Argentina Between 1973 and 1991

By | January 6, 2022

According to top-engineering-schools, the Peronist government which took office in 1973, at the end of a long military dictatorship that began in 1966, did not reach the end of the constitutionally foreseen period and was overthrown by a military coup. Marked by a deep crisis, the mandate of Isabel Perón (widow of the leader charismatic who died in July 1974) had not in fact managed to stem that process of progressive decomposition of institutions and civil life that characterized the brief return to democracy in the early seventies. Chaired by General JR Videla, the military junta that took office in March 1976 set out to give life to the so-called “ national reorganization process ”, conceived as a government tool that, together with harsh repression, should have radically transformed the morphology social and political life of a country marked by a high rate of violence. The center of this design was the intention to redefine the relationship between economics and politics, assigning to a new economic policy program an ordering function of a society that the military considered a ”

With much more ambitious objectives than their predecessors, the military in power set out to alter the traditional functioning mechanisms of the economy through a series of measures (reduction of tariffs, artificial revaluation of the currency, liberalization of the capital market) whose ultimate goal it was to reduce the weight of that social actor – the Peronist trade union movement – which had played an undeniable political conditioning in the last forty years. Alongside an unprecedented repression, the Videla regime accompanied the freezing of the activities of political parties. The first signs of impasse however, this strategy was highlighted by the replacement of the head of the military junta with General R. Viola, whose short term (March-December 1981) paved the way for the second and final phase of the dictatorship (January-October 1983). While the junta chaired by General L. Galtieri (who succeeded Viola) was trying to put a stop to the crisis and the renewed leadership of the Peronist trade union movement with a more accentuated emphasis on liberal politics, at the end of 1981 the opposition had given birth to a front that included 5 parties (radicals, Peronists, desarrollistas, intransigent radicals and Christian Democrats), united in the name of national reconciliation and the restoration of democracy.

Having lost every possibility of justifying his stay in power with the need to wage internal war against the guerrillas and in the face of an increasingly accentuated crisis of the armed forces, Galtieri played the last card he had left to prolong the dictatorship: the war against the external enemy – Great Britain – through the occupation (April 1982) of the Falkland-Malvinas Islands. The defeat suffered after three months of conflict marked the irreversible crisis of the military system which from that moment was forced to plan its return to the barracks in a short time and to designate General R. Bignone as head of a government (which enjoyed only the support of the army) charged with leading Argentina’s return to democracy. In the last two years of dictatorship, organizations such as the ” Mothers of Plaza de Mayo ” and the ” Peace and Justice Service ” of the Nobel Prize winner Argentina Pérez Esquivel assumed a role of significant importance, placing the issue at the center of the debate of human rights. Around them quickly arose a movement of opinion that demanded the ascertainment of the truth about the fate of the approximately 20,000 disappeared during the military regime and which obtained the consent of most of the social forces and political parties.

The presidential elections held in October 1983 marked the restoration of the democratic system. The most significant (and unexpected) political datum was the victory of R. Alfonsín – candidate of the Unión Cívica Radical – who overtook, for the first time since 1946, the traditional Peronist opponent in consultations without proscriptions. The significance of the figures is even more evident when compared to the share of votes obtained in the elections ten years earlier (26% to the UCR and 65% to Peronism).

Alfonsín’s success is explained by the fact that he decisively placed at the center of his campaign a theme that his opponents had considered irrelevant to the fate of the consultation: the restoration of the rule of law. The radical vote has in a sense summed up the combination of the desire for change and a demand for order, innovation and peace from a society troubled by more than a decade of violence and repression. On the other hand, the reason for the defeat of the Peronist party is to be attributed to the fact that it has not been identified as a credible representative of this collective desire, also because the electorate has largely identified the reason for the country’s crisis in the management of people. he was in government between 1973 and 1976.

The UCR therefore accepted the aspirations of an electorate that identified the causes of the recurrent instability in ethical-political reasons. From this he laid the foundations for his government action: on the one hand, the need to reaffirm the irreplaceable function of the rule of law to overcome the corporate fragmentation of society and, on the other, the definition of a system of rules institutional instruments to regulate the political conflict. A program, therefore, of clear democratic-liberal contents that defined its own objectives together with its own instruments. In this sense, Alfonsín proved to be a much more effective spokesperson for the message and identity of his party than the Peronist candidate I. Luder. While the latter had conducted his own campaign supported by a divided party, leader conditioned by the powerful trade union apparatus and unable to outline a clear prospect of political development (except in the form of a return to the past), Alfonsín firmly condemned the military regime by placing the emphasis on the issue of human rights as an essential cornerstone for the full reestablishment of democracy.

