of Political Violence Returns. A third contemporary problem which Argentine democratization has not fully overcome is the phenomena of terrorism, though important changes have occurred in regard to the linkage of terrorism to political institutions. Earlier in this reading mention has been amply made of both the historic problem of assassinations and the isolated revenge killings in the 1990s of some of those believed responsible for "dirty war." These killings blot the reputation of an Argentine left whose principal tactics since the 1980s have been those of non-violence.
Real political stability and personal security once seemed tantalizingly close for most Argentines. But it is not only Argentina's Jews who have remained in some jeopardy. Former President Alfonsin was the victim of an unsuccessful attempted assassination at a Radical Party rally in San Nicholas only a decade ago (February 1991). Murmurs of the old Argentina also much were in evidence a bare few years ago when seven were shot at a union rally, August 20, 1996 (LAWR 1996f). To be sure, these manifestations of instability have been less frequent and today are but minor features of political life in Argentina. Viewed in light of the whole of the Argentine 20th century experience, however, they suggest that shadows still to be found are of more than passing importance.
Argentina and contemporary international terrorism. Acts of terror linked to international terrorism also have not fully abated, and in the 1990-2004 era this has posed a serious problem especially for Argentine Jews. Two incidents bear close scrutiny. On March 17, 1992, a car bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 30 and injured more than 100. Again, on July 18, 1994, nearly 100 perished (and 200 plus were injured) when the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (known by the acronym AMIA in Spanish) was bombed. Middle Eastern terrorist organizations initially were suspected for the primary responsibility in these outrages, though local collaborators in the crimes also were suspected to have assisted. By late 1995, the plot thickened: eight active duty Argentine military officers had been indicted for their roles in these crimes (NYT 1995f: 6). Several of these individuals were soon linked to the carapintada mutinies of 1988-90 (LAWR 1995ed: 569).
Jews have an important place in the Argentine national fabric, and make up between two to three percent of the overall population Their status has at times proven to be a barometer parallel to other measures of freedom in the nation. During the Peron era, freedoms of all Argentines were in danger, and so it was for Argentina's Jews. More than 75,000 Argentine Jews migrated to Israel after the founding of that state in 1948. During the 1970s and 1980s, the pace of emigration out of Argentina picked up after Jews turned out to be 15 percent of the victims of the "dirty war" (Weisbrot: 17-18). But most Argentine Jews have remained assimilated into life at home: in 2004, there remained approximately 300,000 Jews in Argentina (WP 2004b: 22).
The continuation of violence toward the Argentine Jews during the democratic years, however, has been a discordant note in the otherwise somewhat upbeat melody of civil life. To some, despite democratization little seemed to have changed when, in July 1996, Menem's own justice minister, Rodolfo Barra, was forced to resign after ties during his youth to an anti-Semitic movement were documented (LAWR 1996e: 334).
However, much did change under Menem. Unlike the blase disinterest in anti-Semitism known under earlier rulers, Menem quickly distanced his Government from these odious associations. Embarrassed by the potential of this pattern to sour Argentina's international relations, Menem named a Jew to be Barra's successor, and in September 1996 his Government settled a lawsuit being readied for trial in Los Angeles USA in which the Argentine military was alleged to have targeted Jewish businessman Jose Siderman for torture during the "dirty war" primarily in order to seize his properties (NYT 1996c: 6). These gestures did little to improve Argentina's international image, as they were quickly followed, on October 20, 1996, by the desecration of more than 100 Jewish graves at the La Tablada cemetery in Buenos Aires (NYT 1996d: 7). But these acts clearly were not acts of the Argentine Government.
To underline just how much truly had changed, in May 1998, Argentina indicted eight Iranian resident aliens living in Buenos Aires in connection with the investigation of the two 1992/94 anti-Jewish bombings (bombings in which 114 persons perished), expelled 7 of 8 Iranian diplomats present in Argentina, and reduced its own representation in Tehran to a single Argentine official (Current History 1998: 288).
