From Pariah State to Global Protagonist Summary


The United States Role in the Malvinas Crisis, 1982: Misguidance and Misperception in
Argentina’s Decision to Go to War
Author(s): David Lewis Feldman
Source: Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer,
1985), pp. 1-22
Published by: Cambridge University Press
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THE MALVINAS (Falklands) war of April-June 1982 has generated
little attention among international scholars largely because neither
its causes or consequences are. assumed to have great power
The thesis of this article is that the timing of the Malvinas inva-
sion, and the subsequent miscalculation that the United States
would tacitly assist Argentina, were partly shaped by U.S. policies. Al-
though the principal motive for the invasion was to vindicate a claim
stretching back to the early 19th century (U.S. House 1982c: 50-51;
Etchepareborda, 1983: 48-58), the abruptness of Argentina’s actions
was conditioned by Reagan administration overtures towards a grand
“anti-Communist” alliance (Maechling, 1982: 75-82; SundayTimes,
1982: 63); an increase in the frequency and prestige of high-level
contacts between the U.S. and Argentina between 1980-1982; the
cultivation of official links between Galtieri and high-ranking U.S.
national security officials (U.S. House, 1982d: 67; Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 46); the intense, personal diplomacy of former Secretary
of State Haig during the conflict (Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 104113); and by covert efforts by Argentina to extend and strengthen
U.S.-Argentine ties (Cardoso et al., 1983: 60-61).
Although bitterness toward the U.S. has been partly mitigated by
the 1983 election of Radical Party Leader Rail Alfonsin as President,
a wide gulf still separates the great power interests of the U.S. and the
traditional nationalist aspirations of Argentina. U.S. reluctance to use
its special influence upon the United Kingdom to seek a permanent,
David Lewis Feldman is Assistant Professor of Political Science at
Moorhead State University. He is the author of “Ideology and the Manipul
tion of Symbols: Leadership Perceptions of Science, Education and Art in
the People’s Republic of China” (POLITICAL PSYCHOLOGY, 1985), and
his current research interests include the role of the military in underdevel-
oped countries.
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judicious, and peaceful settlement of the Malvinas dispute (Anderson, 1984: 171), together with damaged U.S. credibility due to conflicting signals of support for Argentina before the war and active
support for the U.K. during the war (U.S. House, 1982b: 33; ISS,
1983:120;Acevedo, 1984:323-344) impedes any long term solution
to the dispute.
The transition fromJimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan: shifts in
aid and human rights policies as catalyst for a climate of
HE REAPPRAISAL and partial reversal of Jimmy Carter’s military
and economic aid policies by the Reagan administration led the U.S.
and Argentina to embrace each other as new-found hemispheric allies and nurtured an exaggerated perception of common interest
which reached its zenith just prior to the 1982 Malvinas war.’
High level contacts between U.S. officials and the Argentine
government, shortly after the 1980 U.S. Presidential election, led to
praise for what was viewed as a new collaborative effort in the South
Atlantic (Maechling, 1982: 75). These contacts (1) began a few
weeks after Carter’s defeat, (2) were bipartisan, and (3) were made
by officials from both the executive and legislative branches, bolster-
ing the view that the Carter Administration represented an unfortunate interlude in U.S.-Argentine relations (SundayTimes, 1982:62).
Visits by several U.S. Congressmen in early 1981 led to assurances of aid restoration and public pronouncements on Argentine
“progress” in rectifying human rights abuses (NY Times, 1981c:
A-10; 1981b: A-13). Argentine officials waited until afterthese visits
to condemn the final Carter Administration report on human rights
in Argentina (NY Times, 1981a: A-4).
Meanwhile, Reagan transition team members earnestly developed a subtle, though implicitly geopolitical doctrine of South Atlantic security in order to justify the strengthening of relations (Pierre,
1982: 278). Argentine support for a Sinai peace-keeping force, as
well as for one in El Salvador, was first expressed early in 1981
(Maechling, 1982: 75). For these overtures to be effective, however,
they had to await the advent to power of Argentine officers who believed that a strong, anti-Communist posture would gain additional
U.S. assistance in furthering the attainment of Argentina’s traditional
nationalist objectives. The leading exponent of this view was the
Army Chief-of-Staff who succeeded Robert Viola as President in December, 1981: General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri.
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The advent of Galtieri and the rush to crisis
A STAUNCH ANTI-COMMUNIST and strong supporter of the U.S.,
Leopoldo Galtieri had been to Washington twice in the six months
preceding Viola’s ouster. On his second visit, in November, 1981,
often cited as pivotal in gaining support for Viola’s ouster,2 Galtieri
stated that Argentina was prepared to contribute troops to Central
America (LAWR, 1981: 1)
In addition, Galtieri was advised that in the event of a seizure of
power he should retain command of the army so as to remain in an
especially advantageous position for forging a pro-U.S. foreign policy (Calvert, 1982: 55). To retain that command, however, it was necessary to gain the support of at least one other junta member. In December, 1981, only days before Viola’s ouster, Admiral Jorge Anaya,
a close friend of Galtieri who had maneuvered behind the scenes to
make Galtieri president, agreed to support his retention of the Army
command in exchange for support for the recovery of the Malvinas
within two years (Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 46).
Upon seizing power, Galtieri quickly consolidated plans for retaking the islands. He not only embraced Anaya’s argument that the
islands would be an appropriate vehicle for exercising an enhanced
international role, but accepted his claim that their recovery would
provide Argentina with a base of operations for possible leverage
against Chile in the Beagle Channel dispute (Sunday Times, 1982:
28). He also agreed with Anaya that the United States, anxious to establish strong links of cooperation with Argentina, would remain
Galtieri’s decisive attitude was bolstered by the high praise he
had received from U.S. officials in Washington before the December
“golpe,” (Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 46; LAWR, 1981) and by the
presence of numerous officials who honored him during his stay
(U.S. House, 1982d: 67).
Galtieri’s rapid consolidation of power after the December
“golpe,” heightened the chance of an aggressive move. The unresolved dispute in the Malvinas also generated its own momentum
which only served to encourage pursuit of a hardline, a position certain to heighten U.S.-Argentine tensions.
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Patience worn thin:
The political context of the invasion plan
ALTHOUGH GALTIERI and his close advisors originally laid plans
for a full-scale invasion to take place betweenJuly and October, 1982
(Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 48), the actual decision to resort to
force was not made until late March 1982, almost the last minute
(Gente, 1983: 32). It was the junta’s view that an Argentine occupation of the islands could be used in conjunction with diplomacy (La
Naci6n, 1983b): 6) to accelerate a favorable resolution.
Galtieri’s appointment of Dr. Nicanor Costa M6ndez, formerly
President Onganfa’s foreign minister in 1966, confirmed his commitment to the Malvinas dispute. A member of the Cursillista faction,
a group of right-wing Catholic politicians with strong anti-
Communist, nationalistic convictions, Costa M6ndez also had close
ties with Washington, and he shared Galtieri’s view that the U.S.
would remain neutral in the event negotiations broke down with the
U.K. (LAWR, 1982: 2).
As a veteran of previous negotiations over the Malvinas, Costa
Mendez proved to be a fateful choice. He and his deputy, Enrique
Ros, shared the growing sense of frustration over the U.K.’s unwillingness to relinquish the Malvinas. Moreover, he believed that previous talks, going back fifteen years, had largely quieted apprehensions about the islanders’ role in any future government (Hasting
andJenkins, 1983: 47)
By 1981, Argentina’s patience, reflecting deference to the benefits of economic cooperation with Britain (Beck, 1982: 37), wore
thin. An Argentine proposal, in the summer of 1981, that negotiations be resumed with the aim of “a significant resolution of the dis-
pute” was met with a U.K. attempt to “play for time”
(Etchepareborda, 1983: 62-63; Franks, 1983; 27). Although the U.K.
closed its Antarctic research station on South Georgia island and
prepared to withdraw its largest naval unit, HMS Endurance, no
public pronouncement on the future status of the sovereignty issue
was issued (Hastings andJenkins, 1983: 47).
It was at this point that Costa M6ndez announced, late in De-
cember 1981, the intention of his government to regain the
Malvinas, by force if necessary, before the end of 1982 (Sunday
Times, 1982: 26). Animated by the symbolic concern that January
1983 would mark the 150th anniversary of British rule,3 Costa
Mendez hurriedly assembled an array of cooperative efforts with the
U.S. as a way to cultivate its support for Argentine plans. These plans
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included active attempts to reinforce the budding alliance through
covert means. An Argentine military attache in Washington, and a
close friend of Galtieri, General Miguel Mallea Gil, drew up plans to:
(1) invite Reagan Administration officials to visit Buenos Aires; (2)
hire a Washington public relations firm to assist in lobbying efforts,
(3) recall Argentina’s ambassadors to Cuba and Nicaragua – the latter
event timed to coincide with Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel
D’Escoto Brockman’s accusation that Argentina was helping to
destabilize his government (Burns, 1982: 7), – and (4) draw up
measures “to inhibit the action of Cuba and El Salvador in case our
collaboration is suggested by the U.S.” (Diehl, 1982: 2).
The most widely publicized result of Mallea Gil’s plan, the dispatching of dozens of Argentine military advisors to Honduras, El
Salvador, and Guatemala to assist in training paramilitary forces, was
precisely calculated to enhance the prospects of U.S. support. Since
a number of these advisors had been directly involved in the “Dirty
Little War,” their reassignment outside the country was designed to
project a more “democratic” image at home (Burns, 1982: 7).
