Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Argentina: Raul Alfonsin Dies

This is not breaking news anymore; Otto, Boz, Mr. Trend, and Richard got there before me. Nevertheless, the death of former Argentine President Raul Alfonsin can hardly pass unnoticed on this blog.

Surely you either have to be quite mad or very brave to take on the leadership of a South American country with 6 military coups in a century behind it, a restive military who have just lost a war and are reluctant to lose power, an economy in tatters and the awful question of the fate of perhaps 30,000 desaparecidos hanging over it. Alfonsin belonged in the latter category, and the hopes of Argentine supporters of democracy rested on his shoulders.

The CONADEP investigation and the trial of the junta were the high points of his presidency. CONADEP - the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons - disappointed some in Argentina with lack of legal clout to compel the military to testify and its failure to produce a list of perpetrators' names. Nevertheless, it was exemplary in the region and remains a crucial tool to understand the events of the dictatorship. The importance of the trial of the junta leaders can hardly be overstated: to bring before the courts the all-powerful generals who had initiated a reign of terror in Argentina was to send a very powerful signal indeed. The fact that the sentences were later annulled is part of the later downturn that Argentina's democratisation process took.

Alfonsin did not manage to satisfy all those who were initially rooting for him, as is hardly possible when the demands were so great. Some of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo regard him as a traitor. I see him, rather, as a tightrope walker. He knew that Argentina was a wounded nation, crying out for truth and justice. The families of the disappeared were extremely vocal in their calling for change. But on the other side, he had the volatile armed forces threatening another uprising at any time. It was hardly an idle threat; the army had seized power enough times before. Given the circumstances, surely he can rest peacefully knowing he did his best.

No comments: