More than three decades after the end of the last dictatorship (1976-1983), during which tens of thousands of people were killed, tortured, disappeared, or forced into exile, the new president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri (NotiSur, Dec. 4, 2015, and Jan. 29, 2016), is granting the armed forces and police powers that all of the previous post-1983 governments, in accordance with the Constitution, had reserved for themselves.
"This isn't about giving the military new faculties; it's about restoring certain attributes that were lost with the return of civilian government. This is what Decree 721, signed by the president, establishes," said Vice President Gabriela Michetti in reference to a recent executive order that, among other things, frees leaders of the armed forces from having to seek legislative approval, as established by law, for decisions on military appointments, promotions, transfers, and awards (NotiSur, Nov. 4, 1994).
The June 1 decree immediately sparked controversy. Agustin Rossi, defense minister under the previous administration, accused Michetti of simply "not telling the truth" when she talked about "restoring" certain attributes. "It was under the dictatorship that the military appropriated powers that had belonged to the civilian authorities, who took them back with the advent of democracy," Rossi said.
Rossi noted that the decree gives military leaders the power, for example, to appoint retired officers as teachers in the armed forces' education programs. "This needs to be seen in the context of the country's recent history with a savage dictatorship," he said. Previously, the hiring of military teachers had to go through various levels of the Defense Ministry, which used criteria such as institutional transparency and human rights to vet candidates. Those safeguards no longer apply. "As such, we could have a human rights violator educating our future soldiers," Rossi said.
'Provocative and unnecessary'
Recently, Argentina has also seen the return of military parades, a practice that had been halted in 2000 as a way to minimize the public presence of the armed forces. Former chiefs with questionable dictatorship-era records have been assigned, furthermore, to top public posts. And the leader of the pro-government legislative bloc, Deputy Emilio Monzo, said publicly that the military would go back to handling intelligence work and participating in domestic security, roles that led it to commit wholesale human rights violations during...