The early Cold War years in Argentina were dominated by the personalities of the wildly popular Juan Perón and his wife, the lovely and seductive Eva, known as Evita. The couple’s followers praised their efforts to eliminate poverty and dignify labor, while their detractors accused them of dictatorship.
Perón’s first term as president lasted from 1946-1952. Eva died in 1952, but Perón was elected to a second term, serving from 1952 until 1955. He was ousted in ’55 when the Argentine armed forces set up their version of a bureaucratic authoritarian state. The military’s goals were:
- to eliminate any revolutionary threat
- to hold down wages
- to encourage foreign investment.
Official policy also included a commitment to anti-communist repression.
This was a challenge because Argentina’s revolutionaries were ardent proponents of their Perónist heritage and their deep socialist and anarchist roots. To counter these forces, the Argentine military turned to brutality. Killing began in the late 1960s and escalated throughout the 1970s.
A number of Marxist guerrilla movements — their members often young, middle-class, and university educated — opposed the Argentine military government.
The best known guerillas were the Montaneros. Many of them came from Perónist families and still considered themselves Perónists even though their particular ideology was more dramatically leftward leaning than that of Perón.
The military responded with deathsquads that claimed the lives — or disappeared — at least 9,000 people and, perhaps, as many as 30,000 people.
This anti-communist terror was officially called the Process of National Reorganization by the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. More commonly known as the Dirty War, it was a comprehensive campaign aimed at eliminating communists and others seen as “subversives.” According to Jon Lee Anderson, in a post on The New Yorker Blog
Many of the victims were held for months in official institutions, where they were repeatedly tortured before being killed, their bodies “disappeared.”
The dirty war continued even after the military finally permitted Perón to return to Argentina. He regained the presidency there in 1973 but died almost immediately. His second wife, Isabel, stepped in and became a political leader in her own right, but she was not the leader that the Perónists craved. The movement spit apart and she was replaced by a new military president in 1976. Counterinsurgency operations moved into high gear and the military finally succeeded in eliminating their guerilla enemies. The generals proudly announced the triumph of “Judeo-Christian civilization.” For a time, most Argentinians tried not to notice the dirty war.
In the late 1970s, however, mothers carrying photographs of their “disappeared” children began to protest in the Plaza de Mayo, the main square in downtown Buenos Aires. Gradually, the world recognized and honored the truth of their accusations. The military made a desperate attempt to change the subject and to reinforce Argentinean nationalism by identifying a new, external enemy, Great Britain.
In 1982, war erupted over the Falkland or Malvinas, Islands. The poorly trained Argentinean soldiers were quickly overwhelmed, though, and the military was disgraced. In 1983, Argentina held elections and the armed forces were defeated.
Pope Francis’ role in the Dirty War — silence, complicity, or risk taking to support those in danger — has yet to be determined. But the discussion around the Cold War tragedy in Argentina reminds us all that human rights are not to be taken lightly. Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. The “disappeared” are with us even now with United Nations stating that the number of victims (worldwide) at any given time tops 2.4.million.
According to the New York County District Attorney’s Office:
Victims of human trafficking are often in plain sight. They may be providing you services or interacting with the public in some way. If you believe that someone may be the victim of human trafficking it is important that you try to get help. If you believe the victim is in immediate danger please call 911.
For an overview of Military Juntas in the Southern Cone in the Cold War, read our just published post here.
(If you prefer to watch rather than read be sure to take a look at our new post Host Your Own Argentina and Chile Film Festival: Just click here.)