After the end of the Menem Administration, the improved pattern of his term (e.g., impartial investigations into terrorism) continued. Further investigations at first found substantial evidence that the Iran-backed, Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah, and its international terrorism operative Imad Mugniyah, had planned and carried out the 1992 and 1994 bombings in Buenos Aires on behalf of the Iranian Government (Goldberg: 80-81). Iranian defectors have confirmed Mugniyah worked for the Iranian Government in overseas terrorism operations (MEMRI 2003). In March 2003, Argentine judge Juan Jose Galeano announced his intention to issue arrest warrants for four Iranian Government officials in connection with the 1994 case. An official investigative report into the crime, which was the basis for the indictment, stated (BBC 2003): "The Government of Iran and armed units of the pro-Iranian armed group Hezbollah were behind the horror of 18 July, 1994, that... killed 85 people." This set off a major diplomatic row between Iran and Argentina, reinforcing the position of the U.S. Bush Administration that Iran forms part of an international terrorism "axis of evil." Ultimately, arrest warrants for eight Iranian officials or citizens were issued.
The controversy over Iranian-sponsored terrorism in Argentina broadened in Summer 2003 when separate Belgian and British police authorities made arrests in response to the Argentine indictments and warrants. Saied Baghban, an Iranian diplomat posted at Brussels, was detained by the Belgians, but subsequently was released due to his diplomatic immunity. More problematic was the August 21, 2003 arrest in the U.K. of Iranian Hadi Soleimanpour. A "student" in the U.K. at the time, an international arrest warrant for Soleimanpour had been issued in Buenos Aires on August 13. Iranian officials in Tehran demanded that the U.K. Government extend diplomatic immunity to this non-diplomat, a request that at first was rebuffed by U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. The controversy strained British - Iranian relations, and ultimately the U.K. Government refused to extradite Soleimanpour to Argentina.
Argentina's relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran were further strained in September 2004 when the Argentine court trying the 1994 bombing case returned "not guilty" verdicts against all the Argentine defendants then on trial (WP 2004b: 22; i.e.: none of the Iranians had been surrendered for trial). President Kirchner, who had called the 1994 bombing "Argentina's September 11th," had compelled state security agents to testify in the trial by waiving their oaths of secrecy. But the gambit backfired when agents testified that the prosecuting judge, Juan Jose Galeano, --a widely known human rights campaigner-- had paid fees of $400,000 to one of the defendants, Carlos Telleldin, in exchange for his testimony. This revelation torpedoed the prosecution, and Galeano was reprimanded for the payment.
Street protests led by Argentine Jewish groups continued to demand a full investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the two bombings. Prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez Burgos then were assigned the AMIA case and, on October 25, 2006, they asked a federal Argentine judge, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, to issue arrest warrants for eight people including no less a figure than former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. (Rafsanjani served two terms as Iranian President, 1989-1997). Also indicted were former Iranian intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, two former commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, two other former Iranian diplomats and a former Hezbollah security chief for external affairs. Nisman stated that the decision to attack the Jewish center in 1994 "was undertaken in 1993 by the highest authorities of the then-government of Iran" (Serrat: 19). The prosecutors allege that a 21 year old Lebanese member of the Hezbollah militia carried out the bombing but did so "under orders directly emanating from the regime in Tehran" (Serrat: 19). None of these arrest warrants had been served at the time of this writing (October 2006).
Appendix: Argentina, the Perons and the Nazis
Juan and Evita Peron did more than just sympathize with fascism's goals, more than just imitate some of the fascists' methods. The Perons played a direct part in assisting the escape of war criminals from Europe to Argentina. By 1947, some 90,000 Nazis from Germany and other parts of Europe had found sanctuary in Argentina (Krauze: 35). This sanctuary appears to have been provided in exchange for transfer of large sums of cash, gold and other considerations from the Nazis (and perhaps the Nazi Government) to the Perons.
Both Perons played a part in hiding the Nazis' from justice and their stolen treasure from the heirs of the victims from whom it had been taken. Juan Peron delivered 8000 Argentine passports and another 1100 Argentine identity cards to the German military attache in Buenos Aires during the final months of the Nazi Government (Spring 1945). In exchange, two German submarines unloaded at La Plata a cargo including 2511 kilograms of gold, 4638 carats of diamonds, tens of millions in cash and "a river of jewels, and works of art and precious objects stolen from the Jews of Europe and formerly deposited in the Reichsbank of Berlin" (Krauze: 35). Some, but not all, of this booty was returned to the control of the exiled former Nazis. Evita facilitated this part of this dirty trade. In the later 1940s, Evita toured Europe as Argentina's first lady, visiting heads of state and religious leaders. Evidence suggests that "Eva, with the aid of someone in the Vatican hierarchy...deposited in Switzerland at least some part of the treasure of the Nazis" (Krauze: 36).
