35. Telegram 1373 From the Embassy in Argentina to the Department of State1

1373. Subj: Political Crisis. Ref: BA–1325 (Notal).

1. Several Congressional leaders including Troccoli of UCR have told EmbOffs that effective action in Congress clearly not possible and that they regard coup as inevitable. Troccoli commented that announcement Feb 26 that Anti Verticalista Peronists will support joint session of Congress is virtually meaningless. Joint session will not even begin until next week at earliest. Senator Luder last night—Feb 27—indicated it might not be convened until March 8, and even when it convenes it is only charged, in effect, with studying crisis and recommending solutions. “Joint session,” Troccoli concluded,” is only a facade. Constitutional solution has already been discarded. We are now simply waiting for the inevitable to happen.” (Note: Whether coup is inevitable or not, it is significant that most politicians now believe it is.)

2. According to Troccoli, several other Radicales and Anti-Verticalista Peronists, key factor in decision of Anti-Verticalistas not to support move in Congress to oust Mrs.Perón was conviction on their part that coup was inevitable no matter what they did (see reftel). This, in turn was result of failure of military to give them any kind of guarantees. Spokesmen for working group and dissident Labor Deputies reportedly asked military leaders week of Feb 15–21 for assurances that if they, the dissident Peronists, joined in Congressional initiative to oust Mrs.Perón and bring in Luder, Armed Forces would not overthrow Luder government further down road. Videla, Viola, Massera and other senior military leaders reasoned that national crisis so acute and Luder’s mandate would be so weak that chances were very high he too would fail, leaving the military with no choice but to take over. [Page 109] Thus, while they encouraged Anti-Verticalistas to support action in Congress they could not give assurances latter had wanted. Anti-Verticalistas therefore, resigned themselves to coup and are playing for the future with latter in mind, they will take no action which could be used to undercut their position with Peronist movement. They will continue to criticize Mrs.Perón but will not support move to oust her. In general, their attitude now seems to be one of “if we are all going down anyway, let’s do nothing which will further divide the Peronist movement in the process.”

3. Question now largely academic one, but many observers, including Embassy, still of view that reasons given by Anti-Verticalistas are not persuasive. With or without military assurances, removing Mrs.Perón by constitutional means and bringing Luder was at least worth a try. In final analysis, what Anti-Verticalistas have done is to opt out.

4. Reports Embassy is getting from various sources close to military tend to coincide with those of DAO regarding shape of future military govt. and direction of its policies. According to our reports, General Videla, rather than Viola, will be President. At least initially, Cabinet reportedly will be all military—with possible exception of Econ Minister. Papal Nuncio told Amb Hill Feb 27 he understands Admiral Montes will be new Foreign Minister (DAO has similar report). Congress will be closed, but political parties will continue to function (though possibly within narrowed parameters). In general, it now appears that military will follow relatively moderate line.

5. Both UCR and Anti-Verticalista Peronists have told EmbOff they plan to go on record as being against coup but then to accept it and to cooperate to extent possible with military govt. As Troccoli put it: “We do not want to rock Videla’s boat; on contrary, we want his govt to succeed. He is a reasonable, moderate man and we prefer him to any of the hardliners who might take his place if initial phase of military administration goes badly.”

6. What military will do with Mrs.Perón not clear. Several sources have indicated they believe decision made not rpt not to let her leave country. Nuncio told Amb Hill he understood she might simply be detained at military resort area such as Ascochinga in Cordoba for indefinite period. “If they let her go back to Spain, she and Lopez Rega could create problems for new govt which it would rather avoid,” he noted.

7. Position of USG: On what may be eve of coup (whether it takes place within days or weeks), Embassy believes USG is in good position. None of the major parties or responsible sectors are accusing USG of being behind it. On contrary, several Radicales and Peronists have stated their certainty that USG has stood by as close friend wishing them the best but has not intervened in Argentina’s internal affairs in [Page 110] any way. We believe Sec Kissinger’s recent acceptance of luncheon invitation with Quijano contributed significantly to this atmosphere. Our stock with democratic civilian forces therefore remains high, but at same time our bridges to military are open.

  1. Summary: The Embassy reported on widespread rumors that a military coup was inevitable, adding that no significant segment of Argentine society accused the United States of being responsible for the anticipated coup. The U.S. Government therefore remained on good terms with both civilian politicians and military leaders.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760076–0478. Secret; Immediate. Repeated to Asunción, Brasília, La Paz, Montevideo, Santiago, and DIA. In telegram 1790 from Buenos Aires, March 18, the Embassy stated that while a moderate caretaker administration was likely to emerge initially in the wake of a coup, the magnitude of the country’s problems and the presence of hard-line officers in the Armed Forces could lead to “military rule for an extended duration and of unprecedented severity.” The Embassy added that while U.S. interests were unlikely to be sharply affected by developments in the short term, the failure of any military regime to address the country’s problems could allow leftist extremists to build a broader base, resulting in “a disastrous situation of such magnitude that US interests across the board would be seriously threatened.” (Ibid., D760104–0479)