Saturday 10 December 2016

Obituary: General Mario Menendez

Military governor of the Falklands during Argentina's brief occupation of the islands in 1982

Published 04/10/2015 | 02:30

HARD-LINER: Menendez addressing his troops during the Falklands War in May 1982.
HARD-LINER: Menendez addressing his troops during the Falklands War in May 1982.

General Mario Menendez, who has died aged 85, was the military governor of the Falkland Islands during Argentina's brief occupation of the archipelago in 1982; 30 years later he was arrested and detained for his alleged role in human rights abuses.

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Argentine troops arrived on the islands on April 2, 1982 and swiftly overwhelmed a 78-strong detachment of Royal Marines who put up a courageous defence of the islands' capital, Port Stanley.

With little option but to bow to superior force, the British governor Sir Rex Hunt summoned the Argentine commander of the invasion to Government House for a meeting. Hunt recalled later: "I really felt the anger surge then and I thought, 'This is the rape of the Falkland Islands'."

Hunt told the Argentines: "You have landed unlawfully on British territory and I order you to remove yourself and your troops forthwith."

The unsmiling Argentines replied: "We have taken back what is rightfully ours and we shall stay for ever." Hunt and his family were ordered to leave the islands that day and were flown to Uruguay via Argentina. For the journey to the airport, Hunt donned his formal uniform - including the plumed hat - and made the short ride in his official car (a red converted London taxi).

As commander of the occupying troops, Menendez, a military hard-liner, arrived in Stanley five days later to take over as governor. It was said that he so liked the governor's office that he did not rearrange the furniture or even take the queen's portrait off the wall, and he appeared confident that Britain would not exert itself to recover the islands. "Let the little prince come," he was quoted as saying when told that Prince Andrew was on his way.

But just 74 days after declaring Argentina's intention of staying on the islands for good, he surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore following a brief war that left 649 Argentines and 255 British soldiers dead.

Before Moore's arrival, Menendez had been treated to a tongue-lashing by General Leopoldo Galtieri, leader of the Argentine junta, who demanded a last-ditch defence of "Puerto Argentino", as he called Port Stanley, to salvage a modicum of national pride.

"I had to repeat to him what our situation was," Menendez recalled later. "But he didn't want to understand. I ended the call. I thought, 'This is the end.' I knew my troops couldn't give any more."

In an article in The Daily Telegraph in 2002, he recalled that although Argentine troops had tried to slow down the British advance, "we didn't have the ammunition. I kept ordering more, but it did not arrive. It was as if, in Buenos Aires, they were living a war that was different to the one I was living." It had been difficult to sign the surrender document: "I asked myself, 'Why did it have to be me?'"

Within a month of the surrender, Menendez had been removed from his positions of power.

Mario Benjamin Menendez was born in Buenos Aires on April 3, 1930, into a military family. A great uncle would attempt a coup against the government of Juan Peron in 1951, while an uncle would lead an unsuccessful effort to unseat the ruling junta in 1978.

Mario Menendez trained at the National Military College, graduating as a second lieutenant in the infantry in 1949. He was promoted with regularity, reaching the rank of general in 1979.

In his surrender negotiations with the British, Menendez insisted that his officers be allowed to retain their pistols as insurance against their own men, many of whom had suffered the brutality of their superiors during the occupation. (It was agreed they could keep their weapons, but without any ammunition).

In 2007, Argentine veterans staged a protest at his home to denounce a decree granting special pensions to high-level officers of the military regime, including Menendez, and to demand an investigation of alleged violations of the human rights of Argentine soldiers by their own officers during the conflict.

Yet it was not for his role in the Falklands that he was arrested in 2012, but in connection with "La Escuelita,'' a torture centre in Argentina's Tucuman province that he was alleged to have run in 1975, the year before the military coup that ushered in the dictatorship of General Galtieri, during "Operativo Independencia", a counter-insurgency campaign against Trotskyist guerrillas. He had been expected to stand trial later this year.

In 1955, Menendez married Susana Arguello, with whom he had a son and two daughters. He died on September 18.

© Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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