The release of 80 political prisoners in late March 1982, in commemoration of the 6th anniversary of the 1976 “golpe,” and the announcement of an “Apertura” toward several political parties, were
also intended to reinforce this image (NY Times, 1982b: A-12;
1982a: A- 11). The latter event further coincided with attempts to mo-
bilize support of political party leaders for the Malvinas’ recovery ef-
fort (Cardoso etal., 1983: 150-151).
The assumption that these overtures would generate U.S. support rested upon three factors. First, in an Argentina divided by economic malaise and growing negative reactions to “anti-terrorist”
campaigns, Galtieri assumed that a publicly united Argentina would
favorably impress the Reagan administration as a dependable ally.
Galtieri’s insistence that Secretary of State Haig view the massive
demonstrations in the Plaza de Mayo during the first of his “shuttle”
missions to Buenos Aires revealed his enormous faith in the influ-
ence of such displays of unity (Cardoso, et al., 1983: 154). In addition to galvanizing support for Galtieri, such shows of unity were
also expected to impress the U.S. news media with the strong civilian
support for seizure of the Malvinas (Cardoso etal., 1983: 144); especially since even exiled guerrillas, who risked penalty of death upon
their return, offered to fight Britain (ISS, 1983: 117).
A second factor which conditioned Argentina’s thinking was the
psychological impact resulting from exchanges between high-
ranking U.S. and Argentine officials after November 1980, especially
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those involving military-related exercises. These efforts fostered “an
unrealistic sense of Argentina’s comparative strategic importance in
the world” (U.S. House, 1982d: 66); and, especially, of the support
by U.S. national security officials for Argentine political objectives.
Moreover, this unrealistic perception thoroughly permeated
Galtieri’s outlook (Sunday Times, 1982: 63).
A third factor is the manner in which U.S. diplomatic efforts initially made themselves felt. Turning to the U.S. for mediation in early
March 1982, Richard Luce, a junior minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth office, approached Assistant Secretary Enders and asked
for his assistance in keeping Argentina at the bargaining table. Enders earned the wrath of the U.K. by delivering messages to both Costa
Mendez and Enrique Ros that the British were interested in continuing talks aimed at a negotiated settlement. Whereas Luce had hoped
that Enders would convey to Argentina the gravity of turning to hos-
tile action, Enders, merely wanting to maintain the budding U.S.Argentine alliance, transmitted the British message verbatim, and
did not ” … take the opportunity specifically to advise the Argentines to keep the temperature down” (Etchepareborda, 1983: 64).
From the British perspective, since Enders did not even transmit their concerns “at the highest level” (to Galtieri directly), his
later assurance to London that Argentina was interested in further
negotiations was misleading. From Argentina’s perspective, however,
the fact that Enders transmitted any message at all carried special
weight because it implied assurance by the U.S. that Argentine patience would eventually pay off in achievement of sovereignty over
the Malvinas (Sunday Times, 1982: 25). Although responsibility for
misunderstanding lay with the British in this instance, the U.S. clear-
ly was not attuned to the gravity with which the Argentines viewed
the issue.
Of greater consequence, however, is the fact that this episode
further buttressed the Argentine perception that U.S. officials sympa-
thized with Argentine national aspirations (Enders listened politely
when Enrique Ros lectured him on the history of the crisis) and understood their sense of national frustration (Cardoso et al., 1983: 63;
Sunday Times, 1982: 25-26). Furthermore, Enders’ visit seemed to
underscore the U.S. desire to remain neutral. As Mallea Gil noted,
U.S. neutrality could serve to provide an “umbrella” to hasten the
speed and efficiency of a military operation (Cardoso, et al., 1983:
63). In addition to these Argentine perceptions, however, there must
be weighed the impact of more specific miscues prior to the 1982
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Cues and miscues:
Argentine misperception and U.S. deception
THE NARROW TERMS in which the Galtieri regime anticip
probable U.S. responses to the actions being contemplated resu
from four main factors: (1) the Argentine perception that U.S.
cials were divided on policy and lacked resolve; (2) a misappreh
sion by the Argentine regime as to the degree of support they m
logically expect from the U.S. Congress; (3) the inexperience of
Argentine intelligence establishment; and (4) overestimating
significance of the shift away from a human rights focus by the Re
gan administration, particularly as to how this would impact on
aid awards.
Open conflicts between U.S. officials – the best publicized
being those between Secretary Haig and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
Jeane Kirkpatrick on the one hand, and Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Lawrence Eagleberger and Inter-American Affairs Chief
Thomas Enders on the other – were personally monitored by Admiral Anaya.
In the first instance, it was Kirkpatrick’s well-reported access to
the White House, as well as her academic stature, which most profoundly enhanced her authority in Argentine eyes. The night before
Argentina’s invasion of the Malvinas, at a dinner hosted by Argentine
Ambassador to the U.S. Esteban Takacs, Kirkpatrick stated that longstanding U.S. “neutrality” on the issue of sovereignty should preclude Washington from viewing Argentina’s actions as armed aggres-
sion (Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 103). Not only did this claim
dismay U.K. Ambassador Nicholas Henderson (Sunday Times, 1982:
127), but her constant pleadings on behalf of indefinite U.S. neutrality in the dispute bolstered Argentina’s confidence. Costa Mendez
later noted that he was encouraged by U.S. diplomacy after a private
meeting with Ambassador Kirkpatrick on 4 April. At this meeting, the
U.N. envoy expressed her hope that the U.S. would act as mediator in
the dispute (Gente, 1983: 31). For his part, Secretary of State Haig
consistently maintained that U.S. interests lay squarely with the U.K.,
and that future welfare of the Atlantic alliance, the need to avoid dangerous “brush-fire” wars, which offer a propitious scenario for a Sovi-
et preemptive attack in Western Europe, and a need for democracies
to stick together in the face of aggression, all militated against U.S.
support for Argentina (Haig, 1984: 266-267). Failure to make clear
unequivocally where the U.S. would stand in the event of an
Argentine-U.S. showdown, however, damaged U.S. mediation efforts.
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Furthermore, Kirkpatrick’s greater access to the President, elevated
by Haig’s almost constant shuttling between Buenos Aires and London during the crisis, heightened the junta’s view that discord prevailed in Washington and that absence of consensus would buttress
prospects for U.S. neutrality (Diament, 1983: 12; Haig, 1984: 269).4
The Eagleburger-Enders foray, although less well-publicized in
the North American press, had no less profound an impact upon Argentine perceptions; especially since only Enders, who insisted that
the need to support a hemispheric ally outweighed the U.S’ problem
of vestigial colonialism, was included on the Haig shuttle.
Eagleburger, who sided with the U.K., was excluded even though his
position was ideologically closer to Haig’s than was that of Enders
(Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 104). Eagleburger’s position was too
“un-neutral” too early in the conflict for his views to be helpful to
Haig’s efforts.
Argentine misunderstanding of Congressional support was
rooted in the positive overtures manifested by visiting U.S. Con-
gressmen following the 1980 election. Despite prior assurance
given Costa Mendez by Senate majority leader Howard Baker that
Congress would recommend a reconciled settlement of the dispute
(Gente, 1983: 32), U.K. Ambassador Henderson was able to enlist
the formal support of Senators Percy and Tower on behalf of a resolu-
tion favoring the United Kingdom (Sunday Times, 1982: 118; Congressional Record, 1982: S-4315-S-4323). British lobbying efforts
were so effective that, by the time the U.S. “tilt” toward Britain became official in late April, virtually no member of Congress spoke
positively of Argentina’s claims in the dispute, thus confirming
Henderson’s assertion that Argentine influence in Congress was
slight (Henderson, 1983: 32).5
For Argentina’s part, the lack of an effective intelligence estab-
lishment resulted from the fact that it had not fought a major war in
over a century(Turner, 1983: 59), and had geared what intelligence
it did possess, the apparati of the three armed services, almost solely
toward the monitoring of domestic dissidents. Moreover, lack of war-
time experience further inhibited adequate coordination among
these intelligence services.
Mirroring the fief-like structure of the junta, the services lacked
cohesion and promoted over-reliance upon military espionage. Existence of parallel diplomatic and military attache networks, each with
independent communication links to their respective service chiefs,
led to greater credibility being granted to military attach6s like General Mallea Gil than to civilian diplomats like Takacs, who urged cau-
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tion (Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 108). There is even evidence that
this lack of coordination played an important role in Argentina’s inva-
sion plans. Haig claims that Admiral Anaya shielded the navy’s preparations for the Malvinas landing from the Argentine army and air
force. Four of five Argentine army commanders were not informed
about the invasion (Haig, 1984: 277), leading to speculation that
they were supposed to be surprised and, thus, unable concertedly to
oppose it. If true, such high-handed action was not out of character.
Not only did Anaya accuse the U.S. of trying to “confuse and disorient” Argentina by spreading false reports about U.K. intervention
(Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 139), but, when told by Haig that refusal to abide by Security Council resolution 502 would lead to a U.S.
’tilt’ toward Britain, he then accused the Secretary of State of lying
(Hastings andJenkins, 1983: 111).
Furthermore, throughout the crisis Anaya discounted U.S. support for the U.K. and insisted that the British did not desire to fight
for the Malvinas ” … because all they are interested in is oil” (Sunday
Times, 1982:138). Anaya’s assertion may have stemmed from famili-
arity with views expressed by the U.S. National Security Council
(NSC), a majority of whose members held a similar belief about U.K.
motives in the early stages of the crisis (Haig, 1984: 268).
