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The National Reorganization Process, 1976-83

PresidentfromtoMeans of
to Office
Jorge Rafael Videla Redondo29 Mar
29 Mar
Coup d'etat
Roberto Eduardo Viola Prevedini29 Mar
11 Dec
Resignation of president
Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri Castelli22 Dec
18 Jun
Resignation of president
Reynaldo Benito Antonio Bignone Ramayón 1 Jul
10 Dec
Military revolt

In response to the economic chaos and the lack of government political control of the country, by 1975 terrorist attacks began to rise. These were led by leftist organizations such as the Montoneros and the People's Revolutionary Army, as well as by the AAA. A general feeling of uneasiness grew as inflation skyrocketed to some 350 percent by the end of 1975.

Lopez Rega was ousted as Isabel de Perón's adviser in June 1975; General Numa Laplane, the commander in chief of the army who had supported the administration through the Lopez Rega period, was replaced by General Jorge Rafael Videla in August 1975. On Christmas Eve, 1975, Videla issued an ultimatum calling for the government "to adopt decisions to resolve the country's problems."

As her government struggled with the problems of a declining agricultural production, a ballooning budget deficit, the beginning of hyper inflation, and two active guerrilla movements (The Peoples' Revolutionary Army, and the Montoneros), the military overthrew her government. On March 24, 1976, exactly 90 days after the ultimatum was issued and shortly after the CGT had demanded Isabel de Perón's resignation, the armed forces removed her from the presidency. She was held under house arrest for several years before moving to Spain in 1981.

The bloodless coup d'etat was welcomed by the landed and business interests, most of the middle and working classes, the major newspapers, the church, the UCR, and some Peronists who longed for economic stability and the end of subversion. The military had three major goals: to reorganize the country politically; to end the guerrilla civil war that had plagued Argentina since the late 1970s; and to end inflation and the economic chaos inherited from the Peronist administration.

Before Peron's return to the presidency, guerrilla activities had developed among radicalized portions of the middle and working classes and were sometimes sponsored by the Peronists. After a brief interlude, Perôn disavowed the activism of the youth movement, which led to a new era of underground terrorism. It reached even larger proportions after Peron's death and undermined the survival of Peronism in Argentina. The government responded by launching a war on subversion and creating its own kind of terror through the use of paramilitary troops such as the AAA.

The political structure of the military regime was legitimized by a constitutional amendment — the Statute for the National Reorganization Process — of March 31, 1976. It established a military junta composed of the commanders of the three armed forces — General Videla, Admiral Emilio Massera, and Brigadier Orlando Ramon Agosti — as the supreme organ of the nation. This body was responsible for the appointment of the president, who held both executive and legislative powers after Congress was dismissed. The Legislative Advisory Committee was created to assist the president in drafting and approving the laws by decree.

The armed forces formally exercised power through a junta composed of the three service commanders until December 10, 1983. The armed forces applied harsh measures against those they considered extremists and many others suspected of being their sympathizers. While they were able to gradually restore basic order, the human costs of what became known as "El Proceso," or the "Dirty War," were high. Official sources have identified approximately 9,000 persons who were "disappeared" during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, while some human rights groups put the figure as high as 30,000.

Serious economic problems, mounting charges of corruption, public revulsion in the face of human rights abuses and, finally, the country's 1982 defeat by the United Kingdom in an unsuccessful attempt to seize the Falklands (Malvinas) Islands all combined to discredit the Argentine military regime. The junta lifted bans on political parties and gradually restored basic political liberties.

As the election of a civilian government approached in 1983, the military created mechanisms to protect itself from future acts of vengeance. Thus in April 1983 the military junta issued the Final Document of the Military Junta on the War Against Subversion and Terrorism in which it disavowed government responsibility for the excesses committed during the dirty war and emphasized its role in the struggle against violence and subversion, while praising the armed forces.

In September 1983 the administration passed an amnesty decree, called the Law of National Pacification, which exempted from responsibility and prosecution all those involved in the repressive apparatus, and also the "Antiterrorist Law," which gave the security forces the power to tap telephones, search private houses, make arrests without the need for a warrant, and hold suspects without charges for a period of 10 days. The law was designed as a legal instrument to control violence and provide for a peaceful transition to democratic rule. Discontent grew stronger as a result of these legal provisions, and the wave of protests and strikes intensified.

On October 29 the state of siege was finally lifted. The electoral campaign did not initially engage all Argentines, who were preoccupied with day-to-day problems of inflation and repression and held a certain amount of pessimism about the prospects of civilian rule. But as the campaign developed and candidates were nominated by the different parties, pessimism gave way to enthusiasm. On October 30 Raül Alfonsin of the UCR received an absolute majority of the popular vote, despite the crowded field of candidates for the presidency. On December 9, the military junta was dissolved. One day later, Alfonsin was inaugurated and a new era of democratic rule began in Argentina.

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Page last modified: 07-01-2015 18:41:03 ZULU