People's Revolutionary Army (Argentina)

People's Revolutionary Army (Argentina)

The Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP) was the military branch of the communist PRT (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores, or Workers' Revolutionary Party) in Argentina. The name means "People's Revolutionary Army".



The ERP was founded as the armed wing of the PRT, a communist party emerging from the Trotskyist tradition, but soon turned to the Maoist theory, especially the Cultural Revolution. During the 1960s, the PRT adopted the "foquista" strategy of insurgency associated with Che Guevara, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution.

The ERP launched its guerrilla campaign against the Argentine military dictatorship in 1969, headed by Juan Carlos Onganía, using targeted urban guerrilla warfare, such as assassinations and kidnappings of government officials and foreign company executives. For example, in 1974 Enrique Gorriarán Merlo and Benito Urteaga led the ERP kidnapping of Esso executive Víctor Samuelsson and obtaining a ransom of $12 million Fact|date=April 2007. However most kidnappings ended in the death of the hostage, especially when not a person of particular importance Fact|date=April 2007. They also assaulted several companies' offices using heavily armed commandos. Although claim and counter-claim are invariably difficult to reconcile, figures released for an official publication, "Crónica de la subversión en la Argentina" (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Depalma) at least give an indication of the kind of guerrilla activity undertaken, with claims the rural guerrillas occupied 52 towns, robbed 166 banks and took US $76 million in ransoms for the kidnappings of 185 people.

The group continued the violent campaign even after democratic elections and the return to civilian rule in 1973, with Juan Peron's return. On June 20, 1973 the Peronist movement split after the Ezeiza massacre, perpetrated by far-right Peronists the day of Peron's return from exile. The avowed aim of the ERP was a communist revolution against the Argentine government in pursuit of "proletarian rule."

In January 1974 the ERP "Compañía Héroes de Trelew", named in commemoration of the 1972 Massacre of Trelew, during which 16 political prisonners who had attempted to escape had been illegally executed, attacked the barracks at Azul, killing the Commanding Officer and his wife and capturing a lieutenant-colonel. The trick did not work twice: in August an assault on the barracks at Catamarca by 90 ERP guerrillas was beaten off and they lost 16 men who were shot after they surrendered. In December 1975 a force of some 150 ERP men attacked the Monte Chingolo barracks outside Buenos Aires but lost 45 dead, many of them left wounded in the barracks after the attack and killed afterwards [ Gustavo Plis-Sterenberg, "Monte Chingolo. La mayor batalla de la guerrilla argentina" ] .

The ERP-PRT joined with the Chilean "Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria" (MIR), the "Tupamaros" of Uruguay, and the "National Liberation Army" of Bolivia to form the "Junta Coordinadora Revolucionaria" (JCR), but it did not manage to have any real existence.

Operations in Tucumán

After the return of Juan Perón to the presidency in 1973, the ERP shifted to a rural strategy designed to secure a large land area as a base of military operations against the Argentine state. The ERP leadership chose to send "Compania del Monte Ramón Rosa Jimenez" to the province of Tucumán at the edge of the long-impoverished Andean highlands in the northwest corner of Argentina. Some "guerrilleros" were trained in Cuba. By December 1974, the guerrillas numbered about 100 fighters, with a 400 person support network Fact|date=April 2007. Led by Mario Roberto Santucho, they soon established control over a third of the province and organized a base of some 2,500 sympathizers Fact|date=April 2007.Santucho's forces in the northwestern province of Tucuman never exceeded 300 in the first year of the campaign.

The growth in ERP strength in the northwest, together with in increasing urban violence carried out by the left-Peronist Montoneros following Perón's death in 1974, led the government of Isabel de Perón to issue the "annihilation decrees" and expand the military's powers to fight a counter-insurgency campaign in February 1975.

Some 3,500 soldiers and two companies of elite commandos under Brigadier-General Acdel Vilas began immediately deploying in the Tucuman mountains in "Operacion Independencia", joined later by 1,500 more troops from the Fourth Airborne Infantry Brigade and Eighth Mountain Infantry Brigade. The pattern of the war was largely dictated by the nature of the terrain, the mountains, rivers and extensive jungle denying both sides easy movement. The A-4B Skyhawk and the F-86F Sabre were used for offensive air support while the North American T-34 and FMA IA-58 Pucara served as light ground-attack aircraft. While fighting the guerrilla in the jungle and mountains, Vilas concentrated on uprooting the ERP support network in the towns, using state terror tactics later adopted nation-wide during the "Dirty War", as well as a civic action campaign. By July, the commandos were mounting search-and-destroy missions. Army forces discovered Santucho's base camp in August, then raided the ERP urban headquarters in September. Most of the "Compania del Monte's" general staff was killed in October and was dispersed by the end of the year. While most of the leaders of the movement were killed, many of the ERP soldiers and sympathizers were incarcerated during the government of Isabel Martínez de Perón.

