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For more than 50 years Argentina has been the bad boy of the Western Hemisphere. Since the military launched its first coup ever in 1930, only one freely elected government has completed its term, and that one was led by Latin America's most successful demagogue, Juan Domingo Perón. The country has since floundered between rule by the mob and rule by the military. Two years ago, it also gave the world the Falklands/Malvinas War, a seeming comic opera that turned bloodily tragic.
Last October, Argentina surprised the world again, but this time favorably. After ruling nearly eight years, the military called elections to make a new attempt at democracy. Raúl Alfonsín, a charismatic democrat dedicated to returning the country to the rule of law, handed the Peronists their first defeat in a free election. His inauguration December 10 set off a wave of optimism at home and abroad that the turmoil that began in 1930 was over.
"On the tenth of December we found an anguished Argentina, unmistakably marked with the signs of destruction," the new president said in a speech on May 1 opening the first regular session of Congress in a decade. "But from this anguish, hope, the perspective of bringing the republic back to life, would rise."
But today, six months into his term, the question is: Can Alfonsín and the new Argentine democracy last? Already, some of the old political divisions are re-emerging. The economy is in crisis as inflation, the highest in the world, resists control. Consumer prices in the first five months rose at an annual rate of 560 percent, raising the specter of Weimar Germany.
At the same time, the government is locked in tough negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and international banks over refinancing an inherited foreign debt of some $45 billion, third in size only after that of Brazil and Mexico. To meet the debt payments, the country must impose austerity measures. Alfonsín is moving to do so, but faces a dilemma. After the military years, in which living standards dropped, the Argentine public expects and, indeed, demands better times. Too much austerity could lead to a social and political backlash threatening the survival of the new democracy itself.
There is among Argentines of all classes today a deep desire to make democracy work. The last bout of military rule was so bloody, and left the country in such economic shambles, that Argentines have been sobered to seek moderation and democracy more than at any time since 1930. Alfonsín personifies their hope-many Argentines say their last best hope. The combination of this national mood and the new government's commitment to pluralism gives reason to believe that this time Argentine democracy will endure.
But much will depend on the United States and the international financial community in the crucial debt negotiations. The internal conundrum faced by the new Argentine government requires new political calculations and economic formulas beyond the standard IMF models to refinance the debt. Thus far the actions of the banks, the IMF and the Reagan Administration remain dangerously piecemeal.
The importance that Argentine democracy survive goes far beyond just the aspirations of its people. In geographical terms, Argentina is the seventh largest country in the world, and the second largest in Latin America. Despite its economic ills, it enjoys a higher standard of living than any nation in the Western Hemisphere except the United States and Canada. Its potential as a contributor to world technology and as a Third World leader is reflected in an assessment by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that the Argentine nuclear program is so advanced it could produce a nuclear bomb in one to three years. Argentina's economic potential for the world community is already partly realized in what, alongside oil, is the world's most essential commodity: food. Argentina is the world's third largest exporter of grains and could easily produce much more.
Most important, perhaps, is an intangible. The failure of democracy in Argentina, after the great expectations raised by Alfonsín's election, would shake the hopes of Latin America's tenuous democracies and harden the wills of military rulers throughout the region. As Chilean opposition leader Jorge Lavandero observed: "Latin America is a compact bloc, and the damage would be grave."
Argentina's political misfortunes have long been an enigma. A southern mirror of the United States, the country is bounteous in resources and temperate in climate. It is sparsely populated and, more even than the United States, its 28 million people are the descendants of European immigrants. Literacy is high, poverty low and racial divisions hardly exist; Argentines are almost exclusively white. As late as World War II, Argentina was almost equal in development to Australia, and not far behind Canada.
The nation's failure is a frustrating tale of the primacy of politics over economics, of a nation floundering without national cohesion or identity, without a common sense of history or a minimal basic agenda of how to solve its problems. The challenge facing Alfonsín and the new government is not just to undo the last eight years of military rule, but to change the habits and institutions that have built up over the last 50 years, and more.
Until World War II, Argentina was largely a Spanish-speaking extension of the British Empire. The British built the railroads and utilities, introduced modern breeding, and ran the trade, shaping the Argentine economy to fit their own needs. Throughout the nineteenth century and into the 1930s, negligent Argentine authorities and prospering oligarchs who supplied the beef, wool and grains to British companies helped foster the lopsided emphasis on agriculture over industry that has since hampered efforts to achieve balanced economic growth.
Adding to the problem, the British railroads converged like a fan on Buenos Aires, their most convenient port. By the turn of the century, Buenos Aires had become the center of Latin American culture and one of the world's great capitals. But the city, which today includes nearly 11 million people, holds more than one-third of the national population. Much of the rest of Argentina is empty and its riches barely tapped. Argentina has not only failed to realize its potential economic greatness but deprived itself of the frontier spirit that might have promoted a greater sense of common purpose and identity.
As it was, the British helped nurture a Buenos Aires elite that looked to Britain, and later to France, for its social identification. The wealthy and much of the intelligentsia since the last century have maintained their hearts, their bank accounts and often a second home in Paris, London or more recently New York. At home, the upper class and much of the middle class lead a formal European lifestyle of double-breasted suits and late afternoon tea.
One effect has been to isolate Argentina from the rest of Latin America. The litany of upper- and middle-class Argentines that "We're Europeans, not Latins" carries a distinctly condescending tone that has made Argentines resented throughout Latin America.
A more profound effect has been to create a political and social schizophrenia that continues to plague Argentina today. In contrast to the outward-looking Argentine elite, the working class and other parts of the middle class, identifying with a native "criollo" spirit, have reacted in part by looking so inward as to be xenophobic. They are spurred by nationalist teaching in the public schools and an isolation at the far tip of South America that gives them little realistic understanding of how the rest of the world works-a problem all too apparent in the 1982 war.
Modern Argentina began to take shape socially with European immigration. When the first national census was taken in 1869, the population was a mere 1.8 million. It doubled by 1895 and doubled again by 1914. The immigrants came from France, Germany and to escape the Jewish pogroms of Eastern Europe. Many came from Spain, but the largest number by far came from Italy. These varied national origins are not, however, part of the two-Argentina dichotomy; in that sense the country was a true melting pot.
Modern politics began in 1890 with the founding of the Radical Civic Union, now headed by Alfonsín. Representing the growing immigrant middle class,1 the early Radicals fought the oligarchy for universal male suffrage, and, after winning it, they went on to win the presidency in 1916 under Hipólito Yrigoyen, the country's first great charismatic leader of this century.
