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People's Revolutionary Army (Argentina)

The Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP) was the military branch of the communist PRT 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 Ongania, using targeted urban guerrilla warfare, such as assassinations and kidnappings of government officials and foreign company executives. For example, in 1974 Enrique Gorriaran Merlo and Benito Urteaga led the ERP kidnapping of Esso executive Victor Samuelsson and obtaining a ransom of $12 million . However most kidnappings ended in the death of the hostage, especially when not a person of particular importance . They also assaulted several companies' offices using heavily armed commandos of the ERP's elite "Special Squad". Although claim and counter-claim are invariably difficult to reconcile, figures released for an official publication, Cronica de la subversion en la Argentina 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."

The ERP publicly remained in the forefront. ERP guerrilla activity took the form of attacks on military outposts, police stations and convoys. In 1971, 57 policemen were killed, and in 1972 another 38 policemen were gunned down.

In January 1974 the ERP Compania Heroes de Trelew, named in commemoration of the 1972 Massacre of Trelew, during which 16 political prisoners who had attempted to escape had been mowed down, 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 Argentine Army's Villa Maria explosives factory in Cordoba and 17th Airborne Infantry Regiment at Catamarca by 70 ERP guerrillas dressed in army fatigues, met mixed fortune after killing and wounding eight policemen and soldiers and they lost 16 men who were shot after they surrendered to 300 paratroopers of the 17th Airborne Infantry Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Eduardo Humberto Cubas. In December 1975 a force of some 300 ERP guerrillas attacked the Monte Chingolo barracks outside Buenos Aires but lost 63 dead, many of whom were wounded in the attack and sunbsequently killed. Gustavo Plis-Sterenberg, Monte Chingolo. La mayor batalla de la guerrilla argentina In addition, seven army troops and three policemen were killed. In all, 293 Argentine servicemen and police were killed fighting guerrillas between 1975 and 1976.

In 1976 there had been plans to send great part of the Uruguayan MLN Tupamaros, the Chilean Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria(MIR) and the Bolivian National Liberation Army(ELN) to fight alongside the ERP and Montoneros in Argentina, but the plans failed to materialize.

Operations in Tucuman

After the return of Juan Peron 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 Ramon Rosa Jimenez to the province of Tucuman 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 . Led by Mario Roberto Santucho, they soon established control over a third of the province and organized a base of some 2,500 sympathizers.

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 Peron's death in 1974, led the government of Isabel de Peron to issue the "annihilation decrees" and expand the military's powers to fight a counter-insurgency campaign in February 1975. In all, 83 servicemen and policemen were killed in fighting the guerrillas, between 1973 and 1974.

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'sgeneral 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 Martinez de Peron.

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 Secretaria 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

Meanwhile, the guerrilla movement switched its main effort to the north and on 5 October 1975 guerrillas struck the 29th Mountain Infantry Regiment. The 5th Brigade suffered a major blow at the hands of Montoneros, when over one-hundredperhaps several hundred --Montoneros guerrillas and milicianos'' where involved in the most elaborate operation in the so-called "Dirty War", which involved the hijacking of a civilian airliner, taking over the provincial airport, attacking the 29th Infantry Regiment's barracks at Formosa province and capturing its cache of arms, and finally escaping by air. Once the operation was over, they made good their escape towards a remote area in Santa Fe province. The aircraft, a Boeing 737, eventually landed on a crop field not far from the city of Rafaela. In the aftermath, 12 soldiers and 2 policemen were killed and several wounded. The sophistication of the operation, and the hideouts they used, suggest several hundred guerrillas and their supporters were involved.

In December 1975 most 5th Brigade units were committed to the border areas of Tucuman with over 5,000 troops deployed in the province. There was however, nothing to prevent infiltrating through this outer ring and the ERP were still strong inside Buenos Aires. Mario Santucho's Christmas offensive opened on 23 December 1975. The operation was dramatic in its impact, with ERP units, supported byMontoneros, mounting a large scale assault against the army supply base Domingo Viejobueno at the industrial suburb of Monte Chingolo, south of Buenos Aires. The attackers were defeated and driven off with 53 ERP guerrillas and 9 milicianos killed. The In this particular battle the ERP and Montoneros guerrillas and milicianos had about 1,000 deployed against 1,000 government forces. This large-scale operation was made possible not only by the audacity of the guerrillas involved, but also by their supporters who provided houses to hide them, supplies and the means of escape.

On 30 December a bomb exploded at the headquarters of the Argentine Army in Buenos Aires, injuring at least six officers of senior-rank. 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 Montoneros on 22 August 1975 while moored in the port of Ensenada. The damage was so great that the ship remained unseaworthy for several years. By the end of 1975, a total of 137 servicemen and police had been killed that year by left wing guerrillas. 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 .

The Argentine armed forces moved ahead with the "Dirty War", dispensing with the civilian government through a coup d'etat in March 1976. In mid-1976, the Argentine Army completely destroyed the ERP's elite "Special Squad" in two violent firefights. 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 of the 601st Intelligence Battalion. Although the ERP continued for a while under the leadership of Enrique Gorriaran Merlo, by late 1977 it had been eradicated. In 2008 PRT-Santucho estimated the loss of 5,000 of PRT-ERP members killed in action or disappeared after having been detained..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. According to different sources, 12,261 to 30,000 people,The lower estimate is from the Asamblea por los Derechos Humanos (APDH). Estimates by human rights organizations estimate up to 30,000 are estimated to have disappeared and died during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. The ERP and Montoneros guerrillas themeselves killed about 1,500 people, including about 600 civilians.

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. An ERP commando team comprising veterans of the "Dirty War" under Gorriaran, for example, demonstrated their active involvement in the revolutionary struggle by killing ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1980. Gorriaran 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 Raul Alfonsin (which at the time was leading a series of trials against members of the Argentine Military accused of human rights violations), Enrique Gorriaran 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 El Clarin. El ataque a La Tablada, la ultima aventura de la guerrilla argentina, January 23, 2004 , and which ended in the capture of all MTP members. Alfonsin declared that the attack, with the ultimate goal of sparking a massive popular uprising, could have led to civil war. In their newspapers and in the Argentine press, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo denounced the way Alfonsin had handled the La Tablada incident, making a connection between what had happened to their children and the treatment endured by the MTP guerrillas. Gorriaran was given a life sentence along with other MTP comrades, but was freed by interim president Eduardo Duhalde two days before Nestor 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 .

''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).

See also

Dirty War

History of Argentina

Nicaragua Betrayed

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