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Military Chief Quits In Argentina

December 21, 1988

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ President Raul Alfonsin today called for unity among soldiers and civilians after the armed forces chief and two generals resigned in an apparent concession to leaders of a military revolt.

Gen. Jose Dante Caridi, the army chief of staff, and Gens. Miguel Abbate and Enrique Bianchi requested retirement Tuesday for undisclosed reasons.

Their ouster had been demanded by officers who led a four-day rebellion early this month, the third army insurrection in 20 months.

Gen. Francisco Gassino, 57, was named to replace Caridi. Gassino has been loyal to Alfonsin during military insurrections in April 1987, January 1988 and Dec. 1-4.

In his address to Congress this morning Alfonsin made no direct references to the resignations or to allegations that the government struck a deal with the rebels. But he made indirect references to the rebellion and called for unity among civilians and the military.

″We are trying, nothing more and nothing less, to consolidate the transition of a united people toward dignity. May God illuminate the way to do that,″ Alfonsin said during a 35-minute speech to a packed, special session of Congress.

Sen. Eduardo Menem, leader of the opposition Peronist Party bloc, criticized Alfonsin for not dealing directly with the cause of the insurrection and what the government did to end it.

″The message of Dr. Alfonsin contains a declaration of principles in which we all coincide, but nothing was said about what happened,″ he said.

The military ceded power to Alfonsin’s elected government in 1983, and there have been four different armed forces chiefs since.

Alfonsin’s press secretary, Jose Ignacio Lopez, said the president would meet after the speech with Caridi and Gassino.

It was unclear if Alfonsin had demanded the resignations or intended to promote Gassino to replace Caridi.

The public view of Alfonsin’s handling of the restive military could affect his party’s chances in the presidential elections set for May 14.

The insurrection began Dec. 1 and was declared over by Alfonsin on Dec. 4. But ″loyalist″ troops were reluctant to fight the estimated 800 rebels who had occupied part of a suburban army base, the rebels were not immediately disarmed and most mutineers were allowed to return to their units.

In addition to the ouster of Caridi and other top generals, the rebels had demanded an increased military budget including pay increases and an end to the prosecution of officers for human rights abuses during the eight years of military rule that ended in 1983.

The opposition accused Alfonsin of cutting a deal with the rebels, who were led by Col. Mohamed Ali Seineldin.

Alfonsin denied making any deal. Nevertheless, a 20 percent pay increase was granted to soldiers along with a $100 bonus.

The rebels insisted they had no intention of toppling the government, but politicians and labor and business leaders said that by so severely undermining it, that would be the result.

On Saturday, Defense Minister Horacio Jaunarena said in a speech that the so-called ″dirty war″ against leftist subversion in the late 1970s was necessary - effectively endorsing the army’s position and infuriating human rights groups.

At least 9,000 suspected leftist subversives were abducted during the ″dirty war″ by Argentine security forces and vanished without a trace, according to a government panel.

Caridi’s predecessor, Gen. Hector Rios Erenu, departed after the first insurrection of Alfonsin’s term, in April 1987. That revolt was also touched off by the trials of officers for rights abuses.

The selection of Caridi’s successor has political overtones. If he is replaced by an open supporter of Seineldin, that would damage the credibility of Alfonsin and of the government’s claim the military is subordinate to it.

In a television interview Friday, Caridi acknowledged he made a deal with Seineldin, saying the insurrection ended when both ″realized that our aspirations coincided ... And so the question: why confront one another to produce bloodshed if what they (rebels) were asking, the army was (also) trying to achieve.″

Caridi warned, too, that if rebels demands were not met, there might soon be another insurrection.

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