Evita Peron also was instrumental in assisting key Croatian pro-Nazis gain entrance to Argentina. Thanks to the visas and passports Evita provided, Croatian fuhrer Ante Pavelic was able to travel to Buenos Aires disguised as a Catholic priest. He arrived with Vjekoslav Vranic, a Croatian decorated by no less than Adolph Hitler for his work planning the mass deportation of the Jews of Yugoslavia. Both men were wanted for war crimes at the time; no Argentine Government thereafter cooperated with any warrants for their return to be tried in Europe. A third Croatian who arrived with them courtesy of Evita was Branko Benzon, who became President Peron's personal medical doctor. Others among the Croatian Ustashe who relocated to Argentina are reported to have begun careers training Peron's police in the art of torture (Krauze: 36).
In 1999, the Commision of Enquiry into Nazi Activities, an official Argentine Government investigatory body, reported at an international meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel, that no less than 35 bars of Nazi-era gold came into possession of the Argentine Government during the Peron years (LAWR 1999c: 199). For a time the Government suggested that the gold was from coins transferred by German diplomats in 1944, not looted gold, but these evasions later were shown to be false: substantial numbers of Croatian Nazis -- perhaps as many as 115-- and substantial amounts of Nazi gold -- perhaps as much as 200 kilos-- did find its way to Argentina (LAWR 1999f: 339).
Declassified U.S. documents: An extensive collection of secret U.S. documents on the "dirty war" is available for reading. They substantiate and deepen the analysis made in this essay. The collection includes documents discussing U.S. official assessments of the situation involving abducted U.S. citizens, Argentine documents that fell into U.S. hands and which concern "dirty war" operations, transcripts of interviews with informants of the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, a 1978 U.S. assessment of the role played by torture, and much more. These documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archives, a private organization housed at George Washington University.
- Main index to the "dirty war" documents: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB73/index.htm
- Main entrance to the National Security Archive: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/
Robert Alexander, The Peron Era (NY: Columbia UP, 1951).
Amnesty International, Political Killings by Governments (NY: Amnesty International, 1983): 50-60.
Amnesty International, "Report of an Amnesty International Mission to Argentina," (New York: Amnesty International, November 6-15, 1976): 92pp.
Amnesty International, Testimony on Secret Detention Camps in Argentina (London: Amnesty International, 1980).
Martin Anderson, Dossier Secreto (Boulder CO: Westview, 1993).
Joseph Barager, "Argentina: A Country Divided," in Political Systems of Latin America, second edition, ed. Martin Needler (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1970): 452-491.
BBC 2003: "Iran denies Argentina Blast Role," (March 9, 2003): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2832169.stm.
Paul G. Buchanan, "State Terror as a Complement of Economic Policy: The Argentine Proceso, 1976-1981," in Dependence, Development and State Repression, eds. George Lopez and Michael Stohl (Westport CT: Greenwood, 1989): 33-66.
Gordon L. Bowen, "Argentine Dirty War" in Magill's Guide to Military History, John Powell, editor (Pasadena CA: Salem Press, 2001): 111-112.
Ximena Bunster-Burotto, "Surviving Beyond Fear: Women and Torture in Latin America," in Women and Change in Latin America, eds. June Nash and Helen Safa (South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey, 1986): 297-235.
Marcelo Cavarozzi, "Peronism and Radicalism: Argentina's Transitions in Perspective," in Elections and Democratization in Latin America eds. Paul W. Drake and Eduardo Silva (San Diego CA: Denter for Iberian and Latin American Studies, 1986): 143-174.
Roberto Cortes Conde, "Argentina: Agricultural Exports," in The First Stages of Modernization in Spanish America (NY: Harper and Row, 1974): 115-153.
Ruben de Hoyos, "Islas Malvinas or Falkland Islands: The Negotiation of a Conflict, 1945-1982," in Controlling Latin American Conflicts, eds. Michael A. Morris and Victor Millan (Boulder CO: Westview, 1983): 185-198.
Sandra McGee Deutch, "The Right under Radicalism, 1916-1930," in The Argentine Right eds. Sandra McGee Deutch and Ronald H. Dolkart (Wilmington DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1993): 35-64.
T. S. Di Tella, "Stalemate or Coexistence in Argentina," in Latin America: Reform or Revolution, eds. James Petras and Maurice Zeitlin (NY: Fawcett, 1968): 249-263.
