Argentina experienced its most recent military dictatorship which began 38 years ago today. Stores are closed and the streets are empty as “portenos” remember where they were and what they were doing when they found out that a military junta had successfully staged a coup.
It’s fall in Argentina and the wind is blowing into Buenos Aires from Rio de Plata. The dust and bits of paper are swirling in little tornadoes down the Boulevard Cabilldo. Walking down the avenue, it’s easy to get a sense of life in the USA back in the 1940s. On the corner is the baker with his fresh-baked bread giving off that unique scent that can even make a man who’s just eaten feel hungry again. Across the street, the cobbler has displayed his latest shoes in the window and next door, at the butcher, ham, chicken and beef are on display.
None of it is wrapped or packaged like in America’s Wal-Mart. Here there are no WalMarts. Just little shops along the boulevard selling their products the way America used to sell before things got homogenized and sterile.
All of the shops are closed today. It’s a national holiday throughout Argentina. Thirty-eight years ago the country saw the beginning of the last military junta, or last dictatorship, in South America’s second largest country.
Juan Peron died in July, 1974 and his wife, and Vice President, Isabel, was in Casa Rosada. She was ineffective in her job. She had missed having a political life and her only “qualification” for the job of President was the fact that she was the third Mrs. Peron and just happened to be married to him when he died. She had been a trophy wife.
When Peron was exiled to Spain after being kicked out in 1955, he met Isabel. She had been a stripper in some of Spain’s sleaziest nightclubs and Peron, a typical military officer, saw her one night and fell epaulets over sword for her. The two started living together and when the Catholic church let Peron know that it didn’t approve of his living arrangement, he reluctantly married Isabel.
When Argentina had a change of government, and a change of heart, it opened its ports and invited Juan and the new Mrs. Peron to come on home to Buenos Aires. All had been forgiven. Gathering up his supporters and relying on bribery and intimidation, Peron was voted back into the presidency. It wouldn’t last long. He died a year later. Isabel, as Vice President, stepped up to the plate and was sworn in as the new Argentine president.
It was a disaster from the start. The only right thing she did was keep a few of her late husband’s advisors on the payroll. Later, as palace intrigue took over, and the former stripper didn’t know whom to trust, she started firing them. Knowing more about how to make a White Russian than to make an economy survive, things went down the “inodoro,” toilet, in the country. Frustrated and seeing their opportunity, the military stepped in, kicked her out and set up a military junta.
With the aid and knowledge of Washington DC, the military dictatorship under the leadership of General Videla, went on a killing spree. Over the next seven years, over 30,000 people would be made to disappear in Buenos Aires. Members of the opposition, students who seemed to be left-wing, even pregnant mothers, were picked up, and taken to secret torture camps. When the military was done with them, the victim was flown in an airplane over Rio de Plata and tossed out.
Today marks the Day of Remembrance for Argentina. The start of the terror and bloodshed which would define a country for decades.
By Jerry Nelson