The one incident which reveals the junta’s inadequate intelligence most starkly is its failure to detect signals of overt U.S. military
support for the U.K. Although Secretary of Defense Casper
Weinberger authorized rapid transfers of materiel, bases, aircraft
fuel, vital equipment, and even sensitive intelligence data to the U.K.
immediately after the Thatcher government’s decision to outfit a task
force,6 Argentina only learned of this aid through the appearance in
mid-April of a Washington Post column which revealed its details
(Cardoso etal., 1983: 169).
Not only was Secretary of State Haig able to deny fore-
knowledge of these transfers – Weinberger had, in fact, cleared their
approval with President Reagan, unbeknownst even to the NSC
(Economist, 1984: 30) – but Galtieri and Costa Mendez were placed
in a compromising position since absence of independent verification of these transfers made it difficult for them to challenge the
credibility of U.S. “neutrality”:
When Costa Mendez confronted Haig with details of the report,
the Secretary of State merely condemned the veracity of the story as
press sensationalism (Cardoso et al., 1983: 170). Moreover on 19
April, when Galtieri raised the report with President Reagan by
phone, the latter stated that the account was a Soviet fabrication
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(Cardoso, et al., 1983:173). Although it will never be known if earlier knowledge of these transfers would have influenced the outcome
of the crisis, it is certain that denial of this materiel would have seriously constrained the U.K.’s ability to fight a protracted naval encoun-
ter far from friendly bases (Economist, 1984: 29).
Finally, although committed toward a course of action which
clouded its views and inhibited dissent, a final factor which exacerbated the Galtieri regime’s shortsighted view of probable U.S. behavior lies in its misreading of the scope of Reagan administration shifts
away from “human rights” concerns in military aid policy. Shortlybe-
fore the December 1981 “golpe,” Assistant Secretary of State for
Inter-American affairs Thomas Enders testified before Congress on
major Reagan Administration changes in the philosophy of arms
transfers to Latin America. Enders noted that the U.S. would no long-
er continue efforts to define the “proper” national interests of individual countries; henceforth, the U.S. would only concern itself with
how aid transfers could bolster U.S. security interests in the region
(USDS, 1981: 72-73).
It is reasonable to conclude that such a widely publicized policy
shift supported the perception that the U.S would do everything in its
power to retain the assistance of a potentially important ally. Given
such a climate of miscalculation, it is not surprising that, once the cri-
sis entered its final violent phase, U.S. diplomacy had little deterrent
effect on Argentine resolve and intransigence.
The outbreak of war and U.S. mediation:
From courtship to estrangement
DESPITE ENDERS’ TRIP to Buenos Aires in early March on behalf
of the U.K., no general alarm was sounded in Washington over the
seriousness of the Malvinas dispute until weeks later. Whether due
to faulty U.S. intelligence (Sunday Times, 1982: 58) or to deliberate
Argentine concealment, as claimed by Secretary Haig, (1984: 263),
failure to detect Galtieri’s invasion plans in advance was an important
factor in shaping subsequent U.S. diplomatic responses and Argentine reactions.
The first effort at mediation was in response to an incident on
South Georgia island on 19 March, when an Argentine salvage crew,
later alleged to be a commando unit in disguise (Haig, 1984: 263),
was threatened with expulsion for operating on the island without
U.K. permission (ISS, 1983: 116). U.S. reaction to this incident was
slow and disjointed. Haig claimed that his first direct knowledge of
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the incident came 9 days later through a note from Lord Carrington,
delivered by Ambassador Henderson, inviting the U.S. to discuss the
Argentines’ departure from the islands. Not only was there a delay in
notification and request, but Haig claimed that the State Department
was not alerted to an unusually high state of Argentine military readi-
ness until 30 March, following the note closely just two days later
(Diament, 1983: 5; Haig, 1984: 261, 263).
In fact, the British Ambassador to Argentina, Anthony Williams,
had alerted U.S. Ambassador Harry Schlaudeman to the urgency of
the salvage crew incident on March 25 and asked then for U.S. assistance to prevent war (Sunday Times, 1982: 132). Given the three-day
lapse between this discussion and the Henderson-Haig meeting,
however, coupled with an absence of alarm after Enders’ earlier visit
to Buenos Aires, it is not surprising that the initial State Department
reaction was calm and even-handed, urging both sides to accept the
“good offices” of the U.S. toward a negotiated settlement (Sunday
Times, 1982: 132; Haig, 1984: 263; Diament, 1983: 5). Even after
U.S. intelligence confirmed Argentina’s hostile intentions, high level
U.S. diplomatic responses, although warning Argentina that its special relationship with the U.S. might be jeopardized, made no mention of specific economic or military sanctions (Sunday Times, 1982:
In essence, the first U.S. responses reassured the junta regarding
its resolve to proceed with invasion (La Naci6n, 1983b: 7), prolonged the interval before Galtieri would approach President Reagan, and bolstered Costa Mendez’ prediction that the U.S. actions
would parallel those of the 1956 Suez crisis and the 1973 ArabIsraeli war (Cardoso etal., 1983: 70; Gente, 1983: 32).
Costa Mendez’ choice of these crises as indicative of probable
U.S. behavior reveals the extent to which policy divisions perceived
to exist in the U.S. influenced Argentine decisions. Although Costa
Mendez was not directly involved in the junta’s decision to go ahead
with plans for invasion, a decision affirmed on 21 March (Gente,
1983: 32), he did advise the junta that, in the event of invasion, the
U.S. would remain firm in its resolve to mediate (Cardoso et al.,
1983: 70). Mindful of the potential for disagreement between Haig
and Kirkpatrick, Costa Mendez reminded the junta that, while
Eisenhower and much of the NSC had supported the U.K. in 1956,
Secretary of State Dulles had supported Egypt (Cardoso, et al., 1983:
147). In this case, the foreign minister was strongly impressed by a
Jack Anderson column, which appeared in a popular North American publication in mid-March, which claimed the CIA (U.S. Central
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Intelligence Agency) knew of Argentina’s invasion plans and had advised U.S. non-involvement (Etchepareborda, 1983: 66).
Once direct communication between Galtieri and President
Reagan was established, delayed for a few days by Galtieri’s belief
that Reagan would be obliged to criticize Argentine actions (Hastings andJenkins, 1983: 70), Galtieri reviewed the events which had
led to the crisis. Reagan, lacking sufficient knowledge of the dispute
to offer a concrete appraisal, warned that, regardless of the merits of
the Argentine case, the U.K. undoubtedly would respond with force.
Although hinting that U.S.-Argentine relations might be imperilled,
Reagan made no mention of specific U.S. sanctions (Cardoso et al.,
1983: 97-98).
As events moved quickly, the junta pursued three policies: (1)
to obtain a Soviet veto of a U.K.-sponsored Security Council resolu-.
tion condemning Argentina’s resort to force; (2) to obtain OAS (Organization of American States) support for its efforts to appeal to Arti-
cle Three of the 1947 Rio Treaty binding the signatories to provide
armed assistance in the event of an extra-hemispheric attack (Calvert, 1982: 102); and (3) to encourage U.S. mediation under the presumption that third party negotiations might lead to a settlement of
the sovereignty issue (La Naci6n, 1983b: 7).
‘Astonishing behavior:”
The U.S. role in the Security Council and the OAS
SECURITY COUNCIL REACTION to Argentina’s invasion was swift
and disappointing. Resolution 502 (Perl, 1983: 419), demanding
Argentina’s withdrawal from the Malvinas, was passed one day after
the invasion. Although counting upon Third World solidarity, cross-
pressures acting upon the Security Council were insufficiently
weighed by Costa Mendez. Not only did Jordan and other non-
aligned nations switch their vote under U.K. pressure, but Soviet support for Nicaragua – who had accused Argentina of meddling in its
internal affairs – precluded a USSR veto (Gente, 1983: 34).
On 4 June, when a British victory appeared all but certain, Spain
and Panama introduced Resolution 505, calling for a ceasefire by
both sides. Although the U.S. joined the U.K. in vetoing the resolution, within minutes of the final vote Ambassador Kirkpatrick announced that the U.S. wished to abstain. Although Kirkpatrick and
Enders lobbied intensively for this decision, the mis-timing of the
change not only diverted attention from the U.K. veto but astonished
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U.S. allies and served further to confuse and anger Argentina (Par-
sons, 1983: 176; Calvert, 1982: 138; Hastings anctJenkins, 1983:
In the OAS, Argentina quickly seized the diplomatic initiative.
Even though the U.S. had made clear at the outset of the crisis that the
Monroe Doctrine was inapplicable since “the unlawful resort to
force did not originate outside the hemisphere” (U.S. House, 1982e:
118), Kirkpatrick’s public ostracism of Haig and his staff as “insensitive to Latin cultures” at the time of the OAS meeting (Calvert, 1982:
135) encouraged the junta. In addition, Costa Mendez believed that
many OAS members were tired of slavishly following U.S. leadership
in the organization (Calvert, 1982: 102-103).
Not only did Argentina fail to predict the admonishment of the
Kirkpatrick position, but it was unable to prevent the U.S. from toning down the original OAS condemnation of the U.K., which called
for mandatory economic sanctions.8 Many OAS members were ap-
prehensive about the consequences of a too-strongly supportive
statement on behalf of Argentina, fearing that it might only encourage resort to force in other boundary disputes (Smith, 1982: 346347). While general enthusiasm in the OAS for Argentina’s position
served to confirm the junta’s resolve (Cardoso et al., 1983: 137), it
failed to produce tangible support.
A Gilbert and Sullivan battle over a sheep pasture:
The Haig mediation effort and its consequences
ARGENTINAS TWIN ASSUMPTIONS, that U.S. mediation could
forestall a war and that U.K. resolve to recapture the islands could be
overcome, were predicated upon a perception that the U.S. had the
ability to force major concessions. The State Department’s early view
of this crisis, however, described by Haig as a “Gilbert and Sullivan
battle over a sheep pasture .. ” (Haig, 1984: 266), underscores the
lack of U.S. understanding of the role that honor and pride played in
both the decisions to invade and to defend. Retaking the Malvinas
symbolized Britain’s ability to defend remote territory.
