Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Argentina Reassesses Military Role Trial Feeds Debate on Army Reform, Reveals Changing Views on Military's Place in Society

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Argentina Reassesses Military Role Trial Feeds Debate on Army Reform, Reveals Changing Views on Military's Place in Society

Article excerpt

EACH morning at 9 o'clock, 15 green-uniformed Army officers file into a federal courtroom in Buenos Aires to stand trial for their part in a revolt last December.

These are the leaders of the carapintadas, a group of officers and enlisted men, who took over an Army command building just blocks from civilian President Carlos Saul Menem's office. Their attempted coup became Argentina's fourth squashed military rebellion in as many years.

No one in Argentina can guarantee there will no other military uprising. But the public trial of the carapintadas is feeding a growing debate here over the role of the military. And what that debate has established, observers say, is that a military coup is becoming less - not more - likely.

"There is no civilian support for a military coup," says Gabriel Ribas, a professor of history at the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires. "In this sense, we have progressed, at the cost of a very tough learning process."

Argentina, through this learning process, has found itself in step with most of Latin America in its shift away from military involvement in domestic politics.

Borders are also more secure. Argentina's neighbors, Chile and Brazil have historically been potential military threats. But in 1990 Chile's Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte became the last dictator in the region to hand power over to civilians. And Brazil is now working with Argentina to create a common market.

In this revised context, many Argentines ask themselves, and their government what the armed forces should be doing?

"The present structure was designed for military and political objectives" including potential conflict with Chile, says Adalberto Rodriguez Giavarini, a former treasury secretary at the defense ministry. But a strong military posture "is not how it should be in a democracy.... There is a pretty big consensus that the armed forces should now play a dissuasive and defensive role."

The carapintadas' trial, which is expected to conclude sometime next month, has become part of the process of sorting out the Argentine military's role. It has, for example, shown in recent sessions that the accused had allegedly gone as far as choosing a cabinet for their new government.

The trial "is important for Argentine society and the armed forces themselves," says retired Adm. Argemiro Fernandez. "The methodology they used was unacceptable. No armed force can accept people who break with discipline. You have adequate routes for expressing (discontent)."

Argentina has seen six military coups since 1930. The last regime took power in 1976. The military intensified its domestic war on terrorism in the late 1970s amid outcries over human rights abuses and the disappearance of thousands of Argentines. It initiated, and then lost, the Falklands war with Britain in 1982. …

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