On July 3, an old man
boarded a flight in Miami accompanied by a physician and four officers of
interpol, the international police force. One would not have guessed from his
polyester suit and diminutive appearance that Jose Lopez Rega was once
Argentina’s most feared and powerful man.
Following a decade
during which his whereabouts are a matter of conjecture, and three months in a
Miami jail without bail, Lopez Rega was being extradited back home. The
Argentines will prosecute him on charges of looting their treasury while he was
minister of social welfare and for murders committed by a death squad he
The timing for his
return does not bode well for Lopez Rega. A civilian government has already
tried its military predecessors on charges of ordering the kidnapping, torture
and “disappearance” of thousands of their fellow countrymen. The 1976-83 “dirty
war” waged against leftist subversives was in no small way the legacy of Lopez
Lopez Rega was a federal
police officer with fascist inclinations who guarded the presidential residence
– and imagined himself its occupant – during Juan Peron’s first regime
(1945-55). He was an aspiring tenor who once entertained an American visitor by
crooning a Broadway standard. He was also an astrologer and mystic. He
published “Esoteric Astrology: Secrets Unveiled” and other guides to the
occult, for one of which he listed as co-author the Archangel Gabriel. Among
his followers was a beautiful young dancer named Maria Estela (Isabelita)
Plotting the return
the beloved Evita to become Peron’s third wife. But she remained devoted to
Lopez Rega. She had her husband fire his personal secretary and replace him
with her guiding light. Lopez Rega would exploit his position to influence
Peron and promote his own status in the right wing of the Peronist party.
When Lopez Rega
joined his entourage, Peron had already been ousted by the military and was
living in exile in Madrid. Spain was a haven for Nazi war criminals and for
neo-Nazis who planned terrorist acts aimed at destabilizing the continent.
Drawing advisers from this underworld, Lopez Rega plotted Peron’s restoration
to power and, through him, his own future grip on Argentina. When the Argentina
military allowed a presidential election in March 1973, the victor was a
left-of-center Peronist. (“Peronism” was a complex populist movement with its
base in organized labor and competing factions that spanned the political
spectrum. Peron deftly played a balancing act, but preferred Mussolini as his
Judging the aftermath
of the election, the time to make his comeback, Peron returned to Buenos Aires
on June 20, 1973, and was greeted by millions at Ezeiza airport. However, celebration
would soon turn to tragedy, for the extreme right had foreseen Peron’s return
as an opportunity to undermine the government.
With the aid of
terrorists befriended in Madrid, Lopez Rega had already assembled a goon squad
known as the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance, also known as the Triple-A. In
the midst of Peron’s homecoming, as chronicles by Danish journalist Henrik
Kruger, the Triple-A and elements of the police attacked the crowd’s left-wing
contingent with machine guns and grenades. One hundred were killed and 300
others wounded. Rumors were later floated, but never confirmed, that leftists
had planned to assassinate Peron.
The Ezeiza massacre
stunned even the Argentines, who were used to political violence. Under heavy
pressure from the Peronist right, which Lopez Rega was beginning to dominate,
the government was forced to resign.
An interim president
was appointed. He was Raul Lastiri, the head of the chamber of deputies and a
playboy who once told a magazine it could photograph him in bed with his wife,
who happened to be the daughter of Lopez Rega.
A victory for Peron,
That September, Peron
won a landslide presidential victory. He had chosen Isabel as his running mate
on Lopez Rega’s advice – a momentous decision since Peron’s health was failing.
(According to Joseph Page’s “Peron,” Lopez Rega would claim Peron previously
died in Madrid but that he, Lopez Rega, had resurrected him.)
Lopez Rega was
appointed minister of social welfare, but improving the lot of the masses was
not what he had in mind. As social welfare minister, Lopez Rega’s closest brush
with humanitarian endeavor was when Isabel and he founded the “Solidarity
Crusade” – purportedly to aid children, the elderly and the ill. The needy got
little. Lopez Rega, according to current Argentine charges, misappropriated
half a million dollars.
Lopez Rega’s Cabinet
appointment drove leftists increasingly underground, swelling Triple-A target
lists that Lopez Rega himself prepared.
businessmen, affronted by Peron’s concessions to labor, undermined the economy
with artificial shortages.
Hopes of maintaining
stability faded with the strength of Peron’s heart. Following a trip abroad
taken at the urging of Lopez Rega, but against the advice of his personal physicians,
Peron died in July 1974. Argentina was left in the hands of Isabel, which in
effect meant Lopez Rega.
Moderates were soon
purged from the government. Extreme leftists, who had been periodically
kidnapping and murdering prominent businessmen, military officers and
Americans, escalated their activities and were arrested in larger numbers.
The Triple-A was
called upon more frequently. Though its members took credit for assassinations,
none were ever arrested, and kidnappings became police arrests.
Alberto Villar, chief
of the federal police and a Lopez Rega crony whom leftists blamed for AAA
impunity, was assassinated at the start of November 1974. A guerrilla group,
the “Montoneros,” announced that next on their list was the man who paid the
death squad, worked closely with the police chief and was in effective control
of the government – Lopez Rega himself.
Within days, the
government declared a state of siege, triggering a chain of events that would
lead to the fall of Lopez Rega and the military’s resumption of power.
The state of siege
aggravated an already deteriorating economy. Austerity measures led to labor
unrest. When the Army was summoned to quell a strike, the commanding general
resisted. He was replaced with a rightist more compliant with the wishes of
Lopez Rega. Military brass was enraged, but would await the proper moment
In July 1975, a
general strike was called. Demands included 160 percent higher wages and the
resignation of key Cabinet officers. When the Army backed the unions, the
Cabinet was reshuffled, and Lopez Rega was out in the cold.
