70. Special National Intelligence Estimate 91–71, Washington, July 15, 1971.1 2

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Special National Intelligence Estimate 91–71
July 15, 1971

[Omitted here is a Table of Contents and Map of Argentina]

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SHORT-TERM OUTLOOK FOR ARGENTINA

NOTE

The purpose of this Estimate is to assess the present situation in Argentina and to estimate the chances for an orderly transfer of the government from the ruling military junta to civilian hands. The process has been set in motion by the incumbent president and dominant member of the junta, who has been in office only a few months following the removal of the previous ruler. The Argentine scene is complicated by the fact that the largest political movement is manipulated from exile by ex-dictator Peron, who is anathema to the military rulers. There are also serious economic problems, a rise in urban terrorism, a mood of unrest among military officers, and an increase in nationalistic sentiment—all of which are considered in this paper. Because major political changes are in process, we cannot look much beyond the next year or so and some of our conclusions must be tentative.

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CONCLUSIONS

A. The Argentine military junta which ousted a weak civilian government in 1966 has decided that it cannot by itself solve Argentina’s economic and political problems. President Lanusse, the dominant member of the junta, is seeking to find the right formula for returning the country to an elected government. He is gambling on reaching an understanding with the Peronists and with Juan Peron, the still influential manipulator of the nation’s strongest political movement. Lanusse’s aims are to keep the aging leader in exile, to gain the cooperation of the Peronist-dominated labor movement in a new national political arrangement, and still to retain the support of his military colleagues who would not accept a Peronist dominated government. The military will insist on maintaining some controls and Lanusse might maneuver the situation to permit him to remain as president with a popular mandate.

B. There has been some disaffection in the armed forces and differences of view as to how or whether the military should continue to govern the country. But elements which oppose Lanusse have no strong leader or power base. Despite some ambivalence, the prevailing sentiment is in favor of returning the government to civilian hands.

C. While working out his political plan, Lanusse is trying to come to grips with Argentina’s economic malaise. The outlook for the next year or so is for a steady but not dramatic deterioration in all aspects of the economy. Lanusse’s economic policies will, however, be determined mainly by political considerations. He is not likely to return to politically unpopular measures of economic stabilization and liberal foreign investment policies, though his personal inclinations are not as nationalistic as his predecessor’s. Any civilian regime that emerges from elections is likely to be more attuned to statist and nationalistic ideas.

D. Violence, instigated mostly by small urban bands of extreme leftists and a few rightists, is mounting. There has been little public reaction thus far and it is doubtful that the terrorists will be able to bring down the regime or wreck its plans for a return to civilian government. The security forces have thus far been unable to stem the violence and its continuation will make Lanusse’s job more difficult. [Page 4] It is possible that, if it continues to rise, Lanusse may be pushed into a more repressive course, which could bring a postponement of the return to civilian government and a growing confrontation between the rulers and the ruled.

E. On balance, we judge that Lanusse will be able to find some formula for moving Argentina towards an elected government. But his task is difficult and his plans could be upset by the impact of economic reverses, terrorist acts, or Peronist intransigence. Such circumstances could provoke a coalescence of opposition elements in the military to replace Lanusse by a more hard-line military officer.

F. The details of Lanusse’s political plan are not yet clear but it will probably set the stage for a civilian government in which the Peronists will play an important role. But national problems will remain as deep-seated as ever. A civilian regime would not be likely to return to tough and orderly measures of economic stabilization. And the military will continue to hover over it and be impatient with civilian political processes. In the course of time, the military will probably intervene again, bringing on another dreary cycle.

G. For the foreseeable future, relations with the US will be troubled by nationalistic pressures within Argentina. As long as Lanusse is in control, the Argentine Government will continue to view basically friendly relations with Washington as a desirable policy, despite some nationalistic rhetoric. But almost any civilian or military successor to the Lanusse regime will be more difficult for the US to deal with and be less amenable to US influence. Increasingly, Argentina can be expected to take a more independent stance on the international and hemispheric scene.

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[Here follow the sections: Discussion - I. Background, II. The Lanusse Regime, and III. Peron and the Peronists, IV. Lanusse and the Military, V. The Problem of Terrorism, and VI. The Economic Malaise.]

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[Omitted here is the end of Section VI.]

VII. POLITICAL PROSPECTS AND UNITED STATES-ARGENTINA RELATIONS

26. There are still a great many uncertainties in the details and timing of the political arrangement which Lanusse is trying to work out with the Peronists and the other political parties. Even when the plan is settled, the parties will need considerable time to organize themselves and prepare for elections. The mechanics of the process, e.g., the constitutional changes and the registration of the electorate, cannot be worked out quickly. And time is not on Lanusse’s side. He himself evidently feels some urgency and realizes that the military will have increasing difficulties in ruling the country. He probably hopes to have the arrangements for an election well underway before 1 January 1973, when his term as president is scheduled to expire.

