Maria Eugenia Sampallo - Return of Peronism - Isabel Perón's Government - "Annihilation Decrees"

"Annihilation Decrees"

Meanwhile, the Guevarist People's Revolutionary Army (ERP), led by Roberto Santucho and inspired by Che Guevara's foco theory, began a rural insurgency in the province of Tucumán, in the mountainous northwest of Argentina. It started the campaign with no more than 100 men and women of the Marxist ERP guerrilla force and ended with about 300 in the mountains (including reinforcements in the form of the elite Montoneros 65-strong Jungle Company and the ERP's "Decididos de Córdoba" Urban Company), which the Argentinian Army managed to defeat, but at a cost.

On 5 January 1975, an Army DHC-6 transport plane was downed near the Monteros mountains, apparently shot down by Guerrillas. All thirteen on board were killed. The military believe a heavy machine gun had downed the aircraft.

In response, Ítalo Luder, President of the National Assembly who acted as interim President substituting himself to Isabel Perón who was ill for a short period, signed in February 1975 the secret presidential decree 261, which ordered the army to neutralize and/or annihilate the insurgency in Tucumán, the smallest province of Argentina. Operativo Independencia granted power to the Armed Forces to "execute all military operations necessary for the effects of neutralizing or annihilating the action of subversive elements acting in the Province of Tucumán." Santucho had declared a 620-mile (1,000 km) "liberated zone" in Tucuman and demanded Soviet-backed protection for its borders as well as proper treatment of captured guerrillas as POWs.

The Argentinian Army Fifth Brigade, then consisting of the 19th, 20th and 29th Mountain Infantry Regiments and commanded by Brigadier-General Acdel Vilas received the order to move to Famailla in the foothills of the Monteros mountains on 8 February 1975. While fighting the guerrillas in the jungle, Vilas concentrated on uprooting the ERP support network in the towns, using tactics later adopted nation-wide, as well as a civic action campaign. The Argentine security forces used techniques no different from their US and French counterparts in Vietnam.

By July 1975, anti-guerrilla commandos were mounting search-and-destroy missions in the mountains. Army special forces discovered Santucho's base camp in August, then raided the ERP urban headquarters in September. Most of the Compania del Monte's general staff was killed in October and was dispersed by the end of the year.

The leadership of the rural guerrilla force was mostly eradicated and many of the ERP guerrillas and civilian sympathizers in Tucumán were either killed or forcefully disappeared. Efforts to restrain the rural guerrilla activity to Tucumán, however, remained unsuccessful despite the use of 24 recently arrived US-made Bell UH-1H Huey troop-transport helicopters. In early October, the 5th Brigade suffered a major blow at the hands of the Montoneros, when more than one hundred, and possibly several hundred Montoneros and supporters were involved in the Operation Primicia, the most elaborate operation of the "Dirty War", which involved hijacking of a civilian airliner, taking over the provincial airport, attacking the 29th Infantry Regiment (which had retired to barracks at Formosa Province) and capturing its cache of arms, and finally escaping by air. Once the operation was over, they escaped towards a remote area in Santa Fe Province. The aircraft, a Boeing 737, eventually landed on a crop field not far from the city of Rafaela.

In the aftermath, 12 soldiers and 2 policemen were killed and several wounded. The sophistication of the operation, and the getaway cars and safehouses they used to escape from the crash-landing site, suggest several hundred guerrillas and their supporters were involved. The Argentine security forces admitted to 43 army troops killed in action in Tucuman, although this figure does not take into account police and Gendarmerie troops, and the soldiers who died defending their barracks in Formosa province on 5 October 1975. By December 1975 the Argentine military could, with some justification claim that it was winning the 'Dirty War', but it was dismayed to find no evidence of overall victory.

On 23 December 1975, several hundred ERP fighters with the help of hundreds of underground supporters, staged an all-out battle with the 601st Arsenal Battalion nine miles (14 km) from Buenos Aires and occupied four local police stations and a regimental headquarters. 63 guerrillas, seven army troops and three policemen were killed. In addition 20 civilians were killed in the crossfire. Many of the civilian deaths occurred when the guerrillas and supporting militants burned 15 city buses near the arsenal to hamper military reinforcements. This development was to have far-reaching ramifications. On 30 December 1975, urban guerrillas exploded a bomb inside the Army's headquarters in Buenos Aires, injuring at least six soldiers.

The Montoneros movement successfully utilized divers in underwater infiltrations and blew the pier where the Argentine destroyer ARA Santísima Trinidad was being built, on 22 August 1975. The ship was effectively immobilized for several years. By mid-1975, the country was a stage for widespread violence. Extreme right-wing death squads used their hunt for far-left guerrillas as a pretext to exterminate any and all ideological opponents on the left and as a cover for common crimes.

Assassinations and kidnappings by the Peronist Montoneros and the ERP contributed to the general climate of fear. In July, there was a general strike. On 6 July 1975, the government, presided temporarily by Italo Luder from the Peronist party, issued three decrees to combat the guerrillas. The decrees 2770, 2771 and 2772 created a Defense Council headed by the president and including his ministers and the chiefs of the armed forces. It was given the command of the national and provincial police and correctional facilities and its mission was to "annihilate … subversive elements throughout the country".

Military control was thus generalized to all of the country. These "annihilation decrees" are the source of the charges against her which led to Isabel Perón's arrest in Madrid more than thirty years later, in January 2007. The country was then divided into five military zones through a 28 October 1975 military directive of "Struggle Against Subversion". As had been done during the 1957 Battle of Algiers (quadrillage), each zone was divided in subzones and areas, with its corresponding military authorities. General Antonio Domingo Bussi replaced Vilas in December 1975.

Read more about this topic:  Maria Eugenia Sampallo, Return of Peronism, Isabel Perón's Government

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