Bid for a Coup Fails, Argentine Leader Says
President Raul Alfonsin on Wednesday accused Argentine right-wing extremists, “those out-of-work professionals of violence,” of attempting to trigger a coup against him. They have failed, he said.
“Democracy is not weak. Democracy can defend itself,” Alfonsin thundered in a 27-minute nationwide address marking the second anniversary of his election, which ended eight years of military dictatorship. “I am certain these absurd efforts to disturb order will not impede our march forward.”
Last week, Alfonsin, whose government is based on respect for civil liberties, ordered the summary arrest of six army officers and six civilians whom he accused of organizing a wave of bombings and threats. When courts balked at the arrests, Alfonsin declared a 60-day state of siege.
“This is not a state of siege against the people, be sure of that,” Alfonsin said, “but a state of siege that the people declare against the professionals of authoritarianism, to neutralize and isolate them.”
The government has not yet made public any evidence against the alleged extremists, but Alfonsin accused them of being responsible for a calculated campaign of destabilization that included “thousands of telephone threats, 1,806 bomb threats and 42 explosions.”
Bomb Threats Continue
Amid continuing telephoned bomb threats to schools and public buildings, a bomb exploded harmlessly Wednesday outside an apartment house occupied by a number of military families and a government official.
Many of the recent bombings have occurred outside buildings where military officers congregate, in what the government says is a transparent attempt to suggest that Marxist guerrillas have resumed operations. The government argues that the destabilization is intended to project the image of a weak president unable to assure security on the eve of Argentina’s first mid-term congressional elections in 20 years.
“To attacks designed to weaken and undermine democracy, let us respond with votes aimed at strengthening it,” Alfonsin urged in his address. Opinion polls make Alfonsin’s party, the center-left Radical Civic Union, the clear favorite in Sunday’s elections.
“It is incredible, but as absurd as it seems, they want to seize power,” Alfonsin said of the extremists. The violence, he said, is “the madness of out-of-work professionals of violence in a society which abhors violence and rejects its recent history of humiliation and tyranny.”
Links Unrest, Trial
Alfonsin said the unrest was stoked by the human rights trial of nine former junta members, including three former presidents accused of kidnaping, torture and murder of about 9,000 people while in power.
The extremists, Alfonsin said, “try to blend in with some institutions of the state and thereby create the impression of a confrontation, especially within the armed forces.”
Widespread unrest at the commanders’ trial has been reported among younger officers, and fury at the so-far-uncertain prospect that these junior officers accused of human rights violations might also be brought to justice.
The government accuses cashiered former army Gen. Guillermo Suarez Mason of masterminding the destabilization plot.
Suarez Mason was commander of army troops in Buenos Aires during the military’s so-called “dirty war” against Marxist guerrillas between 1976 and 1980, and later under military rule the president of the state oil company. He is a fugitive from human rights and corruption charges. Believing him to be in Miami, the Argentine government this week asked the United States for his extradition.
The others whose arrest Alfonsin ordered summarily are five active duty army officers linked to Suarez Mason, and six civilian nationalists close to the most conservative elements within the army.
“The state is attacked, the nation challenged, security threatened, and our international prestige diminished,” Alfonsin said. “And by whom? By men who are a true danger because they neither see nor understand the nation or the world except through the distortion of their own madness.”