Walking through the little streets of Buenos Aires “that have that I don’t know why” is beautiful. Even after the neoliberal gale and the pandemic, which took away businesses and factories and families… Buenos Aires is attractive and captivating and, among its charms, there are more than 200 brick buildings in plain sight, which push fantasies of centuries and faraway places, but which, in reality, are the shell of the serpent’s egg.
By Carlos A Villalba and Aram Aharonian
From La Boca to Mataderos, from Floresta to Puerto Madero, each one displays its coat of arms on which is embossed a “Domito Fulmine”, with which the Italian Juan Carossio announced, as soon as he landed in El Plata in 1911, that he was coming to “dominate the lightning”. A year after, he set up the Compañía Ítalo-Argentina de Electricidad (CIADE) to fight in a market that was in a period of accelerated expansion. Surely, he never imagined that behind those walls would be woven the plans and architecture of the most destructive and genocidal coup d’état in a country plagued by interruptions to constitutional governments.
It was 1975 when, in the offices of one of those “palaces of light”, shelves and tables were filled with folders, reports, papers of all kinds and new computer tapes. The administrative staff received direct instructions from a skinny man, always in a suit, with collared shirts lined with plain tape.
The ungainly figure was that of José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, son of the rancher José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, who by the middle of the year was a member of the Company’s board of directors and president of the steel company Acindar, president of the Rural Society between 1946 and 1950 and shareholder of the British company La Forestal, a semi-slavery and forest predator in Chaco, Santiago del Estero and Santa Fe, a province that lost 86% of its forests to the action of the quebracho octopus, its sleepers and its tannin.
During the months leading up to 24 March 1976, a succession of meetings took place. Some at the petit hotel located at 1673 Azcuénaga Street belonging to Pedro Blaquier, former owner of the Ledesma sugar mill, who died unpunished on 13 March 2023 at the age of 95, accused of his participation in La Noche del Apagón, in Jujuy between 20 and 27 July 1976, during which some 400 people were kidnapped, 55 of whom are still missing.
A smaller group moved to the flat of Jaime Perriaux, former Minister of Justice under dictators Levingston and Lanusse, on Gelly Obes Street, to finally end up in the offices on Austria Street, where the owner facilitated meetings between representatives of international and local banks, subsidiaries of transnationals and even military men with military men. In addition to the softening up to accept the repressive tools that the coup would apply, in these “get-togethers” blacklists of political, trade union, social and student cadres were drawn up.
In the last of the meetings, before the dawn of 24 March 1976, Martínez de Hoz went to the Navy command, where he closed details with a certain Emilio Eduardo Massera, who was then admiral.
Along with a tour of the most important architectural features of Buenos Aires, the list of civilians who represented each of the powers that be in Argentina during the coup – some of these names, which have become “cases”, are currently on trial – constitute superimposed x-rays of coup leaders, protagonists of the process of foreign indebtedness and destabilisation games, with market coups and partnerships with judges and prosecutors as venal as they were anti-patriotic.
Those economic groups that organised the coup of ’76, with the intention of destroying the productive apparatus developed from the Peronist decade of 1945 to 1955, which transformed the “breadbasket” that yesterday (and still today) the powers and the local agro-exporters desire, into a nation with export substitution, industrial added value and labour and social rights. Those coup groups are the corporations that own the country today, that impoverish, starve, indebt the people, manage the market and produce an inflation that has already turned milk and bread, gas, water and electricity into “luxuries”.
These notes link publications from issue 357 of the Argentine weekly Miradas al Sur, of 22 March 2015 (1) , of which the authors were editorial directors, with the report of the Bulletin of the Argentine Institute for Economic Development (IADE) / the magazine Realidad Económica of the third week of March 2023, under the title “24 de Marzo: uno por uno, los jefes de AEA y la responsabilidad empresaria en el genocidio” (2) .
Martínez de Hoz
Five days later, after the coup of 24 March, José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz was appointed Minister of Economy. On 2 April, this personage with a historic relationship with the Argentine Rural Society, articulator of interests with groups such as Brown-Boveri, Bracht, Alpargatas or Roberts, advisor to the Chase Manhattan Bank – headed at that time by David Rockefeller – later to become the sadly famous JP Morgan, sat down before the cameras.
