Military Rule Shaping Politics and Essay

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The definition for "subversives" is a bit vague, but Fagen explains that in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin American dictatorships the victims of violent repression tended to be union leaders, liberal political leaders, artistic people in cultural circles, student protest leaders and media personalities (p. 41). The whole point of these horrendous repressive policies was to inspire fear, confusion and "distrust" among the general population. For those who believe the United States' military always stands on the side of democratic movements it may come as something of a shock that the U.S. funded and trained many military outfits during the time of dictators in Latin America.

"An entire generation of Latin American military officers and police were armed, trained, and 'professionalized'" by American police and military leaders (Fagen, 1992, p. 43). Fagen says the repression in Argentina was, in part, designed to "Purge ideological infection"; Argentine present General Jorge Rafael Videla, made this statement in February 1978: "A terrorist is not just someone with a gun or a bomb but also someone who spreads ideas that are contrary to Western civilization" (Fagen, 1992, p. 43). The assassinations that were perpetrated by the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance were justified by Rear Admiral Cesar Guzzetti, who used the human body as a metaphor and illness as a reason to seek out and murder those who didn't go along with the status quo. The "enemy" -- those opposed to dictatorial policies -- was portrayed as a cancer "…to be surgically extracted and destroyed in order to restore social health," Fagen explains on page 44. She quotes from Guzzetti:

"The body of the country is contaminated by an illness that corrodes its entrails and forms antibodies that should not be thought of as germs.

I am sure there will be no more actions of the right in the coming

Months…Theirs was only a reaction to a sick body" (p. 44).

In fact there were guerrilla groups that fought the Argentine military government, Fagen writes (p. 48). They were called the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo, and the Montoneros and they actually carried out bold military actions against the dictatorship albeit they were heavily outnumbered by government troops, Fagen explains (p. 48). The two leftist insurgent groups had the political support of "substantial numbers of Argentines, particularly young people" however they were flattened, tortured, and "swept into military custody, where thousands died," Fagen continues (p. 48). Beyond just rounding up the opposition guerrilla groups, Argentina "…sustained a vast system of secret terror, masked by a seemingly functioning judicial system" (Fagen, 1992, p. 49).

No sooner had the military junta in Argentina taken power (March, 1976) then they "removed from office the president and vice-president…provincial governors, municipal officers, members of the Supreme Court…and the attorney general," Fagen writes (p. 52). Basically the junta shut down Congress in March, 1976, and on June 18, 1976, the military junta put into effect "The Institutional Act," which defined "…failure to observe basic moral principles in the exercise of public, political, or union offices or activities that involve the public interest," according to Fagen's essay.

The way that the Argentine military ruled with an iron fist was to kidnap people, detain people, and make them disappear. Between 15,000 and 30,000 Argentines were reported to have disappeared during the time the military ran the country, Fagen writes. The one positive thing the junta did was leave the right of habeas corpus in place; little good it did, however, since families of the disappeared people filed "thousands of writs" but never were rewarded with "…a single release" (Fagen, 1992, p. 54).

Meantime, Wendy Hunter opens up a section about "The Decline of Military Influence in Argentina" on page 463 of her essay, pointing out that the military government "collapsed…in 1982-1983" due to, among other things: a) an "atrocious human rights record"; b) a very poor economic performance; c) the defeat of the Argentine military in the Malvinas/Falklands War of 1982; and d) "…society's overwhelming repudiation of the military."

The emerging democracy in Argentina in 1983 was in a position to get tough with the military; led by newly elected president Raul Alfonsin, who was backed by citizens' rage at the brutality inflicted on society over the previous years, the armed forces were in a weak bargaining position, Hunter writes (p. 463). Because of the aforementioned social distrust and antipathy for the military, Alfonsin pushed the armed forces "…harder than attempted in any other South American country," Hunter explains (p. 463). In fact Alfonsin brought leading officers that had been guilty of blatant human rights violations to trial; he "drastically" reduced spending on the military, and basically shut down the military's political involvement, Hunter continues (p. 463).

Following Alfonsin, President Carlos Menem continued to reduce the power of the military; he also eliminated obligatory military service, and cut back on military spending (from 2.6% of GNP in 1989 to 1.7% in 1993) in order to reach his economic goals. By reining in the military and putting the worst perpetrators on trial for human rights violations, Menem guaranteed economic and political stability.

Are Authoritarian Legacies of any Consequence in Latin America?

Looking at the historical political situation in Latin America over the last 70 or so years, of the 20 countries in Latin America only 3 (Columbia, Costa Rica and Mexico) have "avoided exclusionary military rule," according to Karen L. Remmer. And today in South America, to one degree or another, democracy prevails in all cases. As to the military legacy, the citizens of Argentina and Chile have not forgotten the terror unleashed on their societies by the likes of Augusto Pinochet and Jorge Rafael Videla. They are not likely to wish to return to the brutal authoritarian rule that left so much bloodshed and economic ruin. Hence, it is safe to say the military, while not washed away completely by the advent of democracy in those countries, has been stripped of its swagger, its budget, and its political power. It's up to historians to write the final chapter, but in the meantime the imprint of brutal authority is a distant memory -- albeit in cases where families lost loved ones, it is a distant nightmare.

Works Cited

Fagen, Patricia Weiss. "Repression and State…[continue]

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