Yrigoyen set a standard of scrupulous honesty and fighting for civil liberties and social justice that characterizes the Radicals to this day. Yet in 14 years in office the Radicals were able to push through virtually no major social legislation, largely due to their own inflexibility and internal disagreements. The ensuing political stalemate set the stage for the first military coup in 1930.
For the next 13 years, the military ruled in an alliance with the Conservatives and anti-Yrigoyen Radicals. Differences between the oligarchy and the middle class began to fade as both groups confronted an important new opponent: the rapidly growing working class. Out of this new conflict emerged the country's second great charismatic leader of the century, Juan Perón.
Perón was a member of a nationalistic, anti-British clique of colonels who seized power in 1943, at the height of World War II. Workers had been crowding the nation's cities, working in newly created wartime factories, but they were ill treated and ill paid. Politically ambitious and recognizing their potential, Perón offered himself as their defender, and in short order had built such a following that by the time elections were held in 1946, he won with 56 percent of the vote.
Perón ruled for nine years. He did some good, more than anything giving workers self-respect. His charismatic wife, the fabled Evita, a second-rank radio and movie actress, called them mis descamisados, "my shirtless ones." More practically, the government built public hospitals, greatly raised wages, established numerous new industries and curried nationalism by expropriating the British railroads and utilities.
But Perón turned democracy into a sham, bitterly dividing the country to this day. He turned the unions into corporatist monoliths. Bullying Congress and interpreting executive powers more widely than ever before, he imposed censorship, jailed and exiled many political opponents, impeached members of the Supreme Court, intervened in the universities, built up a secret police apparatus and amended the Constitution. The amendments made the Peronist party, formally called the Justicialist Party, an official government party and allowed him to succeed himself in a corrupt election in 1952. Eventually, however, Perón's industrial policies failed and discontent grew, even in the unions. Perón lost control over the military, and in 1955 was ousted by a coup.
The Peronists were barred from the two elections held in the ensuing period, but it was an omission that robbed the victors of their legitimacy and helped lead to their overthrow. The two were the governments of Arturo Frondizi (1958-1962) and Arturo Illia (1963-1966), who represented the opposing factions of the Radical Party from the Yrigoyen days.
Ultimately Perón came back in triumph. After 18 years in exile, at the age of 77 and increasingly feeble, he returned and pushed aside a Peronist stalking horse, Hector Campora, who had been elected president in 1973 following another failed stretch of military rule. Perón brought with him his third wife, María Estela Martínez de Perón, better known as Isabel, a chorus line dancer when he had met her in exile. She ran as his vice president, and they won with more than 60 percent of the vote, proving the enduring power of the Perón myth.
In the unions, one effect of Peronism has been to largely eliminate the communists and socialists. But the corporatism represented by the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) has also fostered ultranationalism, a vast state bureaucracy, and the hardening of lines between other increasingly corporate sectors, such as industry, agriculture, the military and the Catholic Church.
Most important, the myth itself undermined the nation's political fabric. The last military president, General Alejandro A. Lanusse, called the 1973 elections and let the Peronists run, in part under the pressure of growing Peronist violence. But the violence continued, turning into gun battles between right- and left-wing Peronists. Peronism was always an ill-defined populism, and the absurdity of the violence reflected its own lack of identity. Perón had long papered over internal party divisions with the power of his personality and vagaries that Peronists still quote as Chinese once quoted Mao. Back in office, however, Perón expelled violent far-left factions, such as the Montoneros, from the party. His charisma and a newfound sense of moderation raised popular hopes that the aging caudillo might be able to unite Argentina once and for all. Even the Radicals formed a national unity front with Perón called the "Hour of the People." It is one of the great unknowns what would have happened had Perón been able to consolidate his new power. But on July 1, 1974, just nine months after taking office again, he died.
Perón was succeeded by Isabel. Terrorism grew worse as hundreds of people were killed in bombings, assassinations and shoot-outs. As part of the panic, the economy also turned sour. By March 1976, inflation had hit an annual rate of almost 1,000 percent and it was clear the government was out of control. When the military finally moved, there was a national sigh of relief.
Mrs. Perón's government was the sixth civilian government overthrown by the armed forces since 1930, and it would be easy to attribute the Argentine malady to the military. But such an interpretation is misleading. The military never moved without the tugging of a broad spectrum of Argentines of all classes and parties. A sad fact about the strength of Argentine democracy is that the multitudes turned into the streets to cheer the rise and fall of every government, military or civilian.
The first allegiance of the Argentine military is to itself. And it sees its mission not as upholding the Constitution, but the nation. It is noteworthy that the only oath a military man makes in his career is made each year to the Argentine flag of sky blue and white. In response to the question as to whether he will defend it, he responds, simply, "I swear."
The military took over in 1976 with a mandate to end the terrorism and right the economy. It set out this time, however, to fundamentally remake the nation in what it called the Process for National Reorganization. On the social and political levels it sought to root out the demagoguery of Peronism and to restructure the party system. On an economic level, it sought to end chronic inflation and rationalize the economy along free-market lines. Army Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla was made the regime's first president.
Terrorism was the first priority. Seeing the recent defeat of the United States in Vietnam as a failure of will, the military, with a genuine, if skewed, view of the world, saw itself as on the front line of World War III against international leftist subversion. Unconventional means were needed to fight an unconventional enemy; they would use terror to fight terror.
Relying on an extensive state intelligence network, underground squads kidnapped thousands of Argentines, including many who were only peripherally related to the terrorists because, for example, their name had happened to appear in a suspect's phone book. More than 240 secret interrogation centers and jails opened around the country, often in converted police buildings or military barracks. Gruesome torture with electric prods, beatings, rape and near drownings were common practice inside the jails. Many suspects were interrogated and released; an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 were killed.2
By the time Argentina hosted the World Cup in soccer in June 1978, terrorism was all but eliminated. The military declared victory, and the country's soccer team also won the Cup. Some Argentines were troubled by the anti-terrorist methods, but a great many more, of all classes and backgrounds, appeared to be willing to overlook that and accept that terrorism was conquered. By 1980, the last terrorist gasps had died out and the disappearances stopped. Despite the concern abroad, concern for human rights inside Argentina remained a minor sideshow, confined to small groups and several hundred relatives of the disappeared who marched each Thursday in front of the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.
