Monday, 5 July 2010

Argentina: From the Archive

The Guardian's From the Archive series turns to Argentina today, and it's a fascinating piece originally published on 3 July 1974:

Peron is dead. Long live Peron. This is the slogan with which the right wing of the Peronist movement which holds power in Argentina will attempt to bamboozle the public into believing that with the death of the old general, nothing has changed. The real name of Mrs Peron is Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, and technically she should be known as President Martinez, but whatever her name she will be projected as the rightful heir to the mantle of the old caudillo. Those who have been running the country in the name of Peron for the past year will thus be able to carry on their game without changing the name of the business.

When great men die, there is an interregnum. It takes time before social forces, crushed by the weight of a single individual's personality, reassert themselves. However much advance planning may have been made among the various groups jockeying for power in Argentina, to take account of an event that everyone knew was inevitable, the actual physical removal of Juan Peron will leave Argentina stunned, and the first inclination will be to close ranks behind the new president, however inadequate her qualifications.

While civil war still seems a somewhat remote prospect, there is no doubting the explosive nature of Argentine society. For 20 years an articulate and organised working class has been deprived of any power within the community and has seen its standard of living drop. For nearly 10 years a left wing guerrilla movement has been growing in strength. It has established strong links with the working class, skilfully exploiting their legitimate grievances. This is no mere bunch of idealistic students, but a powerful military movement. It could only be crushed by repression on a scale unknown even in Chile or in Uruguay, or by seeking some kind of political accommodation.

This is no simple battle between Left and Right. Every group and every institution in Argentine society is deeply divided, but not along lines that can easily be categorised. And it is this lack of a clear distinction that makes a civil war seem improbable.

A further enigma is the army. It too is not a monolithic force. It contains Peronists and non-Peronists, reactionaries who support Brazil and progressives who support Peru. No one tendency can be seen to prevail. As long as the political struggle within the Peronist movement continues as a fight between individuals, violent and bloody though this will be. the army is unlikely to intervene. But once the struggle extends to the streets, martial music will soon be heard as the armed forces declare that it is their "historic destiny" to reassert control over the affairs of the nation.

Richard Gott

This really gives you an insight into what was already visible nearly two years before the military coup happened. Gott predicted the coup d'etat, and he predicted "repression on a scale unknown even in Chile or in Uruguay", and he was right, and at the time he was also right to point out the leftist violence as well, although nowadays you probably wouldn't see that suggestion that the Left 'got what they asked for'. Plus in actual fact, the guerrilla movement was crushed without significant difficulty - largely in 1975, before the coup even happened - and the violence still continued. Interesting stuff though.

Juan Peron's Delicate Heiress

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