Argentina's Army brass stay on top of the heap

Although the post-mortems on Argentina's Falklands adventure continue to blacken the record of the Argentine Army, there can be no doubt that the Army is still very much in charge of Argentina.

The resignation of Brig. (Gen.) Basilio Ignacio Lami Dozo, the Air Force commander, last week is the latest confirmation of Army preeminence. He had been under fire for weeks and finally was forced out over a controversial government plan that he advanced. The Army commanders had been trying to get rid of the popular Lami Dozo to shore up their own weakened positions.

In addition to its staggering defeat in the Falklands conflict, the Army has serious internal problems - notably a split between Army Lt. Gen. Cristino Nicolaides, who is from the engineers corps, and the cavalry, the only unit of the Army to have emerged somewhat unscathed from the Falklands fighting.

General Nicolaides and his closest advisers simply did not like the idea of having an Air Force rival threatening their preeminence on top of this internal feuding.

There had been hopes in some Argentine civilian and military quarters that the Air Force, which outperformed both the Army and the Navy in the conflict and gave Argentina its only glory in the Falklands war, might challenge the Army for national leadership. At least for now, those hopes appear to have been dashed.

Army generals ousted Lami Dozo, using as a pretext the brigadier's proposal to form an official party to continue the military's economic and social programs when civilian rule is restored in 1984. The generals don't really disagree with Lami Dozo's concept, they simply do not like the idea of his getting credit for it.

Lami Dozo managed, however, to name his successor - Brig. Augusto Jorge Hughes. That assures continuity in Air Force positions.

Yet it is the Army that continues to rule.

But the internal divisions within the Army and poor economic performance by the government threaten that rule.

General Nicolaides took over as Army commander in chief in late June and soon chose retired Gen. Reynaldo Bignone as president. Almost immediately, the post-mortems into the Falklands conflict began in earnest. General Nicolaides told associates he wanted only a limited post-mortem. But young officers - majors and colonels - demanded a detailed look at the conflict. They apparently are having their way.

For one thing, it is clear that the Army high command, which masterminded the Argentine move into the Falklands, kept word of how poorly the battle was going not only from the Argentine public, but also from Air Force and Navy commanders and even from some key Army colonels.

This is one of the complaints being aired by young officers - particularly by the cavalry. A couple of cavalry generals were never informed of how poorly the battle was going.

Cavalry officers now control vital Army jobs. They include Maj. Gen. Juan Carlos Trimarco, head of the First Army Corps; Maj. Gen. Alfredo Oscar St. Jean, who served as interior minister during the Falklands fighting, then briefly as interim president, and who now is in command of the Fourth Army Corps; and Maj. Gen. Edgardo Calvi, who as head of the important Institutos Militares, the advanced Army war college, is playing a key role in the Falklands examination.

In addition, the No. 2 man in the important Third Army Corps, Brig. Gen. Ovidio Ricchperi, is a cavalry officer and is emerging as a powerful figure.

Finally, two cavalry officers, thought to be close to General Trimarco, are in temporary assignments - Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Wehner as head of the Army general staff and Maj. Gen. Julio Mazeo as commander of the Second Army Corps.

The cavalry, which has frequently controlled the Army and the Argentine government, is traditionally the most tough-fisted branch of the Army. Its commander in the 1960s was Maj. Gen. Enrique Rauch, who is remembered as a symbol of military preeminence. The cavalry lost its control of the Army in 1976 when the infantry, led by Lt. Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, took over.

Like Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, who began and waged the Falklands war, General Nicolaides comes from the smaller, less influential branch of engineers. Both men emerged on top in December, when nearly a dozen infantry generals were retired.

It is widely expected that the cavalry generals will soon mount a power play to oust the engineers under General Nicolaides.

But that is not General Nicolaides's only worry. The Argentine economy continues in a tailspin. By all accounts, the country is in the grips of its worst economic crisis in decades.

The foreign debt, which reached $32 billion before the Falklands war, is at a record $39.1 billion, according to the Central Bank. Some unofficial sources say it is probably close to $45 billion.

La Nacion, a Buenos Aires morning daily with a reputation for accuracy, said last week that Argentina is already $600 million behind in its debt payments and lacks the resources to meet even its interest obligations this year.

Inflation, which soared over 100 percent during the Falklands crisis, is expected to reach a rate of nearly 200 percent a year by Dec. 31.

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