The leadership of Argentina's armed forces appears to be moving toward restoration of unified military rule even as the Army government headed by Reynaldo Bignone continues to struggle with an economic crisis and dissension over the Falkland Islands conflict with Britain.
As the nation marked the 166th anniversary of its independence Friday with a day of deliberately austere ceremonies, Army Commander-in-Chief Cristino Nicolaides announced that military chiefs "are a step away" from rebuilding the junta of the three service commanders who ruled Argentina from March 1976 until last month.
The military government collapsed amid power struggles after Argentina's military defeat by Britain. The Army installed Bignone as president without the support of the Navy and Air Force, which had opposed naming another general as president.
Bignone, a retired general who has sought to project an image of humility and moderation since taking office, said in an interview broadcast by state television that Argentines "must learn definitively to live together with different opinions."
The new president's remarks came at the end of a chaotic week in which the apparent lessening of tension among military leaders was accompanied by severe upheavals in financial and business circles following the announcement of a complicated emergency economic program.
The economic plan, announced here Monday night, is regarded by economists and politicians as an attempt to compromise between the development measures sought by civilian leaders and the government's more conservative efforts to control Argentina's 125 percent inflation and $35 billion foreign debt.
It includes a complex reorganization of exchange and financial markets, controls on interest rates and prices, incentives for exporters and wage increases of up to 30 percent for state workers.
Although a major departure from the unpopular free-market policies followed by the military for the last six years, the Bignone government's plan received little praise and has been viewed with quiet suspicion by both liberal and conservative economists. The measures also provoked a massive withdrawal of bank deposits that forced the suspension of loan operations and a 120 percent devaluation of the Argentine peso against the dollar on the open exchange market.
The results of the military government's efforts to resolve the economic crisis, which Economy Minister Jose Dagnino Pastore called "a national emergency," are considered a crucial factor in the ability of the Bignone government to stabilize Argentina's volatile politics and carry out its plans to reestablish some form of democratic government by early 1984.
But while economic prospects remained highly uncertain, the Army appeared to have made some progress on mending--at least superficially--the open split between armed forces leaders following the surrender of Argentine forces on the Falklands June 14 and the subsequent ouster of president Leopoldo Galtieri.
After a week of private discussions among armed forces chiefs, Air Force commander Basilio Lami Dozo matched the optimism of Nicolaides, saying at a press conference Thursday, "I am convinced that we are going to dissipate the apparent discrepancies between the armed forces to reestablish the military junta as the supreme organ of power."
Much of the military feuding has been between leaders of the Army and the Air Force, which sought to prevent Bignone's appointment as president and has favored more extensive political and social reforms than has the relatively conservative Army leadership.
Reports in Buenos Aires said the junta could be established as the chief governing body this week, creating a government that possibly would include a civilian vice president under Bignone and would be far more stable than the weakly based Army administration.
Other military sources, however, noting that armed forces leaders have already failed in several attempts to establish a joint government, warned that any agreement could simply be a face-saving measure designed to create the appearance of military unity behind Bignone.
One ranking Navy officer said in an interview that "the same differences still exist" among the services over power prerogatives in the government and the assignment of responsibility for the military loss to Britain. He said some Navy leaders are unhappy with the Army's new economic program, believing it will be a failure, while others are still angry over the abrupt removal of Galtieri by a group of Army generals only three days after the Argentine surrender.
With debate over the political and military failures of the Falklands invasion continuing, both the Army and the Navy have established commissions to investigate the conflict. These will recommend changes and may even penalize the commanders found responsible.
Political analysts said these operations could allow Army and Navy commanders to channel dissension and diminish the chances of new uprisings or coup plots that have been a major source of concern in the military in the past several weeks.
The Air Force has announced no similar internal investigation, but Lami Dozo sought in his press conference Thursday to clear up the record of his service in the conflict.
Lami Dozo conceded that the Air Force had lost 34 of the 82 planes it had available for combat but said that within several weeks the losses would be made up from sources that he refused to identify. Diplomatic sources have reported here that Argentina is receiving new supplies of French-made Mirages and American-made A4 Skyhawk planes from Israel.
The Navy, which also lost a number of planes during the war, has made no formal announcement of its losses and has not said whether the materiel is being replaced.