The U.K. was animated by two concerns. First, to Prime Minister
Thatcher, the central issue was an unalterable conviction that the sovereignty dispute could not be settled by force. As the Haig mediation
team quickly learned, her intransigence toward concessions lay in
the belief that serious negotiations over sovereigntywere impossible
as long as the islands were under military occupation (Sunday
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Times, 1982: 140). Second, as a practical matter, for third party negotiations to be effective, they had to be unrestrained by a narrow time
frame. From a tactical standpoint, however, if the U.K. were to utilize
its task force at all, it would have to do so quickly, given the inhospitable weather at that time of year and the logistical problems of opera-
ting in the South Atlantic. Thus, negotiations could not drag on in-
definitely (ISS,1983: 118; Tinker Series, 1983: 6). Costa Mendez
failed to appreciate the importance of these concerns. At first he insisted that the U.K.’s demonstrated lack of interest in the islands, cou-
pled with the British diplomatic precedent of negotiation between
parties during a war, exemplified in Zimbabwe, should have made it
possible for the U.K. to see its way toward concessions while a disputed territory was occupied (Gente, 1983: 72-3). Only much later
did he come to appreciate the extent of Thatcher’s intransigence.
It is in this context that efforts of the Haig mission must be un-
derstood. Although the junta recognized that the intensity of the
shuttle effort was the natural result of a desire to avoid having to
choose between two allies (Purcell, 1983: 662), a number of classic
errors resulted from the negotiating team’s efforts.
First, by mimicking the personalistic style of his former mentor,
Henry Kissinger, Haig placed the crisis on a level of media attention
usually associated with superpower confrontations. Blow-by-blow
accounts of the crisis constantly dogged the mediation efforts. Am-
bassador Schlaudeman’s authority in Buenos Aires was virtually
eclipsed. Except for his fruitless llth-hour effort to urge Galtieri to
persuade the junta to accept Security Council resolution 502, he was
consulted by the negotiating team only once. On that occasion, Enders inquired about our special relationship with Argentina and was
shocked to learn that no such relationship existed (Hastings andJen-
kins, 1983: 141).
The dramatic style of the shuttle also heightened the frustration
felt by Haig’s mediators in dealing with the junta. Ostensibly off-the-
record remarks about the junta being “… little more than a bunch
of thugs,” and the Malvinas being “a pimple on the ass of progress for
200 years,” did little to reinforce U.S. credibillity and nurtured Argen-
tine suspicions that Haig lusted for a Nobel Peace Prize (Cardoso et
al., 1983: 167; Latin American Bureau, 1982: 82). Even though he
recognized that negative publicity was a serious problem, Haig
failed to acknowledge his own responsibility in nurturing it (Haig,
1984: 285.
A second diplomatic error of the shuttle was ignorance of the
dispute and of the nature of the Galtieri regime. Aside from Haig’s in-
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complete understanding of the origin of the crisis (Haig, 1984: 2667), members of the negotiating team had prepared no contingencies
to deal with an Argentine attack for which they lacked forewarning
(Tinker Series, 1983: 14). Moreover, the team was so heavilyweighted with European specialists that only Vernon Walters – alone among
the “core” shuttle team members – had a working knowledge of
Spanish, an ability which forced him to double as both negotiator
and translator (Sunday Times, 1982: 135; Hastings and Jenkins,
1983: 140; Cardoso, etal., 1983: 157; Tinker Series, 1983:2). Typical
of the early embarrassments suffered by Haig was his suggestion to
Costa Mendez that a multinational contingent of 2000 or more
would be needed as an interim peacekeeping force in the Malvinas.
Astonished by the suggestion, Costa Mendez noted that the islands,
containing only 1800 residents were “… like a big ranch” (Cardoso,
etal., 1983: 139).
U.S. ignorance of the junta’s politics proved to be far more serious. That Galtieri was not a “caudillo” who could deliver his government was realized very late in the day. Aside from the visible pressure Galtieri was placed under by Anaya, who remained firm in his
resolve not to back down, lay a more serious dilemma. The junta, described by Galtieri as his “Senate,” (Cardoso, etal., 1983:164), could
veto concessions, modify informal agreements, and submit negotiated principles to other officers who had extraordinary power to modify, reject, or stall proposals and counter-proposals with impunity.
Frustrated by this “inefficient” dictatorship, Haig later noted, somewhat naively, that it appeared to him that, while no single individual
could make a decision other than the original one to invade, “20 peo-
ple had the ability to veto decisions” (Diament, 1983: 8). Compounding this problem was constant lobbying of influential officers,
without direct ties to the junta, who were able to impose deadlines
on Galtieri without being held accountable for a flawed decision
(Cardoso, et al., 1983: 142; Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 112). The
gravest error of judgment made by the U.S. was in failing to recognize
that this situation had existed long before the crisis, at a time when
the U.S. viewed Galtieri as a charismatic leader with unlimited au-
thority to make strategic policy.
The final diplomatic error resulting from the Haig mission – the
U.S. confusion of “evenhandedness” with diplomatic “good faith” led directly to the failure to deter Argentina from its disastrous
course of action (Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 107-112; Cardoso, et
al., 1983). None of the U.S. proposals put forth during the month of
April were able to overcome the basic objections of each side, which
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were rooted in perceived matters of principle. Most U.S. efforts concentrated upon the issue of the island’s future administration and included the following basic points: (1) a mutual withdrawal of forces,
(2) establishment of a joint U.S.-U.K.-Argentine authority in the
Malvinas, (3) removal of the islands from the list of “non-self-
governing territories” under Chapter IX of the UN Charter, (4) Argentine participation in a multilateral administration of the islands,
and (5) mutual U.K.-Argentine agreement to expedite negotiations
on the future status of the islands (Sunday Times, 1982: 136; Tinker
Series, 1983: 4-5; ISS, 1983: 119; U.S. House, 1982e: 119).
The U.K. insisted upon Argentine acceptance of Resolution 502
as a pre-condition for discussion of issues 2 through 5. At no point
did the U.K. fundamentally alter this position. Even when reluctantly
allowing Haig a “window” for further discussions (Sunday Times,
1982: 137), the Thatcher government remained adamant about
Argentina’s use of force and the need for military withdrawal prior to
Argentine participation in any Malvinas government (Haig, 1984:
267, 270-71; Cardoso, etal., 1983: 160).
For the junta’s part, the major sticking point was resolution of the
sovereignty issue. Although Costa Mendez claimed that his government could accept sovereignty as an “ultimate objective,” rather than
as a “prerequisite” for further talks (Gente, 1983:69), the veracity of
this claim proved to be a constant barb in negotiations.
While Haig believed the Argentines were stuck on “political
language” (Diament, 1983: 8), and that Galtieri could be “reasonable” but was “caught in a difficult position” (Haig, 1984: 277), he
failed to appreciate the depth of feeling the sovereignty issue generated. Galtieri frequently insisted that the British concede Argentina’s
“inalienable rights” to the islands, while Costa Mendez was adamant
that there must be prior agreement on a specific timetable for the
achievement of sovereignty (Cardoso, et al., 1983: 157-159; Gente,
1983: 74).
The combination of British intransigence, Costa Mendez’ inability to deliver his divided government, Argentine perception that
the sovereignty issue in U.K. and U.S. proposals was “nebulous,” the
U.K’s insistence upon the rights of self-determination of the island-
ers (Costa Mendez, 1984: 4; Hastings andJenkins, 1983: 109), and
the failure of the U.K. to turn its fleet around (Haig, 1984:284), made
creation of any interim solution impossible. Not only was the U.S. un-
able to budge the British, but, by the time the junta clearly assessed
the danger to itself, it no longer trusted the U.S. as a mediator.
In essence, the more the U.S. pressed the Argentines for conces-
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sions, the more doubtful American even-handedness appeared.
Haig admitted publicly that Thatcher’s “hardness” only confirmed to
him the rightness of the .U.K. cause (Haig, 1984: 267). Moreover,
caustic incidents, such as Haig’s orders to Schlaudeman to plan for
evacuation of embassy personnel in Buenos Aires, insulted Galtieri
(Cardoso, et al., 1983: 153). Finally, the U.S. pleading that Argentina
would sustain terrible losses in any war with the U.K. were viewed as
an affront to Argentine honor and national character and produced
even greater determination to fight among the junta (Cardoso, et al.,
1983: 160,163; Sunday Times, 1982: 141).
On 30 April, when the Reagan administration ordered limited
sanctions against Argentina, including suspension of military supplies, Eximbank credits, and Commodity Credit Corporation guarantees, and, simultaneously, promised positive responses to further
U.K. requests for material support (Haig, 1982: 8; U.S. House, 1982e:
120), Galtieri was utterly shocked (Hastings and Jenkins, 1983:
142). Although Haig’s tenure as Secretary of State was the only U.S.
casualty of the crisis for the short-term (Haig, 1984: 298), in the long-
er run other consequences of U.S. involvement proved far more
Practical and theoretical implications of the U.S. role in th
Malvinas crisis
THE MALVINAS WAR of 1982 illustrates the great extent to which
U.S. dominance in Latin America has waned, and the consequent attenuation of U.S. political, economic, and military influence. More
importantly, it also illustrates the dangers this attenuation presents to
the U.S. and to Latin America, if they ignore the immense gulf of interest that separates them.
