Argentina: Boat Bomb
"Argentina: Boat Bomb"
Political Violence in Argentina as Opposition Groups Battle
By: Latin American Newsletters
Date: November 8, 1974
Source: Intelligence Research, Ltd.
About the Author: This news report was originally published as part of the Latin American News series from Lettres, UK (now Intelligence Research, Ltd.), a London-based news agency. Established in 1967, the Latin American Newsletters were written by Latin American specialists in London, writing about political and social events throughout Latin America as they unfolded. Printed in both English and Spanish, the Latin American Newsletters were a compilation from a variety of sources, without author attribution.
Argentina had been under the rule of military leader Juan Perón from 1946–1955, during which time the military leader developed economic and social policies that were populist in nature. Perón asserted that nationalization and unionization empowered the working class, but those moves also alienated elites and foreign investors. In 1955, right-leaning military leaders forced Perón into exile. Leftists, union members, and the working poor were angered by the coup. By the early 1960s, Argentina faced the beginning of a long stretch of political violence from opposition groups.
Insurgent groups, such as the Montonero Peronist Movement, formed in support of exiled president Juan Perón. Perón's populist policies, and his economic protectionism, stood in stark contrast to the price freezes and nationwide strikes that plagued the country under the various military and civilian leaders. However, Perón and the Montoneros became increasingly at odds as Perón shifted his views to the right. By 1973, when Perón returned to Argentina and was permitted to run for office, the Montoneros were disenchanted with Perón. Political violence increased.
Assassinations and political violence swept through Argentina, including the assassination of labor leader José Alonso, in August 1970, the assassination of General Juan Carlos Sánchez, Commander of Army Corps II, on April 10, 1972, the murder of labor leader José Ignacio Rucci on September 25, 1973, the murder of a priest, Carlos Mugica, in May 1974, and the assassination of Arturo Mor Roig, former Minister of the Interior, on July 15, 1974.
Perón was elected to the presidency for the third time in October 1973. He died the following year, and his vice-president and third wife, Isabel, assumed the presidency. As the political violence had increased, Perón had resorted to emergency measures that stripped away the legal rights of detainees and suspected terrorists, in an attempt to stem political violence.
The violence reached a climax on November 1, 1974, when federal police chief Alberto Villar and his wife were murdered by a bomb that was planted on their boat.
The assassination of police chief Alberto Villar has rocked Argentina more than any other since the death of Peron, causing a fresh estimation of the Montoneros' strength, and speculation about the role of the armed forces.
The federal police chief went boating on the river Parana last Friday and his boat was blown up. Some 47,000 policemen were set to search for his assassins and President Isabel Peron ordered flags to be flown at half-mast. Within hours the Montoneros, the clandestine left-wing peronist movement, had claimed responsibility, threatening Jose Lopez Rega, minister of social security, and Ricardo Otero, minister of labour, with the same fate. Cronica published a full-page picture of Lopez Rega in his uniform as a commissioner general in the police force (he was promoted a few months ago, having ended his previous career in the police as a sergeant), prompting memories of the moment in January when General Peron put on his uniform to denounce the ERP attack on the garrison at Azul. Lopez Rega said that were it not for his other tasks, he would put on his uniform permanently to hunt out the police chief's assassins.
Next to Lopez Rega, Alberto Villar, head of the federal police since May, has been the left wing's most wanted man. He came to prominence during the military dictatorship as an expert in counter-insurgency. He was in charge of the investigations into the death of ex-President Aramburu, and was at one stage suspended after trying to hide evidence of police torture in Cordoba. He was retired on the accession of President Campora last year, but was brought back to active service in January to take charge of anti-guerrilla operations in the wake of the Azul attack. His return was interpreted at the time as an encouragement to police terrorism and prompted the resignation of a number of senior police officers. The government certainly hoped then that Villar and his deputy, Luis Margaride, would quickly clean up the guerrillas without it being necessary to call in the army. The two men set to work with enthusiasm, and between March and August (according to figures recently provided by Alberto Rocamora, minister of the interior) 32 suspected militants were shot and 827 detained. Nevertheless, although left-wing organisations were severely hit by the wave of police repression, they have not been rooted out. When a new right-wing group appeared a few weeks ago, called the Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, it was generally assumed to be the latest anti-terrorist weapon devised by the police. Indeed one of the leaders of the Montoneros, Roberto Quieto, claimed recently that the AAA was organised by Villar himself, and this claim was repeated in the Montonero communique claiming responsibility for Villar's death. If true, one would expect activity by the AAA to diminish, though the appointment of Villar's deputy and disciple, Luis Margaride, as the new police chief means that previous policies are unlikely to be changed.
The success of the Montoneros in assassinating one of their principal opponents suggests that they are still a significant force to be reckoned with, and the government must undoubtedly be wondering whether they will soon be forced to bring in the armed forces to join the police in the fight against the guerrillas. There is again talk of reviving the national security council and the security secretariat that had such a brief life in June. The original idea of the council, to be headed by General Alberto Caceres, federal police chief in the days of President Lanusse, was to involve the commanders of the three armed services in control of security operations. It was abandoned the week before Peron died—partly it seems because of the fear that the military, once unleashed against the guerrillas, would grow too powerful politically. This argument still holds good, though with the deteriorating security situation, the military must be growing restless.
Quite apart from the 25 deaths of leftists attributable to the AAA in recent weeks, the past week has seen a wave of bombings and murders. The police chief in Corrientes was shot and wounded, the police in Misiones have been on strike, the ERP took over a village in Tucuman, three Tupamaros were shot in San Antonio, two foreign journalists have been arrested, and Raimundo Ongaro has been detained. For the first time a prominent figure in the Frente de Izquierda Popular (FIP) of Jorge Abelardo Ramos has been shot, as have members of Juan Carlos Coral's Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores. The death of the FIP leader, Carlos Llorena Rosas, may have been due to the fact that he worked for the Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia Agropecuaria and was involved in the land reform proposals worked out by the agriculture secretary, Horacio Giberti.
In 1974, the Montoneros initiated a full-scale assault on Isabel Perón's administration. Their targets included the Argentine government, United States companies, and United States government officials, in an effort to discourage foreign investment and the influence of the United States. As this document shows, the political violence from the left was reaching fever pitch in Argentina, as leftists targeted members of the military in successful bombings and assassinations.
By 1976, the military was increasingly frustrated by the political violence. Military forces kidnapped Isabel on March 24, 1976 and placed her under house arrest for the next five years.
In 1976, the military and security forces in Argentina began a "dirty war," officially called the National Reorganization Process, a seven-year campaign to rout out leftists and any opposition to the established government. Human rights observers claim that security forces used forced detention, torture, and murder in weeding out leftist elements throughout Argentina from 1976 to 1983. International observers estimate that, during this time, between 10,000 and 30,000 people were "disappeared" by government forces. These people, the desaparecidos, included academics (women as well as men), leftists, doctors and lawyers, and many union organizers.
In 1984, after Argentina's first democratic elections in decades, a shaky amnesty was granted to military and security forces for any perceived human rights abuses. However, in June 2005, the Argentine Supreme Court overturned this amnesty, opening the door to future charges and trials.
Taylor, Diana. Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender andNationalism in Argentina's "Dirty War". Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1997.
University of Minnesota Human Rights Library. "Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Argentina, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.49, Doc. 19 corr.1 (1980)." <http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/iachr/countryreports/argentina1980-ch1.html> (accessed July 8, 2005).