Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo

Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo
(ERP)
   / People’s Revolutionary Army
   The most active of the guerrilla organizations in Argentina and one of the two principal ones. Unlike the rival Montoneros, who were radical Peronists, the ERP represented the traditional left. Its roots can be traced to the Trotskyist Palabra Obrera (PO, Workers’ Word), which gave rise in 1963 to the Comando Buenos Aires, a fledgling guerrilla group that perished when its apartment, filled with explosives, blew up a year later. The Comando’s legacy, however, survived. After the PO merged with the Frente Revolucionario Indoamericano Popular (FRIP, Indo-American Popular Revolutionary Front) in 1965 to become the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT, Workers’ Revolutionary Party), the idea of armed struggle was kept alive by Luis Pujals and Mario Roberto (“Robi”) Santucho, the leaders of the PRT’s El combatiente wing. In 1968 the PRT broke with Trotskyism (though it maintained formal relations with the international Trotskyist movement until 1973), choosing to follow the path of Che Guevara, and in 1970 it established the ERP as its militant wing, though armed operations had begun the year before.
   The earliest actions of the ERP were designed to establish links with workers and took the form of “hunger commandos” (seizing food and distributing it in poor neighborhoods), factory takeovers, and the kidnapping of executives as a means of intervening in worker-management disputes. By 1972 its warfare reached a new level. On 10 April a kidnapping received international press when its victim (Oberdan Sallustro, the head of Fiat-Argentina) died in a gun battle between police and guerrillas—President Alejandro Lanusse had refused to negotiate. A few hours earlier, in a joint operation with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR, Revolutionary Armed Forces), the ERP assassinated General Juan Carlos Sánchez, who had a reputation for ruthlessness in dealing with strikers and insurgents. The government responded to the escalation with the massacre at Trelew on 22 August 1972, executing 16 political prisoners recaptured after their escape from Rawson prison. The ERP sought revenge in turn. In a joint operation with the FAR and the Montoneros (who also lost comrades at Trelew), it carried out a number of kidnappings and assassinations of military officers thought responsible for the massacre.
   The presidential election of March 1973 was divisive for the ERP. Part of the group supported the bid of Héctor José Cámpora and broke off to form the ERP-22 de agosto faction (ERP-22 August, named after the date of the Trelew incident); a year later, this faction joined the Montoneros. The mainline ERP, however, took a position of critical neutrality toward Peronism, a position that hardened into opposition after the massacre at Ezeiza Airport in June. The group continued to engage in armed struggle. In 1973 it built a war chest of $30 million from robberies and kidnappings, and on 19 January 1974 launched an attack on an army garrison in the city of Azul. But having failed to build a political base among urban workers—millions of whom had remained loyal to Peron—the ERP moved its struggle to the countryside. In 1974 it opened a rural front in the mountainous, sugar-producing province of Tucumán, where it tried to replicate the Cuban Revolution. The ERP’s rural company was successful at first, fighting only the police. But in February 1975 the government of Isabel Perón sent in the army, and General Acdel Vilas carried out “Operation Independence,” a “dirty war” against the local population. Surrounded by unfriendly countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay were all under dictatorship—and deprived of any support in the province, the ERP was easily defeated. In December 1975 the ERP made a desperate attempt to reverse its losses, attacking the Batallón de Arsenales 601 in Monte Chingolo, Buenos Aires Province. The army was prepared, having been warned by a traitor or infiltrator. About 100 ERP members were killed in the operation, from which the organization never recovered. The coup de grace came in July 1976, when the army killed Mario Santucho and other ERP leaders.

Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars” . . 2010.

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