Ronald H. Dolkart, "The Right in the Decada Infame, 1930-1943," in The Argentine Right eds. Sandra McGee Deutch and Ronald H. Dolkart (Wilmington DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1993): 65-98.
DOS 1988: United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1987 (Washington: USGPO, February 1988).
Europa Publications, Europa Yearbook 1988 v1 (London: Europa, 1988).
Europa 1993: Europa Publications Ltd., The Europa World Year Book 1993 v1 (London: Staples Printers Rochester Ltd., 1993).
Mark Falcoff, "Between Two Fires: Terrorism and Counterterrorism in Argentina, 1970-1983," in The Politics of Terrorism ed. Barry Rubin (Washington DC: Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute, 1989).
Mark Farkoff, "The Timerman Case," in Human Rights and U.S. Human Rights Policy: Theoretical Approaches on Latin America (Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1982).
Marguerite Feitlowitz, A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture (NY: Oxford U.P., 1998).
Jeffrey Goldberg, "In the Party of God: Hezbollah sets up operations in South America and the United States," New Yorker (October 28, 2002): 75-83.
Grolier: "Argentina," in Grolier New Multimedia Encyclopedia (NY: Grolier, 1993): 9pp.
Iain Guest, Behind the Disappearances: Argentina's Dirty War Against Human Rights and the United Nations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990).
Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Revolutionizing Motherhood: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Wilmington DE: SR Books, 1994).
Lawrence E. Harrison, Underdevelopment is a State of Mind (Lanham MD: Harvard Center for International Studies and the University Press of America, 1985)
Paul H. Lewis, The Governments of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico (NY: Crowell, 1975).
Paul Lewis, "The Right and Military Rule, 1955-1983," in The Argentine Right eds. Sandra McGee Deutch and Ronald H. Dolkart (Wilmington DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1993): 147-180.
Ciaran O. Maolain, ed., Latin American Political Movements (New York: Longman/Facts on File Publications, 1985).
Philip McManus and Gerald Schlabach, eds., Relentless Persistence: Nonviolent Action in Latin America (?: New Society, 1991).
MEMRI 2003: Middle East Media Research Institute, "Top Iranian Defector On Iran's Collaboration with Iraq, North Korea, Al-Qa'ida, and Hizbullah," Special Dispatch Series No. 473 (MEMRI: February 21, 2003). http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP47303
Juan Mendez, "Transitions to Democracy: Argentina," With Friends Like These ed. Cynthia Brown (NY: Pantheon, 1985).
Manuel Mora y Araujo, "The Nature of the Alfonsin Coalition," in Elections and Democratization in Latin America, eds. Paul W. Drake and Eduardo Silva (San Diego CA: Denter for Iberian and Latin American Studies, 1986): 175-188.
Nunca Mas: The Report of the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986)
David Pion-Berlin, "Military Breakdown and Redemocratization in Argentina," in Liberalization and Redemocratization in Latin America, eds. George Lopez and Michael Stohl (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1987): 209-230.
David Pion-Berlin, The Ideology of State Terror: Economic Doctrine and Political Repression in Argentina and Peru (Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner, 1989).
David Rock, "Antecedents of the Argentine Right," in The Argentine Right eds. Sandra McGee Deutch and Ronald H. Dolkart (Wilmington DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1993): 1-34.
David Rock and Susan E. Avellano, "The Argentine Elections of 1983: Significance and Repercussions," in Elections and Democratization in Latin America eds. Paul W. Drake and Eduardo Silva (San Diego CA: Denter for Iberian and Latin American Studies, 1986): 189-200.
Leonardo Senkman, "The Right and Civilian Regimes, 1955-1976," in The Argentine Right eds. Sandra McGee Deutch and Ronald H. Dolkart (Wilmington DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1993): 119-146.
John Simpson and Jana Bennett, The Disappeared and the Mothers of the Plaza (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1985).
Thomas Skidmore and Peter Smith, "Argentina: Prosperity, Deadlock, and Change," in Modern Latin America, sixth edition (NY: Oxford U.P., 2005): 69-108.
Peter G. Snow, "Argentina: Development and Decay," in Latin America: Its Problems and its Promise, ed. Jan Knippers Black (Boulder CO: Westview, 1984): 436-450.
Celia Szusterman, Frondizi and the Politics of Developmentalism in Argentina (NY: MacMillan, 1993).
Fernando Teson, Humanitarian Intervention (Dobbs Ferry NY: Transnational Pubs., 1988).