On the economic side, Economy Minister José Martínez de Hoz's free-market policies and an overvalued peso created a boom between 1978 to 1980 that Argentines called "sweet money," with even workers flocking abroad on vacations and buying imported television sets. It was a fantasy world that could not last. Imports became so cheap that local industry was collapsing under the competition. Exports became so expensive that agriculture was priced out of the world market. The banking freedoms were so abused by speculation and under-regulation that many banks folded and the government had to pour out valuable reserves to guarantee savings. Martínez de Hoz had gambled that he could wring out inflation, but his monetary measures were not matched by fiscal restraint. The military leadership was hesitant to cut state spending and a near-war with Chile in 1978 sent it on an arms-buying spree, feeding uncontrolled deficits. In 1981, the balloon burst, just as the Videla Administration and Martínez de Hoz were leaving office. Their replacements, Lieutenant General Roberto E. Viola and Lorenzo Sigaut, vacillated in making decisions and the crisis of confidence deepened. The economy plunged into recession almost overnight.
In nine months, both inflation and unemployment exploded upwards. The peso, under tremendous speculative pressure, fell in value by more than 400 percent. Argentines holding dollar debts suddenly found that it took five times more pesos to pay them back. They could not meet their payments. The government bought out much of the private debt through exchange guarantees. Panicked savers, meanwhile, started a long-term run on the banks. The country's reserves fell precipitously. Today's foreign debt crisis was born.
American, European and Japanese banks, glutted with petrodollars, contributed to the problem through their easy willingness to lend to Argentina. The military's free-market policies were especially attractive. In 1976, when the military took over, the total public and private debt was $6.4 billion. It grew modestly in the first two years, then began its steep climb. From $9.8 billion in 1978, it quadrupled in just four years to $38 billion in 1982. The Argentine economy was hemorrhaging, yet the banks continued to pour money into it, often lending through state companies to cover deficits, on the theory that a sovereign power never goes bankrupt.
In December 1981, the ineffectual Viola was removed by a palace coup and replaced by the commander-in-chief of the army, Lieutenant General Leopoldo F. Galtieri. The economic unraveling was brought under control, but by this time spreading strikes and protests were demanding a return to democracy.
The new junta, seeking to recapture the political initiative, reacted by invading the Falkland Islands, subject of a longstanding territorial dispute between Argentina and Great Britain. For 11 weeks, as the war unfolded on the barren South Atlantic islands 300 miles off the southern tip of Patagonia, the country came together in a brief respite of national unity. Every Argentine child is raised stoutly believing the Malvinas, as they call the islands, are Argentine. But their misunderstanding of the world, combined with machismo pride, led to a failure to predict British resolve and American loyalties. Had the Argentines won, General Galtieri might still be president today. But they lost, and in humiliating fashion. Within a month of their surrender in June 1982, Galtieri was cashiered, a whole shake-up was under way inside the armed forces, and elections were called.
Many Radicals are already proclaiming that Alfonsín represents the country's third historical movement, after Yrigoyen and Perón. Alfonsín broke the Peronist domination by attracting support from across the political spectrum, including many workers. The Peronists were divided-and for the first time were running without Perón. Isabel Perón, in self-exile in Madrid, maintained a mysterious silence throughout the election.
Alfonsín won by a margin of 52 percent of the popular vote to 40 percent for the Peronist candidate, former Senate president Italo A. Luder, a highly respected constitutional lawyer. Alfonsín won 57 percent of the votes in the electoral college and the Radicals won a clear majority in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, winning 129 of the 254 seats. The Peronists won 111. Among national parties, the socialist Intransigents won only three seats, the Christian Democrats one, and the Central Democratic Union, a conservative party headed by former Economics Minister Alvaro Alsogaray, won two.
Despite their gains, the Radicals do not control the Congress, having failed to win a majority in the country's upper house, the Senate. Senators are elected by provincial congresses, except in the federal district of Buenos Aires, and enduring Peronist caudillos in the provinces gave the Peronists a 21 to 18 lead in the Senate, though not a majority. The swing vote rests with seven senators from independent provincial parties.
The election was a clear rejection of the extremes, raising hopes that the political system may be coalescing and stabilizing around two major parties. Adding to the hopes is the fact that both Alfonsín and Luder were men of the middle with similar policy views. Argentines, worn by the years of turmoil, sought a solution in moderation, and the election was peaceful.
Alfonsín, who is 57 years old, won by stumping the country, stirring audiences with fiery calls for democracy. A new face with an unblemished record, he was a co-founder of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights shortly after the military took power in 1976. In the course of his career, Alfonsín has been arrested three times for political activities: once by the Peronists and twice by military governments. He was also one of the few Argentines to object bravely to the Falklands invasion.
The son of a general store owner, Alfonsín was born and raised in the small pampa town of Chascomus. He was graduated from the law faculty at the National University of Buenos Aires, returned briefly to work in local government, won a seat as a Radical in the provincial assembly and then in Congress in 1963. It was clear to him the party was moribund, dominated by a group of old caudillos who had been unable to match Perón. Alfonsín unsuccessfully challenged the party leadership in the 1972 presidential primaries. For the next ten years, he assiduously organized what he called his Renovation and Change Movement, and in the 1983 primaries swept aside the old guard with surprising ease.
Alfonsín's optimism was infectious. He immediately ended all censorship, attracting back many of the two million Argentines who had moved abroad to escape political repression and economic crisis. The country's film, theater, television and publishing industries came to life again.
Alfonsín's first success was in subduing the military. In a dramatic break with a Latin tradition of forgiving military rulers in order to pacify them, he moved to deter future coups by ordering that the nine junta members who served between 1976 and 1982 be court-martialed for spreading "terror, pain and death throughout Argentine society." Among the nine are ex-Presidents Videla, Viola and Galtieri.3
Asserting civilian authority over the military, he retired more than half of the generals and admirals. In preliminary budget cuts, he slashed military outlays from highs of six percent of the gross national product under the military's rule to under four percent. He also moved to take away the military's 50-year control over Fabricaciones Militares, a military-industrial complex that produces everything from plowshares to bullets and has been a nexus for coup-prone industrial and union leaders.
The military, demoralized and widely despised, has resisted little. By moving the military out of politics, Alfonsín has acted to professionalize the corps, which appeals to many officers in the wake of the Falklands debacle. Indeed, on its own, though with government approval, the military is court-martialing a number of the Falklands commanders. The three wartime junta leaders, Galtieri, Admiral Jorge Isaac Anaya and Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo were arrested in February for their roles in the invasion.
