Argentina’s Last Military Junta

At the end of the Eduardo Galeano article, he lays out a series of platitudes, goals, and hopes for the future. At the top of page 337, one of these reads,

“In Argentina, the crazy women at the Plaza de Mayo shall be held up as examples of mental health because they refused to forget in a time of obligatory amnesia”

Galeano is referring to the movement known as La Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo, where, despite Umbridge-esk laws against gatherings of more than three people, a group of women gathered every week to protest the activities of the military junta in power at the time. Specifically, they advocated for their children, los Desaparecidos, who disappeared during the dirty war and were never seen again.

The military coup succeeded in March of 1976, overthrowing Isabel Martínez de Perón, the third wife and successor of the democratically elected Juan Perón. Almost immediately, the new regime initiated a dirty war against the Argentine populous. It was an era of government terrorism, characterized by extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, torture, and most famously, disappearances.

The coup receives little global attention in relation to the Cold War. Its history in the 20th C. set apart from most of Latin America; in professor Holt’s lectures, Argentina was only mentioned once in response to a question. This omission is understandable. Neither Argentine government was directly supported by the US or the USSR, and the ideological conflict between communism and capitalism played a relatively small role in these events. The US Department of State was aware that a coup was on the horizon, but although the junta was right-wing, the US did not act. Argentina is an interesting counterpoint to Bayly’s discussion of the overarching themes of US interference in Latin America at the time. There was almost no financial, military, or ideological support from the superpower despite the turmoil plaguing the nation with the second largest economy in Latin America.

That is not to say Argentina was isolated. The Argentine Secret Service, along with Pinochet’s government and others, participated in Operation Condor, a US backed operation to suppress communist ideas in Latin America. They also aided in the training of the Contras in Nicaragua, a group fighting the Sandinista government with US support.

The regime persisted until 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands (aka: Malvinas), a territory of Britain to which Argentina lay claim. As Bayly mentions, the undeclared war between the two nations lasted 10 weeks and concluded in a clear British victory. The embarrassment in Argentina prompted public outrage—as my father once said to me regarding the reaction of the Argentine people, “It was a fucking military dictatorship. The one thing it was supposed to be able to do was win a war, but it couldn’t even manage that.”

My family is from Argentina; my grandparents immigrated to the United States in the early 1950s while most of the family remained in Argentina. When the 1976 coup overthrew the Perón government, my father’s cousin, Héctor Jorge, was a medical student at the University of Buenos Aires. At a time when freedom of speech was limited, Héctor spoke out against the military dictatorship and the crimes they committed. One night in 1976, while the family slept, their home was invaded and Héctor was abducted; he was never seen again. My grandfather’s sister, Irene (aka: Meri), was one of the mothers Galeano refers to who took to the Plaza de Mayo in protest. She is even depicted on the cover of a book written on the events: Circles of Madness (Circulos de Locura), by Marjorie Agosín. Our family has never learned what happened to Héctor, if he was tortured or thrown into the Atlantic to drown. Like so many others, his fate is lost. In the last days of their reign, the government destroyed an unknown quantity of records regarding their crimes against the civilians. As of 2015, nearly 9,000 cases of disappearances had been documented, but it is probable that that number does not account for thousands more victims of the regime.

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