Jacobo Timerman, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number (NY: Vintage, 1981).
Joseph Tulchin, Argentina and the United States: A Conflicted Relationship (Boston: Twayne, 1990).
Richard J. Walter, "The Right and the Peronists, 1943-1955," in The Argentine Right eds. Sandra McGee Deutch and Ronald H. Dolkart (Wilmington DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1993): 99-118.
Periodicals and Newspaper articles:
William F. Buckley Jr., "Lessons from Argentina," Washington Post (June 9, 1985): D7.
Juan E. Corradi, "The Argentina of Carlos Saul Menem," Current History 91, 562 (February 1992): 80-84.
Current History 1997: "The Month in Review: October 1997," Current History (December 1997): 444.
Current History 1998: ___, "Four Months in Review," Current History (September 1998): 288.
Current History 1999: ___, "The Month in Review: November 1998," Current History (January 1999): 45.
Current History 2000: ___, "The Month in Review: February 2000," Current History (April 2000): 188.
Piero Gleijeses, "The Official Story," The New Republic 195, 23 (December 8, 1986): 46-48.
Bradley Graham, "Argentines Look for Benefits in Aborted Revolt," Washington Post (Jan. 20, 1988): 17.
Enrique Krauze, "The Blond Leading the Blind: Evita, Madonna and Hollywood's Idol," The New Republic (February 10, 1997): 31-37.
LARR:M/CA 1986: Latin America Regional Reports: Mexico/Central America 86, 13 (March 28, 1986): 3-5.
LAWR 1986: Latin America Weekly Report 86, 1 (January 10, 1986,): 9.
LAWR 1989a: "Caridi leaves top army position," Latin America Weekly Report 89, 1 (January 5, 1989): 3.
LAWR 1989b: "Argentina: Energy crisis gets even worse" Latin America Weekly Report 89, 3 (January 19, 1989): 3.
LAWR 1989c: "Argentina: Trials of the Military," Latin America Weekly Report 89, 4 (January 26, 1989): 8.
LAWR 1989d: "Argentina: Colonel Rico to Enter Politics," Latin America Weekly Report 89, 11 (March 16, 1989): 8.
LAWR 1989e: "Argentina: Former Air Force chief freed," Latin America Weekly Report 89, 19 (May 8, 1989): 8.
LAWR 1989f: "Argentina: Lopez Rega dies," Latin America Weekly Report 89, 24 (June 22, 1989): 8.
LAWR 1989g: "Argentina: One Digit inflation for September?" Latin America Weekly Report 89, 35 (September 7, 1989): 4.
LAWR 1990a: "Inflation" Latin America Weekly Report 90, 50 (December 27, 1990): 6.
LAWR 1990b: "Privatisions" Latin America Weekly Report 90, 36 (September 20, 1990): 3.
LAWR 1991a: "Argentina: Military and Politics" Latin America Weekly Report 91, 18 (May 16, 1991): 11.
LAWR 1991b: "Argentina: Economy and Politics" Latin America Weekly Report 91, 31 (August 15, 1991): 8.
LAWR 1991c: "Argentina: Politics and Military: Menem Pardons Fail to reconcile" Latin America Weekly Report 91, 1 (January 10, 1991): 2.
LAWR 1991d: "Argentina: Politics and Military: Army Backs Off; Menem equivocal" Latin America Weekly Report 91, 2 (January 17, 1991): 8.
LAWR 1991e: "Postscript: Politics: Argentina: Sentences" Latin America Weekly Report 91, 3 (January 24, 1991): 2.
LAWR 1991f: "Twice Pardoned" Latin America Weekly Report 91, 8 (February 28, 1991): 11.
LAWR 1991g: "Postscript: Argentina: Menem" Latin America Weekly Report 91, 9 (March 7, 1991): 12.
LAWR 1991h: "Also" Latin America Weekly Report 91, 13 (April 4, 1991): 11.
LAWR 1993a: "Menem Chalks Up Small Victories" Latin America Weekly Report 93, 44 (November 11, 1993): 527.
LAWR 1993b: "Argentina: Four Year Freeze," Latin America Weekly Report 93, 33 (August 26, 1993): 390.
LAWR 1993c: "Argentina: Economy: Cavallo shakes up the financial system," Latin America Weekly Report 93, 6 (Feb. 11, 1993): 70.
