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Argentina - Politics

Prior to the restoration of civilian rule in 1983, political parties, personal factions, labor unions, military factions, and business groups were among the numerous actors in Argentina's political systemall competing for control of the presidency, for the power to determine government policy, and for the authority to distribute the patronage that such control brought. Each actor tended to seek exclusive control of the government and, once successful, to use that control to harm its competitors. As a result, virtually all government decisions were determined by weighing their potential impact on the alignment of political forces supporting or opposing the government.

The political competition was not limited by the formal Constitution and laws of the country, which were typically cited by those actors who benefited from them and ignored by those who did not. Real political power was not based on laws but on the control of political resources, such as the ability to call a general strike, to withhold investment capital, or to take over the government through force of arms.

The political resources that brought victory in the competition varied with the circumstances at any particular time. At one point, force of arms might bring control of the government, but at another it might not be enough. Similarly, winfling elections might bring the presidency, but keeping it depended on being able simultaneously to reward supporters with patronage and policies that benefited them and to prevent opponents from coalescing in an alliance that could overthrow the government or prevent it from making policy.

The actors in the system tended to change positions rapidly, aligning themselves in complex constellations of factions in support of particular policy questions while producing a completely different alignment on other policy questions. Thus, it was often difficult to determine who supported the government and who opposed it, for the patterns shifted as the issues changed.

This pattern of continuously shifting coalitions was the dominant pattern not only of the system as a whole but also of the institutional actors within it. Virtually all of the organizations that competed in the systemthe military, the political parties, the business associations, and the labor unionswere divided into factions. Just as each group in the system sought to use the resources in its possession against its competititors, so internal factions within the groups also fought for control of those same resources.

The constantly shifting pattern of political alignment in the system produced frequent changes of government as well as frequent changes in forms of government. At times the dominant coalition favored liberal democratic institutions because those institutions made the resources in their possession important. At other times the dominant coalition favored authoritarian institutions for much the same reason. The competition, however, was not over forms of government which were means to an end, and were to be manipulated or discarded as the political situation decreased their utility. Rather, the competition was over the ability to determine government policy and thereby to manipulate that policy to benefit supporters and punish opponents.

The complexity of the system, in which alliances of factions within some organizations formed alliances with factions within other organizations in pursuit of relatively short-term political gain, produced a marked tendency toward stalemate in the system, rendering the government unable to take any action when confronted with an array of forces aligned against it. In such situations the competition sometimes became violent as groups abandoned legal political competition for civil war. Since the 1920s, however, violence was limited, only becoming the dominant pattern of political struggle in the 1970s.

The transformation of the political system in 1983 from an authoritarian one based on military rule to a liberal-democratic system based on elected civilians did not change these fundamental political patterns. Ral AlfonsIn confronted the same shifting pattern of support and opposition as did his predecessors. Just as the inability of the preceding military governments to solve the economic problems facing the country led to the transition to civilian rule, so the survival of constitutional government depended largely on AlfonsIn's ability successfully to manipulate the forces in the system to stay in power while solving similar economic problems.

Conservatives claim that Argentinians faced an escalating crisis of eroding democratic rights and economic freedoms. Since 2002 Argentinian leaders have seized nearly $30 billion in private pension funds, ended central bank independence, and have nationalized major industries. Voices of opposition from journalists, investors, and political leaders are being silenced through President Cristina Kirchner's dismantling of independent media outlets, such as Argentina's largest newspapers Clarn and La Nacin.

The military government's National Reorganization Process took place from 1976 to 1983 as the nation suffered widespread human rights violations stemming from the junta's efforts to stamp out opposition. Deep wounds were inflicted on the national psyche by the disappearance of an estimated 30,000 Argentines during this period, the disappearance of nearly one-third of which were fully documented by a presidential commission. The fate of the so-called desaparecidos (disappeared persons) caused an international outcry and, together with seemingly uncontrollable economic problems and military defeat in the 1982 South Atlantic War, was a major factor behind the demand for a return to democratic civilian government.

Historically, organized labor - largely tied to the Peronist Party - and the armed forces also played significant roles in national life. However, the Argentine military's public standing suffered as a result of its perpetration of human rights abuses, economic mismanagement, and defeat by the United Kingdom during the period of military rule (1976-83). The Argentine military today is a volunteer force fully subordinate to civilian authority.

The actors in the system tended to change positions rapidly, aligning themselves in complex constellations of factions in support of particular policy questions while producing a completely different alignment on other policy questions. Thus, it was often difficult to determine who supported the government and who opposed it, for the patterns shifted as the issues changed. Virtually all of the organizations that compete in the system the military, the political parties, the business associations, and the labor unions are divided into factions. Just as each group in the system sought to use the resources in its possession against its competititors, so internal factions within the groups also fought for control of those same resources.





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