Between 1970 and 1983, Argentina—one of the most refined and civilized countries in the world—experienced a sharp regression towards barbarism, the likes of which had not been seen since the Second World War. During those years uncounted thousands of persons were abducted, tortured and killed by revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces, both regular and paramilitary, in conjunction with or with the approval of members of the clergy, judiciary, press, business and intellectual and labor communities.
In broadest outline, the events were these: between 1970 and 1973, armed formations loyal to former President Juan Perón engaged in an urban guerrilla war against a de facto military government. The characteristic methods were kidnapping and outright assassination; the ultimate purpose was to undermine the morale of the armed forces and compel it to call elections so that Per6n, the leader of the largest political party in Argentina who had been expelled in 1955, could return to power.
The strategy eventually bore fruit. In 1973, the generals decided that discretion was the better part of valor; elections were held; and the Peronist party in fact returned to government. However, acts of terrorist violence—this time against a government that terrorists had once sought to establish—continued until 1976, when the armed forces once again seized power and initiated blanket repression. In 1983, having been defeated in a humiliating war with Great Britain over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands in the South Atlantic, the armed forces were compelled to step down; elections were again held; and Argentina passed into a rare period of democratic rule.
To say anything more than this is to enter immediately into a polemical minefield. To put matters simply, virtually every aspect of the problem is fraught with ideological implications; both sides of the civil war continue to struggle over the writing of recent history. There is, in the first place, absolutely no agreement on the number of victims of either terrorism or counterterrorism.