Leopoldo Galtieri

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General Galtieri
General Galtieri

Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri Castelli (July 15, 1926 - January 12, 2003) was an Argentinian general and dictator. He was de facto President of Argentina from 22 December 1981 to 18 June 1982.

Galtieri was the child of working class parents who were themselves children of poor Italian immigrants. At 17 he enrolled in the Argentinian military academy to study civil engineering, and his early military career was as an officer in the engineering branch. Even in his teens he was already keen to see Argentina resolve disputes over territory with force.

In 1975, after more than 25 years as a combat engineer, he became commander of the Argentinian engineering corps. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the military coup in 1976 and rose further, becoming a major general in 1977 and commander-in-chief in 1980 with the rank of lieutenant general.

During the junta's rule, parliament was suspended, unions, political parties and provincial governments were banned, and in what became known as the "Dirty War" between 9000 and 30,000 people deemed left-wing "subversives" were disappeared from society. Torture and mass executions were both commonplace. The economy, which had been in dire condition prior to the coup, recovered for a short time, then deteriorated further.

In early 1981 Galtieri visited the United States and was warmly received, as the Reagan administration viewed his regime as a bulwark against communism. National Security Advisor Richard Allen described him as a "majestic general." Galtieri's strength was sufficient to allow him to remove a number of rival generals and, in December 1981, he rose to the presidency of Argentina by means of a coup, ousting President Roberto Viola.

Galtieri retained direct control of the army and did not appoint a new commander-in-chief. He attempted to repair the economy by slashing spending, selling off remaining government-owned industries, squeezing money supply and freezing salaries. He instituted limited political reforms which allowed the expression of dissent, and anti-junta demonstrations soon became common, as did agitation for a return to democracy.

After 16 months in office and with his popularity low, Galtieri's forces invaded the weakly-defended Falkland Islands in April 1982, and he declared the "Malvinas" a province of Argentina -- as they had been from 1820 to 1833, when Britain invaded the islands and gained control over them. Britain, the United Nations, and many other countries around the world condemned the annexation but in Argentina it was wildly popular -- the anti-junta demonstrations were replaced by patriotic demonstrations in support of Galtieri.

Galtieri, like most observers, considered that the armed forces of the United Kingdom had been cut back too far and simply did not have the resources to contest the issue. Nevertheless, with diplomatic pressure and negotiations leading nowhere, the UK, with help from the USA and New Zealand, decided to re-take the islands. The Falklands War was over within two months; superior training and (to a lesser extent) superior equipment serving to counterbalance the great numerical and geographic advantage Argentina held.

Port Stanley was retaken in June 1982 and within days General Galtieri was removed from power. He spent the next 18 months at a well-protected country retreat while democracy was restored to Argentina. Along with other members of the former junta, he was arrested in late 1983 and charged in a military court with human rights violations during the "Dirty War", and with mismanagment of the Falklands war.

He was cleared of the civil rights charges in December 1985 but (together with the Air Force and Navy commanders-in-chief) found guilty of mishandling the war in May 1986 and sentenced to jail. All three appealed (this time in a civil court) while the prosecution appealed for heavier sentences. In November 1988 the original sentences were confirmed and all three commanders were stripped of their rank. Galtieri served five years in jail before receiving a presidential pardon in 1991.

In July 2002 new civil charges were brought concerning the kidnapping and disappearance of 18 leftist sympathizers in the late 1970s (while Galtieri was commander of the Second Army Corps), and the disappearance or death of three Spanish citizens at about the same time. Galtieri was placed under house-arrest. With his health declining, he was admitted to hospital in Buenos Aires to be treated for cancer of the pancreas, where he died of a heart attack at the age of 76.

Preceded by:
Roberto Viola
President of Argentina
De facto1981-1982
Succeeded by:
Reynaldo Bignone

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