How the Argentine military to save a collapsing regime, planned the Malvinas invasion war
Juan B Yoffre, an Argentine journalist, businessman and politician (he was Intelligence chief for two years with former President Carlos Menem) has written a book “1982” on the Falklands/Malvinas conflict where he reveals how the idea of the military invasion was secretly elaborated and implemented.
According to an advance of some chapters published in the Buenos Aires press, Yoffre reveals documents and quotes some sources until now undisclosed, which help to understand or partially explain why a deteriorating military government decided to invade the Falklands/Malvinas with the purpose of recovering lost prestige and control of the situation in Argentina.
“The recovery of the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands was not the consequence of the South Georgia incident (ironmongers who planted an Argentine flag in the island) as has been said for decades, but rather the result of a decision from the Argentine military Junta to save the so called Nation Re-organization process which at the end of 1981, was clearly exhausted.
“The current situation promises nothing for Argentina and the circumstance that the country is lacking all hope is serious” said in August 1981 the outstanding Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges in an interview with a magazine. At the time the Argentine Finance minister defiantly stated that “whoever bets to the dollar will loose” causing the contrary effect as thousands queued outside foreign exchange offices in Buenos Aires. And La Prensa in November 1981 published that “those who have effectively bet to the dollar have earned so far 700%”, while the Minister for Trade and Maritime Interests confessed to La Nacion that Argentina was “on the edge of collapse”.
For some time in 1981 there were insistent rumours about a coup but then President General Roberto Viola did not say a word. He spent most of his time smoking three packages of True cigarettes per day plus abundant rounds of whisky with fellow officers. Even a former military de facto president Juan Carlos Onganía stated that the (military government) Process “was exhausted and the Military Junta is trying to elude responsibility of all of Argentina’s disasters”.
At the end of October 1981 when his second trip to the US this time to participate in the XIV Conference of American Armies in Fort Mc Nair, General Leopoldo Galtieri was honoured with a very special lunch at the Argentine embassy residence in Washington, to which the most conspicuous members of the Reagan administration had been invited. The Argentine ambassador Esteban Takacs seemed not to realize that he was participating to the crowning of President Viola’s successor.
It was after lunch that National Security Advisor Richard Allen was asked his impression about the Argentine general to which he replied “a person of a majestic personality”. More cautious the chief of the Pentagon Caspar Weinberger said he was a man “that impresses very much”.
The night of November 9 when Galtieri and his wife arrived to the boarding hall of the Kennedy airport in New York for the return trip, the Argentine consul Gustavo Figueroa approached the general and commander in chief of the army with an urgent message form Buenos Aires: President Viola has been taken to the Military hospital with hypertension. Galtieri sat in a lounge chair, lit a cigarette and during forty minutes remained silent thinking by himself. Government House (Casa Rosada) was at his hand reach: Viola would never return to office.
With the crucial support from the Navy under Admiral Jorge Isaac Anaya and the displeasure from Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo, on 22 December 1981, Galtieri became the Argentine president. He would retain his post as Commander in Chief of the Army, leaving behind the figure of the ‘fourth man’ which so many discussions had triggered in immediate past among military governments.
The change anticipated the beginning of a “new chapter” but few seemed to remember the Junta has been in office for five years and now a third president had arrived with not much chances of how to address the situation. “The last chance” said Alvaro Alsogaray a conservative politician, one of the few the press dared to quote. More caustic was another conservative reference Emilio Hardoy, “It’s hard to visualize the loss in economic times, but we must also consider the loss of prestige, the insecurity, uncertainty and toxic expectations. The situation has created a costly scepticism”.
“On these conditions I’m not taking the job” Brigadier Lami Dozo told Brigadier Omar Graffigna who was leaving the Air Force seat at the military Junta, when he found out about the enhanced powers of Galtieri. In a meeting of the military Junta December 17, Galtieri promised Lami Dozo he would step down from chief of the Army in a ‘prudent’ space of time.
It was evident Lami Dozo was unaware of what was to happen weeks later, which helped to explain why Galtieri needed to have the Army under firm control. The following day December 18, when the Junta discussed about the course of action for the new chapter that was opening, it was decided that “it was paramount to intensify all necessary and advantageous lines of action to obtain the recognition of our sovereignty over the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands”.
The Air Force chjef Lami Dozo did not have much to object. However he was left aside of discussions on other plans.
On December 19 the Argentine ambassador in Peru retired Admiral Luis Pedro Sanchez Moreno met with his old friend of promotion and currently Navy chief. He was in Buenos Aires for the marriage of one of the daughters of another friend Admiral Carlos Castro Madero. The meeting with Admiral Anaya took place in the Navy headquarters Edificio Libertad. Following a friendly embrace Sanchez Moreno begun talking about the political situation of Peru but Anaya seemed distant until a few minutes later he interrupted him.
“The Process (military government) is rapidly deteriorating and we must find an element that brings cohesion to society and the country. That element is Malvinas”, said Anaya, expecting a reply from the ambassador.
“I spent many years in an English school. I know the English as much as you do. Margaret Thatcher won’t let herself be bullied by a military government. English are like bulldogs, when they bite on to their catch, they won’t let it go”.
Anaya stood up said the meeting was over and with a formal “that is all Sanchez Moreno” walked him out of his office.
However at the marriage celebration, Saturday 20, the host Admiral Castro Madero and his friend Sanchez Moreno tried to dissuade their comrade in arms of the Malvinas idea, but to no avail.
On 22 December 1981 Galtieri takes the oath as the new Argentine president.
Admiral Anaya, Galtieri’s former comrade at the Liceo Militar General San Marin helps him put on the presidential sash across his proud chest and impeccable white summer uniform. The presidential baton was presented by Brigadier Lami Dozo.
The same day Anaya in a short handwritten message ordered the commander of naval operations Rear Admiral Alberto Gabriel Vigo to being “an update plan for the occupation of Port Stanley in three very precise points”.
The following day Vigo sends a message to Rear Admiral Juan Jose Lombardo, under the heading of “Secret” and identified as document 326/81 with instructions to “personally begin to elaborate and to deliver in hand, an update plan for the recovery of the Malvinas Islands”.
The target was no longer Puerto Stanley but the whole Islands, concludes the summary of one of Yoffre’s book. .