The purpose of this book is succinctly stated in its opening paragraph: “In offering this critical history of Latin America’s foremost urban guerrilla force to date, I attempt to examine the ambitions and impact of insurrectional violence without depicting its combatants as either saints or sinners” (p. v).
The examination of the “ambitions” of the Montoneros is exceptionally well done. Gillespie has used interviews with several Montonero members, in addition to a wide range of the organization’s printed materials, including most of its newspapers and magazines, and many documents meant only for internal distribution, to tell us more about Montonero goals and aspirations than one would have thought possible. In terms of what the Montoneros wanted to do and why, this is the definitive work.
Although Montonero ambitions are extremely well documented, much of the remainder of the material in the book is not. Descriptions of many of the most publicized actions of that organization—the occupation of the town of La Calera, and the assassination of several prominent persons, for example—appear to be based almost exclusively on Montonero accounts. More difficult to accept are the large number of unsupported (and in some cases probably unsupportable) allegations such as the claims that Jorge Osinde “directed] the infamous Ezeiza Massacre against the Peronist Left” (p. 106), and that the armed forces took over from the police the campaign against the Montoneros because “the Army had not fought a war in a century and was not going to miss out on one now” (p. 233).
The author does not depict the Montoneros as either “saints or sinners”; nevertheless, it is clear where his sympathies lie. (Labels seldom are attached to leftists, while rightists frequently are called “reactionary” or “Fascist.”) He is critical of Montonero robberies, kidnappings, and assassinations only in those cases where he believes these acts to have been counterproductive to the organization’s long-term goals. In the last chapter, which covers the 1976-81 period, his criticism of Montonero strategy is of such a nature that the reader can imagine the author saying to himself, “If only I had been in charge, we would have won!”
In spite of its not always impartial language and its frequent lack of adequate documentation, this is a quite useful book. Certainly it is worth reading by those interested in urban guerrilla warfare, and by all those interested in contemporary Argentine politics.