ON THE WORLD TODAY
ARGENTINA’S aroused people, fighting almost barehanded against a military dictatorship, forced the resignation of strong-man Perón and the Farrell Cabinet at the end of a month that witnessed some bloodshed and narrowly avoided civil war.
Colonel Juan Perón was burned in effigy by La Plata University students while he still controlled the secret police. After he tried to break popular resistance by reimposing the state of siege and jamming the jails, he himself was ousted by enemies in the Army who later placed him under arrest on charges of crime against the nation.
General Edelmiro J. Farrell, the figurehead President, sought to save Perón but was compelled to submit his own resignation for use by the new rulers of Argentina at their will. For the moment, he remained in office. Outright liquidation of the Farrell regime was averted by officers who fought to prevent reversion of all governmental powers to the Supreme Court.
Events seemed to be getting out of hand for the fascist clique that had ruled Argentina for two and a half years. The unarmed people could not overthrow by themselves an Army of some 180,000 men and a powerful police. But allies for the people began to appear within the Army itself.
Argentina’s Navy, which consistently opposed the policies of the colonels, also made its weight felt. Warships stood ready offshore. It is significant that Perón was first confined on a small naval vessel in the Rio de la Plata.
The Navy, through Admiral Hector Vernengo Lima, sided with popular demands for a legal solution of Argentina’s political crisis by the Supreme Court. Some Army officers went along with this plan, but both they and the Navy were overruled by the decisive might of the Campo de Mayo garrison on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Its commander, General Eduardo J. Avalos, emerged as Perón’s successor in the Ministry of War. General Avalos, Admiral Vernengo Lima, who became the new Minister of the Navy, and Juan Fentanes, successor to Perón in the Labor Ministry, assumed power when the Farrell Cabinet resigned.
Seen in perspective, these events are the first major shift of position by the military since they stabilized their control after seizing power on June 4, 1943. It is a shift under fire, not a voluntary maneuver. The fascist clique has by no means surrendered. It is still preventing its opponents from consolidating enough power to displace military fascism.
One glance at the principal names behind the shift shows that those who danced in the streets of Buenos Aires were celebrating prematurely. Perón, symbol of Army oppression to most Argentines, was jettisoned by his equally reactionary colleagues. If General Avalos stays on top, he promises for the Argentine people little relief from Perón. His temperament is better suited to aims of the fascist clique than were the flamboyant personal ambitions of Perón.
Perón had shown a disposition to trim his sails toward any wind that might blow him into the presidency. He it was who planned elections against the will of officers who had no intention of going that far toward satisfying popular clamor. General Avalos could be more dangerous, in less conspicuous ways, than Colonel Perón.
Another of the prime movers in Argentina’s reshuffle is General Carlos von der Becke, Commander-inChief of the Argentine Army. A German whose past reeks with pro-Nazi activities, he headed the triumvirate named by the Campo de Mayo conferees to serve notice on Colonel Perón. With von der Becke were General Juan Pistarini, then Minister of Public Works, and Hortensio Quijano, then civilian Minister of the Interior.
Pulverizing the opposition
Not one of the genuine Argentine liberals — a few of whom are found even in the Army — appeared on the stage during Perón’s unwilling exit. General Arturo Rawson, who led his troops into Buenos Aires during the 1943 Army coup and served as President for just under two days, was held in the wings before a military court on charges of leading a treasonable revolt in Córdoba on September 25.
When the court ruled there was insufficient evidence for a conviction, it was obvious that Rawson’s arrest and trial had been stage-managed for a sinister purpose. Ever since the fascist clique some months ago succeeded in convincing Dr. Rodolfo Moreno and hundreds of other opposition leaders that they could safely come home from Montevideo or similar havens of exile, their necks have been stretched out for the inevitable blow.
While the State Department in Washington — under the influence of former Assistant Secretary of State Nelson Rockefeller and Avra M. Warren — extended friendly hands toward Perón et al. during the Mexico City and San Francisco conferences, the Montevideo exiles had fumed and warned. Then, with weariness or an understandable yearning to go home, they voluntarily disbanded their efficient organizations abroad and accepted the word of men they knew could not be trusted.
For a few short months the returned exiles began to restore their position as leaders of the popular opposition to a tyranny unmatched since the days of the bloody Rosas. In August the Farrell-Perón regime lifted the state of siege which had suffocated political activity since December, 1941. In the relieved atmosphere, liberals breathed easier and acted more boldly. And against the day of reckoning, Perón’s secret police recorded names in their little black books.
Meanwhile, Washington’s temper changed from the Nelson Rockefeller type of trusting collaboration to Ambassador Spruille Braden’s slashing attack. When even Mr. Rockefeller repudiated the Farrell-Perón regime, its Foreign Minister sought to bolster a shaking position. On September 11 he issued a 10,000-word document purporting to prove — and refuting its own contentions — that Argentina had fulfilled all the commitments it assumed as a signatory to the Act of Chapultepec last April, for the restoration of democracy and termination of Nazi subversive activities.
The two currents of internal and external opposition to Perón and the system he represented took on depth and drive during the latter half of September. Lawyers staged an effective strike. On September 19, Buenos Aires witnessed a public protest that dwarfed anything of the kind hitherto seen in Argentina. Openly defiant, but orderly, a crowd variously estimated at from a quarter to half a million surged through the capital in a carefully organized “March of the Constitution and of Freedom.”
For two and a half hours the tightly packed Argentines marched. Aristocratic women forgot their usual class consciousness to mingle with stevedores, artisans, taxi drivers. Radicals and Conservatives, rich and poor, joined in Argentina’s popular revolt.
The regime did not dare to break up such a parade, but its counterattack was swift and characteristic. On September 25 the Córdoba plot offered a pretext for again clamping down the state of siege. Police began a man hunt that herded into jail an almost unbelievable galaxy of leading Argentines.
Three former Foreign Ministers were taken — Nobel Peace Prize winner Carlos Saavedra Lamas, José María Cantilo, and Adolfo Bioy. The President of the powerful Argentine Rural Society, José María Bustillo, and Luis Colombo, President of the Argentine Industrial Union, joined hundreds including Dr. Rodolfo Moreno, head of the Conservative Party, Socialist Americo Ghioldi, Alberto Gainz Paz, publisher of La Prensa, fifty-one high naval officers, including twenty-one admirals, and so on.
This time there was no organized refuge abroad to carry on the fight. But all six of Argentina’s national universities closed in protest against the new reign of terror. Students had marshaled by October 2 a strike of 30,000 young people who went in fighting. Many of them barricaded university buildings. Police shut off food, turned on fire hoses, hurled tear gas bombs into the rooms. Scores of injuries and at least one student fatality resulted.
Washington reacted to the Argentine terrorism by refusing to attend the Rio de Janeiro conference scheduled for October 20 to draft a Western Hemisphere pact of mutual assistance. Acting Secretary of State Acheson bluntly gave the reason: “The United States Government does not feel that it can properly negotiate or sign [such a treaty] with the present Argentine regime.” Brazil, host nation, canceled the conference.
So Washington returns to the Hull type of blasting, this time aided by an aroused Argentine people ready and eager to break their chains. The outcome is vital for all of Latin America.