Combining political shrewdness and legal principle, Alfonsín pushed a law through Congress reducing the traditionally great power of military courts to a future role limited to overseeing internal military discipline. Past crimes by servicemen, however, are to be tried under the old law, which means that human rights abuses will be tried in military courts. As a guarantee of justice, the new law imposed automatic review of all military court decisions by civilian appeals courts. The appeals court can take new evidence, overturn the military decision or change the sentence.
Finally, Alfonsín drew on the precedents set by the Nuremberg trials after World War II in setting out a formal definition of responsibility for military crimes. Servicemen and police who merely carried out orders in an environment where they could not question the decisions were not held culpable. The exception is in the case of crimes so gruesome that anyone would know better. Great room is left for judicial interpretation, but Alfonsín already acted in January by arresting and indicting the former police chief of Buenos Aires province, retired General Ramón Camps. He established a blue-ribbon commission of 16 leading people headed by novelist and social critic, Ernesto Sabato, to investigate persons who have disappeared. The report of this National Commission for the Disappearances of Persons is due in June, but it is being delayed as the commission collects testimony that will likely lead to other prosecutions.
According to military officers, the armed forces accept the prosecutions as fair play. They still defend the anti-subversion campaign, but acknowledge excesses. In their Prussian tradition of holding commanders responsible for defeats, they hold the past juntas responsible for the excesses and political failure. Courts-martial give the military a chance to cleanse itself. In pure self-interest, many officers and servicemen also feel relieved they will apparently not be held responsible. Only an estimated 1,500 servicemen out of a total force of almost 150,000 were directly involved in the human rights abuses, and most of them are retired.
The greatest challenge to the prosecutions, in fact, comes from an ironic source: human rights groups. The Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, as well as other leading groups such as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Center for Legal and Social Studies, distrust military courts and are not reassured by automatic civilian review, because it is untried. They also demand a congressional investigation in place of the Sabato Commission, arguing that Congress has more power and generates more publicity.4 Having lost the vote on the law, they have switched their fight to the court system. Some 50 cases have been filed against military men in relation to disappearances.
In the most celebrated case, former President Reynaldo B. Bignone, who oversaw the transition and was spared prosecution by Alfonsín, has been indicted and arrested in a privately brought case for covering up the disappearances of two communist draftees under his command while he headed a military college in 1976. Bignone has been in jail since February, and his case, which has become a tangled legal battle, remains an extremely delicate issue, as both the government and the military hold him in great respect.
If Alfonsín has largely subdued the military, he has been less successful in dealing with that internal corporatist power, the General Confederation of Labor. And as he said to me: "Without democracy in the unions there cannot be democracy in the country."
Union leaders virtually took over the Peronist party structure during the 1983 primary elections. Peronism's formal structure includes three branches: women, labor and politicians. The death of Perón and self-exile of Mrs. Perón left a power vacuum that union bosses filled. The female branch had been created by Evita (women's suffrage was introduced under her in 1947), but became powerless with her death. In the 1983 election the politicians could not rival the union leaders' ready-made grass roots organizations, and unionists won many congressional and provincial seats. Herminio Iglesias, a rough-hewn union-related politician, controls powerful Buenos Aires province even though he lost the gubernatorial race. Lorenzo Miguel, the head of the 62 Organizations, the CGT's political arm, and head of the powerful metalworkers union, won internal elections to become party first vice president, meaning he runs the party in the absence of Isabel Perón, who is the party's elected president.
The centerpiece of the Alfonsín union strategy was a bill requiring court-controlled elections of union officers and representation of the losing factions on union boards. Because the military had intervened in the unions, union elections have not been held in a decade. Polls have shown that the rank and file do not support many of the old bosses, and Alfonsín is gambling that he can lead an internal union evolution.
After weeks of angry debate, however, the bill was defeated in March in the Senate, as three independent votes sided with the Peronists. The defeat illustrated the continuing strength of the old union bosses. The CGT, which had split under the military, had largely reunited in January under four secretaries-general, led by Saul Ubaldini, a beer brewer, and Jorge Triaca, a plastic worker. Many Peronist political leaders privately say they, too, want to trim the power of the old bosses, but the campaign led by young Radical legislators, imbued with the idea of the "third wave," was so abrasive that it was seen by the independents and the Peronists as a revived effort by the middle class to gut the power of unions altogether.
Recognizing the error, Alfonsín has switched strategies. On the one hand, he has courted independent union leaders. On the other, he has sought compromise with the CGT. In April, he forced the resignation of Labor Minister Antonio Mucci, who had angered unionists by intervening in two unions. Alfonsín also began calling for national unity in speeches around the country. "Without reconciliation and dialogue," he warned Congress, "the tendencies to fragmentation could appear and grow."
The president has turned for support to what might appear an incongruous source: the Peronist party. Cutting across the many factions in the party is a split between those who favor total loyalty to Isabel Perón as a Perón and those who favor ending the myths and becoming a modern, internally democratic party. Luder, the party's presidential candidate, was of the latter school, but his defeat hurt the cause. But with Mrs. Perón also absent, the party has been rudderless and, as a party, barely exists. Internal factions fight each other in the Congress and for control of various provinces. In opposition, the Peronists can obstruct but appear unable to work together constructively as a negotiating bloc.
Alfonsín has thus ironically turned to Mrs. Perón, who returned from Madrid in May to join him in the national unity talks. Her only other brief visit to Argentina since being released from house arrest by the military three years ago was to briefly attend Alfonsín's inauguration. In transatlantic telephone conversations, he encouraged her to return again, and pushed legislation through the Congress nullifying her past conviction for allegedly depositing more than $500,000 in charity funds in her private account. He is going to such great lengths in hopes that Mrs. Perón will be able to calm the unions and impose some order on the Peronists. "What bothers me is that I need an interlocutor," he told me in May, "and she is the party president."
It is unclear just what effect Mrs. Perón's return might have on Alfonsín's strategy. Their first meetings were amicable, and she has encouraged her followers to be sympathetic to the new president. But it does not appear that she plans to live in Argentina; her loyalists say she will go back and forth between Buenos Aires and Madrid. More significantly, while Mrs. Perón has tremendous symbolic power as the widow of Perón, much of that power may prove ephemeral as she intrudes again into the world of practical politics.
Already, the party was straining as she snubbed Miguel and the elected national party council. Surrounding herself with a "liaison committee" of loyalists, she took them as well as the national council along with her for the first meeting with Alfonsín. She had a loyalist, former national deputy Juan Labake, present the party's position in the meeting. In private caucuses of the national council, some members were already angrily advocating a showdown over Mrs. Perón's power.
