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Argentina Declassification Project - The "Dirty War" (1976-83)

During the Argentine government’s seven-year (1976-83) campaign against suspected dissidents and subversives, often known as the “Dirty War,” between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed, including opponents of the government as well as innocent victims. The military junta that ousted President Isabel Peron in a coup in 1976 confronted an urban-based leftist insurgency that had been intensifying for several years and had moved beyond attacking government targets to include kidnappings and killings of persons with no official connections and no particular ideology. Soon after it seized power, the junta closed the national legislature, imposed censorship, banned trade unions, and brought state and municipal governments under military control. It also instituted the infamous Process of National Reorganization in an attempt to suppress the left-wing guerrilla activity that was rampant by early 1976.

Part of the Process of National Reorganization involved setting up a system of over 300 secret prisons for detaining anyone suspected of being subversive. Besides the violent militants the government claimed it was protecting the country from, students, educators, trade unionists, writers, journalists, artists, left-wing activists, members of the clergy, and alleged sympathizers of anti-regime elements and their families also were among the tens of thousands of “disappeared” who were apprehended at night and taken to the detention centers, where they were interrogated and often tortured and killed. At first, much of the Argentine public supported the crackdown as necessary for restoring order, but within a few years, growing evidence of human rights violations evoked opposition to the government’s methods—perhaps most notably from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who had lost children in the “Dirty War.” Their weekly vigils in the Plaza de Mayo, fronting the presidential palace, brought international attention to the “disappeared.” The regime was able to suppress most opposition, however, through strict censorship and curfews and a generalized fear of the secret police.

By 1980, nearly all insurgent activity had ceased, and the most brutal aspects of the “Dirty War,” including the “disappearances,” were subsiding. The Argentine government’s domestic and international standing suffered, however, as revelations about its human rights record emerged along with growing evidence of corruption. It tried to restore its legitimacy with the Argentine people by seizing the Falkland Islands from Great Britain, but the failed campaign further discredited the regime and led to its fall in 1983. The new democratically elected government created the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) in December 1983 to collect evidence about the “Dirty War,” beginning the decades-long process under which most of the perpetrators of the human rights violations during 1976-83 were eventually brought to justice.

**Note: CIA focused its review on Argentina only information. Anything marked with "Page Denied" and /or "NR" has been deemed not relevant to the Argentina Project, whether or not it has been previously released. Other information can be consulted on the CIA's Electronic Reading Room or by submitting a FOIA request.

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