General Galtieri, dictator of Argentina who invaded Falkland Islands, dies

By Matthew Beard
Monday 13 January 2003 01:00
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General Leopoldo Galtieri, the former Argentinian dictator who triggered war with Britain over the Falkland Islands, died yesterday aged 76.

The general, who invaded the "Islas Malvinas" in 1982, was suffering from cancer of the pancreas but died of heart failure after being admitted to a military hospital in Buenos Aires on Saturday. His military junta took power in Argentina in 1981, and he became the third of four presidents waging the notorious "dirty war" against left-wingers between 1976 and 1983, in which thousands of civilians died.

Six months after assuming power he ordered troops into the Falklands to reclaim the territory in the South Atlantic, which Argentina claims it inherited from the Spanish crown. The Falklands War, in which Britain retook the islands, lasted 78 days and cost the lives of more than 700 Argentinian and 255 British troops.

Shortly after his troops surrendered, General Galtieri was ousted by another military junta. He was imprisoned for human rights abuses after Argentina's return to democracy in the mid-1980s but was pardoned in 1990 by Carlos Menem, who was president.

Yesterday, representatives of the Falkland Islands and former soldiers who fought in the conflict had no sympathy for the general's death. John Birmingham, a Falklands councillor, told Sky News: "As far as the people of the Falklands are concerned – and probably the majority of people in the Argentine republic – he was a dictator of the old school and his passing will cause no great sadness to anybody, and long may he be non-remembered.

"The man was despicable ... there is no respect for him here and there won't be any sadness and I am afraid I shall not shed even a thought of a tear," he said.

A spokesman for Baroness Thatcher, whose Conservative administration led Britain to victory, said she was not commenting on her foe's death.

After his fall from power, General Galtieri became the subject of damning government and human rights reports into his rule. An official investigation said that about 9,000 left-wingers and dissidents were killed by his junta, although human rights organisations put the figure at 30,000.

In some cases, dissidents were drugged and thrown alive from aircraft into the sea or rivers. Others were buried in secret graves, which have still not been found, and babies were stolen from detainees who were then killed.

In July last year General Galtieri was among 42 former military and state security officials arrested on suspicion of human rights abuses after a panel of judges overturned an amnesty protecting military personnel from prosecution over the "dirty war". He was accused with others of organising the abduction and murder of 20 left-wing guerrillas in 1980 and placed under house arrest.

Simon Weston, who suffered severe burns serving as a Welsh Guardsman in the Falklands, described the general as a "lunatic". He said: "He was somebody that was looking for some sort of alleviation of the problems he was suffering back home, so he caused the terrible toll on his own people more than he did on the Falkland Islanders. Tens of thousands of people were killed and disappeared in his own country."

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