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Different Types of Condors
Montoneros, Peron's Triple A, Cantillionaires & Operation Condor
Welcome Avatar! It is time to discuss the different types of condors that have overflown Argentina during the 1970’s. It was one of the most turbulent decades in Argentine history, and some of the events this week that have stirred up some dust are directly related to that decade. Let’s dive in.
You would think that 50 years is enough time for most wounds to heal, but you’d be wrong. In Argentina the 1970’s were one of the most turbulent decades in recent history, from every single angle.
Perón returns to Argentina
It was the decade in which Perón came back from his exile in Spain in 1973, and he won the election on the Perón-Perón ballot. His third wife, Isabel Perón (who is still alive today, living a secluded life in Spain), was the Vice President on that ballot.
Perón was forced to flee to Spain in 1955 when a military coup took power, and now he returned as a candidate in democracy and won the 1973 elections without much effort. But his presidency up to his death in 1974 would be short, and turbulent.
ERP & Montoneros Guerrilla Warfare
Earlier in that same decade and even throughout the 1960s, Marxist groups were starting to fight for power and trying to overthrow the government.
The early roots of the Montoneros movement can be found in the Peronist Resistance, which emerged to combat the dictatorship that overthrew the Perón government in 1955, as well as the Cuban Revolution of 1958, which promoted "armed struggle" throughout the continent.
Next to the Montoneros, another armed guerrilla group was the ERP: The PRT-ERP (Red Fraction) was an Argentine guerrilla group that split in 1973 from the Workers' Revolutionary Party (PRT) and its military structure, the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP).
To collect the funds used to sustain the armed struggle, the PRT-ERP carried out assaults on banks and much later on military barracks, as well as kidnappings for extortion of businessmen from large companies —several of which ended in the murder of the captive.
Montoneros bombed police stations, schools, public transport and other public spaces. The situation with the attacks, kidnappings and murders became so bad, that by the time 1974 came around, this is what kindergarten looked like for parents taking their infants to school:
Heavily armed military guarding the entrance and exits, and even snipers on the rooftops. Bag control was routine for people going in and out of public buildings.
The Triple A
In order to combat this insurgency, a right wing parapolice counter force was set up, also known as the Triple A, or Argentine Anticommunist Alliance.
This terrorist organization was created and directed by Peronists (José López Rega and Julio Yessi), anti-Peronists , common criminals, the Federal Police and the Argentine Armed Forces and Intelligence Secretariat of the State (SIDE). A happy little bunch.
The Triple A quickly started which counter attacks, murdering artists, priests and religious, intellectuals, left-wing politicians, students, historians and trade unionists, in addition to using threats, summary executions and forced disappearance of people as methods.
The Triple A also set up the same torture centers that would later be used by the Military Dictatorship that started its State-sponsored Terror in 1976.
Perón is no more
This situation came to a climax in the few months before Perón’s death, with the the attack on the Military Garrison of Azul, on January 19, 1974. Perón said:
“Everything has a limit: tolerating events such as the one that occurred in Azul, where a national institution is attacked with the most basic methods, is clearly demonstrating that we are in the presence of true enemies of the Homeland, organized to fight against the State, which they infiltrate at the same time with malicious insurrectional purposes.”
It was this line of reasoning that was amplified after Perón died on July 1st of that same year.
Since his wife Isabel Perón was also the Vice President, she automatically took his place. José Lopez Rega, who originally came up with the idea of the Triple A, was the one pulling the strings in the background.
Isabel Perón did not have any real power and was not able to control all the different power struggles going on in the country. The chaos intensified between the Marxist guerrillas, the right-wing Triple A, the army and the police force. It was spiralling out of control, and civilians were caught in the middle.
Economically, the situation wasn’t much better and in 1975 Argentina suffered one of its worst hyperinflations up until that point in time, also known as the Rodrigazo.
In those days, the United States government had already received a lapidary report from its ambassador to Argentina, Robert Hill, who reported Isabelita's weakness and even anticipated the imminence of a coup.
The power of the government was diminished by the violent climate in the country, also fostered from within the cabinet by López Rega, by military actions but also by the support of civilians who lined up behind the removal movement.
This was the ideal social and economic scenario for one group to seize power, and so they did: on March 24, 1976, a Military Junta announced a coup d’etat to “restore order”.
Many of the Triple A troops joined the task forces that would hunt down dissidents after the coup d'état of '76.
