- (1976–1983)On 24 March 1976 the military seized control of a deeply divided nation and instituted its Proceso de Reorganización Nacional, commonly known as the “Proceso.” As part of its plan to restore order and eradicate leftist subversion, the junta launched its “dirty war,” institutionalizing a practice that continued for the next four years. People were kidnapped by members of military “task forces” and illegally held in any of about 340 Centros Clandestinos de Detención (Secret Detention Centers) across the country. There they were kept in squalor and regularly subjected to humiliation, rape, and torture. Victims were commonly forced to witness the torture of their children or spouses, and children born in captivity were taken from their mothers and given to military families. Most of the victims were eventually murdered, vanishing without a trace. Many were buried in common graves. Some victims were used as relleno (“stuffing”)—made to look as if they were guerrillas killed in shoot-outs. Others were drugged, weighted, and thrown alive into the ocean out of navy aircraft. Inquiries made at police stations or military headquarters by worried relatives were met with official silence.After the return to democracy in 1983, President Raúl Alfonsín created the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas (CONADEP, National Commission on the Disappeared) to investigate the fate of the missing. In 1984 CONADEP issued its report, Nunca más (Never Again), finding evidence for the torture and murder of at least 8,960 persons (though human-rights groups place the actual figure at 30,000). Although the fight against leftist insurgents was one of the military regime’s rationales for taking power and waging its “dirty war,” CONADEP reported that very few of the missing had had any ties to guerrilla organizations. Most of the victims were unarmed but were perceived to be threats to the regime. They included intellectuals; union and student activists; teachers and performers; priests and nuns; journalists writing about the missing; lawyers working on cases of habeas corpus; and family members, friends, and acquaintances.BACKGROUND TO THE “DIRTY WAR”Unlike its neighbors Chile and Uruguay, both stable democracies until succumbing to dictatorship, Argentina has had a long history of political violence and civil unrest. When General José Uriburu ousted President Hipólito Yrigoyen in 1930, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the military can legally overthrow an elected government. The military would remove five more elected governments during the century—the last in 1976—and not until 1989 would one civilian president succeed another. On 4 June 1943 the military overthrew President Ramón S. Castillo, replacing him with General Edelmiro Farrell. The dominant force in the administration, however, was Colonel (later General) Juan Perón, who had helped engineer the coup. The energetic and eloquent Perón quickly accumulated the titles of secretary of labor and social welfare, minister of war, and vice president. He allied himself politically with urban workers, the descamisados (“shirtless ones”), demanding higher wages and the enforcement of labor laws. But his social reforms and growing popularity angered many, and on 9 October 1945, the military, encouraged by the ruling classes, arrested him and removed him from government. His descamisados came to his rescue. On 17 October, thousands of workers demonstrated in the Plaza de Mayo next to the presidential palace and forced his release, an event that carried him into the presidency the following year.Perón’s policies were characterized by nationalism and social reform. His first administration (1946–1952) was an economic success, regarded by some as Argentina’s golden age. Prosperity was based on capital reserves accumulated during World War II. Investment in national industry increased real wages and expanded the domestic market. Workers benefited from minimum-wage laws, 40-hour workweeks, paid holidays and vacations, and pensions. Eva (“Evita”) Perón, the president’s glamorous wife and political partner, increased his popularity with the working class as founder and director of the Social Aid Foundation. But his rule was also characterized by dictatorship, as the president placed his stamp on every aspect of Argentine life, taking control of universities, newspapers, and organized labor. Opponents of his regime were often jailed and tortured. His second administration (1952–1955) faced a series of problems. Worldwide recession and the depletion of wartime reserves forced him to scale back his economic reforms, and the death of Evita in 1952 decreased his popularity. He also ran afoul of the Catholic Church by acts such as replacing religious instruction in the schools with Peronist instruction and legalizing divorce and prostitution. On 16 September 1955 General Eduardo Lonardi, a pro-Catholic nationalist, initiated a coup that succeeded three days later when Admiral Isaac Rojas threatened to bombard Buenos Aires. Perón went into exile, eventually settling in Spain, where he plotted his return.The administration of President Lonardi was short-lived. Although he had helped overthrow Perón, he failed to crack down on the Peronist movement itself and was, in turn, overthrown. The palace coup on 13 November 1955, the so-called Liberating Revolution, brought to power General Pedro Aramburu, who set out to eliminate any trace of Peronism. He banned the Peronist party and placed the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT, General Labor Federation)—its major trade organization—under military control. The mere mention of Perón’s name was prohibited, and the body of Evita, whom many regarded as a saint, was stolen by the military and secretly reburied in Italy.Far from removing Perón from popular memory, the harshness of Aramburu’s regime awakened Perón’s followers. On 9 June 1956 two Peronist generals, Juan José Valle and Raúl Tanco, led an unsuccessful rebellion against the government. The repression that followed— in which Valle and his supporters were shot by firing squad—earned Aramburu the enmity of Peronists and later cost him his life. Peronists also had a hand in deciding the 1958 presidential election, even though they were not allowed to field candidates. The winner, Arturo Frondizi, had secured Perón’s endorsement by promising to legalize Peronism. The promise was Frondizi’s undoing. Peronist candidates won so many votes in the March 1962 national elections—even capturing the governorship of