He finished speaking the next day; after two and a half hours he set the record straight. The lawyer with the now famous ears explained that the economic programme he had just presented “was approved by the Armed Forces before taking power and I am implementing a programme approved by the Armed Forces”. He changed the order of the factors and specified who the leaders were. Years after, he himself declared that, together with other members of the Argentine Business Council, he visited the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, (later demoted) General Jorge Videla, in 1975.
At the meeting he explained that “freedom of work, production and productivity were being impeded” and called for a return to “the rule of order over all things”. A man with a gun at his belt, as a leading cadre he went to motivate the operational chiefs and set to work with the strategic brains; Thanks to this, during his first hours in office, he issued a large number of decrees and resolutions, laying the foundations for the state’s subsidiarity apparatus in relation to the concentrated economic groups and for the opening up that destroyed the national economy, with a series of closed factories, subsidiaries that abandoned Argentine territory and left a trail of unemployed people, victims of all kinds, hunger and a slide down which all the social indicators of a country that, until then, was at the top of the standards in Latin America and the Caribbean, plummeted.
The groups’ coup
The decision to strike against the national economy, political, trade union, social, university, religious organisations and the constitutional government had the “advice” and strategic vision of the most concentrated sectors of local capital, closely linked to transnational capital. José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz was the incarnation of a group that integrates the usual glittering names, many of which continue to act with total normality in the daily life of Argentines and their political leaders, nominating everything from cars to televisions, food and sugar; besides having their letters stamped on the debit or credit cards used by the population.
The long list of these pillars of the anti-national economy, in times of dictatorship and with great permanence in the present (as shown in the report published by IADE) goes from the A of Acindar to the Z of Zorraquín, through the Sociedad Rural Argentina (SRA), with scales throughout the alphabet and brands as well-known as Astra, Atanor, Bagley, Bayer, Bemberg, Braun Menéndez-Menéndez Behety, Bracht, Bridas, Bullrich, Bunge y Born, Campbell, Capozzolo, Cargill, Celulosa Argentina, Cementos NOA, Ciba Geigy, Coca Cola, Colorín, Dow Chemical, Duperial-Imperial, Ingenio Ledesma Blaquier, Ericsson, Esso Fiat, Firpo, Ford, Fortabat, Gurmendi, Lever, Massalin y Celasco, Merck, Mercedes Benz, Minetti, Nestlé, Nobleza Picardo, Patron Costas, Pérez Companc, Peugeot, Phillip, Renault, Reynal King-Ranch, Suberbühler, Thyssen, Unitam-La Forestal, Volkswagen, Westinghouse-Galileo and so on, as in Mauricio Macri’s dinner party.
These groups, which underlie the “faces of the dictatorship”, are the result of the articulation between foreign interests and native ones, established in the country during the original period of the oligarchy, with branches that, in the no end, settled definitively in the countries of origin of their founders. There were also internal sectors that came together in this matrix from the political domination of the Porteños or provinces, traders in leather, alcohol and prostitutes. They are the Economic Groups of the Oligarchy, they are the masters of the coup, they are still the masters of the country.
Bosses, more than accomplices
A society is something much more complex and less linear than a military structure. An economic and social system is much more sophisticated than the board of directors of a company; it includes state, civil and private institutions and organisations, regulations, beliefs, ideals…, and an ideology that pushes thinking, in spite of everyone, towards the interests of the most powerful sectors.
Accomplice is the person criminally responsible for a crime, not for having been the direct author of it, but for having cooperated in the execution of the act with previous or simultaneous acts. Many businessmen and managers committed crimes against humanity, others were “accomplices” to them: they ordered the killing of rivals, they denounced workers who later disappeared, they even participated in interrogations in torture rooms. The repeal of the impunity laws ordered by President Néstor Kirchner allowed for the prosecution and conviction of military commanders, many of whom remain in detention for serious human rights violations and even died as convicted criminals.
