Repression of Scientists in Argentina

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Repression of Scientists in Argentina

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 9, No. 4, July-August 1977, p. 13–17
Argentina today continues under the rule of a right-wing military junta that took power last March 24, 1976, and which is continuing its policy of repression against large segments of the working class and against many scientists and technical workers.  

Last year’s coup was just the continuation of a process started during the 1974-76 government of Isabel Peron, widow of Juan Perón. Under Isabel Perón the military did not operate in the open, but after the coup they took full control of the State apparatus and increased the level of repression to outright fascism. By destroying all possibility of dissent, the junta hopes to maintain indefinitely an untenable economic situation. It is clear from its economic and foreign policy that the junta seeks to relocate Argentina firmly within the sphere of US imperialism. 

The military is waging the war against the people of Argentina on two fronts: economic and political. Economically, the agro-export sector is being developed, favoring the landed oligarchy that owns the farms and ranches on which cattle and grain are produced for export. The country’s doors have been opened to the multinationals by denationalization of industries and banks, easing of restrictions and the reconstruction of a high rate of profit by a freeze on wages and establishment of free market prices. 

As a result, Argentina’s workers have had their real wages reduced by 60 percent in one year, to the lowest level in decades. The hours of daily labor required to meet the basic needs of a family have risen from six to eighteen. Unemployment is at a record high. The junta’s policies benefit only the big foreign and domestic monopolies, many of the smaller and medium-sized firms owned by the middle class having been forced into bankruptcy. 

Implementation of these economic policies has required repression of all sorts: restrictions on workers’ assemblies and on strikes, reprisals against armed popular resistance by groups on the Left, and the dismissal, exile, or imprisonment of many union activists, professionals, scientists and technical workers.

Though the country cannot exist without the cooperation – voluntary or coerced – of the majority of the working class, the junta seems to think it can get along without a large segment of the class of professionals, scientists and educators who have been among those active in criticizing the junta. This is especially important in Argentina, which has (both relatively and in absolute numbers) more scientists, university professors, technical, educational and cultural workers than most other Latin American nations. The military hopes to achieve political stability by totally eradicating subversive ideology. This means striking out at the source of that ideology, Argentina’s educators, scientists and professionals. 

“Purifying” the Universities

In choosing the path of dependence to U.S. imperialism, the junta has called for an emphasis on “Christian and Western values” and has rejected the “Third Worldism” tendency of Juan Peron. The attitude that “anyone who is not Christian and occidental is subversive” has led the junta to try to establish a scientific and academic ”discipline” in universities and laboratories that recalls elements of medieval times as well as of Nazi Germany. Searches, seizure and burnings of books and publications considered subversive to the “traditional spiritual and cultural values synthesized in God, country and home” have been conducted. In May 1976, the “depuration” of the University libraries of the National University of Cordoba was carried out by the Air Force, in which books by the ”ideological criminals” Marx and Freud were seized.

At the Universidad Nacional de Cuvo, about ten thousand books were siezed from the homes of professors and students of the University. Not only is the reading of Marx’s works a crime under the statutes of the Law of Repression and Terrorism, university policy now decrees that ”the works of Freud, Piaget and others are prohibited from being used as assigned material or being included as bibliographical references.” In addition, the teaching of courses on psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis was prohibited. 

A census of all the members of the University community is being carried out, with everyone required to answer in writing detailed questions about their background, past addresses and reasons for moving. This data, presumably, will be added to the ultra-modern computer-based crime information system possessed by the repressive state apparatus. The Minister of Education stated in April 1976: “The National authorities are bent upon an exhaustive cleaning up of all the people who may produce ideological deformities. This is the reason why the teaching staff of the University is under close scrutiny: to detect and eradicate all forms of subversion that might still exist in the University.” 

Great numbers of teaching personnel have lost their jobs and many of the available upper-level teaching positions have been filled by military officers. Other positions are filled by personnel nominated by military auditors. As a consequence of the “prescindibilidad” (dispensability) and security laws issued by the junta, more than 200 university employees and over 700 scientists in research institutions have been dismissed. Those dismissed under these laws find it impossible to find work in any government or private institution. Many students have also been expelled. 

Physicists Decimated

Argentine physicists have been among the hardest hit segments of the professionals. At the National Institute for Physics and Technology at San Miguel, one of the most important centers in Latin America for applied physics, 70 researchers and technicians out of a total of 110 were dismissed on April 30, 1976. A military official assumed directorship of the institute. By October of that year, only 10 researchers remained at the Institute. 

For many, losing their job is the least of their worries. Forced exile, arrest, imprisonment, torture and assassination at the hands of military and police forces and at the hands of paramilitary terrorist gangs have become common. For example, some of the physicists who have been kidnapped or assassinated include: 

—Graciella Carabelli, a solid-state physicist kidnapped in the city of Cordoba with her three-year-old son shortly after the coup. Her body was later found.

—Manuel Tarchinsky, nuclear physicist and professor at the Southern National University, murdered in jail.

