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The Dirty War (Spanish: Guerra Sucia ) (part of Operation Condor) was a period of state terrorism in Argentina against political dissidents, with military and security forces conducting urban and rural guerrilla warfare against left-wing guerrillas, political dissidents, and anyone believed to be associated with socialism.[1][2][3] Victims of the violence included an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 left-wing activists and militants, including trade unionists, students, journalists, Marxists, Peronist guerrillas[4] and alleged sympathizers.[5] Some 10,000 of the "disappeared" were believed to be guerrillas of the Montoneros (MPM), and the Marxist People's Revolutionary Army (ERP).[6][7][8] The guerrillas were responsible for causing at least 6,000 casualties among the military, police forces and civilian population according to a National Geographic Magazine article in the mid-1980s.[9]

Declassified documents of the Chilean secret police cite an official estimate by the Batallón de Inteligencia 601 of 22,000 killed or "disappeared" between 1975 and mid-1978. During this period, in which it was later revealed 8,625 "disappeared" in the form of PEN detainees were being held in clandestine detention camps throughout Argentina before eventually being freed under diplomatic pressure.[10] The number of people believed to have been killed or "disappeared", depending on the source, range from 9,089 to 30,000 in the period from 1976 to 1983, when the military was forced from power following Argentina's defeat in the Falklands War.[11][12] The National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons estimates that around 13,000 were disappeared.[13] After democratic government was restored, Congress passed legislation to provide compensation to victims' families. Some 11,000 Argentines have applied to the relevant authorities and received up to US $200,000 each as monetary compensation for the loss of loved ones during the military dictatorship.[14]

The exact chronology of the repression is still debated, however, as in some senses the long political war started in 1969. Trade unionists were targeted for assassination by the Peronist and Marxist paramilitary as early as 1969, and individual cases of state-sponsored terrorism against Peronism and the left can be traced back to the Bombing of Plaza de Mayo in 1955. The Trelew massacre of 1972, the actions of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance since 1973, and Isabel Martínez de Perón's "annihilation decrees" against left-wing guerrillas during Operativo Independencia in 1975, have also been suggested as dates for the beginning of the Dirty War.


The military opposed Juan Perón's populist government and attempted a coup d'état in 1951 and two in 1955, before succeeding with one later that year. After taking control, the armed forces proscribed Peronism.[15] Soon after the coup, Peronist resistance began organizing in workplaces and trade unions, as the working classes sought economic and social improvements. Over time, as democratic rule was partially restored but promises of legalising the expression and political liberties for Peronism were not respected, guerrilla groups began to operate in the 1960s, namely the Peronist Uturuncos[16] and the Guevarist People's Guerrilla Army (EGP). Both were small and quickly defeated.

Jorge Ricardo Masetti, leader of the EGP, which had infiltrated into Salta Province from Bolivia in 1964, is considered by some as Argentina's first "disappeared", as he went missing after the party militants' defeat in clashes with the Argentine gendarmerie. Prior to 1973 the major revolutionary groups were the Peronist Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Peronistas, FAP), the Marxist-Leninist-Peronist[17] the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias or FAR), and the Marxist-Leninist[17] Armed Forces of Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación or FAL).[18] The FAL guerrillas raided Campo de Mayo in April 1969 and stole 100 assault rifles from the elite 1st Infantry Regiment Patricios.[19]

In time these armed groups consolidated, with the FAR joining the Montoneros, formerly an urban group of intellectuals and students, and the FAP and FAL being absorbed into the ERP. In 1970, Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, one of the military leaders of the 1955 coup, was kidnapped and killed by the Montoneros, in its first claimed military action.[20] In 1970, the Marxist People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) was founded. By the early 1970s, leftist guerrillas kidnapped and assassinated high-ranking military and police officers almost weekly.[21]

The extreme left bombed and destroyed numerous buildings in the 1970s in its campaign against the government; these belonged chiefly to military[22] and police hierarchies.[23] But a number of civilian and non-governmental buildings were targeted as well, such as the Sheraton Hotel in Buenos Aires, which was bombed in 1972, killing a woman and injuring her husband;[24] a crowded theatre in downtown Buenos Aires was bombed in 1975.[25]

In 1973, as Juan Perón returned from exile, the Ezeiza massacre marked the end of the alliance between left- and right-wing factions of Peronism. In 1974, Perón withdrew his support of the Montoneros shortly before his death. During the presidency of his widow Isabel, the far-right paramilitary death squad Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple A) emerged. Armed struggle increased, and in 1975 Isabel signed a number of decrees empowering the military and the police to "annihilate" left-wing subversion, most prominently the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) armed activity in the province of Tucumán.

Isabel Martínez de Perón was ousted in 1976 by a military coup. According to the International Congress for Victims of Terrorism in 2010, prior to the military takeover in 1976, there were a total of 16,000 casualties (including killed, wounded or abducted) of left-wing terrorism in Argentina,[26] including civilians and military personnel. Years later in 1995, Argentine intelligence officers claimed that the ERP guerrillas were responsible for the deaths of at least 700 people, in addition to scores of attacks on police and military units, as well as kidnappings and robberies.[27]

In 1978, a powerful bomb meant to kill an Argentine admiral ripped through a nine-story apartment building, killing three civilians and trapping others beneath the debris.[28]

The juntas, led by Jorge Rafael Videla until 1981, and then by Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri until 1983, organised and carried out strong repression of political dissidents (and perceived dissidents) through the government's military and security forces. They were responsible for the illegal arrests, tortures, killings and/or forced disappearances of an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 people. These included armed combatants of the ERP and Montoneros guerrillas, but also trade-unionists, students and left-wing activists, journalists and other intellectuals, and their families. The junta referred to their policy of suppressing opponents as the "National Reorganization Process" (El proceso). Argentine military and security forces also created paramilitary death squads, operating behind "fronts" as supposedly independent units. Argentina coordinated actions with other South American dictatorships, as in Operation Condor.[citation needed] In 1979, US President Jimmy Carter offered to accept 3,000 PEN detainees, as long as they had no terrorist background.[29] After increasing public opposition and severe economic problems, the military lost favour after its defeat by Britain in the Falklands War, and stepped aside for the restoration of democracy.

Restoration of democracy and accounting for disappeared

The democratic government of Raúl Alfonsín was elected to office in 1983. It organised the National Commission CONADEP to investigate crimes committed during the Dirty War and heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses. According to the official count[30] of the 1984 truth commission, between 1976 and 1979 alone, 8,353 Argentinians were killed or "disappeared", and 113 were killed or disappeared at the hands of the military regime between 1980 and 1983.[31]

Documents found in 2006 show that from 1976 to 1978, Chilean agents in Argentina reported that the Argentine military had 22,000 internally documented cases involving deaths and abductions.[32] Amnesty International reported in 1979 during the military dictatorship that 15,000 disappeared had been abducted, tortured and possibly killed up to that time.[33] The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who organised during the Dirty War to confront the government in the "disappearances" and seek the fates of their missing loved ones, criticised the CONADEP commission as counting only documented cases, and thus missing those who had been overlooked or whose records had been destroyed. Human rights groups in Argentina often cite a figure of 30,000 disappeared; Amnesty International estimates 20,000.[30] In 1988, the Asamblea por los Derechos Humanos (APDH or Assembly for Human Rights) published its findings on the disappearances, concluding that 12,261 people were killed or "disappeared" during the Dirty War.[34]

Although there is strong disagreement on the total number of missing persons,[35] it is commonly accepted today that between 9,000 and 30,000 people,[11][36] depending on the source, had been killed or disappeared. Some 8,600 disappeared as PEN (Poder Ejecutivo Nacional) detainees who were held by security forces in secret camps, but survivors were eventually released under international pressure.

Trial of the Juntas

The government began to develop cases against offenders. It organised a tribunal to conduct prosecution of offenders, and in 1985 the Trial of the Juntas was held. The top military officers of all the juntas were among the nearly 300 people prosecuted, and the top men were all convicted and sentenced for their crimes. This is the only Latin American example of the government conducting such trials. Threatening another coup, the military opposed subjecting more of its personnel to such trials and forced through passage of Ley de Punto Final in 1986, which "put a line" under previous actions and ended prosecutions for crimes under the dictatorship.

Repeal of laws

In 2003 Congress repealed the Pardon Laws, and in 2005 the Argentine Supreme Court ruled they were unconstitutional. The government re-opened investigations and began prosecutions again of the war crimes committed by military and security officers. In its 2006 sentencing of Miguel Etchecolatz, Director of Intelligence for the Buenos Aires Provincial Police, for conviction on numerous charges of kidnapping, torture and murder, an Argentine tribunal condemned the 1970s government's crimes as crimes against humanity and genocide of political dissidents.[37] But the 21st-century courts declined to prosecute the crimes of the left-wing guerrilla groups that, according to Argentina's Center for the Legal Study of Terrorism and its Victims, killed or maimed some 13,000 Argentines prior to 1976.[38] Carlos Marcelo Shäferstein in his work, Cien años de subversión en Argentina, Alejandro García,[39] and Antonius C. G. M. Robben[40] have said that the Dirty War has longstanding roots. There was extensive political violence in Buenos Aires during the Tragic Week of 1919, and fighting took place in Patagonia in 1921 and 1922, between anarchists and elements of the Argentine government forces popularly known today as the Patagonia rebelde. Alicia García, in her study of the National Security Doctrine in Argentina, also notes the government's use of paramilitary squads to smash labour unions during the 1919 Semana Tragica, and the mass executions ("disappearances") used by the Argentine army in 1920 against the anarchist strikers in Patagonia as examples of Argentina's traditional way of dealing with "subversives".[41] In a brief memoir published in Panorama (14 April 1970), Juan Peron acknowledged that the first Argentine military coup in 1930 "had been prepared by the tragic week of 1919."[42]

Origin of the term

The term "Dirty War" was originated by the military junta, which claimed that a war, albeit with "different" methods (including the large-scale application of torture and rape), was necessary to maintain social order and eradicate political subversives. This explanation has been questioned in court and by human rights NGOs, as it suggests that a "civil war" was going on, and implies justification for the killings. During the 1985 Trial of the Juntas, public prosecutor Julio Strassera suggested that the term "Dirty War" was a "euphemism to try to conceal gang activities" as though they were legitimate military activities.[43]

Although the junta said its objective was to eradicate guerrilla activity because of its threat to the state; it conducted wide-scale repression of the general population; it worked against all political opposition, and those it considered on the left: trade unionists (half of the victims), students, intellectuals including journalists and writers, rights activists, and other civilians, and their families. Many others went into exile to survive, and many remain in exile today (despite the return of democracy in 1983). During the Trial of the Juntas, the prosecution established that the guerrillas were never substantial enough to pose a real threat to the state, and could not be considered a belligerent as in a war: "The subversives had not taken control of any part of the national territory; they had not obtained recognition of interior or anterior belligerency, they were not massively supported by any foreign power, and they lacked the population's support."[44]

Analysts say that crimes committed during this time may not be covered under the laws of war (jus in bello), which shields soldiery of inferior rank from prosecution for acts committed under military or state orders. Paul H. Lewis, Professor of Political Science at Tulane University, who has written Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina, is among those who claim otherwise. Terence Roehrig in his The Prosecution of Former Military Leaders in Newly Democratic Nations: The Cases of Argentina, Greece, and South Korea (McFarland & Company, 2001) estimates that of the disappeared, "at least 10,000 were involved in various ways with the guerrillas". Justice Minister Ricardo Gil Lavedra, who formed part of the 1985 tribunal for the Trial of the Juntas, later went on record saying, "I sincerely believe that the majority of the victims of the illegal repression were guerrilla militants."[45] The Montoneros acknowledged having lost 5,000 guerrillas, who were killed,[6] and the Marxist-Leninist People's Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo or ERP) admitted the deaths of some 5,000 of their own armed fighters.[7] Mario Firmenich, the commander of the Montoneros, in a radio interview in late 2001 from Spain said that, "In a country that experienced a civil war, everybody has blood on their hands."[46] The government passed legislation to provide compensation to people who lost loved ones in the war under the dictatorship. To date, some 11,000 Argentines have applied for and received up to US $200,000 each as monetary compensation for their losses.[47]

The program of extermination of dissidents was termed "genocide" by a court of law, for the first time in the official treatment of illegal crimes of the dictatorship, during the 2006 trial of Miguel Etchecolatz, a former senior official of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police.[37]

Return of Peronism

Since former army officer Juan Perón was ousted from the presidency by a coup in 1955 (Revolución Libertadora), military hostility to Peronism and populist politics dominated Argentine politics. The 1963 Aramburu decree prohibited the use of Perón's name, and when General Lanusse, who was part of the Revolución Argentina, called for elections in 1973 and authorised the return of political parties, Perón – who had been invited back from exile – was barred from seeking office.