However, those civilians responsible for the destruction of the national patrimony – which necessitated these violations – were not in the eye of justice, with exceptions such as José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, who died under house arrest for his “alleged” links to the kidnapping of the Gutheim businessmen, or Jaime Smart, minister of government of the de facto governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, former Iberian general Manuel Saint Jean.
The concentrated economic groups – the oligarchy – as the mainstay of the system and its beneficiaries, were responsible for the events; their men were in charge of what was done. Martinez de Hoz is just one of the most exacerbated members -manager and oligarch- of that process in which economic interests were aligned with the dynamics imposed by the transnationals. They were placed at the top of the hierarchy and had the authority, not always documented, to decide and demand actions and, of course, to finance them.
The Macrista cabinet model (December 2014-2019) in which each strategic area of the State was placed in the hands of the manager of one of the corporations in the sector, replicated the model of the civil-military dictatorship, without the systematic violence that characterises all dictatorships, as it was elected by vote, as the National Constitution mandates.
In the book “Los cómplices económicos de la dictadura” 3 its author, Juan P. Bohoslavsky, together with Horacio Verbitsky, present a paradigmatic case such as the prosecution of Blaquier (later revoked by the Federal Chamber of Criminal Cassation No. IV) that goes beyond the facts and unravels its structure. On 15 November 2012, Federal Judge Fernando Poviña considered that “The imprisonment, torture, murders and disappearances of people by the security forces during the last civil-military dictatorship”, sought the “establishment and defence of an economy with neoliberal overtones, free from the threat of trade union claims and demands”, as well as trying to “preserve a certain ideology”.
In other words, they defended a system as well as their own business interests. The revocation and impunity enjoyed by the accused is also an example of judicial management.
At the national level, Martínez de Hoz had already told the military chiefs that “It is not feasible to think that the ideal conditions of free contracting between the workers and the employers for the fixing of the level of wages could have any validity, by demanding that “all wage negotiation activity between the unions and the employers be suspended, as well as any process of automatic readjustment of wages in accordance with pre-established indices”.
During the first hours of the coup the ferocity of the genocides, for example, kidnapped and disappeared two hundred rank and file delegates in Cordoba alone and produced hundreds of arrests and disappearances in the strategic industrial belt stretching from Gran Rosario to San Nicolas. Sad record, that of the working class, whose men and women make up 46% of those arrested-disappeared by the dictatorship of the economic groups and their Armed Forces.
Once in office, the regime showed clear traits of its character: unprecedented participation of organic cadres from the most prominent economic groups, with a clear vision of the interests of their class and their interests and a strong complementary presence of high-level members of the Armed Forces, integrated into the highest management responsibilities, including economic ones.
Some people set up the pilot plan for the ’76 coup in the Santa Fe town of Villa Constitución, located 68 km from Rosario and 285 km from the city of Buenos Aires. For more details, they date it to 20 March 1975 when the national security forces violently repressed the strike of the metalworkers, the workers in general and the local people. It was the no end to a 59-day strike at the Acindar plant, led by Alberto Piccinini, local secretary of the Unión Obrera Metalúrgica (UOM), opposed to Lorenzo Miguel’s line of dialogue. Martínez de Hoz, then in charge of the company, convinced the Minister of the interior, Alberto Rocamora; the strike was declared illegal and the repression arrived.
Numerous strikers were kidnapped, many were subjected to mock executions and others, with less luck, were killed outright. Some 300 workers and militants of the organisations that supported the actions of the metalworkers were arrested and made up the lists of political prisoners that would multiply 12 months after. Reports claim that the factory premises became the first clandestine detention centre – with around twenty disappearances – of what would become a systematic plan shortly after.
A year and a week later, Martínez de Hoz presented the central outlines of the economic experiment that deteriorated the life of Argentine society over decades, and up to the present. With the coup of the Corporations, a stage of “financial valorisation” began, opposed to the functioning of an economy of production and work. The logic of a supposed “economic insertion based on comparative advantage” pushed economic production towards primarisation, with financial overvaluation and the abandonment of all types of industrialisation.
With another turn of the screw, he liberalised the market and pushed the growth of a group of banks that did big business thanks to his financial reform of 1977. The profitability of the sector grew and took it away from “economic development”. The minister’s “little table” was the road map for business deals and national decapitalisation.