Not only was the U.S. unable to deter Argentina from its attempt
to regain the Malvinas, or able to persuade them to accept compromise solutions to the conflict, but the very efforts used by the Reagan
administration to enlist Argentine support for U.S. hemispheric security efforts actually enhanced chances for war by nurturing in Argentina an exaggerated sense of its own strategic importance.
The U.S. failure is traceable to (1) not making clear its intention
to side unequivocally with the U.K. in a showdown; (2) misunder-
standing the purposes of mediation, i.e., the difference between
evenhandedness and clarity of purpose; (3) the continuing conflict
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between Haig and Kirkpatrick, which not only confused Argentina
but dismayed U.S. allies on the Security Council and in the OAS; and
(4) insufficient understanding of the degree to which U.S. pre-war
support for Galtieri served to increase the junta’s aggressiveness
(Calvert, 1982: 153; Hastings and Jenkins, 1983: 328; ISS, 1983:
119). Conflicting signals from the U.S. bolstered the Galtieri
regime’s confidence that the Malvinas war could be waged with tacit
U.S. support. The junta’s claim that the U.S. would not dare to jeopardize a budding military alliance through support of the U.K., and
Costa Mendez’ claim that the U.S. would appreciate the centrality of
the sovereignty question (La Naci6n, 1983a: 6), combine to lend
support to this interpretation. In essence, U.S. behavior encouraged
Argentine intransigence: (U.S. House, 1982a: 29).
There are two broad lessons for U.S.-Argentine relations to be
learned from this crisis. First, Argentine nationalism frequently expresses itself in a pronounced sense of pride which provokes: (1)
distrust toward those nations critical of its internal policies or contemptuous of its foreign policy goals, and (2) overly high expectations from efforts at flattery or ingratiation (K. Johnson, 1982: 53).
These long-term vacillations were seen during the transition from
the Carter to the Reagan presidencies, in the events leading up to the
invasion, and in the Galtieri regime’s perception of probable U.S.
A second lesson is that political changes which bolster interna-
tional aspirations of the region’s traditional powers (Lowenthal,
1983: 325-329) can complicate the relations between weak states
and major powers, a fact not yet fully appreciated by the U.S.
For example, although the urgency attached to U.S. mediation
was partly predicated upon the assumption that a U.K.-Argentine war
would benefit the Soviet Union, there is no evidence that Argentina
received significant military, economic, or diplomatic support from
the U.S.S.R. during the crisis despite numerous U.S. claims to the
contrary (Diament, 1983: 9; Haig, 1984: 266). In fact, the evidence
points to an opposite conclusion. Not only did the U.S. miscalculate
Soviet support but so did the Galtieri regime.
Furthermore, although it is clear that a conventional arms race
in the Southern Cone has begun anew (Goldblat and Millan, 1983:
1-66), it is not clear that this will inevitably lead to efforts to develop
nuclear weaponry, as is often feared. Although there was discussion
during the 1982 war of building an atomic submarine, the Alfonsin
Government has moved cautiously toward adopting international
safeguards in its domestic nuclear program and has hinted that it may
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agree, in time, to a treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons in
Latin America.9 What remains lasting from this crisis is Argentina’s
firm intention to settle the Malvinas issue as a means of normalizing
its process of redemocratization (Anderson, 1984: 154-172). If the
U.S. is sincere in support of this latter goal, some assistance in settling this dispute would be appropriate.
If the Malvinas War underscores the degree to which the U.S.
does not understand the internal operations of the Argentine political system (U.S. House, 1982b: 24), it no less confirms the extent to
which the Galtieri regime failed to assess properly the U.S. interests.
It is ironic that U.S. credibility in Argentina, always at a premium, re-
mains damaged, due in part to U.S. mistakes and in part to Argentine
1. On the effects of Carter Administration military aid denials in Argen
tina, see Schoultz (1981: 65, 84, 305-331) and Cohen (1981: 209, 271
276). On one Argentine view of the effects, see Sunday Times of London
War in the Falklands (1982). The Times account reports General Galtieri
confiding to a U.S. diplomat shortly after the restoration of U.S. aid: “I
wasn’t that sanctions really did us any harm … It’s that we really missed th
communion with our brother officers in America” (p. 62).
2. Throughout the fall of 1981, Viola, Galtieri’s predecessor, was treat
ed for what was diagnosed as “hypertension” and hospitalized for what
aides termed a “slight heart attack” (LAWR, 1981: 1). This was the official
reason given for his removal.
3. After the war, Costa Mendez charged that, although the date “1983
was “sacred” to some, “he did not share their faith in the unequivocal n
ture of a specific date for Argentine sovereignty” However, heIlso conced
ed that the psychological effect of a fixed date with symbolic meaning wa
important in pre-war negotiations with the U.K. (Gente, 1983: 69).
4. The junta’s view is also revealed by the exalted claims of Economics
Minister Roberto Alemann in an interview in ‘Tiempo Nuevo,’ reported by
the Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Alemann flatly stated that th
U.S. DOD (Department of Defense) backed Argentina in the conflict. See
the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (1982: 25) and Turner (198
5. Senate resolution 382, calling for Argentine withdrawal from the
Malvinas, passed by a vote of 79-1 with 20 abstentions, on April 29th. Only
Senator Jesse Helms voted “Nay” on the grounds that he did not ” … want
to interfere with the efforts of the White House” (Congressional Record,
1982b: S-4323).
6. Although a complete account of the range, amount, and complexity
of the material transferred from the U.S. DOD to the U.K. would be staggering, the aid can be conveniently divided into three categories: (1) modifications to Ascension Island for the accommodation and fueling of Vulcan
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bombers and C-130 transports; (2) sophisticated heat-seeking missiles,
such as the SidewinderAIM-9L, which so dominated air-to-ground support
tactics during the war as to all but drive the Argentine Air Force from the
skies; and, (3) intelligence data, including high-definition satellite photography, Argentine code-translations, telemetry information, and data on
Argentine military broadcast frequencies. Not only was this aid crucial to
British victory, but it was clearly conditioned by U.S. fear of the conse-
quences of a U.K. loss. See the Economist (1984: 29-31).
7. On 30 March, after detection of an unusual force readiness among
the Argentine Armed Services, Haig ordered Schlaudeman to deliver a
“strong warning” to Argentina, cautioning that military action would
“heavily damage U.S. relations” (Haig, 1984: 263). In addition, Haig’s deputy, Walter Stoessel, met with Henderson and Takacs in Washington on
April 29 to urge continued talks personally (Sunday Times, 1982: 132).
Despite these actions, however, the climate of Argentine-U.S. relations, as
well as American evenhandedness in the beginning of the crisis, con-
vinced Argentina that the U.S. would ultimately remain neutral (Hastings
&Jenkins, 1983: 70).
8. Enders insisted during the 1982 crisis that “The U.S. has at no time
taken a legal position on the merits of the competing sovereignty claims,”
and that” … this was not a case of extra-continental aggression” anyway.
However, he conceded that U.S. responses led to a conflict at the meeting
of Foreign Ministers at the Rio Treaty Organ of Consultation begun 26
April. On 28 April, by a 17-0-4 (U.S. abstaining) vote, a resolution was
passed which urged an immediate truce and recognition of the “rights of
sovereignty of Argentina over the Falklands (Malvinas)” See U.S. House
(1982e: 118) and Calvert (1982: 135).
9. Although much has been made of Argentine statements of intent to
manufacture nuclear weapons, contingent upon U.K. efforts to dispatch
nuclear devices to the Malvinas, it should be borne in mind that such statements were made while Argentina remained under military rule. Although
Argentina is not a signatory to either the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
or to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, declaring Latin America a nuclear-free zone,
its opposition to these agreements has been predicated upon the principle
of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states, noted in this paper.
The Alfonsin government has stated that its major reservation is the partici-
pation of every major Latin American power in these agreements. See E.
Schumacher (1984: 21) and M. Anderson (1984: 170-172).
ACEVEDO, D. (1984) “The U.S. Measures againstArgentina Resulting f
the Malvinas Conflict.” American Journal of International Law 78 (A
ANDERSON, M. (1984) “Dateline Argentina: Hello, Democracy;’ Foreign
Policy 55 (Summer): 154-172.
BURNS, J (1982) ‘Argentina Denies Charge It Has Troops in Latin America” Christian Science Monitor (23 February): 7.
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CALVERT, P. (1982) The Falklands Crisis: The Rights and the Wrongs. New
York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Malvinas: La Trama Secreta. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana/Planeta.
COHEN, S. (1981) “Conditioning U.S. Security Assistance on Human
Rights Practices.” American Journal of International Law 76: 246-279.
Congressional Record (1982) 29 April: 4315-4324.
COSTA MENDEZ, N. (1984) “Falklands: An Argentine Reply” The Economist (14 January): 4.
DIAMENT, M. (1983) “Habla Alexander Haig.” Siete Dfas (27 December):
DIEHL, J. (1982) “Argentina Suggests Desire for Normal Relations with
U.S.” Washington Post (7 July): 2.
Economist (London) (1984) 3-9 March: 29-31.
ETCHEPAREBORDA, R. (1983) “La Cuestion Malvinas en Perspectiva
Historica.” Revista de Historia de America 96 (July-December): 27-67.
Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) (1982) Latin American Report 2517,7June: 25. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
FRANKS, Lord (1983) Falkland Islands Review: A Report of a Committee
of Privy Counselors. London, England: HMSO.
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Times (1 May): 8.
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York, NY: W W Norton.
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Strategic Studies.