In May 1973 Peronist Héctor José Cámpora was elected as president, but everyone understood that Peron was the real power behind him. Peronism has been difficult to define according to traditional political classifications, and different periods must be distinguished. A populist and nationalist movement, it has sometimes been accused of Fascist tendencies; Perón's admiration for Benito Mussolini is often cited in support of that assertion. After World War II, Argentina became a popular country of exile for escaped Nazi war criminals who entered clandestinely via various ratlines.[citation needed]

The absence of Perón, who spent 20 years in exile in Franquist Spain, is central to understanding Peronism, as his name was often invoked nostalgically by Argentines in all walks of life in protest of societal ills. Eva Perón, First Lady of Argentina from 1946 to her death in 1952, was warmly remembered by the working class, although she was despised by the national bourgeoisie. Thus, the left-wing and Montoneros supported Perón, as did the Fascist-leaning and strongly anti-Semitic Movimiento Nacionalista Tacuara, one of Argentina's first guerrilla movements.[citation needed]

Following nearly two decades of weak civilian governments, economic decline, and military interventionism, Perón returned from exile on 20 June 1973 as the country was becoming engulfed in immense financial, social and political disorder. The months preceding his return were marked by important social movements, as in the rest of South America, and in particular of the Southern Cone before the military intervention of the 1970s. Thus, during Héctor Cámpora's first months of government (May–July 1973), approximately 600 social conflicts, strikes and factory occupations had taken place.[48]

Immediately after the swearing in of President Cámpora on 25 May 1973, the Peronist Youth converged on the main prison, forcing the release and pardoning of 400 captured guerrilla fighters.[49] The next day congress approved an amnesty for the revolutionary groups, repealed anti-terrorist legislation, and abolished the Federal Criminal Court of the Nation.[50]

From the perspective of the military, Campora's decree had demonstrated the police actions to be insufficient in combating terrorist or guerrilla actions. Paul H. Lewis, Professor of Political Science at Tulane University opined: "Now it became clear to many officers that, if the anti-guerrilla war were ever resumed in the future, it would be better to kill captured terrorists outright than to see them released by sympathetic civilians to fight again."[51]

On the economic side of his politics, Time Magazine (14 January 1974) estimated that 60% of foreign businessmen fled Argentina in 1973, prompted by the kidnapping of 170 businessmen that year. On several occasions, business executives involved in industrial disputes with militant workers, learned their homes had been burned down by the Montoneros.[52] On 6 September 1973 the ERP "Compañía Ramón Rosa Jiménez" attacked the Army Medical Command in Buenos Aires, killing Lieutenant-Colonel Jorge Duarte Hardoy but lost several fighters killed or captured in that operation.[53]

Upon Perón's arrival at Buenos Aires Airport, snipers opened fire on the crowds of left-wing Peronist sympathizers. Known as the Ezeiza massacre, this event marked the split between left-wing and right-wing factions of Peronism. Perón was re-elected in 1973, backed by a broad coalition that ranged from trade unionists in the center to fascists on the right (including members of the neofascist Movimiento Nacionalista Tacuara) and socialists like the Montoneros led by Mario Firmenich on the left.[54]

Following the Ezeiza massacre, and Perón's denouncing of "bearded immature idealists", Perón sided with the Peronist right-wing, the trade-unionist bureaucracy and Radical Civic Union of Ricardo Balbín, Cámpora's unsuccessful rival at the May 1973 elections. Some leftist Peronist governors were deposed, among them Ricardo Obregón Cano, governor of Córdoba, who was ousted by a police coup in February 1974. According to historian Servetto, "the Peronist right... thus stimulated the intervention of security forces to resolve internal conflicts of Peronism."[54]

The Montoneros were finally expelled from the Justicialist Party by Perón in May 1974. However, the Montoneros waited until after the death of Perón in July 1974 to react, with the exception of the assassination of José Ignacio Rucci, the right-wing Peronist Secretary General of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) on 25 September 1973, and some other military actions. They would then claim the "social revolutionary vision of authentic Peronism" and start guerrilla operations against Isabel Perón's government, who represented the Peronist right wing. A main aim of the Montoneros was to push authorities into repression, even severe repression, in the belief that in the end it would prove self-defeating.[citation needed]

Isabel Perón's government

Perón died on 1 July 1974, and was replaced by his vice-president and third wife, Isabel Perón, who ruled Argentina until overthrown in March 1976 by the military. The 1985 CONADEP human rights commission counted 458 assassinations from 1973 to 1975 in its report Nunca Más (Never Again): 19 in 1973, 50 in 1974 and 359 in 1975, carried out by paramilitary groups, who acted mostly under the José López Rega's Triple A death squad (according to Argenpress, at least 25 trade-unionists were assassinated in 1974[55]).

The Triple A had been created by José López Rega and Rodolfo Almirón (arrested in Spain in 2006; extradited to Argentina in 2008). López Rega was successively Minister of Social Welfare under Héctor José Cámpora, Raúl Alberto Lastiri, Perón and Isabel Perón and private secretary of the last two. Furthermore, after the 1980 police arrest of Licio Gelli, head of Propaganda Due (aka P2), which was involved in Italy's strategy of tension, in a villa in the French Côte d'Azur. It was discovered that Isabel Perón's Minister for Social Affairs, López Rega, had also been a member of this lodge.[citation needed]

One of the first terrorist attacks of the Triple A targeted Hipólito Solari Yrigoyen with a car bomb on 21 November 1973, which seriously injured him. A few days earlier, Solari Yrigoyen had criticised in the Senate the reform of laws concerning workers' trade-unions, which aimed at tightening the control of the trade-union bureaucracy on the workers' movement. A few days before the bombing, a leading representative of the trade-unionist bureaucracy, Lorenzo Miguel, had qualified Solari Yrigoyen as "public enemy number one". The Triple A assassinated Silvio Frondizi, brother of former president Arturo Frondizi, in September 1974.[citation needed]

However, the repression of the social movements had already started before the attempt on Yrigoyen's life: on 17 July 1973, the CGT section in Salta was closed, while the CGT, SMATA and Luz y Fuerza in Córdoba were victims of armed attacks. Agustín Tosco, Secretary General of Luz y Fuerza, successfully avoided arrest, and went into hiding until his death on 5 November 1975.[55]

Trade-unionists were also targeted by the repression in 1973: Carlos Bache was assassinated on 21 August 1973; Enrique Damiano, of the Taxis Trade-Union of Córdoba, on 3 October; Juan Avila, also of Córdoba, the following day; Pablo Fredes, on 30 October in Buenos Aires; Adrián Sánchez, on 8 November 1973 in the Province of Jujuy. Assassinations of trade-unionists, lawyers, etc. continued and increased in 1974 and 1975, while the most combative trade-unions were closed and their leaders arrested. In August 1974, Isabel Perón's government took away the rights of trade-unionist representation of the Federación Gráfica Bonaerense, whose Secretary General Raimundo Ongaro was arrested in October 1974.[55]

During the same month of August 1974, the SMATA Córdoba trade-union, in conflict with the company Ika Renault, was closed by the national direction of trade-unions, and the majority of its leaders and activists arrested. Most of them, including its Secretary General René Salamanca, were assassinated during the 1976–83 dictatorship. Atilio López, General Secretary of the CGT of Córdoba and former Vice-Governor of the Province, was assassinated in Buenos Aires on 16 September 1974.[55]

The left-wing guerrillas were also responsible for a number of atrocities committed in this period. On 1 February 1973, First Lieutenant José Maria Naccarato was killed while driving in the city of Resistencia in Chaco Province when a bomb planted in his car detonated. On 4 February 1972, police corporal Conrado Likay Faldi was shot dead in the Bernal suburb of Buenos Aires. Between 16 and 17 September 1974, about 100 Montoneros bombs exploded throughout Argentina, against ceremonies commemorating the military revolt which ended Juan Perón's first term as president, and foreign companies.[56]

Targets in the bombings included three Ford showrooms; Peugeot and IKA-Renault showrooms; Goodyear and Firestone tire distributors, Riker and Eli pharmaceutical laboratories, Union carbide Battery Company, Bank of Boston and Chase Manhattan Bank branches, Xerox Corporation; and Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola bottling companies. In all, 83 servicemen and policemen were killed in left-wing terrorist incidents, between 1973 and 1974.[57]

The ERP publicly remained in the forefront. ERP guerrilla activity took the form of attacks on military outposts, police stations and convoys. Between March and July 1971 the Argentine newspapers reported 316 terrorist acts by the ERP.[58] In 1971, the left-wing guerrillas killed 57 policemen, and in 1972 the ERP and Montoneros killed another 38 policemen.[59] On 19 January 1974 60–70 ERP guerrillas travelling aboard captured army trucks[60] attacked the 2,000-strong barracks at Azul, killing the Commanding Officer of the 10th 'Húsares de Pueyrredon' Armoured Cavalry Regiment, Colonel Camilo Arturo Gay and his wife, as well as capturing the Commanding Officer of the 1st Artillery Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Jorge Roberto Ibarzabal. The guerrillas, dressed as soldiers, held the barracks for seven hours.[61]

In another case, the famous ERP "Compañía Ramón Rosa Jiménez" (with about 300 serving members between 1974–76 and a first class unit) struck the 17th Airborne Infantry Regiment in Catamarca and the Argentine Army's Villa Maria explosives factory in Córdoba. The attacks involved some 90 guerrillas of the "Compañía Ramón Rosa Jiménez" and supporting militants who on 10 August, with the ERP guerrillas again dressed in army fatigues attempted to raid simultaneously the factory and parachute unit. In the aftermath, 8 police and army paratroopers were killed or wounded[62] and several ERP guerrillas were executed after having been captured wearing army uniforms.

On 1 November 1974 the Montoneros successfully blew up General Commissioner Alberto Villar, the chief of the Argentine federal police, in his yacht along with his wife.[63] In 10 years of guerrilla operations (1969–79) there were 1,501 killings, 1,748 kidnappings, 5,215 bombings and 45 major attacks on military units blamed on leftist guerrillas.[64]

"Annihilation decrees"

Military zones of Argentina, 1975–83

Meanwhile, the Guevarist People's Revolutionary Army (ERP), led by Roberto Santucho and inspired by Che Guevara's foco theory, began a rural insurgency in the province of Tucumán, in the mountainous northwest of Argentina. It started the campaign with no more than 100 men and women of the Marxist ERP guerrilla force and ended with about 300 in the mountains (including reinforcements in the form of the elite Montoneros 65-strong Jungle Company and the ERP's "Decididos de Córdoba" Urban Company),[65] which the Argentinian Army managed to defeat, but at a cost.

