Argentina: 1976 coup aimed at creating a market economy

Imprisoned former Argentine dictator Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla has admitted for the first time that the military disappearedā€”detained and killedā€”thousands of people and sometimes abducted the victims’ children during its 1976-1983 “dirty war” against leftists and dissidents. The killings “were the price that regrettably Argentina had to pay to go on being a republic,” Videla said in one of several interviews journalist Ceferino Reato held with him from October 2011 to March 2012 in the Campo de Mayo prison. Now 86, the former dictator was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2010 for crimes against humanity. Human rights groups estimate that the military disappeared some 30,000 people in the violence and turned over several hundred of their children to foster parents.

The interviews appear in Reato’s book Final Disposition, which went on sale on April 14; some interviews were also videotaped and are available on the Internet.

“Our objective” in the March 24, 1976 coup that started the seven years of bloody military rule “was to discipline an anarchized society,” Videla explained to Reato. The generals wanted “to get away from a populist, demagogic vision; in relation to the economy, to go to a liberal market economy. We wanted to discipline unionism and crony capitalism.” Argentine business owners were directly involved in the killings, Videla added, although “they washed their hands” of the actual violence. “They said, ā€˜Do what you have to do,’ and later they would add some on. How many times they told me, ā€˜You’ve come up short, you should have killed a thousand more, 10,000 more’!”

The coup leaders decided they needed to keep the extent of the killings secret. “[L]et’s say there were 7,000 or 8,000 people who had to die [so we could] win the war against subversion. We needed for it not to be obvious, so that society wouldn’t notice.” The remains had to be eliminated “so that there wouldn’t be protests inside or outside the country.” In the case of Mario Santucho of the Revolutionary Army of the People, for example, if the body appeared it would “provide an occasion for homages, for commemorations. It had to be made opaque.” The title of Reato’s book comes from the Argentine military term “disposiciĆ³n final” (final disposition or disposal), which is used for getting rid of worn-out clothes or equipment. The generals used the term for the process of eliminating the bodies of their victims. (InfoBAE, Argentina, April 14; La Jornada, Mexico, April 14, from correspondent; Reuters, April 14)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 15.

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