Operativo Independencia

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Operativo Independencia
Part of Part of the Dirty War
Date 5 February 1975[1] - 28 September 1977[2]
Location Tucumán, Buenos Aires and Formosa provinces, Argentina
Result Argentine Army victory


Bandera del ERP.svg ERP

Flag of Montoneros.svg Montoneros
Commanders and leaders
Acdel Vilas
Antonio Domingo Bussi
Bandera del ERP.svg Mario Roberto Santucho  
Bandera del ERP.svg Juan Carlos Molina  
Flag of Montoneros.svg Mario Firmenich
Flag of Montoneros.svg Juan Carlos Alsogaray  Executed
5.000 (1975)

ERP:100 fighters and 400 reservists (1974)
300-500 fighters (1975)

Montoneros: 30 fighters (1975)
~100 fighters (1976)
Casualties and losses

At least 76 troops and 13 policemen killed
(including accidents and terrorist attacks)

  • 2 aircraft crashed
  • 1 aircraft destroyed on the ground
  • 1 helicopter shot down
  • 1 helicopter damaged
  • 1 helicopter crashed
312 guerrillas killed
Hundreds missing

Operativo Independencia (Spanish for "Operation Independence") was the code-name of the Argentine military operation in the Tucumán Province, started in 1975 to crush the ERPEjército Revolucionario del Pueblo or People's Revolutionary Army—, a Guevarist guerrilla group, which tried to create a Vietnam-style war front in the Tucumán Province, in northwestern Argentina. It was the first large-scale military operation of the Dirty War.


Main article: Dirty War

After the return of Juan Perón to Argentina, marked by the 20 June 1973 Ezeiza massacre which led to the split between left and right-wing Peronists, and then his return to the presidency in 1973, the ERP shifted to a rural strategy designed to secure a large land area as a base for military operations against the Argentine state. The ERP leadership chose to send "Compañía de Monte Ramón Rosa Jiménez" to the province of Tucumán at the edge of the long-impoverished Andean highlands in the northwest corner of Argentina. By December 1974, the guerrillas numbered about 100 fighters, with a 400-person support network, although the size of the guerrilla platoons increased from February onwards as the ERP approached its maximum strength of between 300 and 500 men and women. Led by Mario Roberto Santucho, they soon established control over a third of the province and organized a base of some 2,500 sympathizers.[3] The Montoneros' leadership was keen to learn from their experience, and sent "observers" to spend a few months with the ERP platoons operating in Tucumán.[4]

February 1975 "annihilation decree"[edit]

Military zones of Argentina, 1975-1983 (Tucumán Province is in zone 3, the smallest province in the middle).

The military operation to crush the insurgency was authorized by the President of the lower house, Ítalo Argentino Lúder, who was granted executive power during the absence (due to illness) of the President María Estela Martínez de Perón, better known as Isabel Perón, in virtue of the "Ley de Acefalía" (law of succession). Ítalo Lúder issued the presidential decree 261/1975 which stated that the "general command of the Army will proceed to all of the necessary military operations to the effect of neutralizing or annihilating the actions of the subversive elements acting in Tucumán Province."[5]

The military operation[edit]

The Argentine military used the territory of the smallest Argentine province to implement, within the framework of its national security doctrine, the methods of the "counter-revolutionary warfare". These included the use of terrorism, kidnappings, forced disappearances and concentration camps where hundreds of guerrillas and their supporters in Tucumán were tortured and murdered. The logistical and operational superiority of the military, headed first by General Acdel Vilas, and starting in December 1975 by Antonio Domingo Bussi, succeeded in crushing the insurgency after a year and by destroying earlier on the links the ERP, led by Roberto Santucho, had established with the local population.

Brigadier-General Acdel Vilas deployed over 4,000 soldiers, including two companies of elite army commandos, backed by jets, dogs, helicopters, US satellites[6] and a Navy's Beechcraft Queen Air B-80 equipped with IR surveillance assets.[7] The ERP did not enjoy much support from the local population and it needed to wage a terror campaign to be able to move at will among the towns of Santa Lucía, Los Sosa, Monteros and La Fronterita[8] around Famaillá and the Monteros mountains, until the Fifth Brigade came on the scene, consisting of the 19th, 20th and 29th Regiments.[9] and various support units. The guerrillas who had laid low when the mountain brigade first arrived, soon began to strike at the commando units. It was during the second week of February that a platoon from the commando companies was ambushed at Río Pueblo Viejo and took some losses, including the death of its platoon commander, First Lieutenant Héctor Cáceres. On 24 February, while supporting troops on the ground, an army UH-1H helicopter crashed near the town of Ingenio Santa Lucia, killing its two crewmen.[10] On 28 February 1975, an army corporal [11] was killed while inspecting an abandoned car rigged with an explosive charge in the city of Famaillá. Three months of constant patrolling and 'cordon and search' operations with helicopter-borne troops, soon reduced the ERP's effectiveness in the Famaillá area, and so in June, elements of the Fifth Brigade moved to the frontiers of Tucumán to guard against ERP and Montoneros guerrillas crossing into the province from Catamarca, and Santiago del Estero.

