President Jorge Videla, leader of the socalled moderate faction within Argentina's military government, appears to have won another round in a long power struggle with rightist hardliner.
While the rightist have temporarily lost their main goal - toppling Videla from power - they have pushed the government into tightening further its control on free expression and made return to democratic rule even less likely.
Among the casualties is former President Alejandro Lanusse, who was arrested last month with other members of his governement on charges of "false ideology" and abuse of public office in issuing a government contract four years ago.
An army general who is considered a moderate, Lanusse is thought to command enough civilianpopularity to become a presidential candidate in eventual elections. The rightists thus see him as a threat, and his current troubles are seen as evidence of Videla's increased capitulation to the hardliners who control the loyalty of large numbers of troops throughout the country.
Although rumors presist of an imminent barracks coup, the rightists appear to have retreated for the moment.There is limited public support for a further upheaval at present in the dissention-torn country, which has had 11 presiddents in the past 20 years, five of them overthrown in coups.
The center-left Radical Civil Union, the country's second largest political party, today urged the Videla government to restore democracy and "all freedoms."
But there is unlikely to be any move toward political normality in the near-future because if the internal military battles, which are rooted in decades-old friction between what the Argentines call the duros and the blandos - the hard and soft lines within the armed forces.
The terms hard and soft are relative. There is little military disagreement on the national fight against what the government considers subversion, and the often draconain methods used, including imprisonment without charge and torture.
Disagreements center on the degree to which civilian groups labor unions and political parties - should be allowed to participate in politics, the degree of military control over those groups and the press, and how and when to return to civilian rule.
The most recent internal conflict ostensibly concerns two government investigations into subversion and corruption. In both cases - the financial dealings of the late Argentine entrepreneur David Graiver and a 1973 government authorization to a private company to build Argentina's first aluminum plant - high-level government sources have alleged a hardline plot to discredit the Videla regime. [LINE ILLEGIBLE]
Lanusse is a central figure in both cases. Early last month, a c1909 complex plot to help finance the Montoneros guerrillas, an underground left-wing splinter of the Peronist youth movement.
(The army announced Saturday that security forces killed the top Monotonero leader still in Argentina in a raid on a suburban house last week Reuter reported. A government communique identified the dead man as Julio Roque, 36, and said he was the only member of the Montonero national leadership who had hot fled the country.)
The Montoneros have financed their terrorist activities with millions of dollars in ransom paid for kinapped business executives.
Alleging that Graiver invested Montonero money at home and abroad and paid the guerrillas monthly dividends, the propvincal newspaper outlined a tangle of Graiver connecrions. In addition to Lanusse, they included Jose Gelbard, finance minster in 1973 and 1974 under the late director Juan Peron and his widow Isbel, and Jacobo Timerman, publisher of the liberal Buenos Aires daily La Opinion.
Highly-placed government moderates alleged that the newspaper's information, came from the files of right-wing militarists conducting their own investigation of Graiver, who died last year in a Mexican plane crash. The leaks were timed to make it appear that the Videla government had not conduct, or had soft-pedaled, inquiries into potentially the biggest high-level scandal in Argentine history.
Videla quickly announced an executive branch takeover of the Graiver investigation. Several people were arrested including prominent attorneys, jounalists and members of Graiver's family. Timerman was arrested for "economic subversion" because of an alleged business relationship with Graiver. More than 30 Argentine business with similar conflections, including La Opinion and several other newspapers, were taken over by the government, with military officers installed as managers.
Videla had managed to get the upper hand in both the Graiver investigation and his own government. He has also marshaled overwhelming public support without providing any proof yet of guilt against anyone.
One interested party waiting for proof is the New York State government. Since Graiver's death, U.S. authorities have been investigating his connection with New York City's America Bank and Trust, which went bankrupt last year after loaning most its money to Graiver and turning over its directorship to him.
Lanusse's detention came early last month in an ostensibly unrelated investigation of the Aluar aluminum plant as the first aluminum facility in Argentina, the plant required government contruction approval. Lanusse is charged with giving that approval to Aluar in 1973, toward the end of his term, despite competitive, and some believe better, proposals from other companies.
Videla says his investigation is nearby complete, and that the results will be presented to the public during military trails. So far, however, there has only been a stream of accusations in what appears at least partly a game of military one-upmanship and, perhaps, a means of diverting attention from human rights violations and economic troubles.