On 5 January 1975, an Army DHC-6 transport plane was downed near the Monteros mountains, apparently shot down by Guerrillas.[66] All thirteen on board were killed. The military believe a heavy machine gun had downed the aircraft.[67]

In response, Ítalo Luder, President of the National Assembly who acted as interim President substituting himself to Isabel Perón who was ill for a short period, signed in February 1975 the secret presidential decree 261, which ordered the army to neutralise and/or annihilate the insurgency in Tucumán, the smallest province of Argentina. Operativo Independencia granted power to the Armed Forces to "execute all military operations necessary for the effects of neutralising or annihilating the action of subversive elements acting in the Province of Tucumán."[68][69] Santucho had declared a 620-mile (1,000 km) "liberated zone" in Tucuman and demanded Soviet-backed protection for its borders as well as proper treatment of captured guerrillas as POWs.[70]

The Argentinian Army Fifth Brigade, then consisting of the 19th, 20th and 29th Mountain Infantry Regiments[71] and commanded by Brigadier-General Acdel Vilas received the order to move to Famailla in the foothills of the Monteros mountains on 8 February 1975. While fighting the guerrillas in the jungle, Vilas concentrated on uprooting the ERP support network in the towns, using tactics later adopted nation-wide, as well as a civic action campaign. The Argentine security forces used techniques no different from their US and French counterparts in Vietnam.

By July 1975, anti-guerrilla commandos were mounting search-and-destroy missions in the mountains. Army special forces discovered Santucho's base camp in August, then raided the ERP urban headquarters in September. Most of the Compania del Monte's general staff was killed in October and was dispersed by the end of the year.[citation needed]

The leadership of the rural guerrilla force was mostly eradicated and many of the ERP guerrillas and civilian sympathizers in Tucumán were either killed or forcefully disappeared. Efforts to restrain the rural guerrilla activity to Tucumán, however, remained unsuccessful despite the use of 24 recently arrived US-made Bell UH-1H Huey troop-transport helicopters. In early October, the 5th Brigade suffered a major blow at the hands of the Montoneros, when more than one hundred, and possibly several hundred [72] Montoneros and supporters were involved in the Operation Primicia, the most elaborate operation of the "Dirty War", which involved hijacking of a civilian airliner, taking over the provincial airport, attacking the 29th Infantry Regiment (which had retired to barracks at Formosa Province) and capturing its cache of arms, and finally escaping by air. Once the operation was over, they escaped towards a remote area in Santa Fe Province. The aircraft, a Boeing 737, eventually landed on a crop field not far from the city of Rafaela.

In the aftermath, 12 soldiers and 2 policemen[73] were killed and several wounded. The sophistication of the operation, and the getaway cars and safehouses they used to escape from the crash-landing site, suggest several hundred guerrillas and their supporters were involved.[74] The Argentine security forces admitted to 43 army troops killed in action in Tucuman, although this figure does not take into account police and Gendarmerie troops, and the soldiers who died defending their barracks in Formosa province on 5 October 1975. By December 1975 the Argentine military could, with some justification claim that it was winning the 'Dirty War', but it was dismayed to find no evidence of overall victory.

On 23 December 1975, several hundred ERP fighters[75] with the help of hundreds of underground supporters, staged an all-out battle with the 601st Arsenal Battalion nine miles (14 km) from Buenos Aires and occupied four local police stations and a regimental headquarters.[76] 63 guerrillas,[77] seven army troops and three policemen were killed.[78] In addition 20 civilians were killed in the crossfire. Many of the civilian deaths occurred when the guerrillas and supporting militants burned 15 city buses[79] near the arsenal to hamper military reinforcements. This development was to have far-reaching ramifications. On 30 December 1975, urban guerrillas exploded a bomb inside the Army's headquarters in Buenos Aires, injuring at least six soldiers.[80]

The Montoneros movement successfully utilised divers in underwater infiltrations and blew the pier where the Argentine destroyer ARA Santísima Trinidad was being built, on 22 August 1975. The ship was effectively immobilised for several years. By mid-1975, the country was a stage for widespread violence. Extreme right-wing death squads used their hunt for far-left guerrillas as a pretext to exterminate any and all ideological opponents on the left and as a cover for common crimes.

Assassinations and kidnappings by the Peronist Montoneros and the ERP contributed to the general climate of fear. In July, there was a general strike. On 6 July 1975, the government, presided temporarily by Italo Luder from the Peronist party, issued three decrees to combat the guerrillas. The decrees 2770, 2771 and 2772 created a Defense Council headed by the president and including his ministers and the chiefs of the armed forces.[81][82][83] It was given the command of the national and provincial police and correctional facilities and its mission was to "annihilate … subversive elements throughout the country".

Military control was thus generalised to all of the country. These "annihilation decrees" are the source of the charges against her which led to Isabel Perón's arrest in Madrid more than thirty years later, in January 2007. The country was then divided into five military zones through a 28 October 1975 military directive of "Struggle Against Subversion". As had been done during the 1957 Battle of Algiers (quadrillage), each zone was divided in subzones and areas, with its corresponding military authorities. General Antonio Domingo Bussi replaced Vilas in December 1975.[citation needed]

Raid in Santa Fe (March 1975)

Isabel Perón's government ordered a raid on 20 March 1975, which involved 4,000 military and police officers, in Villa Constitución, Santa Fe, in response to various trade-unionist conflicts. Many citizens and 150 activists and trade-unionists leaders were arrested, while the Unión Obrera Metalúrgica's subsidiary in Villa Constitución was closed down with the agreement of the trade-unions' national direction, headed by Lorenzo Miguel.[55] Repression affected trade-unionists of large firms, such as Ford, Fiat, Renault, Mercedes Benz, Peugeot, Chrysler etc., and was sometimes carried on with support from the firms' executives and from the trade-unionist bureaucracies.[55]

Left-wing terrorism in the automotive industry

In November 1971, in solidarity with militant car workers, Montoneros guerrillas took over a car manufacturing plant in Caseros, sprayed 38 Fiats with petrol, and then set them alight.[84] Dr. Oberdan Sallustro, director-general of the Fiat Concord company in Argentina–which manufactured cars, rolling stock and power generators under licence from Fiat of Italy, the parent company–and an Italian citizen, was kidnapped by ERP guerrillas in Buenos Aires on 21 March 1972 and found murdered on 10 April, after having been held in a "people's prison" in a working-class suburb of the city. On 2 December, the bodyguards of a Chrysler Corporation executive were attacked by militants, two were killed and another wounded.[85]

On 21 May 1973, Luis Giovanelli, a Ford Motor Company executive, was killed and a female employee was wounded when machine-gunned by the ERP guerrillas in a kidnapping attempt that netted them US$1 million from Ford as "protection money".[86] On 25 May, ERP guerrillas attempted to kill two Ford Motor Company executives but only wounded them.[87] On 3 June 1973, militants in Buenos Aires kidnapped Jose Chohelo, a Peugeot representative and later released him for a reported US$200,000.[88]

On 22 November 1973, FAP guerrillas ambushed and killed John Swint, the American general manager of a Ford Motor Company subsidiary and three of his bodyguards.[89] On 29 December 1973, the director of Peugeot in Argentina was kidnapped by seven armed militants.[90] Between 24–26 June 1974, seventeen bombs of the militants exploded in Buenos Aires, damaging offices, warehouses, showrooms including Ford, General Motors and Fiat dealerships, according to the Bangor Daily News.[91]

On 27 August 1974, FAP guerrillas killed Ricardo Goya, the labour relations manager of the IKA-Renault Motor Company in Córdoba while he was driving to work. On 8 January 1975, Rodolfo Saurnier, manager of an auto parts factory, was kidnapped by Montoneros guerrillas.[92] On 28 July 1975, a bomb of the urban militants exploded at the Peugeot dealership in La Plata. On 9 October 1975 several Molotov cocktails were thrown by militants at Car dealerships in city of Mendoza. On 24 October 1975, Heinrich Franz Metz, production manager of the Mercedes-Benz truck plant in Buenos Aires, was kidnapped by Montoneros guerrillas.[93]

On 29 October 1975, four Montoneros killed the Fiat-Concord personnel manager. On 16 November, militants broke into the home of a Renault executive in Córdoba and took him hostage. On 26 March 1976, two security guards of a Ford executive were killed by militants firing from a car. On 14 April, militants in Buenos Aires killed an executive of the US Chrysler Corporation. On 4 May, militants assassinated a Fiat executive in a suburb of Buenos Aires.[94]

The director of Renault Argentina was badly wounded by plastic explosives concealed in a box of flowers on 27 August. On 10 September a Chrysler executive was killed by militants while leaving his home in Buenos Aires. On 8 October, the Buenos Aires offices of Fiat, Mercedez Benz and Chevrolet were attacked by militants with bombs. On 10 October, Domingo Lozano, Argentine manager of the Renault plant in Córdoba, was shot and killed by Montoneros guerrillas after leaving a church service in Córdoba.[95]

On 18 October 1976, five guerrillas killed Enrique Aroza Garay, an executive of the German-owned Borgward automobile factory. On 3 November, a Chrysler executive, Carlos Roberto Souto, was killed in Buenos Aires by Montoneros. Later the same month, the Montoneros kidnapped Franz Metz, the industrial director of Mercedez Benz in Argentina, but released him five weeks later when the German company agreed to pay a ransom, reportedly US $S 5 million. On 13 October 1977, a Montoneros car bomb detonated outside the home of a Chrysler executive. The businessman was not there, but his guard and a neighbour were killed. On 16 December, Montoneros killed Andre Gasparoux, a top French executive of the Peugeot Motor Company.[96]

Military's rise to power

By the end of 1975, a total of 137 military regulars and national servicemen and police had been killed by left wing terrorism.[57] US journalist Paul Hoeffel, in an article written for the Boston Globe, concluded that, "Although there is widespread reluctance to use the term, it is now impossible to ignore the fact that civil war has broken out in Argentina."[97]

During the month of August 1975, the Argentine city of Córdoba witnessed a number of armed actions on the part of the left-wing guerrillas that resulted in the death of at least five policemen and units of the elite 4th Airborne Infantry Brigade were obliged to be called in to stand guard at strategic points around the city after the bombing of police headquarters and the police radio communications centre.[98] Conservatives, including some among the wealthy elite, encouraged the army, which prepared to take control by making lists of people who should be "dealt with" after the planned coup.