It can therefore be said that since 1984 the UCR has been the only party ” guarantor ” of the democratic transition. But on the other hand, the continuing weakness of the political-institutional structure was confirmed, especially as regards the desired consolidation of an effective and effective party system. However, there is no doubt that at least until 1986 the radical government achieved significant successes in terms of stability and the strengthening of democratic values. In this regard, it should be remembered that the trials that condemned the leaders of the armed forces for repression during the years of the dictatorship represented an unprecedented event in the history of the country. Furthermore, the attempt of a sector of the

In terms of economic policy, the government has marked a significant success with the abandonment of “gradualist” measures to contain inflation and the launch of the Plan Austral. By the end of the following year, however, the plan had lost its effectiveness under the weight of a wave of wage demands, rising inflation and the resumption of speculation on the foreign exchange market. Lacking a broad consensus that would have allowed it to last longer, the limited success of the measures adopted – which was followed by an austerity policy – was also due to the climate of permanent social conflict promoted by the Peronist trade union center (Confederación General de Trabajo) which at this stage led a stiff opposition to the government. The subsequent difficulties encountered by the administration in outlining an articulated and effective development strategy were also determined by the inability to integrate trade unions and employers in a democratic political regime.

In this regard, it is clear to what extent the government initially opted for a strategy based on confrontation and not for a policy of agreements between the state and the social partners. However, this action presented tortuous and contradictory aspects: inaugurated with the unsuccessful attempt to restructure the trade union movement, to which the CGT responded with a series of strikes of clear political sign, the government subsequently opted (April 1987) for the path of a conjunctural pact with peroni trade unionism is entrusting the labor department to one of its representatives. This is a clear attempt to broaden the social basis of consensus through concessions of a corporate nature, in exchange for a lower rate of conflict. Plan Austral.

In fact, after five years the two main parties failed to reach a stable agreement on the crucial issues of the democratic transition (foreign debt, economic policy, the role of the armed forces in the rule of law). The oscillating choice between confrontation and agreement that marked the relations between radicals and Peronism was also accompanied by an underestimation of the institutional function of Parliament, relegated to a role of mere ratification of decisions and agreements made elsewhere.

This complex of issues took on significant importance on the occasion of the partial elections of September 1987. The consultations for the renewal of the Chamber and for the election of the provincial governors in fact marked a reversal of the trend compared to the results of 1983 and 1985. The UCR lost its majority in the House as the Peronist party gained control of 17 provinces and proved to have remarkable resilience, presenting itself as an opponent capable of competing with a good chance of success in the 1989 presidential elections.

It is difficult to establish whether the Peronist victory meant a simple return to the past or whether it is to be understood as a step forward towards the institutionalization of a political system that would not exclude the possibility of alternating at the helm of the country. The reasons for its success must be interpreted as the direct consequence of the protest against the government’s economic policy (to which the Peronists have opposed nothing but a generic return to formulas of self-sufficient development) and against the ambiguities manifested with the promulgation of the so-called law of “ due obedience ” (which in fact absolved the middle cadres of the armed forces from their heavy responsibilities in the politics of repression), judged by the electorate as a manifestation of the inability of Alfonsín administration to subordinate the military to civilian power. Furthermore, the government was penalized on this occasion by the sharp rise in inflation.

Over the course of almost five years, the government basically acted on the basis of two criteria: one dictated by the same logic of the economic crisis (which required precise measures) and the other centered on the governability of the democratic transition (which led it to respond weak and contradictory to the pressure of interest groups). The result was Alfonsín’s loss of credibility, the most visible expression of which was the 1987 electoral defeat.

For the first time in sixty years, the Argentines were called upon to choose in May 1989 the successor of a freely elected president six years earlier: twenty million voters sanctioned with their participation the peaceful holding of presidential elections, which were held halfway between tansition and consolidation of the democratic system in force after the end of the military dictatorship of 1976-83. Also on this occasion, radicals and Peronists reaffirmed their role as majority parties in the political system. Confirming the trend in place since 1987, the victory went to the Peronist candidate CS Ménem who obtained 48% of the votes against the 37% of the radical E. Angeloz, designated by President Alfonsín despite the strong resistance that emerged within the Radical Party. Alianza de centro) received almost 7% of the votes and a coalition of the left just 2.5%.

The continuous worsening of the economic and social situation (serious accidents, with numerous victims, occurred at the end of May, following the introduction of severe austerity measures by the government) forced Alfonsín, whose mandate expired in December 1989, to leave the presidency to Ménem early (July). The Peronist administration, in contradiction with its own electoral program, continued the austerity policy and started the privatization of important public enterprises in the sectors of communications, transport and water and electricity supplies; this provoked conflicts with the trade unions and new popular protests. Although the economic situation remained difficult, the partial elections of September 1991 confirmed the Peronist parliamentary majority.

Argentina Between 1973 and 1991