BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The war was over, disastrously for Argentina, and thousands poured into the streets of Buenos Aires to express anger at the military junta that had led the country into conflict over the Falklands Islands.
That spontaneous demonstration three decades ago has drawn renewed attention due to controversy over the way one man recalls it. Critics have taken issue with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, then a young reporter who covered the protest. He said in a book that it was a "war zone," called it "carnage" in an interview with the Washington Post, and has said that "many were killed."
For Argentines, the outburst on June 15, 1982, a day after British troops recaptured the capital of the Falklands, was certainly a memorable, if chaotic moment, signaling the beginning of the end of military dictatorship. Military ruler Leopoldo F. Galtieri resigned within days. A junta that had killed thousands of opponents during six years in power was starting to fall. It soon lifted a ban on political parties and civil liberties. It finally turned over power to an elected government in December 1983.
News accounts from the time and newly interviewed participants recall authorities firing tear gas in the iconic Plaza de Mayo and scuffling with protesters — extremely common occurrences in Latin American demonstrations. At least one account, by the New York Times, described police firing live ammunition, though only over the heads of protesters, not at them.
None mentioned any deaths.
"If there were no deaths it is difficult to call it a war zone," Isidoro Gilbert, the then-chief correspondent for the Russian news agency Tass in Buenos Aires, told The Associated Press. "There was repression. People were angry because they felt cheated by the war."
The Associated Press report of the event said authorities allowed the crowd to express itself for a few hours, then called in riot police, who used tear gas to clear out the plaza in about 15 minutes. It said they then chased and clubbed retreating demonstrators and beat and trampled some journalists.
Retreating demonstrators set fire to two buses near the far end of the plaza and broke shop windows on side streets. Two news photographers were reported injured by rubber bullets fired by police, according to the account by AP correspondent Douglas Grant Mine.
"You can't say there wasn't tension, fear for being bodily harmed," said John Reichertz, who covered it for United Press International and recalled police chasing protesters. "If you were grabbed by the police they would hit you, throw you in a police van, that type of thing.
"But I am not aware of anything beyond that happening. As I said, I don't specifically remember anybody getting injured."
Historian Nicolas Inigo Carrera also took part in the demonstration, which he said filled the plaza with anti-government protesters, and he recalled fleeing down Calle Defensa to escape the tear gas.
"The police fired gases," he said. "I don't recall if they fired bullets. I don't believe there were deaths."