In 1975, President Isabel Perón, under pressure from the military establishment, appointed Jorge Rafael Videla commander-in-chief of the Argentine Army. "As many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure", Videla declared in 1975 in support of the death squads. He was one of the military heads of the coup d'état that overthrew Isabel Perón on 24 March 1976. In her place, a military junta was installed, which was headed by Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera, who stepped out in September 1978, General Orlando Agosti and Videla himself.[Clarification needed]On 13 January 1976, left-wing guerrillas set fire to a Buenos Aires commuter train after forcing passengers to descend at gunpoint.[99]

On 2 February 1976 about fifty Montoneros attacked the Juan Vucetich Police Academy in Buenos Aires in an attempt to capture the helicopter-gunships there,[100] but were repelled in heavy fighting. In the week preceding the military coup, the Montoneros killed 13 policemen as part of its Third National Military Campaign.[101] On 15 March, a powerful guerrilla bomb exploded next to the Argentine Army Headquarters, smashing windows in the nearby Casa Rosada and wounding 15 military personnel and 6 civilians as well as killing a civilian passerby.[102] During 1976, Videla himself narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in which a time bomb planted in the reviewing stand at the vast Campo de Mayo barracks blew out a metre-wide hole at the exact spot where he had been standing.[103]

The junta, which dubbed itself "National Reorganization Process", systematised the repression, in particular through the way of "forced disappearances" (desaparecidos), which made it very difficult, as in Augusto Pinochet's Chile, to dismiss legal suits as the bodies were never found. The Generals organised a nation-wide system, from national to local scale, to track down so-called "subversives". Argentine newspaper La Opinión founded by Jacobo Timerman, who would himself later disappear, wrote on 31 December 1976 that the Argentine "guerrillas" had suffered losses of 4000, and that the Montoneros had lost 80% of their leaders. The Buenos Aires Herald estimated the victims in 1976 to be 1,100 dead. A clandestine newspaper added that "there is one dead each five hours, and one bomb each three hours." According to Argentine journalist Stella Calloni, author of the classic Los años del lobo, all of these numbers may be correct.[104] In all, 293 servicemen and policemen were killed in left wing terrorist incidents between 1975 and 1976.[57]

This generalisation of state terror tactics has been explained in part by the information received by the Argentine militaries in the infamous School of Americas and also by French instructors from the secret services, who taught them "counter-insurgency" tactics first experimented during the Algerian War (1954–62).[55][105]

In 1976 there was a successful series of Montoneros bomb attacks in which the general commanding the Federal Police, Cesáreo Cardozo was killed. Lieutenant-General Jorge Videla narrowly escaped three Montoneros assassination attempts between February 1976 and April 1977. The Montoneros conducted an assassination attempt against Navy Commandant Admiral Emilio Massera.

In an underwater mining attack on the Itati yacht of the Argentine Navy, the luxury craft was badly damaged by the explosives but Massera escaped unscathed. As pressure mounted on the Montoneros, the urban guerrillas struck back. On 2 July 1976 a Claymore shrapnel mine exploded at the headquarters of the Federal Police in west Buenos Aires during a secret meeting of the police leadership, killing 21, and injuring 60 others.[106] On 12 September 1976, a car bomb destroyed a bus filled with police officers in Rosario, killing 9 policemen and 2 civilians[107] and injuring at least 50.[108]

On 29 September 1976 fierce fighting took place in the Floresta suburb of Buenos Aires, where one-hundred soldiers and policemen were forced to use bazookas and armoured cars against heavily armed guerrillas.[109] On 2 October, Lieutenant-General Jorge Videla narrowly escaped death when a bomb packed in metal tubing supporting a reviewing stand at the Campo de Mayo army barracks exploded only moments after he left.[110]

On 17 October a bomb blast in an Army Club Cinema in downtown Buenos Aires killed 11 and wounded about 50 officers and their families. On 15 December, another bomb planted in a Defense Ministry movie hall killed at least 14 and injured 30[106] officers and their families. By the first anniversary of the coup that ousted President Isabel Perón, 124 soldiers and police had been killed in incidents involving left wing guerrillas[111] in what the military referred to as, "the Dirty War".

In 1976 there had been plans to send great part of the Uruguayan MLN Tupamaros, the Chilean Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) and the Bolivian Revolutionary Army (ELN) to fight alongside the ERP and Montoneros in Argentina, but the plans failed to materialise due to the military coup.[112]

Furthermore, by 1976 Operation Condor, which had already centralised information from South American intelligence agencies for years, was at its height. Chilean exiles in Argentina were threatened again, and had to go into hiding or seek refuge in a third country. Chilean General Carlos Prats had already been assassinated by the Chilean DINA in Buenos Aires in 1974, with the help of former CIA agent Michael Townley and DINA agent Enrique Arancibia. Cuban diplomats were also assassinated in Buenos Aires in the infamous Automotores Orletti torture center, one of the 300 clandestine prisons of the dictatorship, managed by the Grupo de Tareas 18, headed by Aníbal Gordon, previously convicted for armed robbery, and answered directly to the General Commandant of the SIDE, Otto Paladino. Automotores Orletti was the main base of foreign intelligence services involved in Operation Condor. One of the survivors, José Luis Bertazzo, who was detained for two months there, identified Chileans, Uruguayans, Paraguayans and Bolivians among the prisoners. These captives were interrogated by agents from their own countries.[104]

According to John Dinges's Los años del Cóndor, Chilean MIR prisoners in Orletti center told José Luis Bertazzo that they had seen two Cuban diplomats, 22 years-old Jesús Cejas Arias, and 26 years-old Crescencio Galañega, tortured by Gordon's group and interrogated by a man who specially came one day from Miami to interrogate them. The two Cuban diplomats, charged with the protection of the Cuban ambassador to Argentina, Emilio Aragonés, had been kidnapped on 9 August 1976, in the intersection between Calle Arribeños and Virrey del Pino, by 40 armed SIDE agents who blocked off all sides of the street with their Ford Falcons, the cars used by the security forces during the dictatorship.[citation needed]

According to John Dinges, the FBI as well as the CIA were informed of their abduction. In his book Dinges published a cable sent by Robert Scherrer, an FBI agent in Buenos Aires on 22 September 1976, where he mentions in passing that former CIA agent Michael Townley, later convicted of the assassination on 21 September 1976 of former Chilean minister Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C., had also taken part to the interrogation of the two Cubans. Former head of the DINA confirmed to Argentine federal judge María Servini de Cubría on 22 December 1999, in Santiago de Chile, the presence of Michael Townley and Cuban Guillermo Novo Sampoll in the Orletti center. The two men travelled from Chile to Argentina on 11 August 1976, and "cooperated in the torture and assassination of the two Cuban diplomats". Luis Posada Carriles boasted in his autobiography, Los caminos del guerrero, of the murder of the two young men.[104] According to the "terror archives" discovered in Paraguay in 1992, 50,000 persons were murdered in the frame of Condor, 9,000–30,000 disappeared (desaparecidos) and 400,000 incarcerated.[113][114]

False flag actions by SIDE agents

During a 1981 interview whose contents were revealed by documents declassified by the CIA in 2000, former CIA and DINA agent Michael Townley explained that Ignacio Novo Sampol, member of CORU anti-Castro organisation, had agreed to commit the Cuban Nationalist Movement in the kidnapping, in Buenos Aires, of a president of a Dutch bank. The abduction, organised by civilian SIDE agents, the Argentine intelligence agency, was to obtain a ransom. Townley said that Novo Sampol had provided $6,000 from the Cuban Nationalist Movement, forwarded to the civilian SIDE agents to pay for the preparation expenses of the kidnapping. After returning to the US, Novo Sampol sent Townley a stock of paper, used to print pamphlets in the name of "Grupo Rojo" (Red Group), an imaginary Argentine Marxist terrorist organisation, which was to claim credit for the abduction of the Dutch banker. Townley declared that the pamphlets were distributed in Mendoza and Córdoba in relation with false flag bombings perpetrated by SIDE agents, which had as aim to accredit the existence of the fake Grupo Rojo. However, the SIDE agents procrastinated too much, and the kidnapping finally was not carried out.[115]

Human rights violations and guerrilla activity from 1976 to 1983

A former illegal detention center in the headquarters of the provincial police of Santa Fe, in Rosario, now a memorial

On 5 January 1979, the New York Times published an article by David Vidal, who claimed that the number of disappeared in Latin America now numbered 30,000.[116] The Christian Science Monitor and Boston Globe followed suit with similar articles claiming that 30,000 people had disappeared under military dictatorships in Latin America.[117][118] The Los Angeles Times repeated the claims of 30,000 Latin Americans disappeared in a new article in October[119] and November[120] of that year. In May 1980, the Montreal Gazette, in an interview with the sister of the slain guerrilla commander Ernesto (Che) Guevara, Cecilia Guevara, said that in Argentina alone more 30,000 people had disappeared and another 15,000 had been imprisoned.[121]

On 10 December 1983, Raúl Alfonsín assumed the presidency in Argentina, and on 17 December he announced that he was setting up a commission to investigate the disappearances of what he believed to be more than 6,000 Argentines in nearly eight years of military rule.[122]

The National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) researched and recorded, case by case, the "disappearance" of about 9,000 persons, though Argentinian human rights group maintain that 30,000 disappeared. However, official records put the number of disappeared at 13,000.[13] An estimated 15,000 people "disappeared" in Argentina, according to a Human Rights Watch report in 2002.[123] Human rights groups such as Amnesty International were gravely concerned by the state's use of 'disappearances' and periodical use of extrajudicial killings against what were supposed 'subversives'. In the last months of military junta under Lieutenant-General Reynaldo Bignone, Amnesty International estimated the total number of disappeared in Argentina to be 15,000.[124]

Anyone believed to be associated with activist groups, including trade-union members, students (including very young students, for example in September 1976 during the Night of the Pencils, an operation directed by Ramón Camps, General and head of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police from April 1976 to December 1977[43]), people who had uncovered evidence of government corruption, and people thought to hold left-wing views (for example French nuns Léonie Duquet and Alice Domon, kidnapped by Alfredo Astiz). Ramón Camps told Clarín in 1984 that he had used torture as a method of interrogation and orchestrated 5,000 forced disappearances, and justified the appropriation of newborns from their imprisoned mothers "because subversive parents will raise subversive children".[125] But, there are people such as Professor Paul H. Lewis, who has written Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina, that claim the guerrilla threat was real and that the guerrillas had countless sympathizers among the civilian population. Terence Roehrig, who has written The prosecution of former military leaders in newly democratic nations. The cases of Argentina, Greece, and South Korea (McFarland & Company, 2001), estimates that of the disappeared "at least 10,000 were involved in various ways with the guerrillas". Many of the "disappeared" were pushed out of planes and into the Río de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean to drown. This form of disappearance, theorised by Luis María Mendía, former chief of naval operations in 1976–77 who is today before the court for his role in the ESMA case, was termed vuelos de la muerte (death flights). These individuals who suddenly vanished are called los desaparecidos, meaning "the missing ones" or "vanished ones". This term often refers to the 9,000–30,000 Argentines that went missing. Tomás Di Toffino, Deputy Secretary General of Luz y Fuerza de Córdoba, was kidnapped on 28 November 1976 and executed in a military camp in Córdoba on 28 February 1977, in a "military ceremony" presided by General Luciano Benjamín Menéndez.[55]

In December 1976, 22 captured Montoneros responsible for the death of General Cáceres Monié and the attack on the Argentinian Army 29th Mountain Infantry Regiment[126] were tortured and executed during the Massacre of Margarita Belén, in the military Chaco Province, for which Videla would be found guilty of homicide during the 1985 Trial of the Juntas, as well as Cristino Nicolaides, junta leader Leopoldo Galtieri and Santa Fe Provincial Police chief Wenceslao Ceniquel. The same year, fifty anonymous persons were illegally executed by a firing-squad in Córdoba[127]

Victims' relatives uncovered evidence that some children taken from their mothers soon after birth were being raised as the adopted children of military men, as in the case of Silvia Quintela, a member of the Montoneros guerrillas movement.[128] For three decades, the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group founded in 1977, has demanded the return of these kidnapped children, estimated to number as many as five hundred. 77 of the kidnapped children have been located so far.[129]

