The Blog

Argentine Thuggery at Home and Abroad

7:15 AM, Dec 13, 2012 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Most everyone remembers what happened when Argentina invaded the British Falkland Islands in 1982. Far fewer people remember what preceded—and in many ways provoked—the Argentine invasion.

falklandsBritishflag

In November 1981, with the economy in crisis and the national inflation rate topping 100 percent, General Roberto Viola “temporarily” relinquished the Argentine presidency, and a month later he was permanently replaced by General Leopoldo Galtieri. The ruling military junta claimed that Viola was stepping down because of health concerns; in reality, he had been ousted in a coup. (The junta itself had taken power in a coup, back in 1976.)

Unfortunately for Argentina, its economic situation continued to deteriorate. By the end of March 1982, inflation had reached approximately 150 percent; the country was stuck in a terrible recession; labor unrest was growing; and the Argentine people were increasingly angry about government repression and corruption. On March 30, the biggest Argentine trade union—known as the CGT—spearheaded nationwide demonstrations, including a massive rally in the capital city’s famous Plaza de Mayo. This led to thousands of arrests and even more discontent.

Three days later, however, Argentine troops landed in the Falklands, producing a rally-around-the-flag effect. Indeed, the military campaign immediately won overwhelming public support. “With so many bad things in the country,” opposition leader Angel Robledo told the New York Times, “this is finally a good thing.” Not only was the junta distracting Argentines from their myriad domestic problems, it was also fulfilling a pledge made by Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Méndez, who had vowed to retake the islands before the 150th anniversary of British rule in January 1983.

Of course, British forces quickly expelled the Argentine invaders—the war was over by mid-June 1982—and by the end of 1983 the junta was no longer in power.

Today, Argentina once again has an unpopular government facing public protests over corruption, high inflation, and economic dysfunction. Unlike the military junta of General Galtieri, the current Argentine government was democratically elected. In fact, President Cristina Kirchner won reelection to a second term just 14 months ago, capturing over 54 percent of the vote, thanks to a commodity boom. But Argentina’s export-reliant economy suffered a dramatic slowdown this year, and the government’s approval rating has plummeted. On November 8, anywhere from 250,000 to 700,000 Argentines descended on the Plaza de Mayo as part of a gigantic anti-Kirchner march. On November 20, labor leaders organized a general strike.

Besides 25 percent inflation, draconian currency controls, rising crime, and government corruption scandals, Argentines are also mad about Kirchner’s autocratic abuses, particularly her crusade against opposition journalists. Consider the ongoing saga of Argentina’s biggest media conglomerate, known as the Clarín Group.

Recent Blog Posts