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The Malvinas Executions: (Im)plausible Memories of a Clean War
Author(s): Rosana Guber and Mariana Ortega Breña
Source: Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 35, No. 5, Violence: Power, Force, and Social
Transformation (Sep., 2008), pp. 119-132
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
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Latin American Perspectives
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The Malvinas Executions
(Im)plausible Memories of a Clean War
Rosana Quber
Translated by Mariana Ortega Bre?a
In a 1991 book translated into Spanish in 1992, the British paratrooper Vincent
Bromley denounced various crimes perpetrated by the Royal Task Force against Argentine
prisoners during the Malvinas War of 1982. However, his account became an (implausi
ble path toward Argentines’ historicization of this international conflict. The democratic
government of Carlos S. Menem and the Argentine military command (including members
who had participated in the campaign) rejected these charges while war veterans and vic
tims of British crimes added to them or kept silent. There is a striking resemblance between
these reactions and Argentine responses to the crimes against humanity committed during
the last military dictatorship (1976-1983) variously labeled as the ”’antisubversive war,”
the “Dirty War,” and “state terrorism.”
Keywords: Malvinas War, War, Social memory, Armed forces, Soldiers, Argentina
The tenth anniversary of the war between Argentina and Britain over the
Malvinas or Falklands Islands (April 2-June 14, 1982) had just been celebrated
when a new book disrupted the annual commemorations’ precarious sense of
balance. Vincent Bramley’s Excursion to Hell (1991), published in Spanish trans
lation in 1992, told of the execution of three Argentine prisoners of war after
they had officially surrendered. Commenting in connection with the book’s
appearance on an episode not included in it, Bramley quoted a former corporal
in the Parachute Regiment of the Royal Task Force, who had been 25 years old
at the time of the conflict, as follows (Pagina 12, August 16,1992):
We suddenly heard a shrill “Mam?, Mam?.” We heard a shot and we saw an
Argentine fall over the cliffs. One of our groups had gathered some Argentine
prisoners on top of a crag where we had left a dying man. Now, with the battle
over, they were killing prisoners and throwing them down for burial. It was
madness, and a senior officer intervened just before the executions got out of
hand. But in the cauldron of emotions that followed the battle they decided not
to take any further action.
Rosana Guber is a researcher at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cient?ficas y Tecnol?gicas
and chair of the Centro de Antropolog?a Social of the Instituto de Desarrollo Econ?mico y Social
in Buenos Aires and an expert member of the Malvinas Parliamentary Observatory. Mariana
Ortega Bre?a is a freelance translator based in Canberra, Australia. The title of this article evokes
that of Rozitchner’s (1984) De la guerra sucia a la guerra limpia.
LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, Issue 162, Vol. 35 No. 5, September 2008 119-132
DOI: 10.1177/0094582X08321964
? 2008 Latin American Perspectives
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These charges entailed serious violations of the Geneva Convention. They also
fundamentally called into question the Argentines7 established ideas regarding
the strict professionalism displayed by the British forces in the South Atlantic.
The superior treatment and medical attention provided by the British army to
Argentine prisoners and wounded soldiers were well known, all the more so
since soldiers’ praise of the enemy contrasted sharply with their complaints
regarding their own army: abuses on the part of superiors, abandonment of
troops in mid-battle, lack of coordination, and logistic problems. Comments such
as “The British treated us better than our own superiors” had flooded the public
space as soon as the war was over, adding to the demoralization of the armed
forces, which were losing both political and military control. The democratic
apertura (opening) of 1982-1983 decried the Malvinas conflict as an “absurd war”
waged by a “drunken general” who had sent hundreds of undertrained and
insufficiently armed “boys” to fight a highly professional army, NATO’s second
power. The military command in charge of the Malvinas War was tried and sen
tenced in 1984 by the Comisi?n de An?lisis y Evaluaci?n del Conflicto de
Malvinas (Commission for the Analysis and Evaluation of the Malvinas
Conflict), which produced the critical Rattenbach report, and the human rights
violations trial of the military juntas led to a report issued by the Comisi?n
Nacional sobre la Desaparici?n de Personas (National Commission on the
Disappearance of Persons) entitled Nunca m?s (Never Again). The third military
junta of the Proceso de Reorganizaci?n Nacional (National Reorganization
Process) was held responsible for Argentina’s only twentieth-century war.
Ten years after the surrender, Bramley’s book and its charges presented a
more complex picture of the victor and, along with it, a more problematic view
of the conflict itself. Here I show how and why the ensuing debate regarding a
historicized “the Malvinas executions,” as the event was christened by the
press, resulted in the consolidation of the terms in which Argentines have his
toricized their war past, rather than in the reassessment of it. In order to do this,
I examine the degree of plausibility that different sectors of Argentine society
(war veterans and political, ecclesiastical, and civil representatives) ascribed to
Bramley’s allegations and analyze it in the framework of the historicization of
the war. I define a “process of historicization” as the activities of selection, clas
sification, recording, and reconceptualization of experience through which the
past is incorporated into and meaningfully re-created in the present. It involves
particular sociocultural and political practices and notions of temporality,
agency, and causality. Processes of historicization depend on the “substantial
convictions held by members of society as regards part of the past, as well as
general ideas as to what would be historically plausible” (Peel, 1984:112). These
convictions serve as the framework within which the past is interpreted, the
present is given meaning, and the future is imagined. Since actors are historical
subjects as well as analysts of the processes of change and continuity in which
they participate, what is “historically plausible” is constantly being redefined in
terms of the current order and the social positions that said actors occupy in it
(Guber, 1994; Robben, 2006).
Bramley’s revelations might have modified the patterns of historicization
that characterized the first postwar decade, but instead they were ultimately
brought under control by preexisting formats, giving rise to some surprising
contestations and allegiances on the Argentine side. Where, then, did the
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implausibility of his statements lie, and how did those statements mold the
“facts” that they so objectively seemed to address?
Unlike Dos Hermanas (Two Sisters) and Bah?a Zorro (Fox Bay), Mount
Longdon had managed to preserve its original name, perhaps because of its
phonetic similarity to the name of the British capital. Longdon was quite close
to Puerto Argentino (the former Port Stanley) and was one of the elevations
on which the island’s defenses were placed. For two months it was home to
the soldiers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and officers of Sections 1, 2,
and 3 of B Company of the Seventh Infantry Regiment, which at the time was
based in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires Province. The fierce battle there
and the large number of casualties turned Longdon into one of the most dra
matic episodes of the Malvinas campaign. The Argentine army gave it partic
ular attention and used an enemy account of the combat to boost its own
image. Some military headquarters displayed framed copies of an excerpt
from a 1988 article by Lieutenant-Colonel Hew Pike, commander of the British
forces at Mount Longdon, that read as follows:
Mount Longdon Battle
June 11,1982
It was not expected that the forces holding Mount Longdon would present such
strong resistance. . . . The Argentines were well-entrenched and protected each
other, which resulted in a harrowing night for the parachutists in this intense
The text emphasized the Argentines’ strong resistance and willpower without
addressing any moral failings on either side, and the Argentine army dis
played it as a reflection of the military maxim “If you want to know how you
did in the war, ask your enemy” Various units of the three armed forces (the
army, the navy, and the air force) also echoed British praise for the valiant
members of Argentina’s marines, the intrepid aviators of the navy and the air
force, and the officers and NCOs who had performed outstandingly in the
face of the British advance. Some of the men who served in a unit thus praised
treasured these notes.
A year before the Spanish-language publication of Excursion to Hell, some
newspapers had already reported on its appearance. Already in 1991, an
NCO who had been in command of a group of conscripts (few of whom
returned home) at Mount Longdon told me that Bramley’s account was false.
With the conviction of someone who speaks from experience, he remembered
that the British had saved his life by rescuing him after he had received a life
threatening grenade wound. “The British saved many more lives than our own
forces,” he pointed out, and he went on with the oft-repeated charges against
the Argentine officers, who instead of leading operations and protecting their
people sat drinking whiskey in their bunkers. He gave me a card bearing Pike’s
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paragraph and moved on to other subjects. The response of this NCO coin
cided with the Argentine people’s generally held views regarding the conflict
in the South Atlantic: a fiercely critical stance toward the Argentine command
and acknowledgment of the British troops’ commendable performance. In this
context Bramley’s charges were implausible, and the events he reported could
never have taken place. This attitude would be adopted in other Argentine
spheres when the book came out in August 1992.
Once the book had been published, Britain’s minister of defense acknowl
edged that the claims had “enough elements to be considered true” {P?gina 12,
August 16,1992). The office of the attorney general, Nicholas Lyell, characterized
the information as “serious” {La Prensa, August 16, 1992). The Labor MP Tarn
Daly ell said that he had had knowledge of these events for five years already and
that British violations of the Geneva Convention were well known by the gov
ernment (La Naci?n, August 21, 1992). The political reaction in Argentina was
quite the opposite. Instead of showing indignation, the political class tried to
avoid the subject and even sought to justify the purported atrocities. Erm?n
Gonz?lez, minister of defense during the Menem administration (the second
democratically elected presidency since December 10, 1983), said, “It is natural
for horrible events to take place during acts of war. However, I am honestly not
aware of these events. What I can say, though, is that our Ministry is not investi
gating any claims of this type” {Clar?n, August 17,1992).
The government’s reluctance coincided with preparations for the first visit by
an Argentine president to London since 1982. The visit was intended to encour
age British investment and promote joint seismic and oil explorations in the
South Atlantic?all of which was to be negotiated keeping the issue of the
Malvinas sovereignty under a “diplomatic umbrella.” The Argentine govern
ment hoped to be able to avoid this pending issue while addressing other areas
of bilateral relations that had been interrupted 10 years before. The subject of the
executions was left to the higher diplomatic levels, and officials stated that any
investigation of these claims should be carried out by the country to which the
perpetrators belonged. Ten days after the news broke, Menem declared, “This
version surprised us all. None of the soldiers who fought in the Malvinas made
reference to these events” {La Naci?n, August 23,1992).
