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Argentina's democratic progress

THIS week's conviction of five former top junta leaders is the latest -- and most dramatic -- example of the extraordinary progress Argentina has made in the two years, this week, since Ra'ul Alfons'in became its President. Civilian rule then replaced military dictatorship; the armed forces, preeminent for eight years, are held in check at present. The rule of law has superseded state-led terrorism. Labor unions, previously able to defeat anti-inflation efforts, have been faced down. And inflation, running last June at an annual rate of 1,000 percent, has been chopped to 25 percent.

From being considered a pariah in the Western Hemisphere, for human rights and economic reasons, Argentina has become an example to the world's many troubled nations of the progress that can be achieved, given strong national support for change and a determined leader with well-considered programs.

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This week's convictions also send a second message -- that the day of judicial judgment may lie ahead for repressive regimes in any nation, no matter how secure they may now consider themselves. In numerous countries of the third world the armed forces have long operated with near-impunity in violating human rights, offering security reasons as an excuse. An insidious concept takes root in many nations that the demand for order justifies such repression; but this view is false.

The Argentine court's president correctly said that the military effort to combat insurgency ``should never have overstepped the bounds of law.''

The five junta leaders were essentially convicted of responsibility for human rights crimes by the military, passed off then as part of an effort against left-wing urban terrorists. The trial of the former top leaders, which graphically depicted torture and kidnapping, was virtually unprecedented in Latin America.

In human rights, other nations can, and should, follow Argentina's model.

Argentina's economic progress stems in large measure from having followed its own program, rather than just the more-restrictive IMF approach. Other nations should also consider devising their own programs, then gaining the confidence of the international financial community.

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