LAWR 1994a: "Argentina: Industry: Success story under scrutiny," Latin America Weekly Report 94, 13 (April 7, 1994): 147.
LAWR 1994b: "Argentina: Politics and Military: Menem to abolish Military Service," Latin America Weekly Report 94, 23 (June 23, 1994): 267.
LAWR 1994c: "Argentina: Economy and Social: When more growth means fewer jobs," Latin America Weekly Report 94, 30 (August 11, 1994): 351.
LAWR 1994d: "Argentina: Politics: Re-election now looks less easy," Latin America Weekly Report 94, 36 (September 22, 1994): 424.
LAWR 1995a: "Ongania Speaks Out," Latin America Weekly Report 95, 8 (March 2, 1995): 92.
LAWR 1995b: "Menem wins, but Argentina's political scenery shows surprising changes," Latin America Weekly Report 95, 19 (May 25, 1995): 217.
LAWR 1995c: "Pardoned killer says it was all lies," Latin America Weekly Report 95, 30 (August 10, 1995): 359.
LAWR 1995d: "Ex-soldiers held in Amia bomb inquiry," Latin America Weekly Report 95, 48(December 14, 1995): 569.
LAWR 1995e: "Argentina" Latin America Weekly Report 95, 50 (December 28, 1995): 591.
LAWR 1996a: "Menem vetoes budget, patent laws," Latin America Weekly Report 96, 2 (January 18, 1996): 20-21.
LAWR 1996b: "Public Turns Away from Politicians," Latin America Weekly Report 96, 3 (January 25, 1996): 34.
LAWR 1996c: "Offical: incomes pattern is worse," Latin America Weekly Report 96, 4 (February 1, 1996): 47.
LAWR 1996d: "Tax Cuts designed to cheapen credit," Latin America Weekly Report 96, 13 (April 4, 1996): 146.
LAWR 1996e: "'Nazi past' forces Barra to resign," Latin America Weekly Report 96, 28 (July 25, 1996): 334.
LAWR 1996f: "Shootout Mars Strike Preparations,"Latin America Weekly Report 96, 34 (September 5, 1996): 398.
LAWR 1999a: "Argentina: Investigation," Latin America Weekly Report 99, 1 (January 5, 1999): 12.
LAWR 1999b: "Argentina: Fewer Youths believe in System," Latin America Weekly Report 99, 16 (April 27, 1999):187.
LAWR 1999c: "First Solid Evidence of Nazi Gold," Latin America Weekly Report 99, 17 (May 4, 1999):199.
LAWR 1999d: "Argentina: Dealing with a Wave of Adverse Figures," Latin America Weekly Report 99, 23 (June 15, 1999): 270.
LAWR 1999e: "War Criminals," Latin America Weekly Report 99, 27 (July 13, 1999): 324.
LAWR 1999f: "Croatian trail leads to more 'Nazi Gold'," Latin America Weekly Report 99, 29 (July 27, 1999): 339.
LAWR 1999g: "Relief at Prospect of Majority in Congress," Latin America Weekly Report 99, 42 (October 26, 1999): 494.
LAWR 2000a: "Argentina: Rico," Latin America Weekly Report 00, 14 (April 4, 2000):168.
NYT 1985: "Argentine Officer Defends Anti-Terror Role," New York Times (Oct. 4, 1985): 7.
NYT 1995a: "Obituary Correction for Arturo Frondizi," New York Times (April 21, 1995): 2.
NYT 1995b: "Argentine Bishop Calls Church Cowardly," New York Times (April 29, 1995): 7.
NYT 1995c: Calvin Sims, "Argentine Tells of Dumping 'Dirty War' Captives Into Sea," New York Times (March 13, 1995): 1.
NYT 1995d: "(Obituary) General J.C. Ongania, Ex-Argentine Dictator, 81," New York Times (June 10, 1995): 48.
NYT 1995e: Calvin Sims, "Top Guerrilla is Extradited to Argentina," New York Times (October 31, 1995): 13.
NYT 1995f: "Eighth Argentine Arrested in Jewish Center Bombing," New York Times (December 4, 1995): 6.
NYT 1996a: Calvin Sims, "The Rock, Unyielding, of the Plaza de Mayo," New York Times (March 2, 1996): 4.
NYT 1996b: "Doctor, a Torturer, Is Shot in Argentina," New York Times (April 7, 1996): 9.
