Obituary: Admiral Isaac Rojas
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 14 April 1993
THE DYING wish of the Argentine admiral Isaac Rojas was to have his ashes scattered in the south Atlantic, at the place where the battle-cruiser General Belgrano was sunk by the British in May 1982, during the Falklands war. Even after life, Rojas was determined to remain controversial.
Although largely forgotten in his last years, as Argentina put the decades of coups and counter-coups behind it, Rojas was a dominant figure in local politics after the overthrow of General Juan Domingo Peron in September 1955.
Rojas was a hard-line anti-Peronist, a position he moved to after achieving high rank under the regime he helped to end. He had been Evita Peron's naval aide-de-camp until her death in July 1952, and later became commander of naval operations in the remaining three years of the Peronist government. It was in this post that he saw a section of the Argentine navy rise against Peron in June 1955, when wave upon wave of naval aircraft bombed Government House and Plaza de Mayo, only to be defeated by the end of the day.
Rojas stood aside from that abortive coup, and managed to resist the purges ordered by Peron to clean out the navy of rebel officers. Rojas waited for the level of disenchantment with Peron to grow in the army, whose support was vital if a rebellion was to succeed, and then struck again at the by-then discredited president. The admiral's best remembered action during the week of battles, when Peron appeared to find the military support to hold government, was to threaten to shell the La Plata oil refinery, on the river's edge. Peron resigned 'to avoid bloodshed' and fled to Paraguay. Rojas, victorious, sailed into the port of Buenos Aires on the bridge of his flagship, the ARA General Belgrano.
The defeat of Peronism brought Rojas into the political centre-stage, and he became vice-president to General Eduardo Lonardi, first, and then to General Pedro Aramburu, with whom he imposed a virulently anti-Peronist, and anti-Communist regime. Peronism was banned, and remained so until 1972, and Peron was returned to office for the third time in the 1973 elections.
During all those years, Rojas remained the best-known figure among hard-line anti-Peronists. He was always highly respected in the Argentine navy, and was seen as a leader all his life.
He was a right-wing nationalist, and became one of Argentina's most knowledgeable and determined campaigners for the conservation of the country's river frontiers and coastal waters, actively opposing treaties for hydroelectric projects planned jointly with Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. His argument was that Argentina lost some of its sovereignty with every international treaty it entered into.
He was opposed to President Arturo Frondizi, who was elected to succeed the post-Peronist military government in May 1958, arguing that he was soft on the Peronists. And Rojas campaigned for the successful overthrow of Frondizi on 29 March 1962. In April 1963 Rojas led an attempt to overthrow the puppet government of Dr Jose Maria Guido. Rojas was defeated in 1963 by General Juan Carlos Ongania, who seized power in a coup in June 1966.
In recent years, Rojas had campaigned for Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands, and for a piece of Antarctica. He was a frequent contributor to the newspapers La Nacion and La Prensa, in Buenos Aires, and La Nueva Provincia, in Bahia Blanca, always on subjects close to his geopolitical concerns. His anti-Peronism had mellowed, and he had even accepted an invitation from President Carlos Menem, who won the 1989 elections on the Peronist ticket, to visit Government House for a chat.
Although he is best known for his anti-Peronism, Isaac Rojas was a man of principle and strong character, and for that too he will be remembered.
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