On 11 May 1975, an Army NCO [12] was killed during a fierce exchange of fire with guerrillas on Route 301 in Tucumán. That month, ERP representative Amílcar Santucho, brother of Roberto, was captured along with Jorge Fuentes Alarcón, a member of the Chilean MIR, trying to cross into Paraguay to promote the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta (JCR, Junta Coordinadora Revolucionaria) unity effort with the MIR, the Uruguayan Tupamaros and the Bolivian National Liberation Army. During his interrogation, he provided information that helped the Argentine security agencies destroy the ERP.

A 6 June 1975 letter from the United States Justice Department revealed that Robert Scherrer, a FBI official, passed on information revealed by the two men to the Chilean DINA. By this point, Operation Condor, the campaign of repressive cooperation between Latin American intelligence agencies, was already being planned, the third phase of which included assassinations of political opponents in Latin America and abroad. Fuentes was then "released" and sent to Chile, where he was last seen in the torture center Villa Grimaldi before becoming a desaparecido.[13]

Nevertheless, the military was not to have everything its own way. On 28 August, a bomb was planted at the Tucumán air base airstrip by Montoneros, in a support action for their comrades in the ERP. The blast destroyed an Air Force C-130 transport carrying 116 anti-guerrilla Gendarmerie commandos heading for home leave, killing six [14] and wounding 60.[15] The following day saw the derailment of a train carrying troops back from the guerrilla front about 64 kilometers south of the city of Tucumán, this time without any casualties.[16]

By July 1975, the commandos were carrying out search-and-destroy missions in the mountains. Army special forces discovered Santucho's hideout in August, then raided the ERP urban headquarters in September.

With the underground network of ERP supporters in the form of Montoneros sympathizers largely uprooted in the capital of Tucumán province, the last week of the month of August 1975 saw a large number of armed actions on the part of the left-wing guerrillas in the city of Córdoba, in order to divert the 2nd and 14th Airborne Infantry Regiments ordered to assist the 5th Mountain Infantry Brigade, which resulted in the death of at least 5 policemen, and practically the whole of the elite 4th Airborne Infantry Brigade had to be called in to restore order and stand guard at strategic points around the city of Córdoba for the remainder of the year, after the local police headquarters and radio communications center had been bombed.[17]

Most of the Compañía de Monte's general staff were killed in a special forces raid in October, but the guerrilla unit continued to fight. Between 7 and 8 October 1975, six soldiers[18] were killed during an ambush.

On 10 October, a UH-1H helicopter was hit by enemy fire, mortally wounding its machine gunner. That same day, a NCO, 5 policemen and 13 guerrillas were reported to have been killed in clashes in Tucumán province.[19] On 17 October, near Los Sosas, an army platoon was ambushed, and lost four men. On 24 October, during a night mission that took place on the banks of Fronterista River, three men from the 5th Brigade were killed.[20] Between 8 and 16 November 1975, there were other engagements in which the 5th Brigade suffered another three losses.[21]

Generalization of the state of emergency[edit]

Argentina had become the stage for widespread violence during 1975, and by December, a total of 137 servicemen and police had been killed by left-wing terrorism all over the country.[22] Extreme right-wing death squads used their hunt for far-left guerrillas as a pretext to exterminate any and all ideological opponents on the left and as a cover for common crimes.[citation needed] Assassinations and kidnappings by the Peronist Montoneros and the ERP contributed to the general climate of fear. A general strike took place in July.

During his brief interlude as the nation's chief executive, interim President Ítalo Lúder then extended the operation to the whole of the country through Decrees noº 2270, 2271 and 2272, issued on 6 July 1975. The July decrees created a Defense Council headed by the president, and including his ministers and the chiefs of the armed forces.[23][24][25] It was given the command of the national and provincial police and correctional facilities and its mission was to "annihilate … subversive elements throughout the country". Military control and the state of emergency was thus generalized to all of the country. The "counter-insurgency" tactics used by the French during the 1957 Battle of Algiers —such as relinquishing of civilian control to the military, state of emergency, block warden system (quadrillage), etc.— were perfectly imitated by the Argentine military.