Of course, Martínez de Hoz made it clear which would be the two items to which the cheapest dollar at the time was limited: fuel imports and newsprint. He chose a method – in addition to the expropriation under torture of the shares of the only newsprint factory – that would allow him to get along with the newspaper owners and also with the oil companies, both of which were subsidised by the state. He had another little more personalised pearl when he nationalised, at a huge surcharge and as minister, a “privately owned company” such as Italo, of which he had just become director.
Everything was in place. The dead buried, the kidnapped disappeared, the prisoners behind bars, the workers with their conditions decimated, the industries destroyed and the “deme dos” of sweet money causing the easy smile of a day, which would be paid for decades after by Argentine men and women, generation after generation.
And on 24 March 1976, the civil-military coup was carried out. The report reproduced by IDEA also points out that the role of “big business” in the dictatorship has several milestones, starting with “their participation in the preparations for the coup, which included lock-outs and requests for the armed forces to take power”, “the contribution of many of their managers to the government teams of Videla and Co: ministers, secretaries of state and all kinds of officials” and “their participation in repression, handing over lists of delegates and activists, going so far as to set up torture centres on their premises”.
The fourth component includes “the laws and deals that allowed many groups to increase their profits and the number of companies at the no end of the dictatorship”, as well as “a no lesser benefit: the nationalisation of their private debts by the Central Bank in 1982, billions of dollars that we are still paying”.
He considers that it was “a class coup”, in which “the big businessmen, bankers and landowners promoted a genocide to crush the workers’ and youth rebellions that had been going on since the Cordobazo and impose their economic interests” and constituted “the most brutal dictatorship, but this violence was not a novelty.
From the origins of the country, the business class built its fortune in “blood and mud”, until it imposed its liberal ideas through state terrorism. Lucho Aguilar, author of the report and general editor of the Mundo Obrero section of La Izquierda Diario 4, points out that, despite the facts and the evidence of these responsibilities, the ‘commanders’ of big business continue to go unpunished.
Government after government. That is why it is shocking to analyse the photo that members of the AEA (Argentine Business Association) removed it a few days ago. In it, they pose “the eternal owners of the country: those who are proud of ‘running companies with an annual turnover of USD 53 billion, exporting USD 9,604 million and employing 240,000 people’ and go on to list “name by name, company by company, record by record” what they consider to be the “civilian leg of the dictatorship”.
The register includes Arcor, Luis Pagani; Techint, Paolo Rocca; PanAmerican Energy, Alejandro Bulgheroni; Nordelta Consultatio, Eduardo Constantini; BGH, Alberto Hojfman; Bemberg, Carlos Miguens; FIAT, Cristiano Rattazzi; Braun-Menéndez-La Anónima, Federico Braun; Pecom, Luis Pérez Companc; Grimoldi, Alberto Grimoldi; Ledesma, “Charlie” Blaquier; Clarín, Héctor Magnetto; La Nación, Julio Saguier; Roggio, Aldo Roggio; Santander-Rio, Enrique Cristofani; Petroquímica Comodro Rivadavia, Martín Brandi; Oxenford, Alex Oxenford and Duhau, Enrique Duhau.
He points out that many of the other business groups that make up AEA “were part of the same story and the same actions”, and others such as SOCMA, belonging to former president Mauricio Macri, who are not part of it due to alleged conflicts of interest, “did the same”. He adds the Bago family, Aceitera General Deheza, José Cartellone Construcciones, Amadeo Vázquez, IBM, Jorge Aufiero, owner of Medicus.
In synthesis, the owners of the coup are but a photocopy of the owners of the country, responsible for yesterday’s terror, responsible for today’s misery.
3 Verbitsky Horacio and Bohoslavsky, Juan P. Cuentas pendientes: The economic accomplices of the dictatorship. https://www.pensamientopenal.com.ar/doctrina/38004-cuentas-pendientes-complices-economicos-dictadura-aavv-verbitsky-horacio-y
Villalba is an Argentine journalist, researcher and psychologist; senior analyst at CLAE.
Aharonian is a communicologist, journalist and director of the Latin American Centre for Strategic Analysis.