From jail where he is serving two life sentences for crimes against humanity Argentina’s former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla gave some insights to the day before the 24 March 1976 military coup when then president Isabel Martinez de Peron called him asking support from the Armed Forces for her eroding administration.
In an interview Videla, 85, from his cell in the military garrison Campo de Mayo, recalled that in a previous meeting with President Isabel Peron on January 1976 the commanders of three forces left convinced of her “lack of power” and control over the administration.
Videla’s replies were hand written for Buenos Aires newspaper Perfil that asked the former dictator to give details of events leading to the 24 March 1976 coup and military dictatorship which turned out to be one of the bloodiest in recent Argentine history. Next Thursday will be 35 years since those events.
As a result of the January meeting the three forces commanders drafted and presented President Isabel Peron with a memorandum via Defence minister Alberto Deheza, suggesting political, administrative and economic measures which they considered “essential” to overcome the crisis. But “the memorandum was never mentioned again”.
“The military left the meeting under the impression of an absolute lack of power by President Isabel Peron but at the same time convinced she was willing to make changes to keep her administration running”, recalled Videla, who is currently facing a third court case for the alleged systematic stealing of babies (from political detainees) during the military dictatorship that lasted until 1983.
Videla in his written account says that Isabel Peron again convened the military commanders 23 March 1976. Defence minister Deheza admitted that “faced with the lack of power” the president was “willing to change” if the Armed Forces offered her the necessary support.
“The commanders again repeated that they could not see how the Armed Forces could offer support since the constitutional regime does not contemplate such a situation and on the contrary they suggested that ‘since she had been elected, it was her task to exercise power’. And the Armed Forces could not substitute such power”, wrote Videla.
Nevertheless Deheza again called them that night to communicate the presidential insistence in obtaining support from the military, who reiterated the reply of earlier in the day. Videla alleges that on that night Deheza called on Isabel Peron and based on the latest reply from the Armed Forces told her: “Madame, you can rest peacefully. Tonight there won’t be a military coup”.
March 24th marked the beginning of one of the fiercest and blackest periods of Argentine history which only came to an end in December 1983 with the election of President Raul Alfonsin. The previous year the Argentine military dictatorship collapsed following their total defeat to the hands of the British Task Force sent to recover the Falklands, invaded 2 April 1982, and which was achieved in June 1982 following the 74 days Argentine occupation.