Pressure mounts on junta as Argentines try to put defeat behind them
Buenos Aires — With public gloom here matching the gray, cold weather sweeping Argentina, a confused nation is trying to pick up the pieces of its shattered Falklands adventure -- and to move forward again.
The uncritical public support for the military government that marked the weeks of fighting are fast dissipating in defeat.
Pressures on the military to force Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri to step down from the presidency are already mounting. They began with a public call for his resignation by Raul Alfonfin of the Radical Party.
At the same time, public awareness of the disastrous state of the economy is growing. And if the generals decide they need new weapons to replace those lost in war -- or to rearm for what the newspaper Conviccion calls ''a future recovery of the Malvinas'' - that will postpone the economic recovery.
Some more hopeful notes can be heard here. Brig. (Gen.) Basilio Ignacio Lami Dozo, Air Force member of the ruling military junta, still sees the whole Falklands ''episode'' as a step in the making of the Argentine nation. His upbeat approach, so clearly at variance with that of other military and political leaders, may result from the superb showing of his battered, but valiant Air Force.
Argentines also are aware of the prodigious potential of this nation - its remarkable agricultural regions, its largely untapped mineral wealth, its generally favorable climate, and, best of all, its educated, extremely capable population.
Argentina may now be a defeated nation -- economically, socially, and militarily -- but nations sometimes manage to turn adversity into promise. And that could happen here.
The 28 million Argentines who inhabit this southern cone land deserve better than history and their leaders have afforded them. But ''we are going to have to pull ourselves up,'' said a radio commentator Tuesday morning. ''No one else will do it for us; the war with Britain has taught us that. We began alone and we remain essentially alone.''
There was a hint of the martyr in that and other comments. But there was much soul-searching going on here as well. The economy, for instance, in bad shape even before the Falklands adventure, is much worse today.
''We have gone belly up,'' said a leading member of the government economic team this week. ''Nations do not go bankrupt, but if they did we would have to declare bankruptcy.''
Argentines whopping foreign debt of more than $36 billion must be renegotiated. Argentina must find new markets for its grain and meat production, which is now stockpiled in warehouses. It must find ways to cut back on the soaring unemployment rolls, business bankruptcies, and banking failures, which have reached intolerable levels.
The frustrated efforts of successive economy ministers over the past generation to put some order in an economy suffering the world's highest inflation (about 140 percent a year), have got to be regeared.
Economy Minister Roberto Teodoro Alemann, who last week hung his head and said, ''our economic recovery plan has collapsed,'' is really not to blame for the current crisis. A team player, however, he has refused to blame the war for doing in his economic program.
But Argentines know that the war has cost $5 billion that Argentina did not have. And the tab is growing. Mr. Alemann will most certainly step down soon.
Meanwhile, the search for scapegoats is bound to grow in the days immediately ahead. General Galtieri will probably have to go. And so will other military leaders. Whoever takes over -- another military figure, or a civilian with military backing -- will certainly have major impact on Argentina's political, economic, social, and international future.