This would be some of the darkest years in Argentina’s history.
Military Dictatorship: Operation Condor (1976-83)
Isabel departed by helicopter from the Casa Rosada to the Olivos residence shortly before 1pm on Wednesday the 24th. Unexpectedly, the helicopter landed at Aeroparque. There, Isabelita was informed that the Military Junta was taking over.
She was sent to Neuquén on an Air Force plane as a detainee and was later allowed to move to Spain in 1977.
The Military Dictatorship period between 1976 and 1983 had four heads of state, in the plan they called the “National Reorganization Process”.
The Junta started institutionalizing the Triple A crackdowns on guerrilla movement, and expanding their focus to basically any leftwing sympathizer. Many students who were only losely connected became victims of this State-run terror campaign, and were tortured and thrown out of planes while still alive.
This horror show was supported by a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative called Operation Condor, as a defensive part of the Cold War, to prevent the spread of communism in Latin America.
The CIA discussed the surveillance of political exiles, and acted as an intermediary in meetings between the leaders of the Brazilian death squads, the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance (Triple A) and Uruguayan agents.
The United States did more than organize the meetings: the CIA's technical services division supplied torture equipment to Brazilians and Argentines (among others) and offered advice on the degree of shock the human body can withstand.
In 2007, a declassified CIA document dated June 23, 1976, confirms the kidnapping and torture of Chilean and Uruguayan refugees in Buenos Aires. Said document explains that already "at the beginning of 1974, security officials from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia met in Buenos Aires to prepare coordinated actions against subversive targets.
You can see CIA’s Operation Condor started well before the military junta of 1976, and that the agency was also actively involved with helping Perón and Lopez Rega set up the Triple A.
Autist note: the National Security Archive website has a wealth of information and documents regarding Operation Condor and the US security’s agencies involvement. The main reason why so many in Latam have an “anti-US” attitude is due to this recent history.
“There are always a deal to be made”
Now, you might think that such a dark decade meant that there were no business deals going on and investors were nowhere to be seen. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Like birds of prey of a different caliber, there was a flock of cantillionaire condors overflying Argentina during this decade scavenging profits left and right.
As one business man who did a lot of deals during every single government told me: “You can make money with every government, it doesn’t matter what kind of ideology is in power.”
And effectively, he had made much of his fortune during those years with his construction company filling bids for the Military Junta. If I were him, I wouldn’t sleep as sound at night knowing what was going on on the other end of that deal, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem plaguing much of the upper layers of Cantillionaires in Argentine society, or its politicians for that matter.
Carlos Heller, a sitting deputy and “communist” at the time of the dictatorship, arranged with the military government and since then he has the only tax-exempt bank in Argentina (Banco Credicoop). He obtained this bank thanks to a decree signed by Videla.
Before filling the presidential seat a total of three times (2003-2015), the Kirchners in Santa Cruz built an empire auctioning off property that belonged to exiled owners and desaparecidos in complicity with the military and ignored all the March 24 events until they saw a niche for votes to build political power.
Another family that benefitted from this decade was the Macri family. The Military Junta gave the Macri group and other businessmen one last gift before democracy returned: the nationalization of their debts.
In 1982, Domingo Cavallo, who was in charge of the Central Bank at the time, nationalized the debt of the Macri group that amounted to 170 million dollars. In 1973, the Macri family owned 7 companies, after at the end of the dictatorship that sum amounted to 47.
There are many more examples of people in power today who benefitted from the situation in the 70s.
These condors can circulate freely during times of an open economy, but when trade is restricted by the State as it has been throughout most of the last century, they need to flock together with the people in office. The 1970s were no exception to that rule.
Stirring up some dust in 2023
Wounds are still fresh and any changes in official narratives tend to spike political tensions even up to this day.
This week there’s been a lot of commotion around a ceremony organized by Milei’s candidate for Vice President, Victoria Villarruel, honoring the victims of the guerrilla before and during the military dictatorship.
What followed was an avalanche of press clippings and social media outrage (mainly on the left), labelling Villarruel as a denier of the Military Junta deaths, and siding with the military that crushed down on the guerrilla groups during the 1970s.
However, nobody ever mentioned denying the State-led terror, let alone justifying it as that FT headline may suggest. It was simply a ceremony organized for all the civilians that had never really been heard before, or at least did not get the same media attention (or subsidies) as the victims of the terror groups run by the Military Junta.