Thus, while Bramley’s denunciations were approached as credible by the
British authorities, they seemed to be more of an annoyance to the Argentine
officials, who did not even venture a timorous moral condemnation. However,
the immediate response of some of the public was to disturb this stance.
Four days after the news of the shootings had become public, the press
started collecting testimonies from former soliders who had served in the
islands when they were 19 or 20. “Of course we knew,” said 30-year-old Angel
Guti?rrez, vice president of the La Plata Centro de Ex Soldados Combatientes
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Islas Malvinas and a veteran of the Seventh Infantry Regiment of La Plata,
which fought on Mount Longdon. “We knew it and denounced it in 1983. We
even asked Congress for information on war crimes and many other things that
have not been acknowledged, and we never got an answer” (Diario Popular,
August 20,1992). Although he did not provide concrete information regarding
the executions, Guti?rrez added to the list of British war crimes sinking the
General Belgrano, which was torpedoed outside of the area, attacking a fishing
boat that was trying to rescue the Belgrano survivors, using phosphorus bombs,
forcing prisoners to walk in minefields, pretending to shoot them, aiming bay
onets directly at their eyes, and burying unidentified corpses in mass graves.
However, he was not surprised that it was the British and not the Argentines
who had begun an investigation because, he said, “Here they never want to
investigate anything; they are afraid of compromising relations between the two
countries.” He suggested opening the “Malvinas archives” to reveal “a com
plete account of unused or lost war material,” the reasons behind “the issuing
of false information to the people and to the soldiers themselves both during
and after the conflict,” and the “abuses committed by [Argentine] officers and
NCOs against their own troops” (El D?a, August 20, 1992). According to
Guti?rrez and other former soldiers, including the former NCO who rejected
Bramley’s claims, it was not just the British who had committed crimes.
Not much later, a direct witness of a Longdon execution came forward.
Santiago D. Mambrin stated that he had seen two British soldiers take a cor
poral prisoner and mime a “universal gesture of death: one of them swiped
his hand across his neck.” They shot him in the head and left him for dead,
“but as the Argentine troops drew back, Corporal Carrizo was rescued by a
medical unit of the British parachutists” (Clar?n, August 21, 1992). Mambrin
went on to denounce the “lack of recognition” of former soldiers and the Malvinas
War in general by “presidents and the military,” asserting that “the courage dis
played by all of us who fought there was only recognized by the British, who
called it the Great Battle of Longdon” (Flash, September 3,1992).
The accusing veterans formed a group whose members did not necessarily
belong to the B Company of the Seventh Infantry Regiment but had been
drawn together by official deafness and silence. Ten years after the war, they
understood this silence as a lack of acknowledgment and recognition as well as
ignorance on the part of political and military leaders. “In Argentina, it’s better
‘not to speak of certain things'” (Robles, 1991). But this “silence” had a longer
history. Bramley’s allegations had awakened memories many former soldiers
had learned to suppress. As the journalist Ernesto Vallejo reported, “Tf you sur
render at night, you can kiss the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross good
bye. They put a bullet in your head, and then who are you going to tell T
surrendered’?” the sergeant said. I never forgot his advice. I had to hold on till
dawn” (Clar?n, August 23,1992). A first lieutenant warned another soldier, also
in the Malvinas, “Here there’s a fifty percent chance that the one who surren
ders is dead meat. . . . You fight until you drop” (El Sol, September 15,1992).
This silence, which was necessary during the fight, continued to be a require
ment once the troops were back on the continent. Every soldier remembered
being instructed by his superiors to keep silent about any anomalies he might
have witnessed in the islands?and not only with regard to engagements
with the enemy. Silence was meant to guarantee the fragile status quo of a
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crumbling regime. The pact, however, was honored partly for reasons other
than discipline or fear.
In the context of a civil and political society that had moved from belligerent
enthusiasm over the recovery of territory to simple condemnation of the war
after the Argentine surrender on June 14,1982, it was unlikely that the soldiers,
some of whom had been discharged (class of 1962) and some of whom were on
leave (class of 1963), could find a sympathetic ear; they were likely to be seen as
mere victims (cannon fodder) or minor associates of the juntas (Guber, 2004).
Moreover, the “saga of the Malvinas” was no longer profitable for the political
parties trying to gain political ground in the 1983 elections, even though they
had supported every single official initiative during the 74 days of Argentine
presence on the islands (Guber, 2001). The Malvinas conflict became an absurd
war and its “glorious soldiers” poor souls abused by their superiors. Neither the
state nor society offered them any kind of recognition. Former soldiers were
quoted in the press as saying, “Ten years later, [the soldiers] have not been vin
dicated: society has nearly forgotten us and official statements barely recognize
us” (Mario Guillen, quoted in Norte, August 31,1992) and “A former British cor
poral had to open his mouth to rattle the cage. As usual, nobody listens to us”
(Jorge Ferreira and Luis J. N??ez, quoted in Diario Popular, May 30,1992).
The former soldiers’ 1992 denunciations sought to reverse this trend and
find vindication as authoritative voices addressing not the British but
Argentines themselves. Bramley’s book was plausible to the extent that its
lessons were recognized on the national level. Therefore their statements had
to be contested, sometimes harshly, by the other sector of the military that had
participated in the operations.
Despite British political support for Bramley’s allegations, Argentina’s com
manding officers in the South Atlantic theater of operations refused to believe
them. In 1992, the army commander General Martin Balza of the Third Artillery
Group in the Malvinas said that he was unaware of any “execution of Argentine
soldiers” (La Naci?n, August 20,1992) and that he had been treated in accordance
with international treaties during the 35 days the British held him prisoner.
Francisco Quevedo, commander of the Fourth Airborne Artillery Group in the
Malvinas and by 1992 a general, thought on the basis of his experience regarding
the treatment of Argentine combatants by the British that it was “quite unlikely
that anything like that had happened” (La Prensa, August 19,1992).
The most vehement condemnation of the allegations came from an officer
who in 1982 had been a major in command of the Second Plata Subsector?the
group in which Corporal Carrizo and conscript Mambrin had served. This
officer, Eduardo Carrizo Salvadores, characterized the charges of Bramley and
the Argentine veterans as “a pack of lies”: “I was troop commander in that
battle, and I never got any reports, either in the Malvinas or here, about such
executions” (El D?a and La Capital, August 22, 1992). He wondered why the
former Seventh Regiment members had not denounced these events previ
ously and suggested that it was “because they have no proof, and they have
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no proof because these things never happened.” He also denied that the
British had used prisoners to trigger mines: “Anyone who says that is lying.”
However, Corporal Carrizo did not take long to appear. He had been pro
moted to sergeant and had received a medal for having been wounded in
battle. He declared that the British had saved his life when they saw him move
as he was being thrown into a mass grave (Clar?n, August 22,1992). His supe
rior, Carrizo Salvadores, was forced to admit that “Corporal Carrizo had been
wounded by three shots to the face in the Mount Longdon battle,” although
he insisted that “he never told me that two British soldiers had shot him.” In
his testimony for the Mount Longdon chapter of Balza’s (1985) Relatos de sol
dados, the former major described the preparations, the positioning of the 278
officers, NCOs, and soldiers, the June 11 battle, and the reduction of the troops
to 78 men (Carrizo Salvadores, 1985: 84). He spoke not of “prisoners” but of
counterattacks and of the dead and wounded who had “given their lives for
the Motherland in the fulfillment of their duty” (82).
The commander of the Fifth Marine Infantry Battalion in the Malvinas,
Carlos H. Robacio, pointed out that “we must take into account that during
night combat you shoot whatever is moving; that’s part of war, and mistakes
and horrible things can happen. Nobody mentioned the subject of executions
after the surrender” (Clar?n, August 23, 1992). An army spokesman asserted
that, because “Carrizo was ‘wounded at night and in the midst of battle,’ it
was ‘unlikely that he could have been seen by witnesses when he received the
wounds'” (Clar?n, August 30,1992).
Adamant rejections of the executions lessened as evidence of them increased,
but even then the high command wondered whether the shootings carried out
in the fog should be characterized as “executions” or mere “combat actions.”
What was clear was that, in the eyes of the Argentine military and political
leaders, execution-style shootings?an act of unilateral power over a vanquished
human being for the sole purpose of inducing death?were not conceivable
British conduct. Even though military officials seemed to agree with the govern
ment’s stance and added their appraisal of the nature of war to the general rebut
tal, the publication of the book, the attention it received, and the testimony of the
former soldiers revealed the gap that, in the postwar public and discursive cli
mate, separated the military actions of the officers from those of the soldiers
(even though this had not been the case during the actual events of 1982).
Bramley had walked into a battle of classification that was alien to him, and the
plausibility of his revelations did not depend on what had actually happened in
the South.
The terms of the debate circled around an evident paradox: it was the
British?the winners of the war?and not the Argentines who were denounc
ing their own mistreatment of the vanquished. The Argentine leaders were
now denying the statements of a fighter on the winning side. The first analy
ses of this paradox came from the press. Ra?l Cardoso, considered an expert
on the subject, pointed out (Clar?n, August 24, 1992) that “Argentine official
confusion in the face of the allegations” was due to
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the shortcomings of a policy that, from the last stages of the past military regime
to the Radical government that inaugurated the democratic transition and the cur
rent administration, has continued to deal with the results of the defeat in essen
tially the same way. This policy fundamentally seeks to put a shroud over the
recent past and its consequences. It has particularly resisted bringing home, once
and for all, the troops and the history Argentina sent to the islands a decade ago.