On 28 January 1977, Montoneros planted a bomb in a suburban police station, killing three policemen and wounding at least 10 others.[130] On 18 February, left-wing guerrillas bombed a crowded bus in Buenos Aires and several civilians suffered severe burns in the attack.[131] On 26 March, left-wing guerrillas bombed the ground floor of the Sheraton hotel in Buenos Aires, wounding a Spanish tourist and six hotel employees.[132] On 5 April, the Montoneros detonated a powerful bomb inside the building housing the Argentinian Air Force Headquarters located in Buenos Aires.[133] On 11 April, Montoneros guerrillas shot and killed Luis Liberato Arce, of the Surrey company, an air conditioner maker.[134] On 7 May, the Montoneros mortally wounded Vice-Admiral César Augusto Guzzetti of the Argentinian Navy. On 30 July 6 left-wing guerrillas were killed in a shootout with security forces in the La Plata suburb of Buenos Aires, and a kidnapped executive, Roberto Leon Lanzilliota was freed.[135] In 1977, 36 policeman in Buenos Aires alone were assassinated or killed in action with militants and left-wing guerrillas.[136] That year, Videla told British journalists: "I emphatically deny that there are concentration camps in Argentina, or military establishments in which people are held longer than is absolutely necessary in this ... fight against subversion". Alicia Partnoy, who was tortured and wrote her story in "The Little School", and others, have claimed otherwise.[citation needed]

In September 1977, General Albano Harguindeguy, minister of the interior, admitted that in May of that year 5,618 disappeared in the form of PEN detenidos-desaparecidos were being held in detention camps throughout Argentina.[137]

The Montoneros tried to disrupt the World Cup Soccer Tournament being hosted in Argentina in 1978 by launching a number of bomb attacks.[138]

In late September 1979, Major-General Luciano Benjamín Menéndez tried to stage a military takeover from Córdoba, calling for Lieutenant-General Roberto Eduardo Viola's resignation, charging the army chief had not "kept the promise to completely eradicate subversion, making it impossible for Marxism to make a comeback in the country in the future".[139] Viola, a moderate who favoured a return to democracy, was forced to send in 4,000 paratroopers to put down the rebellion.

In late 1979, the Montoneros launched a "strategic counteroffensive" in Argentina, and lost more than one hundred commandos killed.[140] Among their targets was Francisco Soldatti, a top banking figure killed along with his driver at a busy downtown intersection in Buenos Aires on the morning of 6 November 1979.[141] The exiled Montoneros had been sent back to Argentina after receiving special forces training in terrorist camps in the Middle East.[142] The Montoneros leadership had wrongly believed the moment was ripe for revolution in Argentina. More than 600 Argentines, the majority of them civilians, had disappeared in 1978, and as the decade came to an end there were "only" 36 reported incidents of disappearances since January 1979. [143]

In 1980, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a Catholic human rights activist who had organised the Servicio de Paz y Justicia (Peace and Justice Service) and suffered torture while held without trial for 14 months in a Buenos Aires concentration camp, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the defence of human rights in Argentina. On 17 September 1980, a team of former ERP commanders killed Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the former president of Nicaragua, in a carefully planned ambush that also killed his driver and his financial advisor. Unable to operate in Argentina any longer, some Argentine guerrillas relocated to Central America. During the 1980s, a captured Sandinista guerrilla revealed that Montoneros "Special Forces" were training Sandinista frogmen and conducting gun runs across the Gulf of Fonseca to the Sandinista allies in El Salvador, FMLN guerrillas[144]

In 1981, Videla retired and General Roberto Eduardo Viola replaced him, but nine months later, Viola stepped down, allegedly for health reasons, and General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri took the post. Democracy returned with Raúl Alfonsín, who created the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) on 15 December 1983. Under Alfonsín, Congress would then pass the Ley de Punto Final and Ley de Obediencia Debida as amnesty laws, overturned in June 2005 by the Supreme Court.

According to Argentine war correspondent Nicolas Kasanzew, a pro-Montoneros group of Buenos Aires national sevicemen saw action in the Falklands War with the 7th Infantry Regiment, unbeknown to their superiors. Upon returning to Argentina, these soldiers formed a vocal veterans group that repeatedly accused their officers of cowardice and maltreatment. They were largely ignored by the Alfonsin and Menem governments. But their attempts to arrest and put on trial their former commanders gained momentum under the presidency of the Kirchners. The case ran its course but their case was declared null and void in May 2011[145] when it was discovered that Pablo Andres Vassel, a former Corrientes human rights' lawyer representing their case, was paying for false testimonies[146] against Argentine Army officers and NCOs.

The Disappeared held under PEN

By the time of the coup on 24 March 1976, the number of disappeared held under Poder Ejecutivo Nacional (PEN) stood at least 5,182.[147] Some 18,000 disappeared in the form of PEN detainees were imprisoned in Argentina by the end of 1977 and it is estimated that some 3,000 deaths occurred in the Navy Engineering School (ESMA) alone.[148] These disappeared were held incommunicado and reportedly tortured. Some, like senator Hipolito Solari Yrigoyen and socialist leader professor Alfredo Bravo, were "detenidos-desaparecidos".[149] Alicia Partnoy, a poet and member of the Peronist Youth that had links with the Montoneros,[150] also counts as one of the victims who had disappeared but later "reappeared."[151] On 10 November 1977, Colonel Ricardo Flouret and captain Eduardo Andujar, representing the interior ministry, explained to Amnesty International that many of the disappeared were guerrillas who had gone underground or fled the country.[152]

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of what was later established to be at least 340 concentration camps throughout the country they also denied the existence of their occupants, some 30,000 Argentinians are estimated to have passed through the camps. The total number of people who were detained for long periods was 8,625.[153] Among them was future President Carlos Menem, who between 1976 and 1981 had been a political prisoner.[154]

US President Jimmy Carter offered to accept 3,000 PEN detainees, as long as they had no terrorist background.[155] Some 8,600 PEN disappeared were eventually released under international pressure. Of these 4,029 were held in illegal detention centres for less than a year, 2,296 for one to three years, 1,172 for three to five years, 668 for five to seven years, and 431 for seven to nine years. Of these detenidos-desaparecidos 157 were murdered after being released from detention.[156]

In one frank memo, written in 1977, an official at the Foreign Ministry issued the following warning:

Our situation presents certain aspects which are without doubt difficult to defend if they are analyzed from the point of view of international law. These are: the delays incurred before foreign consuls can visit detainees of foreign nationality, (contravening article 34 of the Convention of Vienna.) the fact that those detained under Executive Power (PEN) are denied the right to legal advice or defense, the complete lack of information of persons detained under PEN, the fact that PEN detainees are not processed for long periods of time, the fact that there are no charges against detainees. The kidnapping and disappearance of people.[157]

Children of the Disappeared

At the time when the CONADEP report was prepared, the Asociación Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo or Abuelas), had records of 172 children, who disappeared together with their parents or were born at the numerous concentration camps and had not been returned to their families.[158]

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo now believe up to 500 grandchildren were stolen. 102 are believed to have been located. [159] On 13 April 2000, the grandmothers received a tip off that the birth certificate of Rosa Roisinblit's infant grandson, born in detention, had been falsified and the child given to an Air Force civil agent and his wife. Following the anonymous phone call, he was located and agreed to a DNA blood test, confirming his true identity. Rodolfo Fernando, grandson of Roisinblit, is the first known newborn of missing children returned to his family through the work of the grandmothers.[160] Roisinblit's daughter, 25-year-old Patricia Julia Roisinblit de Perez, who was active in the Montoneros,[161] was kidnapped along with her husband, 24-year-old José Martínas Pérez Rojo, on 6 October 1978.[162]

The case of Maria Eugenia Sampallo (born some time in 1978) also received considerable attention. Sampallo sued the couple who adopted her illegally as a baby after her parents disappeared, both Montoneros.[163] Her grandmother spent 24 years looking for her. The case was filed in 2001, after DNA tests indicated that Osvaldo Rivas and Maria Cristina Gomez were not her biological parents. They, along with Army Captain Enrique Berthier, who furnished the couple with the baby, were sentenced respectively to 8, 7 and 10 years in prison for kidnapping.[164][165]

Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo is the best-known Argentine human rights organisation. For over thirty years, the Mothers have campaigned to find out about the fate of their lost relatives. The Mothers first held their vigil at Plaza de Mayo in 1977, where they continue to gather there every Thursday afternoon.

An article of the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo monthly publication caused quite a stir in the mid-1980s, when the Human Rights Group Familiares were quoted as saying: "Familiares assumes the causes of their children's fight as their own, vindicates all the disappeared as fighters of the people, and understands (...) for which these disappeared people fought..."[166]

In 1986 the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo split into two groups: Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo – Linea Fundadora (Founding Line), remains focused in recovering the remains of the missing and bringing former police and military commanders to justice. The Asociacion de Madres de Plaza de Mayo (The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Association) on the other hand, is opposed to the search for and identification of the missing and have also rejected monetary compensation.[167][168]

In April 2004, the former head of the Mothers of Plaza, Hebe de Bonafini declared her admiration for her missing children, Jorge Omar and Raúl Alfredo for taking up arms as left-wing guerrillas.[169]

In September 2011, the original Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo organisation became embroiled in a major corruption scandal over alleged money laundering and fraud with government housing funds granted.[170]

On 26 January 2012, former Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde criticised Hebe de Bonafini for openly supporting the Basque separatist group ETA and the Colombian left-wing FARC guerrilla movement.[171]

Falklands War

In 1982, the Argentine military invaded the British-controlled Falkland Islands in a desperate attempt to rally the population behind a war. The junta hoped that the United States would side with the Argentines based on, among other things, the Argentine/CIA intervention in Central America against the Sandinistas and that the British would not be willing to go to war over the islands. However, the US aligned with the British who, led by Margaret Thatcher, defeated the Argentines after 74 days. The loss of the war led to the resignation of Galtieri on 17 June of the same year and a fourth (and last) junta was placed in power under a new president, Reynaldo Bignone. Raúl Alfonsín's civilian government took control of the country on 10 December 1983. Galtieri, along with other members of the former junta, was soon arrested and charged in a military court with mismanagement during the war. They were also charged later on human rights violations during the Trial of the Juntas.[citation needed]


The junta's mission was stated to defend against international communism.[citation needed] Indeed, the "ideological war" doctrine of the Argentine military focused on eliminating the supposed social base of insurgency, as much as targeting actual guerrillas. Associated with other South American dictatorships in Operation Condor, they also worked closely with the Asian-based World Anti-Communist League and its Latin American affiliate, the Confederación Anticomunista Latinoamericana.[citation needed] In 1980, the Argentine military helped Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, Stefano Delle Chiaie and major drug lords mount the bloody Cocaine Coup of Luis García Meza Tejada in neighbouring Bolivia. They hired 70 foreign agents for this task,[172] which was managed in particular by the 601st Intelligence Battalion headed by General Guillermo Suárez Mason.

