General Galtieri


General Galtieri took over as President of the Military Junta on December 8th, 1981. He was an army commander. His closest colleagues were the Head of the Navy; Admiral Jorge Anaya and the Head of the Air Force; General Lami Dozo. His government faced unprecedented economic problems and confidence in the Junta's ability to solve Argentina's problems was low. With riots and demonstrations becoming common place, he needed to make a decisive move to restore his government's popularity. He first of all tested the British resolve in defending South Georgia and when he realised that Britain might send a task force to help resecure its sovereignty there, Galtieri took the gamble to land a force on the Falkland Islands before any British ships or submarines could make life difficult for an invasion force. The islands were only lightly defended and quickly seized. However, diplomatic criticism of Argentina was swift and comprehensive. With the exception of a few Latin American countries, most nations of the world condemned the invasion; including the US, Brazil and Chile. A United Nations resolution condemning the invasion was passed within 48 hours of the invasion. Internationally, Argentina was isolated, but at home matters were different.

Domestically, the invasion was enormously popular, and the anti-junta demonstrations were replaced by patriotic demonstrations in support of the Junta. This made negotiations with Britain difficult despite demands from the United Nations and international community. Any backtracking or compromise would have been highly unpopular in Argentina and would have seen a collapse in support for the regime. In reality, Galtieri had staked everything on the success of this invasion. It may have been the case that Galtieri and his his fellow Junta members believed that Britain would confine their reaction to the invasion to the diplomatic field. They had got the sense that Britain was no longer interested in its South Atlantic dependencies and would have to live with an Argentine Fail Accompli. He did not understand that Margaret Thatcher was in a similar position to himself and was very unpopular in a Britain that was undergoing severe economic hardship. Her resolve to recapture the islands surprised many in the regime who now had to rely on the professionalism of their forces to defend the islands. They were supposed to be a military government after all. As events transpired, the Argentine military performed badly (with the exception of the Argentine Air Force). Despite all the numerical and geographical advantages held by Argentina, the superior training and technology of the British armed forces ensured British victory in the Falklands War within two months. Within days General Galtieri was removed from power. He spent the next 18 months under house arrest while democracy was restored to Argentina. He had gambled and lost.

He was arrested in late 1983 and charged in a military court with human rights violations during the Dirty War, and with mismanagement of the Falklands War. The Argentine Army's internal investigation recommended Galtieri be stripped of his rank, dismissed and face a firing squad. However, in 1986 this sentence was reduced to 12 years imprisonment and loss of rank. He was pardoned in 1989 and died in 2003.


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by Stephen Luscombe