—Julia Huarque de Rabat, professor of physics at the University of Rosario, murdered. 

—Antonio Misetich, of the Argentine Atomic Energy Comission and formerly with MIT’s National Magnet Laboratory, missing and presumed dead. 

—Juan Carlos Gallardo, Director of the Institute of Mathematics, Astronomy and Physics of the National University of Cordoba, imprisoned without a charge since April 1976.

 Other professions affected have been those of psychology, medicine and social work. Hundreds of psychologists, psychoanalysts, physicians and social workers have been fired from their positions in hospitals and mental health institutions. At the Finochietto Hospital in Avellanda, an industrial suburb of Buenos Aires, only two members out of sixty professional staff were not fired. Several “day” hospitals were closed down. The Assistance Center for Children with Learning Problems was closed due to the firing of the entire staff, approximately 140 specialists. Other scientists and technical workers who have been affected include chemists, agronomists, meteorologists, sociologists, biologists, technicians, architects, engineers and others. 

Reasons for Fascist Terror 

Under Isabel Peron’s regime, repression had two forms: legal, and “dirty.” “Dirty,” or unofficial, repression was developed when it seemed that official actions by state security forces could not contain political struggle and popular resistance. Though officials denied any connection with the terrorist death squads responsible for the kidnappings and assasinations, it was well-known that these squads were organized, armed and staffed by various state personnel. One of the most infamous, the AAA Gang, was organized by the central figure of Isabel Peron’s government, her Minister of Social Welfare Jose Lopez Rega. As the military began to step into the foreground with the waning of Isabel Perón, the Army organized its own terrorist squad.

With the present junta, however, the distinction between “legal” and “dirty” is disappearing. What was once denied is now official policy. Argentine officials now admit the use of torture by police agencies, though the government is trying at the same time to avoid falling into the position of an isolated international pariah like the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. 

The reasons for terrorism and repression vary for each victim. Some victims are apolitical or respectable liberals. Those who express mild concern at the Junta’s activities are usually just fired or sometimes arrested. For example, in an article in La Opinion, Horacio Encabo, vice-director of the Center for Neurological Study expressed worry for the future development of an Argentina whose scientific policy was guided by the criterion: “who is not occidental and Christian is subversive.” He was dismissed five days later. The illegal behavior of seventeen professors arrested and thirty considered fugitives at the National University of the South consisted, according to those who accused them, of: having studied economics at the University of Buenos Aires, where “they were given the opportunity to study economics from a historical-political perspective”; having studied in foreign academic centers, among which are the National University of Mexico, the University of Colorado in the US, and Grenoble University; and “using academic freedom as a means of ideological penetration.” 

Many of those imprisoned are used effectively as hostages against actions by armed resistance forces of the left. That is, after specific guerilla actions a number of prisoners are shot. For example, seventy prisoners were shot to death after the bomb in the federal police headquarters in July 1976, fifty-five after the bombing of the Ministry of Defense, forty after the death of an army security chief. 

An open letter to the junta by the journalist Rodolfo Walsh, kidnapped days after sending this letter, says: “These victims of reprisal are used as hostages by the authorities. Many of them are trade unionists, intellectuals, relatives of known guerrillas, unarmed political dissidents, or simply suspicious in the eyes of those who detained them. They are the victims of a doctrine of collective guilt which long ago disappeared from the norms of justice in the civilised community. They are utterly incapable of influencing the political developments which give rise to the events for which they are murdered. They are killed to balance the number of dead on either side, in accordance with the body-count principle first employed by the Nazi Germans … and afterwards refined by the North American invaders in Vietnam.” 

The “statistical bones of this terror,” according to Rodolfo Walsh, are “15,000 people missing without a trace, 10,000 prisoners, 4,000 dead and tens of thousands of exiles.” The ultimate fate of those imprisoned is still to be decided. According to the Manchester Guardian, however, “People who live in the vicinity of La Perla concentration camp, near Cordoba, complain about nasty odors – and soldiers say that crematorium ovens are being installed there.” 

The end result may be, in fact, the destruction of people and institutions in Argentina formed by decades of hard work, of the infrastructure necessary for the future social, cultural, and economic development of the country. A letter of support by Mexican physicists states “We believe that this savage persecution is not just an attack against Argentine culture but also against cultural development everywhere. Therefore, protesting this persecution is, for us, not just a moral question but a question of self-defense.” 

The main targets of right-wing terrorism, the armed units of revolutionary leftist organizations such as the Montoneros and the ERP-PRT (People’s Revolutionary Army-Revolutionary Workers Party) thought not unscathed, continue their work on both political and military fronts. In fact, the Montoneros (formerly the Authentic Peronist Movement) have developed from a loosely defined radical wing of the Peronist Movement into a political party which is increasing its rank and file support in the industrial sector and which has intensified its attacks on the government. 

