Argentina: President Nestor Kirchner Orders Military and Federal Police Overhaul

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, June 6, 2003 | Go to article overview

Argentina: President Nestor Kirchner Orders Military and Federal Police Overhaul


Nestor Kirchner took office May 25, Argentina's sixth president in 18 months. With ten days, he had set in motion one of the most extensive overhauls of the leadership of the armed forces and the Federal Police in recent Argentine history.

"I have a dream to propose to you," said Kirchner in his inaugural address. "It is the construction of truth and justice, of once again having an Argentina with all and for all." Kirchner promised to attack corruption, work for social inclusion, and bring justice to the poor, who are 60% of the population. "We have to make sure the state brings equality where the market excludes and abandons," he said.

In a reference to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, Kirchner urged Argentines to remember the ideals of "our generation, which gave all and did all, hoping to create a nation of equals."

"I am part of a generation that was decimated and castigated by painful absences," he said, recalling the estimated 30,000 people who disappeared during the dictatorship. "I joined the political struggle believing in values and convictions that I don't intend to leave at the door of the presidential palace," he said, adding, "We arrive without rancor but with memory."

Kirchner criticized the policies of former President Carlos Saul Menem (1989-1999), who withdrew from the May 18 runoff election against Kirchner (see NotiSur, 2003-05-23). He said Menem's policies had concentrated wealth in the hands of the few, and Kirchner promised a "national capitalism" that offers opportunities for social mobility.

The new president pledged to return growth to an economy that shrank by almost 12% last year, and he said that Argentina would not repay its creditors at the expense of needed social spending for the poor.

"They will only be able to collect if things go well for Argentina," Kirchner said. "We are not supporters of default. But we will not pay if it means Argentines giving up their right to decent housing, a secure job, and health care."

Such comments foreshadow a rocky relationship between the Kirchner administration and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Earlier, Kirchner said he would not veto a recently approved bill protecting homeowners from foreclosures, a measure the IMF opposes.

While most regional presidents attended the ceremony, the administration of US President George W. Bush sent no high- ranking representative. The Bush administration has been unhappy with what it says is Argentina's unwillingness to undertake sufficient economic reforms. In what the local press considered a sign of US displeasure, the Bush administration sent Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez as head of the US delegation to the inauguration.

Armed forces have new leaders

The day after his inauguration, Kirchner stunned the country by announcing major changes in the military leadership. As many as three-quarters of the country's highest-ranking military officers will be retired in what sources close to Kirchner say was a decision to purge the armed forces of human rights violators.

The president's decision, criticized in military circles but praised by human rights groups, will mean retirement for 27 generals (75% of the total), 13 admirals (50%), and 12 brigadier generals (50%), including the top commanders of the three branches of the armed forces. The sweeping changes are unprecedented in Argentina.

Defense Minister Jose Pampuro said the decision did not indicate "purges nor an intention of anything other than that the forces be under the command of competent men who are trusted by the president."

Nevertheless, those being retired were young officers during the military dictatorship and some were accused of human rights violations and benefitted from the amnesty laws passed by former Presidents Raul Alfonsin (1983-1989) and Menem.

Pampuro later announced the appointment of the new military chiefs. …

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