Torture and Treason in Argentina's Montoneros, 1972–80

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:50 PM
Continental A (Hilton Chicago)
Paul Katz, Columbia University
My paper examines debates around torture and treason in the Montoneros, the largest insurgent group of Argentina’s violent 1970s. Revolutionary supporters of the country’s dominant political leader, Juan Perón, the Montoneros achieved significant political influence in the early years of the decade. Yet when Argentina’s armed forces seized control of the country in 1976, unleashing a campaign of kidnapping, torture, and clandestine killing known as “enforced disappearance,” the Montoneros suffered heavy losses, and by the end of the decade, the group had been all but destroyed.

Montonero leaders assigned primary blame for this reversal of fortune not to the armed forces but to militants who had “talked” under torture. Unlike many other guerrilla groups on the Latin American Left, which permitted tortured militants to divulge information under certain circumstances, the Montonero leadership maintained that torture could always be endured, and as such every Montonero carried the obligation to resist it indefinitely. Those who failed to do so were cast as collaborators and held responsible for the group’s defeat. This stigma was made more acute by the fact that nearly all tortured militants were subsequently killed, leaving those who survived to be denounced as traitors to their disappeared compañeros.

As the 1970s advanced, dissident Montoneros began to challenge this narrative. One particularly resonant critique, levied by journalist and Montonero intelligence specialist Rodolfo Walsh in the months before his March 1977 assassination and disseminated by former militants in subsequent years, held that the group’s political miscalculations, rather than the behavior under torture of individual militants, were to blame for the organization’s failure. By considering the political roots of the leadership’s equation of survival and betrayal together with the substance and legacy of Walsh’s argument, my paper illuminates constructs of treason that continue to shape Argentine politics today.