• U.S.

ARGENTINA: A Way of Death

3 minute read

Like hundreds of his fellow American businessmen in Argentina, Ford Executive John Albert Swint, 56, lived in fear. Marauding bands of guerrillas have turned terrorism into a fact of life for the relatively rich and powerful in the country, especially around the industrial center of Cordoba, 450 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, which has become known as “the capital of terrorism.”

It was only natural, therefore, that Swint take precautions in getting to his job as general manager of the Ford subsidiary, Transax, in Cordoba. When he left for work on Thanksgiving Day, his chauffeur-driven car was followed by another car carrying two well-armed bodyguards. As the two cars prepared to pass a parked trailer truck obstructing one side of the road, a red Chevrolet pickup truck flashed past them, then swung across the road, completely blocking it. From behind, two Fiats drew up, cutting off any retreat. The ambush was complete.

A well-dressed man got out of the cabin of the trailer truck and opened up on Swint’s car with a machine gun.

Then, from both sides and behind, a fusillade of bullets fired by 15 terrorists ripped into Swint’s as well as the bodyguards’ car.

Swint, his chauffeur and one bodyguard were killed and the other bodyguard was critically wounded before any of them could use their guns. A blond youth was seen administering a coup de grâce with a machine gun to Swint as he lay dying. The terrorist commandos then broke up and fled before police arrived.

Until this attack, the bloodiest yet, businessmen generally had been kidnaped and returned unharmed by the terrorists after paying ransoms that have added up to an estimated $20 million in a year. So far this year there have been more than 160 reported kidnapings in Argentina, including nine foreigners —three of them Americans.

Less Charitable. Police said that the deadly efficiency of the ambush indicated it was the work of the extremist, self-styled Marxist-Leninist People’s Revolutionary Army, which this time was out to kill, not kidnap. This same organization last May fatally wounded a Ford-of-Argentina executive and slightly wounded another. After threatening more terrorism, the group demanded and got $1,000,000 from Ford for ambulances and medical and school supplies for the Argentine poor. This time the motive was less charitable. The shooting was seen instead as part of a systematic effort to scare off foreign capital and at the same time discredit the beleaguered regime of Juan Perón, who has vowed to bring terrorism under control.

The state of health of President Juan D. Perón, 78, long a subject of concern, suddenly took a turn for the worse last week and thus became one more liability for a regime already afflicted with political terrorism and a limping economy. The caudillo was bedridden in his suburban Buenos Aires residence with what was variously described as either the recurrence of a bronchial condition or a mild heart attack. What worried nervous Argentines was that his illness was serious enough to require his wife Isabelita, the Vice President and a former cabaret dancer, to preside over last week’s Cabinet meetings.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com