Any such showdown could well lead to the dissolution of the Peronists as a party. It would force the party to define itself more concretely, reviving bitter ideological divisions and possibly even old violence. Mrs. Perón is a rightist, but she resents many of the old, right-wing union bosses, as well as the party's leftist intellectuals, for having abandoned her in 1976. A possible outcome would be Peronist offshoots to the right and left of Alfonsín, changing the face of Argentine politics. But while Alfonsín would be politically strengthened, his long-sought national unity, which is more important to him at the moment, might be lost.
In foreign affairs, the government has seen quick success. Alfonsín and Foreign Minister Dante Caputo have oriented the country's policies toward Latin America. Caputo's first major initiative was to sign an agreement with Chile pledging both nations to conclude a treaty ending their territorial dispute over the Beagle Channel.
Alfonsín also took the initiative with regard to the Falklands. He has repeatedly called for negotiations, and he and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher have been exchanging secret notes. Argentina wants Britain to stop its militarization of the islands, lift its 150-mile exclusion zone around them and return to prewar sovereignty negotiations. The Thatcher government has responded that sovereignty is out of the question and prefers a phased return to normal relations. The British are understandably wary about whether democracy and Argentine good intentions will last. But it is a short-sighted position. Continued British stubbornness and militarization stirs destabilizing nationalist sentiments inside Argentina.
The new government enjoys particularly warm relations with the rest of Europe. The Radicals have historically identified with Europe's Social Democrats and its moderate Socialists. Prime Ministers Bettino Craxi of Italy, Felipe Gonzalez of Spain and Mario Soares of Portugal attended Alfonsín's inauguration, and Alfonsín plans to visit Spain in June.
Alfonsín has ruled out a militant Third World foreign policy, while staying officially nonaligned. "Our history and our geography make us Occidentals," he told Congress, "but let nobody mistake this as belonging to a determined bloc."
One of the government's most surprising initiatives, nonetheless, has been to warm relations with the United States. U.S.-Argentine relations have seldom been particularly good, and following American support for Britain in the Falklands War, they were bad. Vice President George Bush attended Alfonsín's inaugural, and his goodwill was evident in his enthusiastic praise of the new democracy. Caputo, a former student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, enjoyed amicable meetings in Washington and New York in April. A team of State Department officials spent two days in Buenos Aires in March reviewing the world and Argentine diplomats discovered they had few disagreements with their American counterparts. "Our relations are serious, frank and direct-what we like," Caputo told me.
One serious outstanding issue between the two nations is that Argentina has never ratified a nuclear nonproliferation treaty. The country announced last year that it had completed the nuclear fuel cycle by achieving the technology to enrich uranium. Alfonsín has pledged not to build a bomb, but the country has always left open the option to build a peaceful nuclear device. The government has firmly stated that ratification of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is out of the question because it bans even such devices. But senior officials privately say Alfonsín wants to ratify the hemispheric Tlatelolco treaty, which is less restrictive. Expecting heavy nationalist opposition, the government is waiting for an opportune moment to present the treaty to Congress, they say. In a joint communiqué with visiting Mexican President Miguel Hurtado de la Madrid in April, the government reflected its thinking by pledging not to use its "nuclear technology for warlike ends, in the spirit" of Tlatelolco. Among the initiatives the government plans to take in the coming months to underline its peaceful intentions is the introduction of a law in Congress banning the building of a nuclear bomb. It also may inform fellow Latins of voluntary safeguards.
In Central America, the government verbally supports the efforts by the Contadora group of Latin nations seeking to negotiate an end to the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The Alfonsín government has reextended a $45-million credit line for industrial goods to Nicaragua and offered another $2.5 million in food and medical aid. The credit line is an old one, maintained even by the previous military government as part of numerous such credits designed to promote Argentine exports in the Caribbean basin. The government also extended a $600-million credit line to Cuba. Despite such credits, Caputo has said the time has come to "rethink" hemispheric security, both to aid development aspirations and stop "Eastern penetration."
Alfonsín has pledged to make Argentina a world spokesman for human rights and democracy, and in the Southern Cone the government has already welcomed exiled leaders, such as the Uruguayan, Wilson Ferreyra Aldunate, who came to Buenos Aires from Europe in April to stage his campaign for Uruguay's scheduled November election. Alfonsín, following a Latin tradition of nonintervention, has maintained correct relations with the military regimes in Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, and as one official said, "Argentina seeks not to export democracy, but to radiate it."
The key issue in Alfonsín's drive for national unity-and in the long-term prospects for Argentine democracy-is the economy. The historic Radical faith in democracy is so strong that the party came into power believing democracy alone would go a long way to righting the economy. This attitude, in itself, hindered them from coming quickly to terms with the disastrous situation they inherited.
The debt had risen to $45 billion, while foreign exchange reserves had dropped to a mere $100 million. Inflation in 1983 soared to 434 percent. The fiscal deficit in the last quarter grew to a full 18 percent of the gross national product as the lame-duck Bignone government lost all authority. Record crops helped produce a modest GNP growth of 2.8 percent, but it was little comfort in an economy that had otherwise stagnated. While Latin America was booming in the 1960s and 1970s, Argentina grew at only slightly more than one percent a year. Between 1970 and 1982, official statistics suggest that per capita GNP actually dropped, though the country's thriving underground economy makes such statistics suspect. Confidence in government and its economic policies, nonetheless, was at rock bottom, and fed on itself. Argentina has had 46 economic ministers in the last 40 years. Cumulative inflation since 1976 has been a mind-boggling 259,400 percent. Argentines learned to live with it through indexing, speculating and cheating. The black market in dollars is so prevalent that the rate is quoted daily in the newspaper. The peso has become meaningless; in three years it dropped to nearly a three-hundredth of its value.
Alfonsín and his economic minister, Bernardo Grinspun, set three simultaneous but incompatible goals: to lower inflation, raise real wages and revive growth. The government decreed salary increases of one percent per month over inflation; inflation bolted upwards to 522 percent in the 12 months ending in April. The central bank set interest rates at a level below the inflation rate in order to boost industry; savers withdrew deposits, aggravating a lack of money so chronic in the banks that most companies borrow on a commercial paper market, where the annual rate in May was almost 500 percent for a 30-day loan. Government-imposed price controls have led to shortages of items such as razor blades. An emergency feeding plan for the poor was set up, but it added to the deficit.
Raul Prebisch, the 83-year-old dean of Third World economists and an adviser to Alfonsín, said bluntly in April that the policies had failed. The government has since moved to correct them, but all economic planning now takes place on two tracks, the second being with the IMF.
