One of the reasons it was easy for the junta, lead by Jorge Videla, to seize power was the highly unstable condition that Argentina was in, and had been in for decades. And the coup of 1976 was not the first threat to democracy; in September of 1955 all three branches of the military revolted and forced the president, Juan Perón, into exile. Eleven years later in 1966, military rule was imposed again by a new leader, Juan Carlos Ongania, only to have former president Perón return in 1973, and die in 1974. Perón was succeeded by his third wife, Isabel Martinez de Perón, who was quickly ousted by a new military dictatorship lead by Jorge Videla in 1976. (BBC timeline of Argentina)
As a result of the political instability, there was a lack of economic regulation and in turn the economy crumbled. By 1975 inflation had risen to more than 300%, and by 1983 it would surpass 900%. The dismal economy gave way to protests, strikes, and terrorist violence which left hundreds dead.
On March 24, 1976 Videla seized control of Argentina and ruled until 1983. The were able to take over rather easily because prior to their “Process of National Reorganization” as they called it, the nation had been in a state of chaos.
The dictatorship had the intention of completely reforming the Argentinian society to fit their conservative, militarized, Catholic vision of what the country should be. They began to wage a war on any left-wing, “terrorist” threats to their goal. To Videla, a terrorist was not defined as someone who threw grenades, but anyone who opposed “western, christian values”.
Though the junta claimed to want an end to the guerrilla activity, their force was mainly targeted at the general population, mainly unionists, students, and anyone involved in activist groups.
Because of the nature of a military dictatorship, it is not surprising that the suspected terrorists taken into custody were given any rights at all. They simply disappeared.
One Example of Many
The Night of the Pencils was a series of “kidnappings and forced disappearances, followed by the torture, rape, and murder of a number of young students in September 1976”. It was thought to be a direct response to the protests of student members of the Unión de Estudiantes Secundarios (Union of High School Students), who protested and demanded education reform and political reform. Despite the fact that they were not guerrilla terrorists, the junta saw their protest as a left-wing threat to their ideal society. “The students were held for months in several illegal detention centers, where they were tortured, some of them raped, and ultimately presumed murdered. Only four of the 10 detainees are known to have survived.”
The dictatorship did not discriminate: they took men and women, teenagers and adults, even the unborn were not off limits. Though the Argentinian government’s official estimate is 10,000 disappeared, multiple human rights groups have placed the estimate around 30,000.
The End of the Dictatorship
There is certainly a strong connection between the Falklands War and the defeat of the Argentina by Great Britain and the fall of the dictatorship. The loss led to the resignation of the ruling dictator, Leopoldo Galtieri and Raúl Alfonsín took over as civilian president while Galtieri and others were put on trial for war crimes, known as the Trial of the Juntas.
In December 1983, Alfonsín created the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) to investigate the fate of the disappeared. Although this was a step in the right direction, it is widely believed that the data collected was not very accurate, and in fact very far from the truth in most cases. In September 1983, the “National Pacification Act” was passed. It granted impunity to the state by claiming that the military’s actions were a result of an “antisubversive war”.
The government has worked hard to keep the past in the past by preventing any lawsuits to go to court and keeping any records top secret.