In May 1975, ERP representative Amilcar Santucho was captured trying to cross into Paraguay to promote the JCR unity effort. As a way to save himself, he provided information about the organization to Secretaría de Inteligencia (SIDE) agents that enabled Argentine security agencies to destroy what was left of the ERP, although pockets of ERP guerrillas continued to infest the heavily wooded Tucuman mountains for many months. The case, during which an FBI official transmitted information obtained from the prisoners (Amilcar was detained along with a MIR member) to the Chilean DINA, was one practical operation of Operation Condor, which had started in 1973 [ [ Operation Condor] , John Dinges ] [cite news
last =Abramovici
first =Pierre
language =English
title =OPERATION CONDOR EXPLAINED - Latin America: the 30 years’ dirty war
publisher =Le Monde diplomatique
date =May 2001
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-15
( [ free access in French] and [,a137 in Portuguese] )

Meanwhile, the guerrilla movement switched its main effort to the north and in October 1975 the guerrillas struck the 29th Mountain Infantry Regiment resting at their barracks in Formosa province, killing twelve soldiers and two policemen. It is possible that 500 guerrillas were involved. The credibility of the government was now destroyed and the strategy of attrition was bankrupt. The guerrillas had even successfully utilized divers of the Grupo Especial de Combate of the Montoneros: the modern type 42 destroyer A.R.A. Santisima Trinidad was severely damaged by explosives placed under her keel by frogmen of the Grupo Especial de Combate on 22 August 1975 while moored in the port of Ensenada. The damage was so great that the ship remained unseaworthy for several years. Elements within the armed forces, particularly among the junior officers, blamed the weakness of the government and began to seek a leader who they considered was strong enough to ensure a preservation of Argentinian sovereignty, settling on Lieutenant-General Jorge Videla [ [,9171,947612,00.html Time Magazine] ] .

The Argentine armed forces moved ahead with the "Dirty War", dispensing with the civilian government through a coup d'état in March 1976. The ERP's commander, Mario Roberto Santucho, and Benito Urteaga were killed in July of that year by military forces led by captain Juan Carlos Leonetti. Although the ERP continued for a while under the leadership of Enrique Gorriarán Merlo, by late 1977 it had been eradicated. By that time the military dictatorship had expanded its own campaign against "subversives" to include state terror against non-violent students, intellectuals, and political activists who were presumed to form the social, non-combatant base of the insurgents.The PRT continued political activities, although limited to few members, organizing conventions even after democracy returned to the country.


After the destruction of the left in Argentina, some revolutionary cadres made their way to Nicaragua, where the Sandinistas had taken power in 1979. Gorriarán, for example, worked for the Nicaraguan security service and was implicated in the assassination of ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1980 Fact|date=July 2008. Gorriarán returned to Argentina in 1987 to became a leader of the "Movimiento Todos por la Patria" (All For the Country Movement or MTP).

Believing in the danger of another military coup by the "Carapintadas" against the new democratic government of Raúl Alfonsín (which at the time was leading a series of trials against members of the Argentine Military accused of human rights violations), Enrique Gorriarán Merlo led the 1989 attack on La Tablada Regiment, during which the Argentine army used white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon [ [ E/CN.4/2001/NGO/98] , "United Nations", January 12, 2001 - URL accessed on February 9, 2007 es icon] [ANSA cable quoted by RaiNews24: [ Alcune testimonianze sull'uso militare del fosforo bianco] it icon.] "El Clarín". [ El ataque a La Tablada, la última aventura de la guerrilla argentina] , January 23, 2004 es icon ] , and which ended in the capture of all MTP members. Gorriarán was given a life sentence along with other MTP comrades, but was freed by interim president Eduardo Duhalde two days before Néstor Kirchner's access to power in 2003. The MTP still exist today as a political movement which has abandoned armed struggle.



*"Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina", by Paul H. Lewis (2001).
*"Nosotros Los Santucho", by Blanca Rina Santucho (1997, in Spanish).
*"Argentina's Lost Patrol : Armed Struggle, 1969-1979", by Maria Moyano (1995).
*"Argentina, 1943-1987: The National Revolution and Resistance", by Donald C. Hodges (1988).
*"Monte Chingolo, la mayor batalla de la guerrilla argentina", by Gustavo Plis-Sterenberg (2003).

ee also

*Dirty War
*History of Argentina
*Nicaragua Betrayed

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