NYT 1996c: Tim Golden, "Argentina Settles Lawsuit by a Victim of Torture," New York Times (September 14, 1996): 6.
NYT 1996d: "Calvin Sims, "Jewish Cemetary Is Desecrated in Argentina, the Third This Year," New York Times (October 22, 1996): 7.
Alicia Dujovne Ortiz, Eva Peron: A Biography (NY: St. Martin's, 1996).
Don Podesta, "Argentine 'Dirty War' Cases Still Linger in Courts," Washington Post (April 4, 1993): 42.
Debora Rey, "Obituaries: Emilio E. Massera, 85, Argentine was accused of atrocities during junta," Washington Post (November 9, 2010): B6.
Robinson 1989: Eugene Robinson, "Menem Issues Pardon for Military Officers," Washington Post (October 8, 1989): 45, 54.
Robinson 1991: Eugene Robinson, "Freed Argentine General Unrepentant," Washington Post (January 3, 1991): 8.
Oscar Serrat, "Iranian Ex-Leader Sought in Argentina," Washington Post (October 25, 2006): A19.
Tribune: Columbia Daily Tribune, (Columbia MO: Oct. 15, 1980): 8.
Frederick C. Turner, "The Aftermath of Defeat in Argentina," Current History 82, 481 (February 1983).
WP 1988: Washington Post (Jan. 20, 1988): 17.
WP 1990: Washington Post 1990, "Argentine President to Release Prisoners," (May 1, 1990): 20.
WP 2001: Washington Post 2001, "De la Rua Given Special Powers," (March 30, 2001): 26.
WP 2004a: Washington Post 2004, "World in Brief: The Americas" (March 13, 2004): 13.
WP 2004b: Brian Byrnes, "Acquittals in '94 Attack Spur Protests by Argentina's Jews," Washington Post (September 9, 2004): 22.
Arturo Valenzuela, "Latin America: Presidentialism in Crisis," Journal of Democracy 4, 4 (Winter 1994): 3-20.
Robert Weisbrot, "Cry for Them: The Roots of Argentine Anti-Semitism," The New Republic 211, 7 (August 15, 1994): 17-18.
E. S. Wellhofer, "The Mobilization of the Periphery: Peron's 1946 Triumph," Comparative Political Studies 7, 2 (July 1974): 239-250.
Richard Walter, "The Right and the Peronists, 1943-1955," in The Argentine Right eds. Sandra McGee Deutch and Ronald H. Dolkart (Wilmington DE: Scholarly Resources, 1993): 99-118.
Jose Zalaquett, "From Dictatorship to Democracy," The New Republic 193, 25 (December 16, 1985): 17-21.
1 . Frondizi, who was born in 1908, died in Buenos Aires in April 1995; NYT 1995a: 2.
2. Lewis (1993: 149), however, has argued that the primary concern of the military was to block the return of Peron, at least until 1972, when their focus turned to stopping the wave of terrorism extant in the land. Ongania died in June 1995; NYT 1995d: 48.
3. Harrison is most telling on this point. He argues (115): "[the dependency] explanation is not convincing. It exaggerates the profits of multinational corporations and ignores clear US government preference for centrist, progressive, democratic governments in Latin America, at least since 1960. In my view, the principal explanation [of lower class Third World poverty] is the failure of most Latin American countries, and most especially Argentina, to develop political systems that adequately reflect and further the interests of the poor. Capitalism has been an engine of widespread progress in Western Europe, Canada, the United States, Japan and Australia because it has operated within effective democratic frameworks in which lower-income groups play a major role in the political process. Viable democracies, in turn, reflect value and attitude systems that attach importance to questions of equity and progress for the entire society. Labor movements are vigorous participants in all these countries; social mobility is far greater than in most Latin American societies; and governments often come to power that are beholden to the lower-income groups. Where effective democracy has endured in Latin America, and Costa Rica may be the best example, economic growth has brought with it important benefits for the poor."
4 . Massera remained unrepentent until his death in 2010. In August 1995, Massera verbally attacked fellow officers who were then attempting to publicly acknowledge military responsibility for some of the acts of the dirty war; see LAWR 1995c: 359. On November 24, 1998, Massera was arrested and charged with new crimes, specifically the kidnapping of two babies during the "Dirty War;" (Current History 1999: 45). Attorneys on his behalf invoked his heart problems, and later his dementia, to deflect the criminal charges. On November 8, 2010, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Navy Hospital, Buenos Aires (Rey: B6).
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