Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri (July 15, 1926 - January 12, 2003) was an Argentinian general and dictator. Galtieri was the child of working class parents who were themselves children of poor Italian immigrants. At 17 he enrolled in the Argentinian military academy to study civil engineering, and his early military career was as an officer in the engineering branch. Even in his teens he was already keen to see Argentina resolve disputes over territory with force.
In 1975, after more than 25 years as a combat engineer, he became commander of the Argentinian engineering corps. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the military coup in 1976 and rose further, becoming a major general in 1977 and commander-in-chief in 1980 with the rank of lieutenant general.
The rule of the junta in Argentina was brutal: parliament was suspended, unions, political parties and provincial governments were banned, and in what became known as the "dirty war" about 9000 people suspected of left-wing sympathies simply disappeared from society without trace. Torture and mass executions were both commonplace. The economy, which had been in dire condition prior to the coup, recovered for a short time, then deteriorated further. Galtieri, however, was riding high. In early 1981 he visited the United States and was warmly received - President Reagan's National Security Advisor Richard Allen describing him as a "majestic general". Galtieri's strength was sufficient to allow him to remove a number of rival generals and, in December 1981, he rose to the presidency of Argentina.
Perhaps learning from the demise of the two previous presidents, generals Videla and Viola, Galtieri did not appoint a new commander-in-chief but retained direct control of the army himself. He attempted to repair the economy by slashing spending, selling off remaining government-owned industries, squeezing money supply and freezing salaries. He instituted limited political reforms which allowed the expression of dissent, and anti-junta demonstrations soon became common and agitation for a return to democracy impossible to ignore.
After 16 months in office and with his popularity at a low ebb, Galtieri's forces invaded the weakly-defended Falkland Islands in April 1982, and he declared the "Malvinas" a province of Argentina. Despite genuine attempts to win over the 1800 native Falkland Islanders, their desire to remain a part of Britain as they always had been was near-unanimous. Britain, the United Nations, and many other countries around the world condemned the annexation but in Argentina it was wildly popular: the anti-junta demonstrations were replaced by patriotic demonstrations in support of Galtieri.
Galtieri, like most observers, considered that the once-mighty armed forces of the United Kingdom had been cut back too far and simply did not have the resources to contest the issue. Nevertheless, with diplomatic pressure and negotiations leading nowhere, the UK, with help from its traditional allies the USA and New Zealand, decided to re-take the islands, and did just that. The Falklands War was over within two months: superior training and (to a lesser extent) superior equipment serving to counterbalance the great numerical and geographic advantage Argentina held.
Port Stanley was retaken in June 1982 and within days General Galtieri was removed from power. He spent the next 18 months at a well-protected country retreat while democracy was restored to Argentina. Along with other members of the former junta, he was arrested in late 1983 and charged in a military court with human rights violations during the "Dirty War", and with mismanagment of the Falklands war.
He was cleared of the civil rights charges in December 1985 but (together with the Air Force and Navy commanders-in-chief) found guilty of mishandling the war in May 1986 and sentenced to jail. All three appealed (this time in a civil court) while the prosecution appealed for heavier sentences. In November 1988 the original sentences were confirmed and all three commanders were stripped of their rank. Galtieri served five years in jail before receiving a Presidential pardon in 1991.
In July 2002 new civil charges were brought concerning the kidnapping and disappearance of 18 left-wing sympathizers in the late 1970s (while Galtieri was commander of the Second Army Corps), and the disappearance or death of three Spanish citizens at about the same time. Galtieri was placed under house-arrest. With his health declining, he was admitted to hospital in Buenos Aires to be treated for cancer of the pancreas, where he died of a heart attack at the age of 76.