He then fled –
according to some reports, as Isabel’s roving ambassador – amid charges he had
embezzled state funds. Soon afterward, military intelligence linked both Lopez
Rega and his son-in-law, the president of the chamber of deputies, to a major
Ironically, a year
earlier, Washington had increased funding for narcotics enforcement by the
Argentine Federal Police – the enforcement apparatus through which Lopez Rega
oversaw the Triple-A and, according to A.J. Langgueth’s “Hidden Terrors,”
through which the CIA operated in Argentina at least through the late 1960s.
At a televised press
conference in 1974, Lopez Rega, accompanied by American Ambassador Robert Hill,
had announced: “We hope to wipe out the drug traffic in Argentina … Guerrillas
are the main users of drugs in Argentina. Therefore, the antidrug campaign will
automatically be an antiguerrilla campaign as well.”
In spring 1976, the
Argentine armed forces ousted Isabel Peron and initiated a no-holds-barred
campaign to exterminate leftist insurgency. Gory details have been recounted
before. Members of the 1976-83 juntas were later charged with murder, torture
and kidnapping in the disappearance of more than 9,000 Argentines, the majority
of whom were only vaguely connected to the guerrillas. The military attributed
688 deaths to the leftists.
A civilian court last
December sentenced a general and an admiral to life in prison and three of
their colleagues to as many as 17 years in prison.
The contra connection
The man who got 17
years, Gen. Roberto Viola, had been welcomed to the White House in the spring
of 1981, shortly after Ronald Reagan moved in. In the wake of his visit, Washington
reversed the Carter administration’s policy of denying Argentina aid, and Argentine
advisers recruited by the CIA began training the Nicaraguan rebel force now
known as the contras.
Lopez Rega would be
forgotten until June of last year. That month, Argentine authorities raided a
secret arsenal in Buenos Aires and arrested members of a right-wing terrorist
group connected to a series of bombings and kidnappings designed to destabilize
the civilian government.
According to Interior
Minister Raul Galvan, members of the group were linked to Lopez Rega’s
Triple-A. The leader, who remained at large, was a former intelligence agent
who was among those who had trained the contras.
Lopez Rega’s own
whereabouts remained unknown until earlier this year when a female acquaintance
inquired at the Argentine consulate in Miami about the possibility of renewing
his passport. The FBI was tipped off, and a resourceful agent befriended the
woman, with whom he shared an interest in classical music.
The agent obtained a
telephone number at which Lopez Rega could be reached in the Bahamas. He
convinced the 69 year-old former police officer that he should turn himself in
here in the United States, where he would at least be entitled to a hearing.
His appeals failed.
He is back at the scene of his alleged crimes. The trial will make a fitting
epilogue to a sordid chapter in the history of authoritarian regimes.
Morris and Gold, Products of their Time
| by Jerry Meldon | Typewritten manuscript, undated
The downfall of Bill
Clinton’s top political strategist, Dick Morris, has got me thinking about
another fellow 1964 graduate of Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School – Ted Gold,
now deceased. An anti-Vietnam War activist, Gold perished in the famous March
1970 bomb explosion at the Greenwich Village townhouse occupied by the far left
At first I
thought Gold had nothing in common with Morris – who, before his sexual
proclivities became public knowledge, was held in low esteem for being a
seemingly unprincipled hired gun, willing to work for politicians of either
more I think about it, the more I believe that certain experiences – like
seeing fellow Baby-Boomers returning from Saigon in coffins – bred
life-transforming cynicism in both.
transformation is easily traced. At Columbia University, he was a sociology
honor student and chapter vice chair of the country’s leading antiwar group,
Students for a Democratic Society, SDS. He co-organized the anti-war strike
that paralyzed Columbia in the fateful spring of 1968, during which both Martin
Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. In January 1970, having left
Columbia, he and 10 others were arrested in Pennsylvania for trashing a CBS
March 6, 1970, Gold was sitting in the study of a 4-story townhouse on West
11th Street. Two other members of the SDS splinter group, the Weathermen, were
in the basement assembling dynamite, when one of them mistakenly connected a
wire. Gold’s body was discovered amidst the debris.
violence they were planning was unconscionable. It crossed the line at the
fringe of a spectrum of mechanisms through which the vast majority of Americans
ultimately opposed the war. That opposition multiplied two weeks later when
National Guardsmen shot dead four antiwar demonstrators at Kent State College
of a century later, America has yet to recover from its Indochina nightmare.
Watergate, Iran-Contra, the S&L and other scandals and cover-ups have
simply left many who have lived through it shaking their heads. Worst of all is
the alienation from electoral campaigns reduced to sound bites and photo
Morris to be blamed for becoming the best at working this system? For becoming
a master consultant who can elect politicians of any stripe?
No, I think
Morris’s pragmatic approach to politics is simply his response to discovering
things don’t work the way we were taught at Stuyvesant, a response that makes
the most of his unique set of talents.
– until recently – is sadder comment on the playing ground than on the player.
[Photo of Richard Morris]
Jr. Arista; Gold Scholarship Cert.; Man. Champion Theodore
Roosevelt Oratorical Contest; Second Place State-wide Hamilton College
Extemporaneous Speaking Contest; Capt. Debating Team; Forum & Debate Club;
History Soc.; G.O. College & Program Comm.
[Photo of Theodore Gold]
Silver Scholarship Cert.; Nat’l Merit Commendation; Bronze PSAL
Award; Track & Cross-Country Teams; Forum Staff; Stamp Club; History &
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