The National Reorganisation Process, known in Spanish as Proceso de Reorganización Nacional or El Proceso (The Process), was the name given to a series of military juntas who controlled Argentina from March 24, 1976 until December 10, 1983. Generally regarded as one of the darkest erasif not the darkest erain Argentine history, The Process saw the suppression of civil rights, the integration of the military into every facet of Argentine life, and the "disappearance" of thousands of Argentines as the military tried to cleanse the country of leftist political dissidents.note
Argentina had a long history of military coups d'état prior to The Process. Upon the death of Juan Peron in 1974, and the failure of his wife, vice-president, and designated successor Isabel Peron to maintain domestic stability, the military stepped in, as it had done many times before. The country was wracked at the time with left-wing terrorism, mostly perpetrated by a guerrilla movement known as the Montoneros, who sought to turn the country into a Communist state. The Montoneros had made a name for themselves blowing up businessmen, government officials, and military officers; now, the military had decided, it was time to put an end to this. With backing from the United States of America, and conservative Argentines, the first junta, made up of Army Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant-General Jorge Rafael Videla, Navy Chief Admiral Emilio Massera, and Air Force Chief Brigadier-General Orlando Agosti, removed Isabel Peron from power and installed themselves as Argentinas new rulers. Over the next seven years, three more juntas would dance in Videla, Massera, and Agostis shoes. All would play a role in ensuring that The Process would go down as perhaps the worst perpetrator of state terror in South American history.
The Process quickly gained control over the media and all the other institutions of government. Military officers were assigned to almost all official posts as the civilian government was shut down and the entire country took a hard swing to the right, with social services being cut, traditional values promoted, and the economy opened up to foreign business interests. As promised, the junta stepped up the campaign against the Montoneros, and quickly eliminated them. Then, with their actual enemies defeated, The Process turned on the Argentine public in what became known as "The Dirty War."
Videla had once said that As many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure. From 1976 to 1983, somewhere between 9,000 and 30,000 Argentines were arrested without trial, confined in secret prisons, gruesomely tortured and/or raped, and eventually executed and buried in unmarked graves. Others were hurled, drugged and insensate, into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from low flying airplanes and helicopters, their bodies never to be discovered. Thousands more still were subjected to lengthy prison terms and/or torture before being released into the world broken by the experience. To add a macabre twist, the juntas also kidnapped the children of leftists and sold them to rich Argentine families, enriching themselves in the process.note Unwilling to limit their actions to their own country, the juntas made their intelligence service an integral part of the Pan-South American Operation: Condor, collaborating with Augusto Pinochets Chile, Alfredo Stroessners Paraguay, and the military juntas of Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, and Brazil to terrorize, repress, and assassinate leftists across the continent. The eventual death toll reached somewhere around 60,000, making Operation: Condor the worst politicide in the history of modern South America.
Despite all of this, and even with a considerable drop in popularity during the later years, The Process might well have remained in power, had the third junta not declared war on Britain. Having lost The Falklands Islands War, The Process collapsed. The new government under Raúl Alfonsin (a human rights attorney) prosecuted the leaders of the first three juntas before military tribunals, and turned numerous other perpetrators over to civilian courts, before the threat of another revolt forced him to back down. The 1990s saw all of those involved pardoned by President Carlos Menem, and an attempt was made to forget the entire affair, only for Captain Adolfo Scilingos public admission of guilt for his part in the death flights to start a whole new round of confessions, exhumations, arrests, and trials, as perpetrators and victims alike began speaking out in the 2000s. The Supreme Court struck down Menem's pardon as unconstitutional, and many of those involved were rearrested; Videla and Massera would both spend the rest of their lives in custody. The resulting media frenzy effectively re-traumatized Argentine society, and ensured that the legacy of The Process will never fully go away.
It is important to make a point on the infamous "Theory of the two demons" rhetoric. It is widely accepted that the great majority of the political prisoners and Argentinians murdered and "disappeared" were not part of the guerrillas. It was even reported by the Junta itself in 1977, many years and a war before it stepped down to allow for democracy again, that the war "had been won" against the "subversives". After all, the guerrilla groups had been pretty much been terminated during the tumultuous previous democratic years, by the Triple A (Alianza Anticomunista Argentina), a right-wing military group supported by the high government that was a precursor of the dissappearence, torture, and extermination that became commonplace and generalized a year later. Still, it has been wholly maintained by the military personnel put on trial after the dictatorship as their main defence, and by a very vocal right-wing minority, that it was a fair war between two armed groups, instead of a buraeucratic and systematic illegal repressive state versus the remains of a pretty much decimated armed group. In reality, the PRN was more about the killing of left-wing ideas (that's why most of the "dissappeared" are 18-30 year old working class people) and the reinstallation of a liberal economy beholden to external interests (seen in the rise of international debt as never had and has been seen in the country's history) by the way of Minister of Economy Martínez de Hoz. There is way more information on the wikipedia's respective articles about the "Theory of the two demons" and the Minister.
