Enrique Gorriaran Merlo

Argentine revolutionary


Enrique Haroldo Gorriarán Merlo, guerrilla: born San Nicolás, Argentina 18 October 1941; married Ana María Sívori (one daughter); died Buenos Aires 22 September 2006.

Enrique Gorriarán Merlo was an Argentine revolutionary who tried and failed to overthrow his country's military government, but succeeded, a few years later, in assassinating the former Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza.

Gorriarán was one of the founders of the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP), the armed wing of the Workers' Revolutionary Party (PRT), which took up arms against the military government of the day in 1970. The group continued its campaign of violence even after elections and the triumphant return from exile of the former President Juan Domingo Perón in 1973 - a policy that Gorriarán later admitted was a mistake.

The ERP, following the fashionable Cuban theory of guerrilla warfare, attempted to create a "free zone" in the poor rural province of Tucumán, while Gorriarán took charge of support operations in the cities, including kidnappings and extortion to raise funds. In 1974 he and another ERP commander, Benito Urteaga, led an operation that raised $12m from the kidnap for ransom of a senior Esso executive, Víctor Samuelsson.

But, after some initial successes, the ERP campaign in Tucumán was crushed in a ruthless counter-insurgency operation by the Argentine military, given a free hand by the chaotic government of President María Estela Martínez ("Isabelita"), Perón's widow. When the armed forces finally decided to dispense with Isabelita altogether and seize power themselves, in March 1976, they tracked down and killed the ERP's overall commander, Mario Roberto Santucho, who was replaced by Gorriarán. But by the end of 1977 the ERP was a spent force, and Gorriarán fled abroad.

He then operated for several years as a revolutionary gun for hire, forging close links with the Nicaraguan rebels of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in their guerrilla war against the dictator Somoza, which ended in victory in 1979. Somoza fled to Paraguay, where he was welcomed by his fellow autocrat General Alfredo Stroessner. Somoza was closely guarded, but he met a violent end on 16 September 1980. Gorriarán claimed he led the hit squad that, at the behest of the Sandinista security service, slipped into the Paraguayan capital, Asunción, and used a bazooka to destroy Somoza's armour-plated car as he was driven along a quiet suburban street.

Gorriarán returned to Argentina after the military had retreated to their barracks in 1983, following the Falklands War debacle. The new civilian government passed an amnesty law, benefiting, among others, Gorriarán.

But Gorriarán, a man of action rather than ideology, could not reconcile himself to the new era of democratic politics. In 1985 he formed another revolutionary organisation, the MTP (Movimiento Todos por la Patria, or the All for our Country Movement), and in 1989 led an assault on La Tablada army base, outside Buenos Aires, claiming that a coup plot was being hatched there. The outcome was a disastrous failure: in two days of fighting, 39 people were killed, more than 70 wounded and a dozen MTP fighters captured. But Gorriarán managed to escape in the confusion, and resumed the life of a wandering fugitive.

Finally, in October 1995, he was tracked down and captured in Tepoztlán, near Mexico City, and hurriedly deported to Argentina and sentenced to life imprisonment. But he had served only eight years when President Eduardo Duhalde granted him a pardon in May 2003. This time he settled for a quiet life, spent compiling his memoirs - De los sesenta a La Tablada ("From the Sixties to La Tablada", 2003).

"I am part of a generation who rose up in arms against the military coup plotters. History will tell whether that was the right way to respond," he said.

Colin Harding

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