On December 10, 1983,Raul Alfonsinassumed the presidency of Argentina. This marked the end of the military junta which had ruled the country sinceMarch 1976. At the time of this writing, ceremonies are taking place in Argentina and abroad to commemorate this important occasion (the Argentine embassy in Washington will hold an event in the headquarters of the Organization of American States), not so much to celebrate Alfonsin’s rule per se, but rather to commemorate the end of a particularly dark period of Argentine history.
The Argentina junta was called the “National Reorganization Process” (Proceso de Reorganizacion Nacional). While its intended goal was bring back stability to the country after the death of the popular leaderJuan Peron in 1974, the military regime will be remembered in perpetuity for the human rights violations that it carried out.
Between the 1960s to 1980s, Latin America (including Argentina) was a boiling pot of armed movements that sought regime change. In Argentina, the military was especially concerned about theMontoneros, far left-wing radicals expelled from Peron’s Justicialist Party in 1974. To what extent the Montoneros were a credible insurrectionist threat is debatable. The insurgents did carry out some high-profile assassinations, including the killing of military officers like Navy captain Jose Guillermo Burgos in 1976 and army corporal Osvaldo Ramon Rios, which prompted the wrath of the Argentina junta.
But the Montoneros were effectively destroyed by the late 1970s, so they were certainly no longer a credible threat to the regime by the 1980s. Regardless, the junta used the threat of insurgency as justification to carry out a repressive crackdown on individuals they saw as potential enemies of the state, real or imagined. This period would be known as theDirty War (Guerra Sucia), and is remembered for the approximately30,000 individuals(though this estimation varies) that are believed to have disappeared (thedesaparecidos).
The junta’s end was accelerated by an ill-fated invasion in 1982 of the Falklands Islands (or Islas Malvinas) which Argentina claims are part of its territory and not the United Kingdom, which London controls. After the attack, the latePrime Minister Margaret Thatcherdeployed the British military, which quickly defeated the Argentines. One notable event of the war’s naval campaign was the sinking of theARA Belgrano, the flagship of the Argentine navy, by theHMS Conqueror, a British submarine. The combination of a lost war, the aforementioned repression and a troubled economy fomented protests, which forced the military junta to step down and return the country to civilian rule.
A major breakthrough in bringing to justice the Argentina security forces that carried out major human rights violations during the junta occurred under the presidency of the late Nestor Kirchner. In 2003, The Argentine congress (both the Senate and House of Deputies) nullified the laws knownas “Obediencia Debida” and “Punto Final,”which were approved in the 1980s to give amnesty to Argentine security forces so that they could not be prosecuted for human rights violations committed during the military regime. In 2005,Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justicealso ruled that the aforementioned laws were unconstitutional, effectively opening the flood gates for a number of long-delayed prosecutions against human rights offenders. Jorge Rafael Videla, who sat at the junta’s head from 1976-1981,died this past May 2013 in a jail cellwhile serving a life sentence.
Three decades after the end of the military junta, Argentina is in better shape than it was in 1983. The 2001-2002 meltdown crippled the Argentine economy throughout the last decade, and it prompted a series of protectionist economic policies by recent heads of state, such as current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The 2012 nationalization of the oil companyYPF from the Spanish company Repsolis an example of the Argentina government’s current lack of support for privatization initiatives.
As for political stability, concerns about which prompted the takeover by the military in 1976, there’s no question the nation enjoys it. Modern Argentina has seen a series of democratically elected presidents – though it should be noted that when the 2001 economic meltdown occurred, a series of interim presidents took control of the country (Adolfo Rodriguez Saawas president for roughly seven days before quitting). And thatNestor Kirchner, who ruled from 2003 to 2007, was followed to the presidency by his wife, Cristina de Kirchner, who was elected in 2007 andre-elected in 2011. Nepotism – certainly. Preferable to an army backed-coup? Very likely. Though at the time of this writing, Argentina has been hit by a new series of protests. But instead of left-wing radicals protesting in favor of a political ideology, the current protests have been staged by thecountry’s police force – who are demanding higher wages.