These "annihilation decrees" are the source of the charges against Isabel Perón, which called for her arrest in Madrid more than thirty years later, in January 2007, but she was never extradited to Argentina due to her advanced age. The country was then divided into five military zones through a 28 October 1975 directive of "Struggle Against Subversion". As had been done during the 1957 Battle of Algiers, each zone was divided in subzones and areas, with its corresponding military responsibles. General Antonio Domingo Bussi replaced Acdel Vilas in December 1975 as responsible of the military operations. A reported 656 persons disappeared in Tucumán between 1974 and 1979, 75% of which were laborers and labor union officials.[26]

Later stages[edit]

Efforts to restrict the rural guerrilla activity to Tucumán, however, remained unsuccessful despite the use of 24 recently supplied ex-US Army troop-transport helicopters. In early October, the 5th Brigade suffered another major blow at the hands of Montoneros, when over one-hundred or perhaps several hundred[27] guerrillas and supporting civilians carried out the most elaborate guerrilla operation of the Dirty War. Its code name inside Montoneros was Operación Primicia ("Operation Scoop"). The action involved the hijacking of a civilian airliner, bound for Corrientes from Buenos Aires. The guerrillas redirected the plane towards Formosa Province, where they took over the provincial airport. Joined by a local supporting unit, they broke into the 29th Infantry Regiment's barracks, firing automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades. They met fierce resistance from a group of conscripts and NCOs who reacted after the initial surprise. In the aftermath, 12 soldiers[28] were killed and several injured; the attacking Montoneros lost 16 men.[29]

Once the operation was over, Montoneros made their escape by air towards a remote area in Santa Fe province. The aircraft, a Boeing 737, eventually landed on a crop field not far from the city of Rafaela. The sophistication of the operation, and the getaway cars and safehouses used to escape from the crash-landing site, suggest several hundred guerrillas and their supporters were involved.[30] In December 1975, most 5th Brigade units were committed to the border areas of Tucumán with over 5.000 troops deployed in the province. however, there was nothing to prevent 30 of Santucho's most experienced jungle fighters infiltrating through this outer ring, and the ERP were still strong inside Buenos Aires. Santucho's Christmas offensive began on the 23rd. The operation was a dramatic showdown, with ERP units backed by local Montoneros support units, mounting a large scale assault against the army supply base Domingo Viejobueno in the industrial suburb of Monte Chingolo, south of Buenos Aires. The ERP guerrillas had planned to seize some 20 tons of armaments: 900 FAL rifles with 60.000 magazines of 7.62mm rounds, 100 M-16 assault rifles with 100.000 magazines of 5.56mm rounds, six 20mm Rheinmetall anti-aircraft guns, fifteen 105mm Czekalski anti-tank rifles, Ithaca shotguns and 150 submachineguns.[31] However, the attackers were defeated and driven off with 62 men dead, and another 30 would later be executed after surrendering, while the military suffered 6 killed. This large-scale operation was made possible not only by the audacity of the guerrillas involved, but also by their supporters, who provided them with safehouses to hide in, supplies and means to escape. A soldier who took part in the fighting recalled that many of the guerrillas were very young, some only teenage girls.[32] On 30 December 1975, supporting urban guerrillas detonated a bomb inside the headquarters of the Argentine Army in Buenos Aires, wounding six conscripts.[33] Between February and December 1975, the Fifth Mountain Brigade killed some 160 guerrillas at a cost of 53 security forces elements killed.[34] however, this figure does not take into account the soldiers who died defending their barracks in Formosa Province on 5 October of that year or those killed during the failled attack in Monte Chingolo.

Tucumán kept the 5th Mountain Infantry Brigade and 4th Airborne Infantry Brigade busy throughout 1976 and 1977, and the mountain and parachute units remained essential as military support for the local police and gendarmerie security forces, and for the apprehension of several hundred ERP and Montoneros guerrillas who still remained operating in the jungles and mountains, and sympathizers hidden among the civilian population in what was described by the Baltimore Sun as a "growing 'Viet war'"[35]

During February 1976, in an effort to rekindle the guerrilla campaign in Tucumán, the Montoneros sent in reinforcements in the form of a company of their elite "Jungle Troops". The leader of this Montoneros force, was initially commanded by Juan Carlos Alsogaray (El Hippie), son of General Julio Alsogaray, who had served as head of the Argentine Army from 1966 to 1968. The ERP also sent reinforecment to Tucumán in the form of their elite "Decididos de Córdoba" Company from Córdoba.[36] General Bussi achieved a major success on 13 February, when the 14th Airborne Infantry Regiment killed el Hippie and ambushed his elite Montoneros company. Two soldiers[37] were killed in this action, but the guerrillas suffered severe losses.