What You Can Do to Help 

While it is difficult for North Americans to actively aid the resistance to the Argentinian junta, it is important to try to save the many lives of those still imprisoned, missing, or in concentration camps. aid in the release of certain prisoners and demonstrate to the government that there is international concern about its actions. The president of Argentina is General Jorge Rafael Videla, Presidente de Ia Republica Argentina, Casa Rosada, Balcarce-50, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Letters can also be sent to the UN Secretary General, UNESCO, President Carter and members of the US Congress.

—The Argentine Solidarity Committee (CAS) publishes a regular bulletin. Send information requests and financial support to Comision Argentina de Solidaridad (CAS), Ap. 19-052, Mexico 19, DF, Mexico.

—In the U.S., the Argentine Information Service Center (AISC) publishes a newsletter called “Outreach”. Their address is AISC, PO Box 4388, Berkeley, CA 94704.

—Take the initiative, through letter, demonstrations, and petitions to cut off all economic and military assistance to the Argentine government. This would include direct US aid, and the indirect aid through international banks and international organizations. 

—Expose academics and scientists here in the US who work with or cooperate with the CIA and the military in designing the technologies of surveillance and urban counterinsurgency.


 “The majority of the women are held at the disposition of the P.E.N. (executive power) and the rest are awaiting justice before course military or police processes. We arrive at the prison after the required stage of the torture chamber at the Federal Coordination Center, Police stations, military barracks, etc., located throughout the country: days or months submitted to tortures with the electric picana (prod), suffocation by immersion, raped by the torturers or by mechanical means, the introduction of rats and spiders into our vaginas, bitten by dogs, watching our relatives or our companions die by torture, losing the children in our wombs. Handcuffed, blindfolded, humiliated, we arrive at the Unit 2 to begin another stage of suffering. While under the Regime of Decree 2023/74, the illegality of our situation comes to such a point that we are not even allowed to read it, an aberration of justice. Thus our lives are ruled by a law which we are not allowed to read. 

“This penitentiary is located in the heart of Buenos Aires, is the prison chosen to show the international commissions that fight for the respect of human rights. Nevertheless, this doesn’t prevent them from annihilating us who are found in it.”


Carlos Baro, a doctor, was abducted from his home on July 16, 1976, by a group of armed men: 

“We entered a building where I was led up a staircase to the first floor. I was immediately stripped, beaten, laid on a bed and subjected to torture – the picana (electric prod) in particular, for about one and a half hours. During this savage torture, they questioned me about the possible whereabouts of arms, printing materials and about people I didn’t know. I spent a day and night without any food or water. On Saturday 17 July about 3:00 pm I was taken back to the torture chamber. For an hour or an hour and a half, the electric prod was applied to the most sensitive parts of the body: testicles, thorax, mouth, etc.; after this, the savage mercenaries subjected me to what they called “Asian torture,” which consisted of pitching me into drums of water while hanging by the legs. They did this four or five times until I lost consciousness. When I recovered, I was again tortured with the electric prod for another hour (approximately), but this time with three prods at the same time. I should also state that they injected me with some substance -possibly toxic or infectious- in the big toe of my right foot, in the testicles and right arm, as well as pulling out the nails of my big toes and slashing a toe, then persistently applying the electric prod to these places.”


The economic policies that the junta is trying to defend through repression benefit a select group of multinational companies, such as ITT, Exxon and US Steel. There are direct and personal links between this spectrum of interests and Economy Minister Martinez de Hoz and his junior ministers. The details of these links were published by a journalist at Prensa Libre, Horacio Novillo, later murdered for that action.

 A recent article in Computer Decisions magazine details the sale of modern computer systems by IBM and other North American manufacturers to the security and police agencies of Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. This equipment is used to store and make available information on large numbers of real and potential political dissidents. Data are exchanged among the security forces of the various governments of the Southern Cone in order to keep tabs on both domestic dissidents and exiled refugees.

 The Computer Decisions article goes on to note that “In Buenos Aires, the Federal Police are using electronics so advanced that even the most modern (North) American police forces have no comparable gear.” An example is the Digicom system, made by E-systems of Garland, Texas. It is a communications system connecting patrol cars, dispatchers, and security database systems. Video terminals are located in each patrol car, which can display information from the dtabase about possible suspects patrol officers may happen to pick up on the street. This system is the most advanced of its kind in the world. The manufacturer of this system is a company with gross revenues of $250 million from military and police electronics sales, and its board of directors includes William Rayburn, a former high-level CIA officer.

 Much of the computing technology and know-how was part of U.S. government aid to the countries of Latin America. Under the auspices of the CIA’s proxy, the Agency for International Development (AID), South American police forces were were provided, in the early 70’s, with weapons, training and data processing equipment. 

The government of Argentina continues to receive U.S. aid, taking in $34.9 million in 1976 in military aid, as well as hundreds of millions from other U.S. agencies and international organizations in which the U.S. plays a leading role.

This article was written by the Editorial Collective from materials provided by Argentinian scientists. Sources include materials from the Argentine Solidarity Committee (CAS), Ap. 19-052, Mexico 19, DF, Mexico, from AISC, PO Box 4388, Berkeley, CA 94704, and NACLA publications on Argentina, especially the Jan. 1977 issue. 

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