By 1970, left-wing followers of General Juan Peron had coalesced around an urban guerrilla group called the Movimiento Peronista Montonero. The Montoneros-about 25,000 strong- hoped that Peron’s return from exile in Spain would transform Argentina into a true “Socialist Fatherland”. As most people will know, Peron and his legendary wife Evita led Argentina during the 1940s and 1950s. Their populist form of Argentinean-based Third Position- known as Justicialismo or Peronism- was acknowledged by even their critics as being very socially progressive. Unfortunately, after his wife’s untimely death, Peron was overthrown by reactionaries in the Army and Roman Catholic Church.
With Peron’s blessings, the Montoneros initiated an intense campaign to destabilize the pro-American (and anti-Peronist) regime then in power. They kidnapped and executed former Argentinean president Pedro Aramburu, foreshadowing the Italian Red Brigades’ assassination of Aldo Moro in 1978. They also seized and held for ransom executives from multinational corporations. Emulating Evita’s passion for charitable work, the Montoneros used ransom money to feed and clothe the poor. Soon the Movement caught the attention of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The fact that the apparently ‘communist’ Castro supported the ‘fascist’ Montoneros shouldn’t come as a big suprise: in his student days, Fidel was often seen reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf and was probably more influenced by that work than by anything Marx himself scribbled. The MPM also maintained close relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Columbia’s M-19, and the Spanish Socialist Party.
Ultimately, the Montoneros created a climate that allowed the Peronist party to take power via an election. Peron loyalist Hector Campora became president in 1973, paving the way for the General’s triumphant return. During the Campora interlude, the brave Montoneros emerged from the underground struggle and briefly enjoyed semi-official status. Soon a feud developed between right-wing Peronistas and the leftist Montoneros. The right-wingers feared the prospect of national revolution as envisioned by the Montoneros, favoring instead a compromise with capitalist and conservative institutions like the Church and Army. Right-wingers and Montoneros clashed at Peron’s homecoming ceremony of June 1973, leaving 13 dead and 100 wounded. The rift was made worse when a handful of Montoneros were later charged with plotting to assassinate General Peron and his second wife Isabel. While the majority of Montoneros obviously didn’t want their mentor dead, they also felt clear disappointment over Peron’s drift to the conservative side of the party.
In May 1974, the Montoneros’ suspicions were confirmed: under pressure from the right, General Peron threw the MPM out of the Justicialist movement, calling them “treacherous and mercenary”. Still displaying intense loyalty towards their former leader, however, the Montonaros ‘held their fire’ until after his death on July Ist,1974.
The Montoneros- true to the social revolutionary vision of “authentic Peronism”- had no choice but to commence military operations against the government. Isabel Peron- the new Argentinean president- was essentially a captive in her own palace. Army officers held the real power. Later, even the illusion of a “Peronist” government was discarded: in 1976, Isabel was ousted and the hated military Junta installed.
In the middle of July 1974, Peronist guerrillas struck their first blow by executing a former foreign minister. In September, they abducted two filthy rich brothers, ransoming them off for a whopping $60 million! The Montoneros certainly gave a whole new meaning to the slogan, ‘taxing the rich’. Using their newfound wealth, the Montoneros went on to bomb US installations throughout Argentina. Executives from all the ‘Big Three’ automakers- G.M., Ford, and Chrysler- were murdered, and bomb-laden bouquets delivered to others. The group also sank an Argentine naval ship in 1975, costing the Oligarchy $70 million.
The Junta responded with a “Dirty War” of indiscriminate terror. Up to 30,000 people died or “disappeared” at the hands of the security forces. The Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance (AAA), an officially sanctioned right-wing death squad, was one of the worst offenders. After being tortured in installations like the Navy Mechanics School, victims were then tossed from helicopters into the Atlantic Ocean. The Montoneros suffered heavy losses: 1600 killed in action in 1976 alone.
Despite their heroic resistance, the Montoneros were a spent force by 1977 (although, some did fight on until 1981). The high rate of attrition amongst guerrillas- and their families- simply couldn’t be maintained over a long period of time. Lack of support from the larger Peronist community didn’t help Montonero cause much either!
Like the Strasserists of Nazi Germany and the Mazzini-inspired Corporatists of Fascist Italy, the Montoneros upheld the highest ideals of Peronist Argentina. They fought hard to establish General Peron’s noble vision of a “Socialist Fatherland”, refusing to settle for some tawdry death squad republic.
“Peron, Evita, ni yankis ni marxistas, la patria Peronista”
Long Live Death!
(Originally published in slightly modified form by Dan Canuckistan / Spartacus Press)