Although the point of contention seems to have been whether the executions
had occurred or not, the composition of the warring parties revealed another
debate in different terms. Attempting to explain the reluctance on the part of
high Argentine officials and the barrage of denunciations on the part of veterans,
Cardoso said, “If the allegations regarding summary executions of Argentine
soldiers turn out to be true, this will come as a bitter surprise to a society that, in
the face of defeat, knew only two sides: those who tried to find scapegoats on
whom to place the weight of failure and those who tried to hide the reasons their
actions had led to such failure” {Clar?n, August 17, 1992). Another journalist,
Luis Garasino, put it more bluntly (El Litoral, August 23,1992):
Grosso modo, opinions are divided between two sides: those who wish the execu
tions to have happened no matter what and those who refute them regardless of
anything else. In the first group we find the left and its sympathizers, who see a
new opportunity to rummage through the Malvinas past and throw more dirt at
the armed forces. On the other side are those who do not want any questions
asked, and somewhere out there there may be some who simply want this issue
to be investigated seriously and reach some kind of truthful conclusion.
From this point of view, the two sides embodied the opposition between the
military ranks they each endorsed, resignifying it with an ideological-political
slant that corresponded to the two forces that had supposedly faced each
other during the “Dirty War.” The former soldiers, referred to interchangeably
as “ex-combatants” and “war veterans,” would appear to be left-wingers,
although their political views were very diverse. The high-ranking officials
were depicted as a cog in the wartime machinery of the juntas, even though
some of them agreed with the veterans’ remarks. A classification of the oppo
nent based on ideological alignment was much more plausible?and therefore
more efficient for the Argentine audience?than dealing with grey areas (those
“who simply want . . . some kind of truthful conclusion”) or addressing
Bramley’s statements, which seemed only to introduce confusion into the
polarized but well-ordered Argentine postwar scene.
In this context, the allocation of memory and oblivion was crucial to the
consolidation of the Malvinas antinomy. According to Cardoso, one side
“tried to find scapegoats on whom to place the weight of failure” while the
other tried to “conceal.” For Garasino, memory was being used to further tar
nish the armed forces, and those who did not want any questions raised pro
moted oblivion or silence. Memory and oblivion, voice and silence: these were
the weapons in a conflict that had ceased to be stated in international terms.
This is why, even if the denunciations of the former soldiers and some NCOs had
not addressed the Argentine command’s military performance, the allegations
would eventually have led to that. British transgressions played a secondary
role and were seen as either an excuse to attack the armed forces or an instru
ment for reviewing what had happened and pursuing justice. The revelations
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in Excursion to Hell could be valid only if one could find, reveal, justify the rea
sons the political and, above all, military Argentine leaders had kept silent
about the events Bramley decided to publish 10 years later.
Cardoso cited General Balza when referring to those who had tried to hide
the consequences of the war effort (Clar?n, August 17, 1992, my emphasis):
“They were received at night; they were not allowed to talk. In some magazines only
the initials could be published, not the full name. The defeat was blamed on
the combatants when in truth this was the responsibility of those who held
political power and, ultimately, the nation.” He concluded that the reports
provided by each of the forces with regard to their performance in the South
Atlantic theater were not “probing,” either because they were treated as a for
mality or because they were trying to “prove that the disaster had not been
such.” Finally, he pointed out that, with the exception of former soldiers’ ref
erences to the Nepalese Gurkhas, “denunciations addressing the mistreatment
[my emphasis] of Argentine troops by their own superiors were more vocifer
ous than those directed at the enemy.”
While the power elites of 1982 and the high-ranking officers still in service
opted for silence or, at least, a more linear and patriotic memory of the conflict,
this was not merely a consequence of the diplomatic agenda of the government
at the time; it was also a response to the certainty that Bramley’s revelations
would be followed by charges by former soldiers and that these would not be
directed only at the enemy. The allegations would seep into the Argentine lines,
and the violations of the Geneva Convention would be equated with the
human rights crimes perpetrated by the juntas, whom the president had just
pardoned. In Argentina, the mere allusion to the massive human rights viola
tions carried out during the 1976-1980 period diversely known as the “antisub
versive war,” “the Dirty War,” and “state terrorism” entailed positioning.
The expressions some high-ranking officers used to rebuke Bramley’s
claims?”wartime excesses,” “I am not certain,” “individual behaviors”?were
only too similar to the answers provided by some of the military commanders
being tried for torture, forced disappearances, and executions during the
National Reorganization Process. The similarities were so striking that the com
mander of the British navy in 1982, Admiral John Woodward, used them as
leverage. After acknowledging that, in “30 or 40 cases,” British soldiers could
have committed human rights violations, he retaliated by requesting that “if this
is to be investigated then the Astiz case should be investigated too, as there are
allegations regarding his behavior in South Georgia” (La Naci?n, August 21,
1992). He added that “unfortunately, in war it is quite likely that abnormal and
aberrant behaviors will take place, and these must be investigated and punished;
we must be firm.” Alfredo Astiz, the naval officer who had been in charge of kid
napping a group of mothers searching for their disappeared children (a group
that would later become the Madres de Plaza de Mayo), had already become the
most emblematic figure of the regime’s illegal repression. In an echo of the argu
ments routinely presented by the lawyers for the military juntas during the
1984-1985 trial, the high command was saying that the Malvinas executions had
not been a systematic practice on the part of the enemy and that each instance
constituted an isolated, individual case that corresponded to the logic of battle.
However, despite the similarities between official reactions to Dirty
War accusations and the British executions of 1982, the former soldiers and
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some lower-ranking military personnel were careful to establish the differ
ences. The Malvinas campaign had been backed by most political parties and
by large sectors of civil society, whereas the Dirty War had been tolerated
because of sheer terror; the Malvinas War was seen as a just fight against for
eign colonialist usurpation, while the Dirty War was seen as a series of acts per
petrated against Argentine citizens linked by blood, work, and political
activities; the Malvinas campaign had taken 19- and 20-year-old conscripts
regardless of social or political distinctions, and the Dirty War had “disap
peared” young people suspected of holding particular political allegiances.
Now, none of these arguments had been part of the discursive climate that
marked the transition of Argentine civilians and human rights activists to
democracy. In that climate the Malvinas and the Dirty War were interpreted in
terms of a categorical division between civil and military spheres, and the South
Atlantic campaign was viewed as an exclusively military endeavor. Thus it robbed
the former soldiers of the distinctive character that depended on their being seen
as victims of military mistreatment, which, interestingly, was unacceptable
both to their former superiors and to the human rights nongovernmental orga
nizations. Despite the fact that they were sometimes extremely critical of the
Argentine military command, as “ex-combatants” not even those veterans who
were closest to the human rights movement had been able to become members
of it. Therefore, the requests they voiced found very different audiences.
The Argentine leadership could not close ranks, and, despite its reluctance
to deal with the subject, an investigation was launched. In 1993, the Scotland
Yard commission collected over 100 statements from high-ranking British offi
cers and paratroopers who had participated in the fighting at Mount Longdon
and was preparing to leave for Argentina when another report rattled the skep
tics. A former captain of the paratroopers, Anthony Mason, declared on British
television that he had witnessed the execution of a wounded and unarmed
Argentine soldier and that he knew of an English soldier who had collected
Argentines’ ears {P?gina 12, May 25, 1993). Only then did the new minister of
defense, Oscar Camili?n, begin to speak of “murders” and decide to put
together an investigative commission made up of four members of the
Ministry, the vice president of the Asociaci?n de Voluntarios por la Argentina
Soberana (the Volunteer Association for a Sovereign Argentina, a supporter of
the Malvinas cause), and a chaplain to preside over it. The commission was
considered to have a “technical and apolitical profile” {Clar?n, June 3,1993) and
was to focus on gathering statements rather than passing judgment {P?gina 12,
June 6,1993). “We are not judges,” the chaplain said. “We cannot take action.”
He guaranteed that no statement would be investigated as a denunciation.
Although the main promoters of the “Parallel Commission” (as it was nick
named by the media) tried to portray it as an Argentine success, the number of
statements it gathered was very small. During its first day of activities, June 17,
1993, only a helicopter pilot and the president of the Federaci?n de Veteranos de
Guerra (War Veterans’ Federation), who reiterated the historical charges, showed
up to present their testimony {Clar?n, June 18,1993). A month later, a commission
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representative said that the statements received offered no proof of violations of
the Geneva Convention: “We are not sure what is going on: either there is no
proof of the allegations made in the media or people are not willing to present
their testimonies” (Clar?n, July 17, 1993). Only seven persons had made state
ments, and the former Corporal Carrizo was not one of them. The commission
invited the veterans living in the provinces to come forward in the remaining 30
days, offering to cover their travel expenses. And yet, by the time the period was
over, the commission had fewer than 20 statements, most of them from former
soldiers and the families of the dead. The statements were said to confirm nine
executions along with the prohibited use of Beluga airborne mines and the prac
tice of having prisoners “clean up” minefields (Clar?n, April 2,1994). In contrast,
Scotland Yard considered its mission a big success: the detectives had managed
to interview Carrizo, as well as generals, politicians, officers, NCOs, and former
soldiers. With some 70 statements in its possession, it declared that “the decision
to come to Argentina was entirely justified” (La Naci?n, November 6,1993).1
The former soldiers and the vice president of the Volunteers’ Association
declared that this substantial discrepancy was due to lack of resources and the
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