Galtieri, Leopoldo (Argentina)
The commander in chief of the Argentine military at the beginning of the military dictatorship (1976–83), Galtieri headed the rightwing military junta between 1981–82. The instigator of the Falklands War in an attempt to deflect attention from economic crisis and popular protest, the disastrous campaign led to his resignation and subsequent imprisonment in 1986. Later pardoned, he was nonetheless arrested in 1998 and 2002 for murders committed during the Guerra Sucia (Dirty War).
Born on 15 July 1926 in Casero, Buenos Aires, Galtieri joined the military in 1943. Graduating from the Escuela de las Américas military school, Panama, in 1949, he progressed to become commander in the Argentine army, a position he held when the 1976 coup replaced Isabelita Perón with a military junta led by Jorge Videla. The dictatorship imposed a repressive regime which included censorship, repression of trade unions and the closing of Congress. The junta implemented the ‘Process of National Reorganization’ now termed the Dirty War during which an estimated 9,000–30,000 people were killed or disappeared. Initially targeting leftwing activists, the repression was extended to journalists, intellectuals and those suspected of leftwing sympathies. When Videla retired in 1981 he was succeeded by Roberto Viola who, in turn, was replaced in Dec. 1981 by Galtieri as de facto president.
When Galtieri assumed the presidency, Argentina was suffering severe economic depression. Rising inflation and large national debt led to public discontent and popular protests. Despite repression, human rights groups protesting about the Desaparecidos (‘disappeared’) gained strength. Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers of the Desaparecidos, set up a weekly vigil outside the presidential palace. To divert attention from domestic problems, in 1982 Galtieri ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), a British territory since 1832 but long claimed by Argentina. Underestimating the reaction of the British government, the army was ill prepared and under equipped. It occupied the islands in April 1982, but within 3 months had been defeated. Galtieri was forced to resign as president in June 1982. His resignation saw an end to the military dictatorship and a return to civilian rule under the presidency of his successor, Reynaldo Bignone.
Repeated attempts were made to bring Galtieri to court for his involvement in the Dirty War. In 1984 he was tried for human rights violations, but acquitted. In 1986 he was jailed for 12 years for his incompetence in the Falklands War, but President Carlos Menem pardoned Galtieri 3 years later, and immunities were extended. In renewed attempts to try those involved in the military dictatorship, Galtieri was arrested in 1998 for the murder of three people. In Nov. 2001 a court ruled the military’s immunity granted by the Obediencia Debida law (1986) and the Punto Final law (1987) was unconstitutional. In July 2002 Galtieri was arrested in connection with the torture and death of 20 members of the Montanero leftwing group in 1980. The following day he was moved from jail to be put under house arrest. The arrest of 41 other police and military personnel was ordered. Former junta partner Jorge Videla was convicted of abducting the children of prisoners for adoption by military families.
Galtieri died on 12 Jan. 2003 while under house arrest.