The government committed itself in March to concluding a letter of intent with the IMF for a readjustment program to refinance more than $20 billion of past-due debt dating back to 1982. The commitment was part of an international package rescuing Argentina from possible default on past-due interest payments totaling some $500 million. Hardly any foreign-debt payments had been made since October, when a nationalistic federal judge in Patagonia ordered negotiations on the 1983 public debt halted because of his objections to a clause in a model contract giving New York courts jurisdiction in disputes. The judge was eventually overruled, but the outgoing Bignone government did not resume payments. The banks, in retaliation, held back disbursement of the remaining $1 billion of a $1.5-billion loan they had approved in August. The IMF also held off disbursing almost $900 million in standby credits it had earlier approved for Argentina.
Upon taking office, the new government continued the virtual moratorium, declaring that the government needed until June to study just what it had inherited and to rebuild its reserves. The simple fact was-and is-that Argentina owes nearly $6 billion in interest by the end of the year, but projects a trade surplus of only $3.5 billion. The situation reached crisis proportions just prior to the end of the American banking quarter on March 31, when some $500 million in unpaid interest would have been a full 90 days past due. At that point, under American banking regulations, the $9 billion in loans involved would have been declared non-performing, threatening bank profits and Argentina's status as a borrower.
The rescue package was concluded hours before the deadline after angry negotiations between Grinspun and a steering committee of government and banking representatives were on the verge of breaking down. At Mexico's initiative, four fellow Latin American debtors-Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela-stepped in in an unprecedented arrangement to avoid repercussions for all Latin American nations. The four put up $300 million, which the Reagan Administration promised to reimburse once Argentina signed an agreement with the IMF. Argentina paid $100 million and committed itself to reaching the IMF agreement. The banks lent Argentina $100 million more, bringing the total package to the necessary $500 million.
That same week in March, Prebisch and the managing director of the IMF, Jacques de Larosière, reached a working agreement over the general outlines of an austerity program. It included drastic budget cuts, positive interest rates, slowing down salary increases, and speeding up devaluations. But it met the fundamental Alfonsín objective by calling for overall economic growth.
Since then, however, the negotiations have been bogged down over the details. The salary program had raised real wages three percent in the first three months, but by mid-May Alfonsín remained committed to raising real wages at least another three percent by the end of the year. Though real wages for salaried workers had gone up roughly 20 percent in 1983, they were still 30 percent below their level in 1975. Alfonsín told workers "wages would never again be used as a variable" to correct the economy.
A centerpiece of the austerity program will be the 1984 budget, which by late May was six weeks overdue as the government searched for further cuts. The deepest preliminary cuts were in military spending, though atomic energy outlays were slashed by one-third. The government sought to keep the education and social cuts minimal by raising some taxes such as on gasoline and tightening up on the collection of others, such as income and sales. Tax evasion on the latter two was long thought to be around 50 percent, according to the central bank, reflecting the country's lack of economic organization.
It is likely that Argentina and the IMF will sign an agreement. The Argentines understand that it is the only way to get refinancing of their public debt from the Club of Paris, as well as refinancing and new loans from private commercial banks. Nonetheless, the political sensitivities are such that Alfonsín has delayed signing until he can achieve some consensus in the unity talks.
The government's fear is that an agreement that is too austere could easily set off a revolt not just among union leaders, but in the society as a whole. Unions already have called a number of nagging one-day strikes, frequently shutting down rail lines. Most of Alfonsín's close circle of advisers, such as Grinspun and German Lopez, the President's chief of staff, served in the Illia government and their memory is still fresh of the strikes that brought it down in 1966. Already the unions are reverting to pre-coup dissembling. After a decreed wage increase was lower than inflation in April, the CGT said in a statement that the government was creating "a climate not at all truly apt to guarantee democracy."
Union leaders privately admit that their political conflict with Alfonsín is largely behind their campaign. But in an environment in which prices go up 20 percent in just one month, the economic issue is genuinely volatile. If Alfonsín trips off that volatility, he will not only lose his legitimacy to try to restructure the unions for long-term democracy in Argentina, but his very short-term survival will be at stake.
Most of Argentina's nearly 320 commercial bank creditors already accept that the June deadline for refinancing the 1983 and 1984 debt is unlikely to be met. What immediately worries them, however, is that another 90-day interest deadline falls June 30. Alfonsín wants an agreement, but he and his advisers, in keeping with his Radical tradition of putting democratic principles over economic ones, are genuinely willing to brook the risk of not having one, his advisers say. He declined to say that himself in his talks with me, saying, "Let me be an optimist and not compute the alternatives." But he pointed to the nearly 30 people who died in recent food riots in the Dominican Republic after that country imposed harsh IMF austerity measures to repay its debt. "We are not going to accept those policies," he said. "We are not going to accept them in any way."
Even if Argentina clears the hurdles of the IMF and the interest deadline, the heart of the matter is still the $20-billion refinancing and the needed new loans. The debt due includes about $11 billion from last year, and $9 billion this year. The model for the 1983 debt called for an equivalent interest rate of roughly two percent over the prime rate and a three-year grace period. The Alfonsín government is demanding much lower interest and a grace of four to five years, giving the government time to pay back private sector debt that it had guaranteed and renegotiated last year. The banks are hesitant, particularly on the 1983 debt, for fear other debtors will demand reopening their 1983 agreements.
But even if the banks give a five-year grace and very generous interest rates by today's standards-say, one percent over prime-it will amount to little more than a band-aid. With the prime rate in mid-May at 12.5 percent, the interest alone due next year would be about $6 billion and total payments due would be roughly $10 billion. In 1986, the interest would be around $6.5 billion and total debt due $11.5 billion. Argentine projected trade surpluses fall far short of those sums, requiring still more loans and crisis negotiations in what appears to be a no-win game. The orders of magnitude have swamped the system and threaten its collapse.
A similar problem is faced by almost all major Third World debtors, and Alfonsín has been spearheading a movement by Latins to find their own proposed solution. At his initiative, the leaders of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia joined him in the simultaneous release of a statement saying they "cannot indefinitely" accept the "hazards" to democracy and development posed by existing repayment terms. Economic and foreign ministers from the four and from other Latin American countries plan to meet in Bogotá in mid-June.
Alfonsín and the other Latin American leaders for the first time intend to explore means to combine their leverage to gain better terms. Until now they have been deterred by the disparity of their countries' debts. While their discussions are intended to be constructive, the potential is clearly there for the forming of a bloc, with all the nasty connotations which that carries of confrontation with the industrial countries. The four signatories alone represent $230 billion, or more than two-thirds of the total Latin debt. If the four withheld payments, the international financial system could, quite simply, collapse.
