Jorge Rafael Videla
| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
Vileda was the leading face of the Argentine junta; he represented the army, Admiral Emilio Massera represented the navy, and Brigadier General Orlando Ramón Agosti represented the air force.
He was not the president during the Falklands War. That was Leopoldo Galtieri, one of his successors.
Early life and career
He was born
in a Mercedes in the city of Mercedes, as the third (of five) sons of a Colonel.
He was raised in a rather privileged environment, where many of his ancestors held high public offices, leading to high recognition and wealth for his family. His grandfather, Jacinto, had been governor of San Luis from 1891 and 1893. His great-great-grandfather, Blas, had fought in the Spanish American wars of independence, later becoming a leader of the Unitarian Party in San Luis. True to form, he made a steady rise through the military, from joining the National Military College, to becoming Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Argentine Military Forces.
In perhaps the worst moment of character judgement in Argentine history, President Isabel Perón appointed Videla to serve as the General Commander of the Army.
The Dirty War
This was a rather dark period of Argentine history. State terrorism was used to quell political unrest marked by urban and rural guerrilla warfare against, well, militant guerrilla forces, political dissidents and anyone believed to be associated with socialism.
When the military opposed Juan Perón's comparatively populist presidency, they launched - what else? - a coup. Three, in fact, with one in 1951 and two in 1955; the third attempt was the successful bit. Peronist resistance began organizing in workplaces and trade unions, as the working classes sought economic and social improvements. Democratic rule was partially restored, but promises of legalizing the expression and political liberties for Peronism were not respected. This began the infamous guerrilla militancy during the 1960s, which gradually ravaged the land. Numerous police, military and civilian buildings were bombed and destroyed by the far left guerrillas. By the early 1970s, the guerrillas kidnapped and assassinated high-ranking military and police officers almost weekly.
Juan Perón later returned to the presidency during this time, where divisions in the Peronist movement began cracking the guerrillas' alliances. The 1973 Ezeiza massacre was the start of right-wing guerrillas (this time by self-proclaimed Peronists) coming into the fold. When Juan died in 1974, his wife succeeded him, but she wasn't any better. The Montoneros, a group of far-left Peronists, escalated their wave of political violence (including kidnappings and bombings) against the retaliatory measures enforced by the military and the police (cycle of revenge, anyone?). Another notable revolutionary group included the right-ring paramilitary Triple A death squad, which was founded by José López Rega, Perón's Minister of Social Welfare.
It was so bad that, when Mrs. Perón was deposed by the junta, there was a time where Videla honestly seemed like the preferred option to all the unrest. Predictably, Videla quickly proved himself to be no better when the cards came down.
National Reorganization Process
This Orwellian term, simply known as "The Process", was what the Junta referred to their reign as the military dictators of Argentina. This is more recently known as the "last dictatorship" amongst the general public, as the Argentines had the misfortune of having to deal with several military dictators through history. The junta took advantage of the guerrilla threat by authorizing the coup and establishing The Process. In theory, The Process was meant to control the sociopolitical situation of Argentina, which was wrought with violence, kidnappings and torture from anti-government guerrillas and militants (whose names seriously included such acronyms as FAL, FAR and FAP ). [No, not The Onion]
In practice, it was largely a way for Videla to, well, "control" people that he felt were a threat to his vision for Argentina. Forced disappearances on ideological grounds and illegal arrests, often based on unsubstantiated accusations, became commonplace. To be fair, some 10,000 of the disappeared were guerrillas of the Montoneros (MPM) and the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP), so his statement that "the majority of the victims of the illegal repression were guerrilla militants" does hold some weight, at the very least. Nevertheless, all in all, the Junta was responsible for the illegal arrests, tortures, killings and/or forced disappearances of an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 people. These included trade-unionists, students, left-wing activists, journalists and other intellectuals, along with their families.
One of his more disturbing acts was when he ordered the theft of infants born from captured female guerrilla detainees (found at illegal detention centres). These infants were illegally adopted by military families of the regime, and their identities were hidden for decades. Very much a Francoist thing to do, no? Unlike Franco, however, Videla was convicted and sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment because of this baby bowl policy.
He relinquished power to Roberto Viola during 1981. A series of brief leaders followed, with Galtieri becoming the one who fucked it all up for the junta by getting into a war with Margaret Thatcher.
The resounding defeat in the Falkands War, coupled with a rampant economic crisis, the lowest living standards for the poor and middle classes in Argentinean history (so far), amongst union strikes and increasing international pressure against the human rights abuses, Reynaldo Bignone tried to self-amnesty the junta and called for elections, which were won by Raúl Alfonsín in 1983.
While Videla and the Juntas were sentenced to prison, President Menem pardoned many of the Junta leaders and guerrillas accused of terrorism in a vain effort to look forward instead of backward. Nestor Kirchner overturned the amnesty laws for the Junta and reopened attempts to prosecute the Junta for crimes against humanity.
After he was formally, and finally, sentenced for his crimes, he died from multiple fractures and internal hemorrhaging caused by.... slipping in a prison shower. That's why you shouldn't drop the soap!