Guerrillas and Generals: The "Dirty War" in Argentina

Guerrillas and Generals: The "Dirty War" in Argentina

Guerrillas and Generals: The "Dirty War" in Argentina

Guerrillas and Generals: The "Dirty War" in Argentina

Synopsis

In this comprehensive, balanced examination of Argentina's Dirty War, Lewis analyzes the causes, describes the ideologies that motivated both sides, and explores the consequences of all-or-nothing politics. The military and guerrillas may seem marginal today, but Lewis questions whether the Dirty War is really over.

Lewis traces the Dirty War's origins back to military interventions in the 1930s and 1940s, and the rise of General Juan Peron's populist regime, which resulted in the polarization of Argentine society. Peron's overthrow by the military in 1955 only heightened social conflict by producing a resistance movement out of which several guerrilla organizations would soon emerge. The ideologies, terrorist tactics, and internal dynamics of those underground groups are examined in detail, as well as their links to other movements in Argentina and abroad. The guerrillas reached the height of their influence when the military withdrew from power in 1973 and turned over the government to Peron's puppet president, Hector Campora. They quickly found themselves in opposition again after Peron returned from exile, and as Peronism dissolved into factions after Peron's death, the military prepared to take power again, inspired by a new National Security Doctrine. The origins of this ideology in U. S. Cold War doctrine and in French revolutionary war doctrine are fully explored because the Argentine military's Dirty War strategy and tactics grew directly out of these ideas. The arrests, the treatment of prisoners, and the mindset of the interrogators are treated in detail. Special attention is given to the anti-guerrilla war in Tucuman's jungles, the strange history of David Graiver (the guerrillas' banker) and the Timerman case. In the concluding section of the book, Lewis describes the intrigues that undermined the military regime, its retreat from power, and the human rights trials that were held under the new democratic government. Those trials eventually were stopped by military revolts. Presidential pardons followed and have left Argentina divided once more. This is an important survey for scholars and students of Latin American politics, contemporary history, and civil-military relations.

Excerpt

At a few minutes before 6:00 P.M., on 9 December 1985, Jorge Rafael Videla, 60 years of age, former president of Argentina, retired lieutenant general, and former commander in chief of the Argentine army, stood with eight other generals and admirals in the Federal Court of Criminal Appeals in Buenos Aires, awaiting his sentence. Nine years earlier, he had been popular with the great majority of Argentines, having led a coup to oust a corrupt government floundering in economic chaos and guerrilla terrorism. Now he and his eight colleagues who had served on three of the military juntas that ruled Argentina from March 1976 to December 1983 were charged with kidnapping, robbery, torture, and murder. The trial had started in the third week of April 1985, and for the next four months newspapers and television had given full coverage to the courtroom drama. Testimony ended in mid-August; prosecution and defense summations carried over into September. Now at last León Arslanián, president of the six-man tribunal, read the verdict to a packed courtroom: for General Videla, life imprisonment and the same for Admiral Emilio Massera, former head of the navy and Videla's frequent rival for power on the junta. General Roberto Viola, who supported Videla and succeeded him as president of the junta after his five-year term, was condemned to 17 years in prison. Admiral Armando Lambruschini, who succeeded Massera, got eight and Brigadier Orlando Agosti, who represented the air force on the first junta, got four. The other four officers were absolved.

The court further decreed that Videla and his four other guilty colleagues were to lose their rights as citizens to vote or hold office and were to face “destitution”: the loss of their military status and the right to wear their uniforms . . .

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