After having been trained by the French military, the Argentine Armed Forces would train their counterparts, in Nicaragua, but also El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, in the frame of Operation Charly. From 1977 to 1984, after the Falklands War, the Argentine Armed Forces exported counter-insurgency tactics, including the systemic use of torture, death squads and disappearances. Special force units, such as Batallón de Inteligencia 601, headed in 1979 by Colonel Jorge Alberto Muzzio, trained the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s, in particular in Lepaterique base. Following the release of classified documents and an interview with Duane Clarridge, former CIA responsible for operations with the Contras, the Clarín showed that with the election of President Jimmy Carter in 1977, the CIA was blocked from engaging in the special warfare it had previously been engaged in. In conformity with the National Security Doctrine, the Argentine military supported US goals in Latin America, while they pressured the US to be more active in counter-revolutionary activities. In 1981 following the election of Ronald Reagan the CIA took over training of the Contras from Batallón 601.[173]

Many Chilean and Uruguayan exiles in Argentina were murdered by Argentine security forces (including high-profile figures such as General Carlos Prats in Buenos Aires in 1974, Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz and Zelmar Michelini in Buenos Aires in 1976). Others, such as Wilson Ferreira Aldunate escaped death. Central Intelligence Agency documents released in 2002 show that Argentina's brutal policies were known and tolerated by the United States State Department, led by Henry Kissinger under Gerald Ford's presidency, and that the Argentine military believed that the US approved of the Dirty War.[174]

US involvement with the Junta

Despite the fact that at least six US citizens had been "disappeared" by the Argentine military by 1976 and the fact that the US embassy in Buenos Aires had been pushing Argentina's government to respect human rights, high ranking state department officials including then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger had secretly given their approval to Argentina's new military rulers.[175]

7 August 1979 US embassy in Argentina memorandum of the conversation with "Jorge Contreras", director of Task Force 7 of the "Reunion Central" section of the 601 Army Intelligence Unit, which gathered members from all parts of the Argentine Armed Forces. Subject: "Nuts and Bolts of the Government's Repression of Terrorism-Subversion." Original document on the National Security Archives' website.

State Department documents obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act show that in October 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and high-ranking US officials gave their full support to the Argentine military junta and urged them to hurry up and finish their actions before the US Congress cut military aid.[175]

On 5 October 1976 Henry Kissinger met with Argentina's Foreign Minister and stated:

Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better... The human rights problem is a growing one. Your Ambassador can apprise you. We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help.[175]

The US was also a key provider of economic and military assistance to the Videla regime during the earliest and most intense phase of the repression. In early April 1976, the US Congress approved a request by the Ford Administration, written and supported by Henry Kissinger, to grant $50,000,000 in security assistance to the junta.[176] At the end of 1976, Congress granted an additional $30,000,000 in military aid, and recommendations by the Ford Administration to increase military aid to $63,500,000 the following year were also considered by congress.[177] US assistance, training and military sales to the Videla regime continued under the successive Carter Administration up until at least 30 September 1978 when military aid was officially called to a stop within section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act.

In 1977 and 1978 the United States sold more than $120,000,000 in military spare parts to Argentina, and in 1977 the US Department of Defense was granted $700,000 to train 217 Argentinian military officers.[178] By the time the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program was suspended to Argentina in 1978, total US training costs for Argentinian military personnel since 1976 totalled $1,115,000. After the onset of the US military cutoff, Israel became Argentina's principal supplier of weapons.[179] In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Israel earned more than $1 billion a year selling weapons, many of them originating from the United States, to the military dictatorships in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. "Thus while Argentine Jewish newspaper publisher and human rights advocate Jacobo Timerman was being tortured by the Argentine military in cells painted with swastikas, three Israeli generals, including the former armed chief of staff, were visiting Buenos Aires on a 'friendly mission' to sell arms."[180]

The Reagan Administration, whose first term began in 1981, however, asserted that the previous Carter Administration had weakened US diplomatic relationships with Cold War allies in Argentina, and reversed the previous administration's official condemnation of the junta's human rights practices. The re-establishment of diplomatic ties allowed for CIA collaboration with the Argentine intelligence service in training and arming the Nicaraguan Contras against the Sandinista government. The 601 Intelligence Battalion, for example, trained Contras at Lepaterique base, in Honduras.[181]

Cuban involvement with the guerrillas

During the height of Argentine left-wing terrorism, the Cubans used their embassy in Buenos Aires to maintain direct contact with Argentine guerrillas. In 1973, the Montoneros merged with the Cuban-backed FAR (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias or Armed Revolutionary Forces) that in 1972 had planted a bomb in the Sheraton hotel in Buenos Aires that killed a Canadian tourist.[182] On 13 February 1974, a clandestine meeting was held in Mendoza, Argentina, and the Junta de Coordinacion Revolucionaria (JCR or Junta of Revolutionary Coordination) was formed. The JCR consisted of four guerrilla groups: the Uruguayan Tupamaros (MLN-T), the Chilean Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) and the Bolivian Revolutionary Army (ELN). The ERP guerrillas maintained a guerrilla warfare training school, an arms factory, and a false documentation center in Argentina. These were all closed down in 1975 by Argentine security forces. In 1976, ERP guerrillas started receiving training in Cuba on an 1800 hectare (7 square miles) estate near Guanabo as well as at another site in Pinar del Rio.[183] The course lasted at least three months and included the use of explosives, weapons tactics, survival in rugged terrain, tank warfare, and the techniques of clandestine warfare. Members of the ERP and Montoneros also received training from Iraq and Libya. In 1976 there had been plans to send great part of the Uruguayan, Chilean and Bolivian guerrillas to fight alongside the ERP and Montoneros in Argentina, but the plans failed to materialise because of the military coup. In 1978 Castro permitted the Montonero command to relocate to Cuba and supplied them with false documentation and funds from Cuban diplomatic circles.[184] Following their relocation to Cuba, the Montoneros leadership made repeated attempts to infiltrate commando units to Argentina after these guerrillas had received special forces training in the Middle East as part of a combined effort between Palestinian PLO and Cuba.

"French Connection"

French journalist Marie-Monique Robin has found in the archives of the Quai d'Orsay, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the original document proving that a 1959 agreement between Paris and Buenos Aires initiated a "permanent French military mission", formed of veterans who had fought in the Algerian War, and which was located in the offices of the chief of staff of the Argentine Armed Forces. It was continued until 1981, date of the election of socialist François Mitterrand.[185] She showed how Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's government secretly collaborated with Videla's junta in Argentina and with Augusto Pinochet's regime in Chile.[186] The first Argentine officers, among whom Alcides Lopez Aufranc, went to Paris to study for two years at the Ecole de Guerre military school in 1957, two years before the Cuban Revolution and when no Argentine guerrilla existed.[185] "In practice, declared Robin to Página/12, the arrival of the French in Argentina led to a massive extension of intelligence services and of the use of torture as the primary weapon of the anti-subversive war in the concept of modern warfare." The annihilation decrees signed by Isabel Perón had been inspired by French texts. During the Battle of Algiers, the police forces were put under the authority of the Army, and in particular of the paratroopers, who generalized interrogation sessions, systematically using torture and then disappearances. 30,000 persons disappeared in Algeria. Reynaldo Bignone, named President of the Argentinian junta in July 1982, declared in her film: "The March 1976 order of battle is a copy of the Algerian battle."[185] The same statements were issued by Generals Albano Harguindeguy, Videla's Interior Minister, and Diaz Bessone, former Minister of Planification and ideologue of the junta.[187] The French military would transmit to their Argentine counterparts the notion of "internal enemy" and the use of torture, death squads and "quadrillages".

Green members of parliament Noël Mamère, Martine Billard and Yves Cochet filed on 10 September 2003 a request for the constitution of a Parliamentary Commission on the "role of France in the support of military regimes in Latin America from 1973 to 1984" before the Foreign Affairs Commission of the National Assembly, presided by Edouard Balladur (UMP). Apart from Le Monde, French newspapers remained silent on that request.[188] However, UMP deputy Roland Blum, in charge of the Commission, refused to hear Marie-Monique Robin, and published in December 2003 a 12-page report qualified by Robin as the summum of bad faith. It claimed that no agreement had been signed, despite the agreement found by Robin in the Quai d'Orsay[189][190]

When Minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin travelled to Chile in February 2004, he claimed that no co-operation between France and the military regimes had occurred.[191]

Reporter Marie-Monique Robin thus declared to L'Humanité newspaper: "French have systematized a military technique in urban environment which would be copied and pasted to Latin American dictatorships.".[192] The methods employed during the 1957 Battle of Algiers were systematised and exported to the War School in Buenos Aires.[185] Roger Trinquier's famous book on counter-insurgency had a very strong influence in South America. She declared being shocked to learn that the DST French intelligence agency communicated to the DINA the name of the refugees who returned to Chile (Operation Retorno). All of these Chileans have been killed. "Of course, this puts in cause the French government, and Giscard d'Estaing, then President of the Republic. I was very shocked by the duplicity of the French diplomatic position which, on one hand, received with open arms the political refugees, and, on the other hand, collaborated with the dictatorships."[192]

Marie-Monique Robin also demonstrated ties between the French far right and Argentina since the 1930s, in particular through the Catholic fundamentalist organisation Cité catholique, created by Jean Ousset, a former secretary of Charles Maurras, the founder of the royalist Action Française movement, who was awarded the Francisque under Vichy (1940–4). La Cité edited a review, Le Verbe, which influenced militaries during the Algerian War, notably by justifying the use of torture. At the end of the 1950s, the Cité catholique installed itself in Argentina and organised their cells in the Army. It greatly expanded itself during the government of General Juan Carlos Onganía, in particular in 1969.[185] The key figure of the Cité catholique was priest Georges Grasset, who became Videla's personal confessor and had been the spiritual guide of the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS) pro-French Algeria terrorist movement founded in Franquist Spain. This Catholic fundamentalist current in the Argentine Army explains, according to Robin, the importance and length of the French-Argentine co-operation. In Buenos Aires, Georges Grasset maintained links with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of Society of St. Pius X in 1970 and excommunicated in 1988. The Society of Pius-X has four monasteries in Argentina, the largest one in La Reja. There, a French priest declared to Marie-Monique Robin: "To save the soul of a Communist priest, one must kill him." There, she met Luis Roldan, former Under Secretary of Cult under Carlos Menem, President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999, who was presented by Dominique Lagneau, the priest in charge of the monastery, as "Mr. Cité catholique in Argentina". Bruno Genta and Juan Carlos Goyeneche represent this ideology.[185]

Antonio Caggiano, archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1959 to 1975 wrote in 1961 a prologue to Jean Ousset's Spanish version of Le Marxisme-léninisme. Caggiano explained that "Marxism is the negation of Christ and his Church" and spoke of a Marxist conspiracy to take over the world, for which it was necessary to "prepare for the decisive battle". Together with President Arturo Frondizi (Radical Civic Union, UCR), he inaugurated the first course on counter-revolutionary warfare in the Higher Military College (Frondizi was eventually overthrown for being "tolerant of Communism").

By 1963, cadets at the (then infamously well-known) Navy Mechanics School started receiving counter-insurgency classes aided by the film The Battle of Algiers, which showed the methods used by the French Army in Algeria. Caggiano, the military chaplain at the time, introduced the film approvingly and added a religiously oriented commentary to it. On 2 July 1966, four days after President Arturo Umberto Illia was removed from office and replaced by the dictator Juan Carlos Onganía, Caggiano declared: "We are at a sort of dawn, in which, thanks to God, we all sense that the country is again headed for greatness."