What is the solution? The Alfonsín government has no formal proposal, except to say that the banks, too, are responsible for letting the debt get out of hand and that the system has to change for all heavily indebted less-developed countries. Among the options being debated in the world today are guarantees or long-term bonds issued by industrial countries to underwrite the debt. Such options, however, require the approval of reluctant national legislatures. Other options include phased or capped interest rates, but these require reluctant banks to absorb short-term losses. All the schemes are designed to give the indebted countries a breathing space to grow before paying back.
The Argentines and other Latin nations meeting in Bogotá appear to be leaning toward a combination of risk guarantees by the industrial countries and better bank terms. Among the desired terms are lower, fixed interest rates; smaller bank fees and commissions; longer payback times of up to 20 years; and grace periods, including delays on some interest payments, that would vary depending on a country's ability to repay.
For Alfonsín, it is the survival of Argentine democracy that is at stake as the many negotiations unfold and as he seeks to refinance the Argentine debt. "I would say that democracy is an irreversible fact," he said with great confidence. But he added: "The country in a certain way is still on the edge of a precipice. If we accept recessive economic recipes, our democracy itself would be at stake."
Argentina's dilemma carries broad political, as well as economic, implications. Though the nations of Latin America jealously guard their independence and national differences, they are politically interdependent to an extraordinary degree. In South America, the military governments that took over in the 1960s and 1970s in Brazil, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina were each influenced and reinforced by the others.
The movement toward democracy, with Argentina now in the forefront, has picked up momentum over the last five years, but remains tenuous. The Andean nations of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia were the first to shed military rule, but continuing social-economic hardships threaten democracy in the latter two. Uruguay is scheduled to hold elections in November, but the military government has threatened a delay in an attempt to force the opposition to accept a strong military role in a future democracy. Brazil is carrying out a phased transition, but current plans call for indirect elections this year that would allow the military to retain the presidency.
The collapse of democracy in any of the democratic countries on the continent would reverberate in all. But perhaps none has a greater impact than Argentina, the most economically and militarily powerful country in the Southern Cone. Neighboring Uruguay is so heavily influenced by Argentina it is often said to be a virtual province. The front pages of Chilean newspapers are dominated by Argentine news as the nations share a testy, 2,000-mile border.
The failure of Alfonsín would be taken as a failure of moderation inside Argentina as well as outside. The major threat is chaos created by union agitation, fueled by a deteriorating economy and social hardships. While it is obviously hazardous to predict what might follow should the government lose authority, collapse at the center would lead to a rise of the extremes. Alfonsín constantly raises the prospect of the nation disintegrating into what he calls a "Lebanonization" of its many factions, each warring for its own interests and ideology in what could easily turn into East-West competition. This is a worst-case scenario; more likely would be a military coup, but unlike previous coups, this one would surely be bloodily contested. Hatred of the military runs deeper today than ever before.
A return to military rule in Argentina would raise serious dilemmas for its neighbors, the United States and the West. Argentine military governments, like most such governments in Latin America, have had a propensity for human rights abuses. Freed from the restraints of legislatures, military regimes also tend to be nationalistic and threatening to their neighbors-and not necessarily receptive to U.S. policy interests. Despite its anti-communism, the last Argentine military government refused to join in the American-led grain embargo of the Soviet Union following the invasion of Afghanistan. After the Reagan Administration moved to curry the military's favor beginning in 1981, the United States won Argentine help in Central America, but the whole time Argentina was secretly developing the capacity to make a nuclear bomb. When Alfonsín took over, the military was designing a nuclear submarine.
Yet, the last group of Argentine commanders to rule was actually moderate in the military context. A consensus among political analysts is that a future military government would be much more nationalistic and populist. Many rising young officers are already bitter toward the United States for supporting the British in the Falklands War. They would certainly be egged on by civilian nationalists of the right and left, who oppose Alfonsín for his European ties, orthodox economics and willingness to compromise on international issues such as nuclear nonproliferation. A nationalistic government would also balk mightily at repaying the foreign debt.
Already, the CGT, many politicians, and nationalistic businessmen accuse the IMF of "imperialism" and making Argentina into a "dependency" of the industrial world. The obvious threat is not to repay, or take some other unilateral measure, such as limiting payments to a fixed percentage of exports, an idea now gaining currency in Argentina. Unilateral moves may seem foolhardy, for the international banks could declare default, seize Argentine assets overseas, and block much of the country's trade. But Argentina has the unique advantage of being both self-sufficient in food and energy. It could survive a short-term financial war, which might be long enough to trip off other indebted nations and force an international confrontation. Given the volatility of Argentine history, it is not a prospect to dismiss lightly.
Alfonsín himself is tacitly threatening such a prospect, but with the motive of protecting democracy. His government is not seeking to avoid its debt; indeed, it is part of the stubborn Radical ethic that debt be paid as a matter of "honor," a word Alfonsín and his colleagues do not use lightly.
It is often said privately by bankers and Reagan Administration officials that Argentina may be the least deserving of special treatment among major Third World debtors. Its people are not suffering the social misery of the poor in countries such as Brazil, Mexico or Peru. That is true; but the conclusion is short-sighted. It is precisely because Argentina is a political risk-bankers rank it as the greatest political risk of all the major debtors"that it is in the self-interest of the United States and the viability of the international financial community to avoid setting off a confrontation with Argentina. Revolutions, even financial revolutions, grow out of expectations. The measure is not how much better an Argentine worker eats than a Brazilian worker, but how much he expects to eat. American workers would hardly accept a 30 percent drop in real income in six years without some dramatic reaction. Just as Alfonsín, in the national unity talks, is looking for enough political breathing space to right the economy through an austerity program, he is also looking, in the debt negotiations, for breathing space on the economic side so that he can fulfill at least some of his people's social aspirations and win time to build a lasting democracy.
The clear U.S. interest is to help Alfonsín survive; and on the critical debt question Washington has influence. The Reagan Administration seems to understand this fact full well, as demonstrated by its role in the March interest package.
But Argentina-or the whole Third World foreign debt, for that matter-has failed to compete with Central America, the Middle East and other crisis issues as a matter of high priority. Indeed, the U.S. Commerce Department in April imposed countervailing duties on about half of the $100 million in Argentine steel exports to the United States for alleged dumping. The Argentine share of the American steel market is only one-fourth of one percent, of little importance to the United States, but of great importance to Argentina. At the same time, the Export-Import Bank has been holding back for the last year on granting new credits and loans that would finance U.S. exports to Argentina.
