Urban Expertise and Challenges to Military Authoritarianism: Buenos Aires, 197683

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:50 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Jennifer Hoyt, Berry College
From 1976 to 1983, the military regime that held power in Argentina pursued a comprehensive agenda bent on quelling social and political instability and promoting development. Most famous among the military’s efforts was the Dirty War, the systematic process of abducting, torturing, and murdering suspected subversives, but this was just one part of a complex effort to remake the nation. The armed forces initiated several urban renewal projects meant to make the capital into a modern, efficient city. With each highway built, bag of trash collected, and green space delineated, the regime saw itself as leading the nation away from a past characterized by chaos and inertia and into a new era of productivity and affluence.

Unfortunately, these projects failed to meet the promises made by military administrators and in fact imperiled the overall functionality of the city. Architects and engineers, whose expertise had been excluded during this process, publically challenged the authoritarian regime by questioning the soundness of the reforms. The military may have had power, but it did not necessarily have the knowledge such transformations required. While current histories see this period as characterized by absolute repression and a largely silent citizenry, the transformation of the urban environment elicited strong public reactions for local residents and professionals in particular. Architects and engineers refused to sit by as the regime threatened the health and patrimony of Buenos Aires, and they used their intimate knowledge of the city to identify various shortcomings. Military administrators were forced to respond to these criticisms and defend their course of action or even change it. This study identifies limits to the regime’s power and shows how the activism of these professionals held the regime accountable despite efforts to act with impunity.