Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri Castelli (Spanish pronunciation: [leoˈpoldo foɾtuˈnato ɣalˈtjeɾi kasˈteʎi]; 15 July 1926 – 12 January 2003) was an Argentine general and President of Argentina from 22 December 1981 to 18 June 1982, during the last military dictatorship (known officially as the National Reorganization Process). The death squad, 601 Intelligence Battalion, directly reported to him. He was removed from power soon after the British re-took the Falkland Islands, whose invasion and occupation he had ordered.
|President of Argentina
22 December 1981 – 18 June 1982
|Preceded by||Carlos Lacoste (interim)|
|Succeeded by||Alfredo Oscar Saint Jean (acting)|
|Born||15 July 1926
Caseros, Buenos Aires
|Died||12 January 2003 (aged 76)
Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires
|Spouse(s)||Lucía Noemí Gentili|
|Alma mater||Colegio Militar de la Nación|
|Years of service||1944–1982|
Galtieri was an Italian Argentine born to working class immigrant parents. At 17 he enrolled at the National Military Academy to study civil engineering, and his early military career was as an officer in the engineering branch. As well as rising through the ranks of the Military, he continued his studies in engineering until the mid-1950s. In 1958, he became a professor of engineering at the Senior War College.
Galtieri was married to Lucía Noemí Gentili, and the couple had one son and two daughters.
In 1975, after more than 25 years as a combat engineer, Galtieri became commander of the Argentine engineering corps. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the military coup that started the self-styled National Reorganisation Process in 1976 and rose further, becoming a major general in 1977, and commander-in-chief in 1980 with the rank of lieutenant general. During the junta's rule, Congress was suspended, trade unions, political parties, and provincial governments were banned, and in what became known as the Dirty War, between 9,000 and 30,000 people deemed left-wing subversives disappeared from society. Torture and mass executions were both commonplace. The economy, which had been in dire condition prior to the coup, recovered for a short time, then deteriorated further.
In March 1981, Galtieri visited the United States and was warmly received, as the Reagan administration viewed the regime as a bulwark against communism. National Security Advisor Richard V. Allen described him as a "majestic general". An adherent to the Argentine military's Cold War-era doctrine of "ideological frontiers", Galtieri secured his country's support for rebel groups opposing the government in Nicaragua, the Contras; in August, he sent advisers to help organize the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN, for a time the principal Contra group), as well as training FDN leaders in Argentine bases. His support for this initiative allowed Galtieri to remove a number of rival generals. In December 1981, he rose to the Presidency of Argentina in a coup that ousted General Roberto Viola. Argentine support became the principal source of funds and training for the Contras during Galtieri's tenure.
Galtieri retained direct control of the army whilst President of the governing Military Junta and did not appoint a new commander-in-chief. He appointed conservative economist and publisher Roberto Alemann as Economy Minister. Alemann inherited an economy in deep recession in the aftermath of José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz's economic policies of the late 1970s. Alemann slashed spending, began selling off government-owned industries (with only minor success), enacted a tight monetary policy, and ordered salaries frozen (amid 130% inflation). The Central Bank Circular 1050, which tied mortgage rates to the value of the US dollar locally, was maintained, however, leading to further deepening of the crisis; GDP fell by 5%, and business investment by 20% over the weakened levels of 1981.
One of Galtieri's closest allies, the head of the First Army Corps, General Guillermo Suárez Mason, was named Chairman of Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), at the time the state petroleum concern, and the largest company of any type in Argentina. Suárez Mason's turn at YPF would help result in a US$6 billion loss for the company – the largest recorded corporate loss in the world, up to that point.
Galtieri instituted limited political reforms which allowed the expression of dissent, and anti-junta demonstrations soon became common, as did agitation for a return to democracy.
In April 1982, after Galtieri had been in office for four months and with his popularity low, Argentine forces invaded the lightly defended Falkland Islands, governed by the United Kingdom and subject to a long-standing Argentine territorial claim. The UK and other countries condemned the forcible annexation, while Peru and other Latin American countries supported it. (The U.S. and Chile eventually joined the countries supporting the British position.)
Initially the invasion was enormously popular in Argentina, and the anti-junta demonstrations were replaced by patriotic demonstrations in support of Galtieri. On 2 April 1982, the first day of the invasion, a small group gathered in the historic Plaza de Mayo, across from the Casa Rosada, the government site. After a while, Galtieri showed up on one of the balconies (not the same one used by Perón but to the left of it) and raised his hands to cheer the small group of supporters. A few minutes later, a siren was heard and many bystanders started to flee in panic, reminiscent of the tough repression that happened just a few days before in the same place, on 30 March.
Galtieri and most of his government mistakenly believed the UK would not respond militarily to his seizure and that the United States would not interfere because the junta had supported the Central Intelligence Agency in its fight against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Galtieri had been warmly welcomed during his visit to Washington, D.C.
After diplomatic pressure and negotiations on 3–4 April led nowhere, the UK government, led by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, determined to re-take the islands. They deployed a combined army and naval task force to do so. Despite the numerical and geographic advantages held by Argentina, the superior training and technology of the British armed forces resulted in British victory in the Falklands War after two months.
On 14 June 1982, the Falklands' capital, Stanley, was retaken by British forces. Within days Galtieri was removed from power, and he spent the next 18 months at a well-protected country retreat while democracy was restored to Argentina. Along with other members of the former junta, he was arrested in late 1983 and charged in a military court with human rights violations during the Dirty War and with mismanaging the Falklands War. The Argentine Army's internal investigation, known as the Rattenbach report after the general who led it, recommended Galtieri be stripped of all rank, dismissed and face a firing squad; however in 1986 he was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
Galtieri was cleared of the civil rights charges in December 1985, but (together with the Air Force and Navy commanders-in-chief) in May 1986 he was found guilty of mishandling the war and sentenced to prison. All three appealed in a civil court, and the prosecution appealed for heavier sentences. In November 1988 the original sentences were confirmed, and all three commanders were stripped of their rank. In 1989, Galtieri and 39 other officers of the dictatorship received President Carlos Menem's pardon.
Galtieri was heavily blamed for Argentina's humiliating defeat in the ill-conceived Falklands War. Following his release from prison, he moved to the Villa Devoto suburb of Buenos Aires, and lived modestly with his wife Lucía. He became a recluse and refused most requests for interviews by journalists, though in a rare interview he stated he had "no regrets" over anything he had done during the Dirty War. He lived on an army pension of about $1,800 per month, and attempted to claim a Presidential pension, but a judge denied it. In her ruling, the judge stated that his presidency had been illegal due to his never having been elected, and she also ordered him to pay court costs. In May 2002, he was invited to the military parade of the Argentine Army for the celebrations of Argentine Army Day (Día del Ejército Argentino): the presence of the former "president de facto" caused a huge controversy in public opinion after he was confronted and questioned by the journalist Martín Ciccioli in the television programme Kaos en la Ciudad. 
In July 2002, new civil charges were brought concerning the kidnapping of children and the disappearance of 18 leftist sympathizers in the late 1970s (while Galtieri was commander of the Second Army Corps), and the disappearance or death of three Spanish citizens at about the same time. Galtieri faced prosecution with 28 other officials, but due to his poor health, he was allowed to remain at home. He died several months later.
Leopoldo Galtieri underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer on 16 August 2002 at a hospital in Buenos Aires. He died there of a heart attack on 12 January 2003, aged 76. Galtieri was interred in a small mausoleum in La Chacarita Cemetery in the capital.
|President of Argentina