More immediately critical, the U.S. prime interest rate has risen one-and-a-half points since March. As much of the Argentine and foreign debt has floating interest rates tied directly or indirectly to the U.S. prime, the rise increased the interest Argentina must now pay by more than $600 million over the next year.
U.S.-Argentine relations have improved since the March rescue operation. Alfonsín made the move, unusual for a Latin leader, of praising the United States and the American Congress in a nationally televised speech. This is a positive base on which to build.
What can the United States do? Any solution of the Argentine debt situation must take place in the broader context of all the Latin American and Third World debt.5 It is a global problem that requires a global solution. There is, nonetheless, much that can be done in the specific case of Argentina, even though U. S. resources and instruments are limited. What is called for now is not massive outlays of funds, which U.S. public opinion is ill prepared to accept. Instead, what is needed is a demonstration of moral support that identifies the United States with Argentine democracy, a statement of interest in shoring it up and giving Alfonsín the time he needs.
On a pragmatic level, the Administration should show confidence in the new government by fostering the Eximbank loans and guarantees, instead of waiting, as it is doing, for an IMF accord. Argentina is able to import without such credits, but they would facilitate imports of the capital goods needed to stimulate new economic growth. It would win the United States easy political points, while providing export business to American industry. As it is, U.S. exports to Argentina last year were about half what they were in 1980, when they reached a high of $2.36 billion.
On the other side of the trade ledger, the United States should encourage imports from Argentina. The United States has historically had a trade surplus with Argentina, and still does. Yet, a bill has been introduced in the U.S. Congress that would further tip the balance in the American favor by limiting Argentine apple juice imports into the U.S. It is a cruel irony that Argentina is expected to earn money from exports to pay its foreign debt, more than a third of which is with American private banks, and yet its exports are discouraged by threats of increasing protectionism.
These pragmatic measures are hardly earth-shattering, and in many respects only nibble at the larger and more immediate debt crisis. But they show confidence in the Alfonsín government, and concern that it survive. There is value in displays of support, even if only in the form of speeches and ceremonies. Vice President Bush was successful beyond anyone's imagination in creating American goodwill during Alfonsín's inauguration, simply by his television interviews expressing how overwhelmed he was by the optimism and belief he found in newly democratic Argentina.
The question of attitude leads to the next great area which does deal more directly with the immediate debt crisis: leadership. The Federal Reserve Bank, the IMF, and a growing number of officials in the United States, Europe and Japan are coming to a consensus that some long-term solution to the Third World debt problem is needed. The options are many and debatable, but the debate must be given form, and only the United States, the world's leading industrial power, can do that. Those who argue that the banking system can solve the problem through traditional methods may be right in a purely financial sense, but they miss the more explosive social and political issue. Reflecting growing Latin frustration over austerity to repay the debt, Alfonsín said after the recent riots over austerity measures in the Dominican Republic: "Latin America cannot take any more."
It is urgent that the United States begin to move on the debt issue while goodwill still exists in Argentina and Latin America. The growing volatility of the issue may radicalize Argentine and Latin positions, limiting options. Anti-Americanism, always latent in Argentina and Latin America, would be certain to grow. American protestations that the Argentine and Latin debts are economic matters to be left to the banks and the IMF are dismissed as technicalities. The debt is a political issue, and the American government is stuck with responsibility for it, in Latin eyes, whether the government wants that responsibility or not. Washington would do well, then, to take charge and have some say in the outcome.
The moment, in fact, presents a historic opportunity for the United States. In Latin America and Western Europe, the U.S. image is becoming increasingly sullied by its intervention in Central America. Failure in Lebanon has done little to enhance America's credibility. Leadership to resolve the debt crisis would be a positive, constructive move that would display the United States at its best. Argentina provides a particularly good opportunity for action because of the leadership position Alfonsín himself is assuming inside Latin America. His interest in broader hemispheric cooperation, including consultation on security issues, has not been seen from an Argentine government since the days of the Alliance for Progress in the 1960s. With a little timely imagination, the United States could improve its own position across the hemisphere by helping democracy survive in Argentina.
1 The use of the word Radical has hardly anything to do with the English connotation. The party was originally named the Civic Union of Youth, which became quickly shortened to Civic Union. But it suffered a split in 1981 after many of their number decided to join the oligarchy in an alliance over how to deal with a monetary crisis at the time. The remainder added the word Radical to their name to underline their commitment to voting rights.
2 How many people actually disappeared is a matter of great dispute today. Some human rights groups and their supporters in the United States commonly claim that up to 30,000 persons disappeared. A former Interior Minister, Major General Alfredo Saint Jean, estimated that the number of disappeared was closer to 3,000. He argued that many of those listed as disappeared are in exile or are missing for reasons that had nothing to do with the military. The Interior Ministry, nonetheless, has reported that 6,000 cases of habeas corpus were submitted while the military was in power. The Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, a human rights umbrella group, also lists the names of 6,000 people who apparently disappeared while in the hands of state security forces. The list is based on specific denunciations that it has received and verified to varying degrees. The Permanent Assembly list has long been used by the State Department and the Organization of American States as the most authoritative. The National Commission for the Disappearance of Persons now has run a campaign calling for Argentines to report missing friends and relatives. By mid-May it had documented 4,000 disappeared, about 1,200 of whom were never included on any previous list. Sabato has estimated that the number of disappeared may reach 10,000. Alfonsín, following Sabato's lead, has used that number in interviews with journalists.
3 The junta was the supreme power and was made up of the three service chiefs. Its members changed under the military's strict promotion and retirement schedule. In addition to the three presidents, each of whom was also chief of the army, the others being prosecuted are Navy Admirals Emilio E. Massera, Armando Lambruschini and Jorge Isaac Anaya and Air Force Brigadiers Orlando R. Agosti, Omar Grafigna, and Basilio Lami Dozo. By mid-May, the Supreme Military Tribunal was still investigating the human rights charges. None of the junta members had been arrested on such charges, angering even Alfonsín. An exception of sorts was Massera, who had been in jail since June 1983 for withholding evidence in a separate civil case on the disappearance of a business associate.
4 Ten of the Commission members were private citizens, including, interestingly, an American citizen, Rabbi Marshall Meyer. Meyer had lived in Argentina and was active in human rights. The remaining six members were divided between the two houses of Congress. Possibly confirming the government's view that a congressional investigation would politicize the commission, as well as keep the Congress from working for the future, the Senate never sent the three members allotted to it because of Peronist opposition.