Top Argentine general on trial for debacle of Falklands war

The recriminations from Argentina's disastrous war with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands last year keep coming. This time it is the court martialing of Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, who, more than anyone else, was responsible for leading Argentina into the war. Ultimate punishment would be the death penalty.

Disclosure that the court martial had already begun came as a magazine here published a heretofore secret report by a military commission probing the war. The commission, composed of six retired Army, Navy, and Air Force officers, recommended the court martialing of General Galtieri and l5 other top military officials. It also recommended a civilian trial for former Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Mendez.

It has been known for some weeks that the military commission had some harsh things to say about General Galtieri and his conduct of the war. But publication of the report by the magazine Siete Dias shows that the commission holds the Army officer guilty of ''gross dereliction of duty.''

It is unlikely that either General Galtieri or any of the other 15 officers will receive the death penalty. But stiff punishment such as life imprisonment could be meted out.

The military officers facing the court martials include Navy Vice-Admiral Jorge Isaac Anaya and Air Force Brigadier (General) Basilio Ignacio Lami Dozo, who along with General Galtieri comprised the junta, and Army Brig. Gen. Mario Benjamin Menendez, the Army commander on the Falklands.

The war lasted from April 2, 1982, when the Argentines seized the islands from Britain, until June 14, when the British recaptured the island's capital, Port Stanley.

But for Argentina, the war goes on.

That was apparent recently during an incident Nov. 3 at Carrasco International Airport in neighboring Uruguay. The weather had turned a bit foul. Shortly after 1 p.m. that day, the airport's control tower was contacted by two C-130 transports of the British Royal Air Force seeking ''a technical stopover.''

Soon the two planes, capable of carrying hundreds of troops or large amounts of weaponry or supplies, landed at the airport on the outskirts of Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital. They apparently had taken off from Ascension Island in the South Atlantic and were headed for the Falklands when they encountered the bad weather.

The incident, normal in most Western aviation circles, would probably have gone unnoticed if an Aerolineas Argentinas jet bound for Buenos Aires had not been loading at that moment. Word of the British planes' presence in Uruguay soon reached Argentine military authorities - and the diplomatic fur began to fly.

''How is it possible that the Uruguayans can allow those British devils to land?'' asked an Argentine general several days later. ''Uruguay, like the rest of Latin America, must be with us on this issue of the Falklands. The British are our enemies and so are they the enemies of all Latin Americans and right-thinking people everywhere.''

The words were intemperate. Perhaps for that reason the general refused to be identified. But the words suggest the bitterness the Argentine military still feels regarding their defeat in the war.

An Argentine Foreign Ministry source demanded an explanation from Uruguay on the incident.

Uruguayan Foreign Minister Carlos Maseo replied that the British planes' stopover was ''exceptional.'' He added that his government ''had simply complied with elementary norms of aviation in authorizing the landing of the two planes of the British Royal Air Force.'' Weather conditions demanded it, he said. Moreover, he added that Uruguay had not altered its basic rejection of a British request that Montevideo be used as a refueling stop for British planes going to and from the Falklands.

Some other recent Falklands-related developments:

* Federal judge Oscar Mario Salvi is investigating the alleged sale of Argentine arms to El Salvador during the Falklands conflict. There are strict controls over the sale of Argentine-made war materiel. But it is not clear the alleged sale ever took place - or that if it did take place, it was illegal. Nevertheless, the probe has caused a wide flurry of speculation here that some officers may have enriched themselves with the same. The investigation has made the headlines.

* The Argentine firm Georgias del Sud SA has employed a law firm here to press charges against the British Foreign Office. The company charges that it suffered serious economic reverses because of the Falklands war that prevented it from completing its task of dismantling an old whaling station on San Pedro Island in the South Georgias group. British marines retook these islands early in the war as a preliminary for retaking the Falklands.

* Many books, pamphlets, and reports written by Argentine combatants in the war are being issued. They get widespread attention in the press and at least two authors have been reprimanded by Argentine military commanders in the past month. But still the reports come. One of the latest is a document written by Marine Capt. Carlos Hugo Robacio. It takes note of British fighting prowess and suggests that the Argentine military has a long way to go before it can match that British ability.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.