Leopoldo Galtieri, 76, the former Argentine president and army commander who met both political dissent in his own country and British rule of the Falkland Islands with violence and failed on both counts, died of heart and respiratory ailments Jan. 12 at a hospital in Buenos Aires. He had pancreatic cancer.
Gen. Galtieri, as army commander in chief, became a member of his country's ruling military junta in 1979 and served as president from November 1981 until forced to resign and retire from public life by his junta colleagues shortly after the Falklands war in June 1982.
As president, he will be remembered outside Argentina for his ill-thought-out and bumbling attempt to invade and occupy the Falklands six months after becoming president.
The South Atlantic islands, a rocky, wind-swept outpost of sheep farms that had been ruled by Britain since the age of sail, were claimed by Argentina. The Argentine position on what that country called the Malvinas was based on claims it insisted it had inherited from the Spanish crown.
The Argentine invasion of the islands, about 300 miles from the mainland, sparked a war that ended in Argentine defeat less than 80 days later.
Gen. Galtieri later admitted that he thought the whole operation would be an easy undertaking. The age of classic imperialism was over, and Britain was in the midst of scaling down its navy. And, the general said he thought objections from the United States would be minimal due to Argentina's enthusiastic anti-communist stance and its support for U.S. policies in Central America.
But, in the Falklands, Britain counterattacked. The Union flag had been lowered by force, and the Falklanders were of British descent and wanted British rule. These were elements that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet found unacceptable.
After attempting mediation between Britain and Argentina, the United States sided with Britain and stopped military aid to Argentina -- as did the European Community. And on the Falklands, a British amphibious force counterinvaded and quickly prevailed.
It was reported that the British lost 255 lives in the war and Argentina more than 700. Soon after, more than 15,000 prisoners of war were returned to Argentina.
Observers said that Gen. Galtieri had decided on the invasion for a classic reason: to unite a divided and suffering country against an external enemy. The country had soaring inflation and an internal security apparatus that from 1976 to 1983 tortured and killed as many as 30,000 political opponents.
With Argentina's quick and inglorious defeat in the war, the government became even more unpopular.
Gen. Galtieri wanted to fight on, proposing "total war" with Britain, though it was never clear what that would entail or how it could be carried out. In any case, the junta turned against him.
The white-haired leader, who stood 6 feet 2 inches tall, had seemed the very model of a modern general. But he had failed so completely that not only was he forced from office, but within a year the junta itself was history.
Democracy returned to Argentina.
In the aftermath of the junta, the military masters were put on trial for their actions in the "Dirty War" against their citizens. Gen. Galtieri was sent to prison in 1986 for "military negligence" for his Falklands disaster.
After the political generals were pardoned in 1989 by President Carlos Menem, Gen. Galtieri was again arrested on grounds the pardon itself was unconstitutional and for his implication in the torture and execution of 19 Montoneros, a left-wing guerrilla group of the Justicialist (Peronist) Party.
He was living under house arrest at the time of his death.
Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, who was born in a suburb of Buenos Aires, was a 1945 civil engineering graduate of the Argentine Military Academy. He later studied at the U.S. Army's School of the Americas in the Panama Canal Zone and taught courses in administration at the Argentine Army War College.
After advanced engineering training at Fort Belvoir, he rose swiftly through the army ranks, becoming the commander in chief with the rank of lieutenant general in 1979.
Gen. Galtieri became known outside Argentina when he closed the Argentine border with Chile over disputed islands in the Beagle Channel in 1981. The same year, he made two trips to this country and was referred to by President Ronald Reagan as "a magnificent general."