Argentine Admiral Luis María Mendía, who had theorised the practice of "death flights", testified in January 2007, before the Argentine judges, that a French intelligence "agent", Bertrand de Perseval, had participated in the abduction of the two French nuns, Léonie Duquet and Alice Domont. Perseval, who lives today in Thailand, denied any links with the abduction, but did admit being a former member of the OAS, and having escaped from Argentina after the March 1962 Évian Accords putting an end to the Algerian War (1954–62). Referring to Marie Monique Robin's film documentary titled The Death Squads – the French School (Les escadrons de la mort – l'école française), Luis María Mendía asked before the Argentine Court that former French president, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, former French premier Pierre Messmer, former French embassador to Buenos Aires Françoise de la Gosse, and all officials in place in the French embassy in Buenos Aires between 1976 and 1983 be convoked before the court.[193] Besides this "French connection", he has also charged former head of state Isabel Perón and former ministers Carlos Ruckauf and Antonio Cafiero, who had signed the "anti-subversion decrees" before Videla's 1976 coup d'état. According to ESMA survivor Graciela Dalo, this is another tactic which pretends that these crimes were legitimate as the 1987 Obediencia Debida Act claimed them to be and that they also obeyed to Isabel Perón's "anti-subversion decrees" (which, if true, would give them a formal appearance of legality, despite torture being forbidden by the Argentine Constitution)[194] Alfredo Astiz also referred before the courts to the "French connexion".[195]

When Minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin travelled to Chile in February 2004, he claimed that no co-operation between France and the military regimes had occurred.[191]

Truth commission, decrees revoked

The junta relinquished power in 1983. After democratic elections, president elect Raúl Alfonsín created the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) in December 1983, led by writer Ernesto Sábato, to collect evidence about the Dirty War crimes. The gruesome details, including documentation of the disappearance of nearly 9,000 people, shocked the world. Jorge Rafael Videla, head of the junta, was among the generals convicted of human rights crimes, including forced disappearances, torture, murders and kidnappings. President Alfonsín ordered that the nine members of the military junta be judicially charged, during the 1985 Trial of the Juntas, together with guerrilla leaders Mario Firmenich, Fernando Vaca Narvaja, Rodolfo Galimberti, Roberto Perdía, and Enrique Gorriarán Merlo. As of 2010, most of the military officials are in trial or jail. In 1985, Videla was sentenced to life imprisonment at the military prison of Magdalena. Several senior officers also received jail terms. In the Prologue to the Nunca Más report ("Never Again"), Ernesto Sábato wrote:

From the moment of their abduction, the victims lost all rights. Deprived of all communication with the outside world, held in unknown places, subjected to barbaric tortures, kept ignorant of their immediate or ultimate fate, they risked being either thrown into a river or the sea, weighted down with blocks of cement, or burned to ashes. They were not mere objects, however, and still possessed all the human attributes: they could feel pain, could remember a mother, child or spouse, could feel infinite shame at being raped in public...[127]

Reacting to the human rights trials, hardliners in the Argentine army staged a series of uprisings against the Alfonsín government. They barricaded themselves in several military barracks demanding an end of the trials. During Holy Week (Semana Santa) of April 1987, Lieutenant-Colonel Aldo Rico (commander of the 18th Infantry Regiment in Misiones province) and several junior army officers, barricaded themselves in the Campo de Mayo army barracks. The military rebels, who were called the carapintadas, called for an end to the trials and the resignation of army chief of staff General Hector Rios Erenu. Rico believed that the Alfonsin government would be unwilling or unable to put down the uprising. He was correct, as the Second Army Corps commander's orders to surround the barracks were ignored by his subordinates. Alfonsin called on the people to come to the Plaza de Mayo to defend democracy, and hundreds of thousands responded. After a helicopter visit by Alfonsin to Campo de Mayo, the rebels finally surrendered. There were denials of a deal but several generals were forced into early retirement and General Jose Dante Caridi was soon replaced Erenu as commander of the army.

In January 1988, a second military rebellion took place when Rico refused to accept the detention orders issued by a military court for having led the previous uprising. This time he set up base in the 4th Infantry Regiment in Monte Caseros and repudiated Caridi's calls to hand himself in. Rico again demanded an end to the human rights trials saying the promises of Alfonsin to the rebels had not been fulfilled. Caridi ordered several army units to suppress the rebellion. Their advance to the Monte Caseros barracks was slowed down by the rains and the news that rebel soldiers had laid mines that had wounded three loyal officers. Nevertheless, Rico's forces were defeated after a three-hour battle. They surrendered on 17 January 1988 and 300 rebels were arrested, and sentenced to jail.

A third uprising took place in December 1988. This time the uprising was led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammed Alí Seineldín and was supported by 1,000 rebel troops. This uprising proved successful. Several of the demands of Seineldin and his followers were met. Caridi was forced into retirement and replaced by General Francisco Gassino, who had served in the Falklands/Malvinas War and was held in high esteem by the carapintadas. On 5 October 1989 as part of a sweeping reform, the newly elected president, Carlos Menem, pardoned those convicted in the human right trials and the rebel leaders imprisoned for taking part in the military uprisings. Menem also pardoned the leftist guerrilla commanders accused of terrorism.[196] In a televised address to the nation, President Menem said, "I have signed the decrees so we may begin to rebuild the country in peace, in liberty and in justice ... We come from long and cruel confrontations. There was a wound to heal."[197]

Some viewed the pardons as a pragmatic decision of national reconciliation. Others condemned them as unconstitutional, noting that the constitutionally acknowledged right of the president to pardon does not extend to those who have not yet been convicted – which was the situation in the case of some military officials. Others consider that this presidential privilege is inappropriate for modern times, a relic of monarchic rule that should be abolished. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize and chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission that advocated for forgiveness and reconciliation, said: "without forgiveness there is no future".[198] Lieutenant-General Félix Martín Bonnet, who was then commander of the Argentine Army, welcomed the pardons as an "inspiration of the armed forces, not only because those who had been their commanders were deprived of their freedom, but because many of their present members fought, and did so, in fulfillment of express orders."[199] In September 1999, in the aftermath of the bloodshed witnessed in the break-up from Indonesia, the East Timorese leader, Xanana Gusmao, also called for reconciliation. Not everyone agreed with his decision.[200]

Foreign governments whose citizens were victims of the Dirty War (which included citizens of Czechoslovakia,[201] Italy,[202] Sweden,[203] Finland,[204] Germany,[205] the United States,[206] the United Kingdom,[207] Paraguay,[208] Bolivia,[209] Spain,[210] Chile,[210] Uruguay,[210] Peru,[211] and several other nations) are pressing individual cases against the former military regime. France has sought the extradition of Captain Alfredo Astiz for the kidnapping and murder of its nationals, among them nuns Léonie Duquet and Alice Domon. Adolfo Scilingo, a former Argentine naval officer, was convicted in Spain, on 19 April 2005, to 640 years on charges of crimes against humanity. In 1998, Videla received a prison sentence for his role in the kidnapping of eleven children during the regime and for the forgery of the children's identity documents (the "stolen babies", kidnapped from the parents arrested, and raised by military families). Before his death, Videla was serving this sentence under house arrest.

Pirámide de Mayo covered with photos of the desaparecidos by the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo in 2004.

In 1986 and 1987, Congress passed the Pardon Laws, the Final Line and Due Obedience, which ended prosecutions of military and security officers for crimes committed during the military dictatorship. The Ley de Punto Final had been voted on 24 December 1986, under Alfonsín's presidency. It extinguished any charges for human rights violations for all acts preceding 12 December 1983.[212] The military had pressed for the legislation under threat of another coup. Under the presidency of Carlos Menem, the military, police and left-wing guerrilla commanders[213] accused of killings and torture during Argentina's "dirty war" of the 1970s could not be prosecuted for their crimes. These amnesty laws were long unpopular with surviving victims of the Dirty War and their families.

In October 2002, DaimlerChrysler announced an external investigation into claims made by Amnesty International that 14 union activists had been handed over to Argentina's military during the Dirty War.[214]

Continuing controversies

On 23 January 1989, a heavily armed group of around 40 guerrillas, a faction of the Movimiento Todos por la Patria (MTP or All for the Fatherland Movement), attacked the La Tablada army barracks on the outskirts of Buenos Aires to "prevent" a military coup. The attack resulted in fierce fighting, with 28 of the guerrillas killed, five "disappeared" and 13 imprisoned. Eleven police and military died, and 53 were wounded in the fighting. President Raúl Alfonsín declared that the attack, with the goal of sparking a massive popular uprising, could have led to civil war.[215] The guerrillas claimed to have acted to prevent a military coup.[216]

In 1992 and 1994, two bombs devastated the Argentinian Jewish community in Buenos Aires. On 17 March 1992, 29 people were killed and 242 injured when a car bomb exploded at the Israeli Embassy in the capital. On 18 July 1994, a bomb exploded in front of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 86 people and wounding several hundred. While the two cases, which are thought to be related, have been officially under investigation for over 17 years, little progress has been made. Initial suspects in the attack included policemen and ex-carapintadas.[217] They were later acquitted in 2004. Federal judge Juan José Galeano, who was in charge of the case, was impeached and removed from his post for having paid $400,000 to a suspect, Carlos Telleldín, to falsely accuse police officers of being involved in the plot.[218]

Michael Soltys wrote an editorial suggesting that President Cristina Kirchner was reluctant to define the AMIA terrorist attack as a crime against humanity since the charge could be used against former Montoneros members serving in her administration who may have been linked to earlier terrorism.[219] In 2009, George Karim Chaya, a journalist and political analyst, told relatives of victims of left-wing terrorism that both attacks were conducted by Hezbollah and Montoneros terrorists, but this has not been proven.[220][221]

Repeal of Pardon Laws and renewal of prosecutions

Under Néstor Kirchner's term as president, in 2003 the Argentine Congress revoked the longstanding amnesty laws, also called the "Pardon Laws." In 2005 the Argentine Supreme Court ruled these laws were unconstitutional.[222] The government re-opened prosecution of war crimes. From then through October 2011, 259 persons were convicted for crimes against humanity and sentenced in Argentine courts, including Alfredo Astiz, a notorious torturer, that month. In 2006, 24 March was designated as a public holiday in Argentina, the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice. That year, on the 30th anniversary of the coup, a huge crowd filled the streets to remember what happened during the military government, and ensure it did not happen again. In 2006, the government began its first trials of military and security officers since the repeal of the "Pardon Laws." Miguel Etchecolatz, the police commissioner of the province of Buenos Aires in the 1970s, faced trial on charges of illegal detention, torture and homicide. He was found guilty of six counts of murder, six counts of unlawful imprisonment, and seven counts of torture, and sentenced in September 2006 to life imprisonment.[223] In February 2006, some former Ford Argentine workers sued the US-based company, alleging that local managers worked with the security forces to detain union members on the premises and torture them. The civil suit against Ford Motor Company and Ford Argentina called for four former company executives and a retired military officer to be questioned.[224] According to Pedro Norberto Troiani, one of the plaintiffs, 25 employees were detained in the plant, located 40 miles (60 km) from Buenos Aires. Allegations have surfaced since 1998 that Ford officials were involved in state repression, but the company has denied the claims. Army personnel were reported to have arrived at the plant on the day of the military coup, 24 March 1976, and "disappearances" immediately started.[224] Since her rise to office in 2007, President Cristina Kirchner has continued prosecution of military and security officers responsible for the "disappearances." The effort to prosecute junior officers has divided Argentine politicians. For instance, former lieutenant-colonel Aldo Rico, a conservative opposition leader and Falklands/Malvinas War hero, argued in 2008 that it is counterproductive to "return to the past." On the other hand, Nora Ginzburg, a federal legislator, suggests that leftist terrorists should also be prosecuted. Based on 677 affidavits concerning civilians and servicemen killed in leftist terrorist acts, Ginzburg wrote in the Nueva Provincia newspaper, "The subversive terrorists committed their killings in a systematic manner. They possessed a military structure, specific units, and had their flag and logo."[225]

On 14 December 2007, some 200 ex-soldiers who fought against the rural guerrillas in Tucumán province demanded an audience with the governor of Tucumán Province, José Jorge Alperovich, claiming they too were victims of the "Dirty War." They demanded a government-sponsored military pension as veterans of the counter-insurgency campaign in northern Argentina.[226]

In February 2010, a German court issued an international arrest warrant for former dictator Jorge Videla in connection with the death of 20-year-old Rolf Stawowiok in Argentina. He was a German citizen born in Argentina while his father was doing development work there. Rolf Stawowiok disappeared on 21 February 1978, after leaving the Argentine factory where he was working as a chemist. His father, Desiderius Stawowiok, said that Rolf was not active in the Argentine underground but was a sympathiser of the urban Montoneros guerrillas. They were largely destroyed under Videla.[227] In earlier cases, France, Italy, and Spain had requested extradition of the Navy captain Alfredo Astiz for war crimes related to his work with ESMA, but were never successful.[228]

Casualty estimates

The New York Times reporter David Vidal wrote on 5 January 1979 that the number of disappeared in Latin America as a whole now numbered 30,000.[229] The Christian Science Monitor and The Boston Globe soon followed suit with similar stories, claiming 30,000 people had disappeared under military dictatorships in Latin America and not only in Argentina.[230][231] The Los Angeles Times repeated the claims of 30,000 Latin Americans and not just Argentines, disappeared in a new article published in October 1979[232] and November[233] of that year.

