Producing and exporting state terror: The case of Argentina

Ariel C. Armony

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


How are we to explain the use of state terror as a counterinsurgency tool? What are the main factors that account for an authoritarian regime's decision to kill its own citizens? Is state terror only endogenous to a given nation, or can it travel from one country to another? This chapter argues, first, that state terror is a result of a variety of internal factors and external influences-which interact in complex ways-and second, that the know-how associated with state terror can be circulated as a particular type of commodity, thus exported and deployed in different settings. As this chapter shows, the United States - a central actor in the export of know-how for state terror in the 1960s and 1970s-was not the only actor in the Americas playing this role. Indeed, Argentina is an interesting case of a Latin American country that produced and exported state terror expertise, which allowed this nation to assume an important role in the hemispheric struggle against "communism" during the latter part of the Cold War. Argentina played this role initially as an independent actor and then as a proxy for the United States. The first part of the chapter proposes a model to explain the production of state terror. It illustrates this model with the case of Argentina's dirty war that lasted from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. Ostensibly launched against subversion - a concept defined by its very unpredictability and measureless-ness-the dirty war was waged against enemies who were perceived to range from locally armed guerrillas to the international human rights organizations that denounced the military's abuses. The armed forces, who ruled the country through a military junta from 1976 until 1983, claimed to act on behalf of "the highest interests of the nation" and to be preventing both "the dissolution of Argentine society" and "the disappearance of [the] Fatherland as a state" (Loveman and Davies, 1989, 200, 203).1 This process tolerated no opposition. The second part of the chapter discusses some aspects of Argentina's extraterritorial activities and its collaboration with the United States in the promotion of counterrevolution in Central America. The dirty war in Argentina, which resulted in the disappearance of thousands of citizens and left profound scars in the social fabric, served as a prototype for military ventures beyond the country's borders. The perpetrators of the dirty war in Argentina transferred their repressive model to Bolivia and Central America, asserting counterinsurgency as a form of mass murder, torture, and terror. In July 1980, the Argentine military became involved in a major, and violent, extraterritorial operation: the coup d'état in Bolivia led by army commander General Luis García Meza. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Argentina provided counterinsurgency training and military assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and played a crucial role in the organization of exiled Nicaraguan national guardsmen into an anti-Sandinista force. Argentina's extraterritorial operations in Central America in the early 1980s made tangible the convergence of conceptions of national security held by the Argentine military dictatorship and those of the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Indeed, the U.S.-Argentine cooperation in Central America was not an incidental concurrence on security issues but the corollary of a coinciding paradigm that viewed popular unrest as the product of an international communist scheme. Paradoxically, Argentine veterans of the dirty war (who had committed atrocious violations of human rights in the name of Western and Christian civilization) became an eventual surrogate force for the U.S. promotion of "democratic" politics in Central America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWhen States Kill
Subtitle of host publicationLatin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror
PublisherUniversity of Texas Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Print)9780292706477
StatePublished - Dec 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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