Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Thinking of Argentina

Commentary by Dick Dorworth


Dick Dorworth

Last month I had the good fortune to spend a few weeks in Argentina, where in the 1970s and early 80s I usually spent a month a year, but had not visited since. We went for the mountains and the skiing in the south near San Carlos de Bariloche, and in these pursuits we were not disappointed. Despite the change in Bariloche from a small resort town to a bustling tourist metropolis four times as big, it is a great place for the northern hemisphere summertime back country or lift riding skier.

Signs of the changes in Argentina are everywhere. Some are very good. Others are not. The long term consequences of the vicious military dictatorship of Generals Galtieri and Videla during the 70s and 80s are most easily seen by the tourist in the depressed economy, a fallout from the disaster of militarism as government, in which the U.S. dollar is worth three times the Argentine peso. One lives well with dollars in Argentina, at the expense of its good people?s bloody past and grinding present, including the disturbing presence of beggars, among them snot-nosed children, on its crowded streets.

In 1976 the Argentine military staged a coup and took over the democratically elected government. Argentina?s illegitimate leaders set about diverting the country?s resources away from the needs of the people, the infrastructure of civilian life, education, health, trade, the economy, etc., and into the consolidation of power, the suppression of political opposition, the disappearance without trial or trace of thousands of citizens politically insensitive enough to question those leaders. Some 30,000 nuns, priests, students, professors, lawyers, journalists, doctors, union leaders, writers, artists and working people were raped, beaten, tortured, humiliated, starved and reduced to agony before being disappeared, becoming part of the desparacedos. Many of them disappeared into the Atlantic into which they were dropped from Navy planes while still alive. Others wound up in mass graves, some of which have been found. Most have, truly, simply disappeared. It has recently come to light that the United States, through its Secretary of State, Henry Kissenger, acquiesced and agreed to not look unfavorably on the disappearances and other atrocities of the Argentine military.

By 1982 the country was in economic turmoil and political chaos. Its leader General Leopoldo Galtieri, resorted to a traditional ploy of failed leaders: to divert public attention from civil strife and the worst depression in 50 years caused by his evil ineptness by going to war. Galtieri, a graduate of the infamous U.S Army School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia which trained most of the military murderers of Latin America in the 20th century, invaded the Falkland Islands to take them from England.

England, of course, was not going to roll over, as had the defenseless citizens of Argentina. The 72 day war, like the rest of the junta?s governance, was a disaster. About 1000 soldiers and sailors died, 265 British, 635 Argentine. This unnecessary war which Argentina could never win cost more than $2 billion, a small amount compared to, say, the hundreds of billions of dollars the U.S. has spent and is spending on the unnecessary war in Iraq which it, too, can never win, but it was an enormous sum for Argentina, a country of fewer than 35 million people in 1982.

The most telling image of that war was the surrender of South Georgia Island by the Argentine contingent without a shot being fired. The order to surrender was given by Lt. Alfredo Astiz, who is known to have shot and killed at least 10 unarmed women, including two French nuns and a 17-year-old Swedish girl, before the war. He was convicted but pardoned of those crimes by the Argentine government as part of its ?amnesty,? but he can never leave Argentina as Interpol has warrants for his arrest and he has been tried and convicted in absentia in France for the deaths of the two nuns. Nora Cortenas, who was arrested and tortured by the junta, said of Astiz: ?He was very brave when he had to murder unarmed women, but he surrendered immediately when he had to fight real soldiers.?

The war had unintended consequences, including the downfall of Galtieri and the military government and the restoration of democracy in Argentina, the re-invigoration and subsequent re-election of Margaret Thatcher?s administration in England, and the collapse of Argentina?s economy. As mentioned, the economy has not yet recovered from the follies of its murderous leaders in the 1970s and 80s. Military adventurism always brutalizes the generation that engages in it, and it always leaves its debts to be paid by future generations.

Who in their right mind could ever support or vote for the champions of military adventurism of any country?

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