General Outlasts Argentina Dictatorship.
For many former leaders of Argentina's military dictatorship, an appearance in public can trigger protests, heckling -- even tossed eggs or tomatoes.
But when retired Gen. Antonio Bussi came home to this provincial city in September after weeks spent fending off an international arrest warrant, he was greeted with cheers of ``Long Live the General.''
One of the military's most hard-line leaders during the 1976-83 dictatorship, Bussi had come home to assume his role as elected mayor of the city he once ruled with an iron first during years of military rule.
Life after the dictatorship has brought legal troubles for the junta's leaders, many of whom are under house arrest on charges linked to military era abuses. But Bussi, despite his own judicial battles, has parlayed his military ties into years of political success.
Disillusionment with a series of post-dictatorship leaders helped Bussi win Tucuman province's governorship in 1995, and in July he won the mayoral race in San Miguel de Tucuman, the province's capital city of 400,000 people, 680 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.
Traditionally one of Argentina's most conservative bastions, Tucuman was the scene of fierce battles during the Dirty War when a guerrilla movement sprang up in the surrounding mountains.
Government forces led by Bussi helped oppose the guerillas. But after the return of democracy in 1983, many say the civilian government showed little interest in governing and instead plundered Tucuman's finances.
``He's tough .... and that's what we need here,'' said Diego Fernandez, a 45-year-old factory worker.
``Our country was on the verge of being split in two and he prevented it,'' said Ricardo Zelaibe, who served on a civilian taskforce that worked in tandem with the military during the dictatorship.
Still, accusations that Bussi had a hand in the junta's repression has made him the target of international arrest warrants.
Accused of human rights abuses, he was ordered held under house arrest in July as part of an extradition request by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon. It was later dropped by Spain's government and Bussi was freed after 45 days of house arrest.
Human rights groups say Bussi was among officers who tortured and killed dissidents. Rights activists say at least 400 people vanished in Tucuman alone while Bussi commanded forces here.
Bussi has called the charges ``outrageous.''
Although ensconced as mayor, he still faces legal troubles.
In the mid-80s, Bussi was accused of kidnapping, torture and murder during military rule, but was spared a government trial because of amnesty laws.
But the Argentine legislature in August repealed two major amnesty laws that had blocked any prosecution of dictatorship-era human rights abuses and the investigations have found renewed momentum under new President Nestor Kirchner.
More than 9,000 people are officially listed as having disappeared during the military's systematic crackdown on leftist opponents; human rights groups insist the figure is closer to 30,000.
Ricardo Bussi, the general's son, insisted his father never killed or tortured anyone, calling the charges politically motivated by a Kirchner government bent on drudging up Argentina's dark past.
``This is a government that isn't interested in addressing the serious issues this country faces right now,'' he said.
Some in Tucuman agree.
``We've got more pressing issues to address like poverty and crumpling public services not something that happened 25 years ago,'' said Andreas Molina, 37, a hotel clerk.
[Source: NY Times, NY, 25sep03]
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