On 30 March, a police officer was gunned down while patrolling in downtown Tucumán. On 10 April, a private [38] was killed in a guerrilla ambush in Tucumán. And on the same day, a policeman was killed while standing guard at a hospital. In mid-April, the 4th Airborne Infantry Brigade in a major operation conducted against the ERP underground network in the province of Córdoba, took into custody and forcibly disappeared some 300 militants of that organization.[39] On 26 April, Montoneros guerrillas killed retired Colonel Abel Héctor Elías Cavagnaro outside his home in Tucumán province. That same day, inspector general Juan Sirnio was murdered by a Montoneros platoon.

On 5 May, during an armed reconnaissance mission, an army UH-1H helicopter was shot down on the banks of Río Caspichango, killing five men.[40] On 7 May, in a gunfight close to a river, another corporal[41] was killed in a guerrilla ambush. On 10 May, Private Carlos Alberto Fricker was accidentally shot dead by nervous sentries while stationed in Famaillá. On 17 may, a first corporal was killed and another two soldiers[42] died in a remote-controlled bomb blast near the town of Caspinchango. On 28 July, three police officers and eight guerrillas were killed during a shootout.

Thorough 1976, a total of 24 patrol battles took place, resulting in the deaths of 74 guerrillas and 18 soldiers and policemen in the province of Tucumán.[43]

Veterans' recognition demands[edit]

