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Menem Bringing Home Rosas’ Remains to Heal Rift Between Military, Civilians

September 30, 1989

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ President Carlos Menem is bringing home the remains of a controversial 19th century ruler to persuade his people to forgive military abuses of a decade ago.

The body of Gen. Juan Manuel de Rosas is to arrive Saturday aboard a plane from Paris, where it was sent after exhumation from a grave in Southampton, England, on Sept. 21.

Rosas ruled over a confederation of newly independent and rebellious provinces from 1835 until his ouster in 1852. He died in exile in England.

Menem is expected to use the return of the strongman’s remains as a backdrop to announce he will pardon some or all of the 18 generals and admirals facing trial on charges they abused human rights in a brutal campaign against leftist subversives during the 1976-83 military regime.

Menem, who took office on July 8, has repeatedly said pardons are needed to repair the decade-old rift the abuses caused between the military and civilians.

Human rights groups, including relatives of nearly 9,000 people who disappeared during the military campaign, fiercely oppose any pardons. Leftist political parties and even a small faction of Menem’s Peronist Party also are against the move.

An estimated 50,000 opponents marched in downtown Buenos Aires on Sept. 8 and called for ″trial and punishment″ of the accused officers.

″They can hold a million marches, but the decision has already been made,″ Menem said recently. ″I’ve been talking about pacifying the country since before my election on May 14.″

Some human rights and political groups vowed to obtain a million signatures by Sunday on petitions objecting to any plan to pardon military officers accused or convicted of human rights violations. Organizers said Friday they would set up booths on streets and in plazas throughout the country to collect signatures.

″Far from pacifying the country, any kind of pardon would endanger democracy,″ said Communist Party Secretary-General Patricio Etchegaray.

In repatriating the body of Rosas, hailed as a hero by nationalists and condemned as a bloodthirsty tyrant by liberals, Menem chose a case that illustrates how political animosities can endure in Argentina.

″At other times in our national life, the repatriation of the remains of this national hero would have generated a storm of criticism,″ said Buenos Aires Provincial Gov. Antonio Cafiero. Now, ″we’re leaving behind a past that divided us.″

Plans call for a round of ceremonies after which Rosas will be reburied in a family crypt in Buenos Aires’ La Recoleta Cemetery, also the final resting place of dozens of his enemies.

When Rosas died in exile in 1877, his enemies swore ″not even the dust of his bones″ would ever be allowed to return to Argentina.

The idea of repatriating his remains was first brought up by Menem, and the plan has provoked little public opposition aside from a few newspaper columns and several letters to editors.

Government-sponsored television ads have appeared in recent days showing portraits of Rosas and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, one of his most bitter enemies, the blue-and white Argentine flag, a dove and the admonition to ″reconcile the past to resolve the future.″

Red posters bearing a likeness of a uniformed Rosas and the message ″Welcome to the fatherland without quarrels″ have been plastered on walls along city streets.

A wealthy landowner of aristocratic birth, Rosas headed the Federalist Party in 1828, when the United Provinces of the River Plate were trying to organize themselves into the country that would become Argentina.

He was governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s largest and wealthiest province, from 1829 to 1831 and was asked by the legislature to return with dictatorial powers in 1835.

Rosas was constantly at war with regional rivals and used a militia to dominate the other, poorer provinces.

His opponents often were intimidated, assassinated or forced to flee.

Rsas earned the enmity of the Roman Catholic Church by ordering public execution of a priest and his mistress, a member of an aristocratic Buenos Aires family.

His rule ended in 1852 when he was defeated by Gen. Justo Jose Urquiza with the help of Brazilian and Uruguayan troops. Rosas sought asylum aboard a British frigate and fled to England.

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