The four juntas were: 1) Lieutenant-General Jorge Rafael Videla, Admiral Emilio Massera, Brigadier-General Orlando Agosti; 2) Lieutenant-General Roberto Viola, Admiral Armando Lambruschini, Brigadier-General Omar Graffigna; 3) Lieutenant-General Leopoldo Galtieri, Admiral Jorge Anaya, Brigadier-General Basilio Lami Dozo; 4) Lieutenant-General Cristino Nicolaides, Admiral Ruben Franco, Brigadier-General Augusto Hughes.
Works featuring The Process include:
- The novel The Islands deals with the aftermath of Falklands Islands War. Protagonist Felix is a Shell-Shocked Veteran, still carrying the baggage of the conflict and what he did under The Process. One of the other characters, the mysterious Major X, is a torturer-turned-would-be-liberator of the islands, who has no regrets about what he did, while Felix's superior officer, Verraco, is a sociopath who has one of his own men tortured to death in much the same way the junta tortured its victims.
- The novel Malvinas Requiem tells the story of a group of soldiers who desert and hide underground as soon as they arrive at the Falklands Islands. The novel sets them up as deliberate counterpoints to the victims of The Process, with the characters engaging in a lengthy discussion of the horrors perpetrated by the junta. "They say there's ten thousand of us on the island" one soldier comments. "They say Videla killed fifteen thousand," another shoots back.
- Christopher Hitchens wrote extensively on the National Reorganization Process, actually interviewing General Videla when it was at its height.
- The film Los rubios (The Blonds) is a docudrama showing one woman's quest to uncover what happened to her disappeared family during The Dirty War.
- The film La Noche de los Lapices (Night of the Pencils) follows the famous story of how seven students were suddenly abducted, blindfolded, tortured, raped, and ultimately, executed by the dictatorship. Only one of the seven survived to tell the tale.
- Chronicle Of An Escape: A 2006 Argentine film telling the stories of four men who narrowly escape death at the hands of one of the junta's death squads.
- The movie Kamchatka is about a family hiding from the junta in rural Argentina.
- Imagining Argentina, starring Antonio Banderas, tells the story of a man who uses his psychic powers to try and locate his disappeared wife, while helping other victims of the junta try and uncover what has happened to their loved ones. It includes some truly ugly torture scenes.
- Garage Olimpo is the story of a dissident journalist captured and tortured at the titular location, one of the juntas most well-known torture chambers.
- A Wall of Silence is about a film director whose husband was disappeared under The Process. She struggles to move on, but cannot, while trying to determine what the responsibility of artists is when it comes to representing what happened during The Process.
- Captive (2003) is about a student, Cristina, who discovers that she is one of the children who was kidnapped during The Process and sold off to a wealthy family. She is left trying to find her real relatives, and looking to uncover just how much her adoptive parents really know. Her grandmother is another major character, who has spent sixteen years trying to locate her.
- The Official Story is about an upper middle class couple who discover that their adopted daughter is the child of one of the disappeared. It won several awards.
- Hermanas is about two sisters who flee Argentina during the junta after their father disappears. Eight years later, the girls meet up for the first time and try to rebuild their relationship as the film flashes back to their family's life during The Process.
- The Lost Steps: Yet another film dealing with a stolen child, this one has Monica Erigaray discovering that not only is she the granddaughter of a dissident writer, but that the man she believes to be her father was a Torture Technician known as "The Toad" during the junta.
- Clandestine Childhood is about a married couple of Montoneros who escape The Process and then return to Argentina under assumed names to try and bring the junta down.
- The Girlfriend is about a married couple trying to come to terms with the disappearance of both their son, and the wife's Jewish friend. The wife, Maria, eventually joins The Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo to protest the regime.
- Veronico Cruz is about a rural shepherd boy whose father was disappeared by the regime and who eventually ends up as a sailor during the attack on the Falklands.