On 14 December 2007, some 200 soldiers who fought against the guerrillas in Tucumán province demanded an audience with the governor of Tucumán Province, José Jorge Alperovich, claiming they too were victims of the "Dirty War", and demanded a government sponsored military pension as veterans of the counter-insurgency campaign in northern Argentina.[44] Indeed, data from the 2,300-strong Asociación Ex-Combatientes del Operativo Independencia indicate that as of 1976, 4 times more Tucumán veterans have died from suicide after operations in the province. Critics of the ex-servicemen association claim that no combat operations took place in the province and that the government forces deployed in Tucumán killed more than 2,000 innocent civilians.[45] According to Professor Paul H. Lewis, a large percentage of the disappeared in Tucumán were in fact students, professors and recent graduates of the local university, all of whom were caught providing supplies and information to the guerrillas.[46] On 24 March 2008, some 2,000 Tucumán veterans of the 11,000-strong Movimiento Ex Soldados del Operativo Independencia y del Conflicto Limítrofe con Chile, who fought against ERP guerrillas and were later redeployed along the Andes in the military standoff with Chile, took to the streets of Tucumán city to demand recognition as combat veterans.[47] Some 180,000 Argentine conscripts saw service during the military dictatorship (1976-1983),[48] 130 died as a result of the Dirty War.[49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Operativo Justicia por el Operativo Independencia" (in Spanish). Página/12. 29 December 2012. 
  2. ^ Susan Eckstein (2001). Poder y protesta popular: Movimientos sociales latinoamericanos. Siglo XX. p. 276. (Spanish): El 28 de septiembre de 1977 el mando militar en la provincia de Tucumán informó que las guerrillas del ERP que realizaban operaciones en aquella zona habían sido aniquiladas. 
  3. ^ Lewis, Paul H. (2002). Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 105. 
  4. ^ Martha Crenshaw (1995). Terrorism in Context,. Penn State Press. p. 230. 
  5. ^ Decree No. 261/75. NuncaMas.org, Decretos de aniquilamiento. Spanish: El Comando General del Ejército procederá a ejecutar todas las operaciones militares que sean necesarias a efectos de neutralizar o aniquilar el accionar de los elementos subversivos que actúan en la provincia de Tucumán.
  6. ^ Comandos en acción: el Ejército en Malvinas, Isidoro Ruiz Moreno, p. 24, Emecé Editores, 1986
  7. ^ Burzaco, Ricardo: (1994). Infierno en el Monte Tucumano. p. 64. OCLC 31720152. 
  8. ^ Lewis, Paul H. (2002). Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 107. 
  9. ^ English, Adrian J. (1984). Armed Forces of Latin America: Their Histories, Development, Present Strength, and Military Potential. Janes Information Group. p. 33. 
  10. ^ First Lieutenant Carlos María Casagrande and Second Lieutenant Gustavo Pablo López
  11. ^ Desidero Dardo Pérez.
  12. ^ Second Lieutenant Raúl Ernesto García.
  13. ^ John Dinges. "Operation Condor". Fathom archive of Columbia University. 
  14. ^ Sergeants Juan Rivero and Pedro Yáñez and Corporals Marcelo Godoy, Raúl Cuello, Juan Luna and Evaristo Gómez
  15. ^ "35 años del atentado al Hércules en Tucumán". 
  16. ^ "Airport Terrorists Sought In Argentina". Toledo Blade. 29 August 1975. 
  17. ^ "5 Policemen Dead In Argentina Violence". Times-Union. 21 August 1975. 
  18. ^ First Corporal José Anselmo Ramírez and privates Pío Ramón Fernández, Rogelio René Espinosa, Juan Carlos Castillo, Enrique Ernesto Guastoni and Fredy Ordoñez.
  19. ^ "Argentine Army Claims 13 Leftist Guerrillas Killed". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 12 October 1975. 
  20. ^ Second Lieutenant Diego Barceló and Privates Orlando Aníbal Moya and Carlos Humberto Vizcarra
  21. ^ First Corporal Wilfredo Napoleón Méndez and privates Benito Edgar Pérez and Miguel Arturo Moya
  22. ^ State Terrorism in Latin America: Chile, Argentina, and International Human Rights, Thomas C. Wright, p. 102, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007
  23. ^ Decree No. 2770/75. NuncaMas.org, Decretos de aniquilamiento.
  24. ^ Decree No. 2771/75. NuncaMas.org, Decretos de aniquilamiento.
  25. ^ Decree No. 2772/75. NuncaMas.org, Decretos de aniquilamiento.
  26. ^ "Listado de Desaparecidos" (in Spanish). Proyecto Desaparecidos. 
  27. ^ Martha Crenshaw (1995). Terrorism in Context,. Penn State Press. p. 236. 
  28. ^ "Argentina to answer rebels 'with the language of guns'". The Montreal Gazette. 8 October 1975. 
  29. ^ "Montoneros ataca a un Regimiento del Ejército Argentino" (in Spanish). 
  30. ^ "Argentine troops rout rebel raid". Sydney Morning Herald. 7 October 1975. 
  31. ^ |Luciana Bertoia. "Entrevistas a Gustavo Plis-Sterenberg" (in Spanish). El Ortiba. 
  32. ^ Richard O' Mara (18 January 1976). "One generation of Argentines at war with another,". The Baltimore Sun. 
  33. ^ ["Argentine theatre hit by bomb". The Spokesman-Review. 31 December 1975. ]
  34. ^ Lewis, Paul H. (2002). [[1] Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina]. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 113. 
  35. ^ James Nelson Goodsell (18 January 1976). "'Viet war' growing in Argentina". The Baltimore Sun. 
  36. ^ Lewis, Paul H. (2002). Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 125. ]
  37. ^ Corporal Héctor Roberto Lazarte and Private Pedro Burguener
  38. ^ Private Mario Gutiérrez
  39. ^ Robben, Antonius C. G. M. (2005). Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 201. 
  40. ^ Captain José Antonio Ramallo, Lieutenant César Gonzalo Ledesma, Sergeant Walter Hugo Gómez and Corporals Carlos Alberto Parra and Ricardo Zárate
  41. ^ Corporal Ricardo Martín Zárate
  42. ^ Sergeant Alberto Eduardo Lai and Private Juan Ángel Toledo
  43. ^ "Operativo Independencia" (in Spanish). 
  44. ^ "Ex soldados exigen una pensión" (in Spanish). El Siglo. 15 December 2007. 
  45. ^ "Volvieron a aparecer públicamente los ex soldados que reivindican el Operativo Independencia" (in Spanish). 11 February 2009. 
  46. ^ Lewis, Paul H. (2002). Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 126. 
  47. ^ [2] El Siglo, 24 March 2008
  48. ^ "Estafan a ex soldados con rumores de pensiones: cobran $ 500 por trámite" (in Spanish). Clarín.com. 3 July 2007. 
  49. ^ Duhalde, Eduardo Luis (1999). El estado terrorista argentino: Quince años después, una mirada crítica. Eudeba. p. 339.