One author summarized it well:
The dead of the guerrilla groups are invisible to the Government, Congress and the Judiciary. Because they died at the hands of young people who professed noble ideals, there are no victimizers and, therefore, no victims.
They are minor, second-class deaths, as understood by all the democratic governments – right, center and left – that have followed one another since the return to democracy in 1983, presumably with the support of a predominant portion of public opinion.1
On the day of the ceremony tensions ran hot, with one protestor throwing gasoline in the face of one of Milei’s team members who was answering questions to the press. The attacker was also armed with 2 molotov cocktails, and was taken into custody.
The rest of the event concluded without any further issues, and family members and relatives of the victims of terrorist groups in the 1970s had a chance to share their stories for the first time.
As one of my favorite Twitter accounts put it:
Being a denialist is ignoring a part of history to steal state subsidies and put together a kiosk of that.
The military were sons of bitches.
The montoneros are terrorist sons of bitches who wanted to create a Marxist dictatorship.
The Peronists set up a paramilitary group to kill terrorists and arranged with the militia to exterminate Montoneros.
I choose to remember the full story.
They were all sons of bitches.
We must limit the power of the state so it can NEVER AGAIN “disappear” people.
In 2020, with the people's government of the 70s2, we once again had disappeared persons, clandestine detention centers, and MURDERS in democracy. Those sons of bitches today call those who want to pay tribute to the victims of terrorism from the 70s prior to the coup called fachos.
Running Some Numbers
After democracy returned, a commission called the CONADEP (Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas), investigated all crimes and disappearances from before and during the Military Junta.
Montoneros & ERP
Since Montoneros started way before 1973 (in 1955 to be exact, with an increase in attacks, bombings, etc over time), victims are scattered out over almost 2 decades. ERP started later.
A recent investigation that analyzed the period from January 1, 1969 to December 31, 1979, the number of victims of the "civilian population" counted a total of 1,094 casualties.
The Triple A (AAA) went on to kill 1,122 people, according to an appendix to the 1983 CONADEP report, including suspected Montoneros and ERP leftist terrorists and their sympathizers.
However, the AAA expanded its targets to other political opponents, including judges, police chiefs, and social activists. In total, it is suspected of having killed more than 1500 people.
CONADEP recorded the forced disappearance of 8,961 persons from 1976 to 1983, although it noted that the actual number could be higher.
The report also stated that about 600 people were "disappeared" and 458 were assassinated by death squads such as the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple A) during the Peronist governments from 1973 to 1976.
Human rights organizations always maintain the total number as being 30,000, which has become controversial to some (because they say it is used to obtain subsidies etc). People who question this number are automatically labeled as “Junta deniers” or being “pro Military”.
In the video below, Luis Labraña explains how he “made up” the 30,000 number, at the suggestion of a Dutch human rights organization, who said if it was around that number, the impact would be greater and they would get more eyeballs on their case:
Declassified CIA documents released in 2019 however, reveal that the Argentine military recognized a number of 20,000 disappeared until 1978.
In the end: the exact numbers do not matter. If a serial killer killed more or less people, it doesn’t stop him from being a serial killer.
But it is fair to say that numbers are highly politized in Argentina, see this example from my daughter’s kindergarten:
Any number is too much, and it is completely irrelevant if the State-led terror campaign resulted in 8,900+ or 30,000 victims.
But there’s nothing wrong with honoring the victims from terrorist groups in the 1970s. This does not deny the deaths caused by the Military Dictatorship.
Within the framework of a decade dominated by the clash of guerrilla violence and State terrorism (both during the Perón administration and the Military Junta), the main victims were always civilians.
Let’s see if after this week’s events, Argentina can finally move on and look at the future instead of the past. Most people now alive weren’t even born when the Military Dictatorship took place:
See you in the Jungle, anon!
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Translated from Spanish: Los muertos de los grupos guerrilleros son invisibles para los gobiernos, el Congreso y el Poder Judicial. Debido a que murieron a manos de jóvenes que profesaban nobles ideales, no hay victimarios y, por lo tanto, tampoco víctimas. Son muertos menores, de segunda clase, según lo han entendido todos los gobiernos democráticos –de derecha, centro e izquierda– que se han sucedido desde el retorno a la democracia, en 1983, se presume con el respaldo de una porción predominante de la opinión pública