Argentinian politics has, until recently, been marked by frequent military coups d’etat. But from 1946-1955 an elected government led by General Peron and his flamboyant wife, Evita, established a distinctive style of populism and a Peronist party. Peron returned to power in 1974, and after his death his new wife, Isabella, governed until 1976, when a combination of economic chaos and political violence by both the extreme left and the extreme right prompted another military coup. This new military government set out to impose order through a ferocious ‘Dirty War’, detaining, torturing and murdering thousands of supposed leftists, including many students. Up to 30,000 people ‘disappeared’. In this atmosphere of terror some of the mothers of the disappeared began to demonstrate publicly in 1977, and continued to do so until the junta collapsed after losing the 1981 Falklands War. Then the mothers campaigned to bring guilty members of the military regime to justice, and to find their grandchildren born in prison, who had been given to military families. ‘Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo’ inspired the creation of other human rights groups in Argentina and linked with parallel groups in other countries.
This experience of military rule has created determination among many Argentinians never to suffer such oppression again: in 1986 over a million people took to the streets when groups in the military seized barracks and appeared to threaten the government.