The Nunca Más report issued by the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) in 1984, identified 8,961 persons "disappeared" between 1976 and 1983, in a case by case verification, and another list of 1,300 victims seen alive in clandestine detention centres. The report explains that they are "open lists", because "we know also that many disappearings had not been denounced".[234]

In 1977, General Albano Harguindeguy, Interior Minister, admitted that 5,618 people disappeared in the form of PEN detenidos-desaparecidos were being held in detention camps throughout Argentina.[235] According to a secret cable from DINA (Chilean secret police) in Buenos Aires, an estimate by the Argentine 601st Intelligence Battalion in mid-July 1978, which started counting victims in 1975, gave the figure of 22,000 persons – this document was first published by John Dinges in 2004.[236]

The total number of disappeared in the form of PEN prisoners was 8,625 and of these disappeared 157 were killed after being released from detention.[156] Human Rights Groups in Argentina often cite a figure of 30,000 disappeared, Amnesty International estimates 20,000 while other observers think 12,000 is a more accurate figure.[30] In 1988, the Asamblea por los Derechos Humanos (APDH or Assembly for Human Rights) published its findings on the disappearances and stated that 12,261 people were killed or disappeared during the Dirty War.[34] The Montoneros admitted losing 5,000 guerrillas killed,[6] and the ERP admitted 5,000 of their own guerrillas had been killed.[7] By comparison, Argentine security forces cite 523 deaths of their own between 1969 and 1975[237] and 205 deaths between 1976 and 1978.[57] There were 16,000 victims of left-wing terrorism in Argentina,[26] including civilians and military personnel. There is no agreement on the number of detenidos-desaparecidos. In a 2009 interview with the Buenos Aires daily newspaper Clarín, Graciela Fernández Meijide, who formed part of the 1984 truth commission, claimed that the documented number of Argentines killed or disappeared was closer to 9,000.[238] Between 1969 and 1979, left-wing guerrillas accounted for 3,249 kidnappings and murders and 5,215 bombings.[239] CONADEP also recorded 458 assassinations (attributed to the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance) and about 600 forced disappearances during the period of democratic rule between 1973 and 1976.[55][240]

In a final report televised on 28 April 1983 as the military prepared their departure, the ruling junta officially declared that the disappeared were all dead but said the military junta had saved the nation by their actions. Human Rights Group[which?] condemned the junta's final report and claimed at the time, that between 6,000 and 15,000 people had disappeared in Argentina between 1975 and 1979.[241]

Some 11,000 Argentines have applied for and received up to US $200,000 each as monetary compensation for the loss of loved ones during the military dictatorship.[14] In more recent times, journalist Alfonso Daniels put forward the claim in an article he wrote for the Daily Telegraph that over 30,000 Argentines disappeared.[242]

Participation of members of the Catholic Church on both sides

On 15 April 2005, a human rights lawyer filed a criminal complaint against Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) accusing him of conspiring with the junta in 1976 to kidnap two Jesuit priests. So far, no hard evidence has been presented linking the cardinal to this crime. It is known that the cardinal headed the Society of Jesus of Argentina in 1976 and had asked the two priests to leave their pastoral work following conflict within the Society over how to respond to the new military dictatorship, with some priests advocating a violent overthrow. The cardinal's spokesman flatly denied the allegations.[243]

A priest, Christian von Wernich, was chaplain of the Buenos Aires Province Police while it was under the command of General Ramón Camps during the dictatorship, with the rank of inspector. On 9 October 2007 he was found guilty of complicity in 7 homicides, 42 kidnappings, and 32 instances of torture, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Some Catholic priests sympathised with and helped the Montoneros. Radical priests, including Father Alberto Carbone, who was eventually indicted in the murder of Aramburu, preached Marxism and presented the early Church fathers as model revolutionaries in an attempt to legitimise the violence.[244] A Catholic youth leader, Juan Ignacio Isla Casares, with the help of the Montoneros commander Eduardo Pereira Rossi (nom de guerre "El Carlón") was the mastermind behind the ambush and killing of five policemen near San Isidro Cathedral on 26 October 1975.[245]

Mario Firmenich, who later became the leader of the Montoneros, was the ex-president of the Catholic Action Youth Group and a former seminarian himself.[246] The Montoneros had ties with the Third World Priest Movement and a Jesuit priest, Father Carlos Mugica, SJ.[247] The Third World Priest Movement believed that the Church could not remain neutral in the conflict between the Peronist and anti-Peronists and a number of priests participated in the armed struggle.[248]


  • Dirty Secrets, Dirty War: The Exile of Editor Robert J. Cox, by David Cox (2008).
  • The Ministry of Special Cases, by Nathan Englander (2007), novel.
  • La Historia Official (English: The Official Story), by Nicolás Márquez (2006), revisionist critique.
  • Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina, by Paul H. Lewis (2001).
  • Suite argentina (English: Argentine Suite. Translated by Donald A. Yates. Online: Words Without Borders, October 2010) Four short stories by Edgar Brau (2000).
  • God's Assassins: State Terrorism in Argentina in the 1970s by M. Patricia Marchak (1999).
  • A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture, by Marguerite Feitlowitz (1999).
  • Una sola muerte numerosa (English: A Single, Numberless Death), by Nora Strejilevich (1997).
  • The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior, by Horacio Verbitsky (1996).
  • Argentina's Lost Patrol: Armed Struggle, 1969–1979, by María José Moyano (1995).
  • Dossier Secreto: Argentina's Desaparecidos and the Myth of the "Dirty War", by Martin Edwin Anderson (1993).
  • Argentina's "Dirty War": An Intellectual Biography, by Donald C. Hodges (1991).
  • Behind the Disappearances: Argentina's Dirty War Against Human Rights and the United Nations, by Iain Guest (1990).
  • The Little School: Tales of Disappearance & Survival in Argentina, by Alicia Partnoy (1989).
  • Argentina, 1943–1987: The National Revolution and Resistance, by Donald C. Hodges (1988).
  • Soldiers of Perón: Argentina's Montoneros, by Richard Gillespie (1982).
  • Guerrilla warfare in Argentina and Colombia, 1974–1982, by Bynum E. Weathers, Jr. (1982).
  • Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number, by Jacobo Timerman (1981).
  • Guerrilla politics in Argentina, by Kenneth F. Johnson (1975).


  • A Wall of Silence (1993) Directed by Lita Stantic
  • Cautiva (2003). Directed by Gaston Biraben. Movie related to the "stolen babies" case
  • [[Imagining Argentina (2003). Directed by Christopher Hampton.
  • Garage Olimpo (1999). Directed by Marco Bechis.
  • The Official Story (1985). Directed by Luis Puenzo. Movie related to the "stolen babies" case
  • Kamchatka (2002). Directed by Marcelo Piñeyro.
  • Los Rubios (2003). Directed by Albertina Carri
  • Burnt Oranges (2005). Directed by Silvia Malagrino. Monica Flores Correa, writer. Sharon Karp, editor.[249]
  • The Disappeared (2007). Directed by Peter Sanders.[250]
  • Los Escuadrones De La Muerte (the Death Squadron, Escadrons de la mort), l'école française, by Marie-Monique Robin (book and film)[251]
  • Our Disappeared / Nuestros Desaparecidos (2008). Directed by Juan Mandelbaum.[252]
  • Night of the Pencils (1986) Directed by Héctor Olivera.[253]
  • Crónica de una fuga (2006). Directed by Israel Adrián Caetano. Movie related to the "Mansión Sere" case.
  • Hijos/Figli - Children (2001). Directed by Marco Bechis
  • The Secret in Their Eyes (2009). Directed by Juan José Campanella

See also


  1. Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina, Antonius C. G. M. Robben, p. 145, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007
  2. Revolutionizing Motherhood: The Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo, Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard, p. 22, Rowman & Littlefield, 1994
  3. "Argentina's Guerrillas Still Intent On Socialism", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 7 March 1976
  4. Argentina’s Dirty War. Guy Gugliotta.[dead link]
  5. "Orphaned in Argentina's dirty war, man is torn between two families", The Washington Post, 11 February 2010
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "El ex líder de los Montoneros entona un «mea culpa» parcial de su pasado", El Mundo, 4 May 1995
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 A 32 años de la caída en combate de Mario Roberto Santucho y la Dirección Histórica del PRT-ERP. 
  8. ''Determinants Of Gross Human Rights Violations By State And State-Sponsored Actors In Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, And Argentina (1960–1990)', Wolfgang S. Heinz & Hugo Frühling, p. 626, Springer, 1999, Google Books
  9. National Geographic, Volume 170, p. 247, National Geographic Society, 1986
  10. Political Injustice: Authoritarianism and the Rule of Law in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, Anthony W. Pereira, p. 134, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005
  11. 11.0 11.1 Obituary The Guardian, Thursday 2 April 2009
  12. Estimate of Deaths and Disappearences by 601st Intelligence Battalion. DINA Headquarters, Buenos Aires, Argentina. July 1978. pp. A8. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Una duda histórica: no se sabe cuántos son los desaparecidos", Clarin, 10 June 2003
  14. 14.0 14.1 Wright, Thomas C. State terrorism in Latin America, p. 158, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007
  15. [1]
  16. Salas, Ernesto, Uturuncos. El origen de la guerrilla peronista, Biblos, Buenos Aires, 2003, ISBN 950-786-386-9
  17. 17.0 17.1 Wright, Thomas C. Latin America in the era of the Cuban Revolution, p. 105, Praeger (2001)
  18. Amstutz, Mark R. The Healing of Nations: The Promise and Limits of Political Forgiveness, p. 250.
  19. Los 70, Violencia en la Argentina. p. 119. Ejército Argentino. (Círculo militar, 2001)
  20. "Profile of the Montoneros", 'El Historiador, Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  21. Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1987). Child Survival: Anthropological Perspectives on the Treatment and Maltreatment of Children. Springer. p. 228. ISBN 978-1-55608-028-9. 
  22. Atkins, Stephen E. Encyclopedia of Modern Worldwide Extremists and Extremist Groups, p. 202, Greenwood Press (2004)
  23. "18 killed in Argentina after bombing", The Gazette (Montreal), 11 November 1976
  24. ''The Free-Lance Star'' (17 October 1972). Google (17 October 1972).
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  26. 26.0 26.1 “Todos podíamos odiar, pero lo que queremos es sonreír cada día”, Tribuna de Salamanca (12 February 2010)
  27. "Top Guerrilla Is Extradited To Argentina", The New York Times. (31 October 1995).
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  35. <quote>While the initial report from the 1984 investigative commission cited a dirty war death toll of 9,000, officials subsequently updated the figure to 13,000, but most human rights groups in Argentina today say the actual number is closer to 30,000.</quote> "Argentines Argue Over How Many Were Killed by Junta", LAHT
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