27. On balance, we think that Lanusse will be able to fend off pressures from all sides and accomplish his objective of returning the country to an elected government. He seems determined to do this, and he has the general backing of the military establishment; there is some disaffection but no strong leader or power group to oppose him. The Peronist labor movement is the only other national organization with real political clout. So far Lanusse has made the right moves to win the support of the most important Peronist figures and to assuage the material demands of the workers. Peron, in his declining years, would seem to be receptive to a deal. If Lanusse can gain the cooperation of organized labor and retain the support of the military, he will have in hand the basic requirements for an orderly change of regime.

28. Despite these favorable factors, Lanusse’s task is difficult and could be upset in a number of ways. For example, much will depend on the impact of economic reverses and terrorist acts on public and military confidence in the regime. If the current public attitude of widespread indifference, mixed with a large measure of distrust of the regime, changes for the worse, Lanusse would have to consider adopting much more repressive measures, which might upset his political arrangements. And if he makes a serious miscalculation in dealing with his military colleagues, he could find himself following his two predecessors into retirement with another caretaker military president coming in to continue the search for a political solution. Or if the Peronists push too hard, they may provoke a coalescence of opposition elements in the military to replace Lanusse with a more hardline leader to maintain military rule.

29. It is impossible at this stage to predict the impending political changes in any detail. A likely scenario, however, would be the accession to power of a government in which Peronists play an important role. This seems more likely than the exclusion of Peronists [Page 7] from the process, or a victory by another party with the Peronists either a party of opposition or only minor participants in government. But the military will insist on maintaining some controls behind the scenes, perhaps by getting a Peronist agreement in advance to support the election of a non-Peronist president acceptable to the military. And Lanusse might maneuver the situation to permit him to continue as President.

30. Whatever the makeup of the successor government in Argentina, the national problems are likely to remain as deep-seated as ever. It will take more than a surface political change to bring harmony to the divided Argentine society. A civilian regime, probably dependent on Peronist support, would not be likely to return to orderly measures of economic stabilization. And it will still have an army accustomed to intervention hovering over it. The army, with no identifiable or credible potential foreign foe, is likely to remain restive, demanding of funds, and impatient of civilian political processes. In the course of time it will probably intervene again, bringing on another dreary cycle.

31. For the foreseeable future, relations with the US will be troubled by nationalistic pressures within Argentina. Lanusse himself is favorably disposed toward the US and would like to maintain the present cordial relations initiated by the Ongania regime. But nationalist feeling, both on the right and on the left, is increasing. The US, for historical reasons and because of its economic predominance in the area, is particularly attractive as a scapegoat for domestic failings. As the political campaigns get underway, the anti-foreign rhetoric is certain to increase, and much of it will be directed against the US. And even within the military the US will be blamed by nationalist officers for not paying enough heed to Argentine interests, e.g., in refusing to sell sophisticated military equipment or failing to concur in Argentine claims to the 200 mile maritime limit.

32. There will continue to be common concerns which will draw together some US and some Argentine groups. So long as an extreme leftist regime is in power in Chile and extremist groups contend for control in Bolivia, the Argentine military establishment will look to the US for moral support and expressions of solidarity. Soviet activities in the southern cone of Latin America will be as disturbing to Argentine security services as to the US. As long as Lanusse remains in control, either directly or behind the scenes, the Argentine Government will continue to view basically friendly relations with Washington as a desirable policy, despite some nationalistic rhetoric.

33. By and large, however, almost any civilian or military successor government to the present regime will be more difficult for the US to deal with. If a disaffected military group should overthrow Lanusse, it would probably seek to justify its actions by a strongly nationalist program. And whatever civilian government were to emerge from an election would probably be more attuned to statist and nationalistic ideas. This is not to say that a wave of nationalizations of foreign investments would follow, but more stringent regulation of foreign interests would be likely, and Argentina would be less amenable to US influence. In short, there will probably be a gradual pullback from close relations with the US and a tendency by Argentina to take a more independent stance on the international and hemispheric scene.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 768, Country Files, Latin America, Argentina 1969–1971. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet, the CIA and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and the NSA participated in the preparation of the estimate. All members of the intelligence board concurred in the estimate on February 13 with the exception of the FBI and the Atomic Energy Commission, on the grounds that the subject was outside their jurisdiction. A July 28 covering memorandum from Hewitt to Kissinger that summarized the estimate bears the notation, “HAK has seen.”
  2. During President Lanusse’s administration, Argentina would experience significant economic and political problems. Although Argentine-United States relations were troubled in some respects, these relations would probably deteriorate under any successor government in the country.