Buenos Aires—that the outraged military annulled the results and forced him from office.Following the interim government of José María Guido, Dr. Arturo Illia became president in 1963—again in an election in which Peronists were not allowed to participate. The new administration was widely viewed as illegitimate (Illia had won only 23 percent of the vote) and was vigorously opposed by Peronists, especially the CGT. Like Frondizi, he tried to pacify the opposition by allowing Peronist candidates to run in legislative elections. As in 1962, Peronist victories in 1965 paved the way for a military takeover. Illia further angered the military by refusing to send troops to the Dominican Republic in May to assist the United States in fighting communism.The military toppled Illia on 28 June 1966, installing General Juan Carlos Onganía, army commander in chief, as president. Unlike previous military regimes, his administration made no promise to return civilians to power any time soon. The recipient of U.S. counterinsurgency training, Onganía no longer saw the defense of physical borders as the military’s primary focus. Instead, fighting internal, ideological enemies—rooting out subversion—became its main concern. Battle lines were formed. The military—long divided into nationalists and liberals, colorados (reds) and azules (blues)—began to close ranks. In contrast, organized labor split into factions. The CGT, controlled by orthodox Peronists in league with the government, gave birth to a left-wing splinter group, CGT de los Argentinos (CGTA, CGT of the Argentines), which protested the regime’s probusiness policies. The Catholic Church was divided, too: the traditional hierarchy supported the military; more progressive Catholics turned to liberation theology and aligned themselves with the poor. The government took control of the universities, and as early as 29 July 1966 (the Night of the Long Sticks), police were dispatched to break up assemblies at the University of Buenos Aires. Newspapers, movies, and other media were added to the regime’s list of enemies. Opposition to Onganía came to a head on 29 May 1969 when the CGTA organized a labor demonstration in the city of Córdoba. Students, incensed over cuts in higher education, joined the workers in protest, and the result was the cordobazo—two days of mayhem that quickly spread to other cities. The army joined the police in quelling the unrest, and two weeks of fighting left more than 100 persons dead or injured.The cordobazo was followed by an increase in armed-guerrilla activity. Guerrilla groups had begun to form in rural Argentina in the late 1950s and early 1960s, inspired by the Cuban Revolution. Early formations, however, like the Uturuncos and the Ejército Guerrillero del Pueblo (EGP, People’s Guerrilla Army), were unsuccessful. By the early 1970s, the death of Che Guevara in Bolivia (1967), the cordobazo uprising (1969), and the recognition that Argentina was primarily an urban society gave rise to effective guerrilla organizations based in cities. The two principal urban groups—the Montoneros and the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP, People’s Revolutionary Army)—quickly established themselves as thorns in the side of the government, carrying out kidnappings, bank robberies, bombings, and attacks on military installations. Civil unrest, or even its threat, played an important role in deciding who remained in power and who was deposed—the incumbent being judged on the ability to maintain order. The cordobazo eventually brought down Onganía. On 8 June 1970 he was replaced by General Roberto Levingston, who, following a second uprising in Córdoba in March 1971, was himself replaced by General Alejandro Lanusse. The task of the new administration was to return Argentina to civilian rule, even if that meant bringing back Perón. The military scheduled a presidential election for March 1973 but disqualified the exiled Perón from being a candidate, citing a residency law. During a brief visit to Argentina in November 1972, however, Perón endorsed the left-leaning Héctor José Cámpora to run in his place. Cámpora’s victory cleared the way for the return of Perón.Perón was indeed popular, but his millions of devoted followers were politically divided. The Peronist Movement accommodated both a right wing and a left wing. The right saw Perón as the country’s only hope in combating communism; the left saw him as a revolutionary. During his years in exile he managed to maintain both sides of his image. On the one hand, he ignored the entreaties of his representative John William Cooke to forsake the Spain of Francisco Franco for the Cuba of Fidel Castro. On the other hand, he encouraged his “special formations”—the Montoneros and other armed Peronist guerrillas—in their attacks on Peronist traitors and government targets. The movement held together until Perón’s return, when each side feared that the other would try to take control. On 20 June 1973, when millions gathered at Ezeiza International Airport to welcome Perón back from exile, rightists opened fire on columns of left-wing marchers. The Ezeiza Massacre portended Perón’s drift to the right. In July a right-wing palace coup forced Cámpora to resign, clearing the way for a special presidential election in September, which Perón won with 62 percent of the vote.Millions had coalesced around the Perón ticket, hoping his victory would heal political division and reverse economic decline. But the rift between the factions only widened, and guerrilla activity continued. Although many guerrillas had laid down their weapons forever after Perón returned, or at least called a cautious truce, others— especially the non-Peronist and traditionally leftist ERP—persisted in armed struggle. The ERP was outlawed in September 1973 after carrying out an attack on an army installation in Buenos Aires. In October the Montoneros were blamed for the killing of CGT head José Rucci, for which they claimed responsibility the following year. Whether the Montoneros were, in fact, Rucci’s killer is a subject of dispute (some attribute the act to right-wing Peronists); but belief in their guilt made Perón determined to eliminate the special formations. In January he reformed the penal code so that arms possession could carry a stiffer penalty than murder. Out of the Ezeiza Massacre rose a right-wing death squad called the Alianza Anticomunista Argentina (AAA, Argentine Anticommunist Alliance), formed by José López Rega (El brujo, “the sorcerer”) and operated—with implicit state sanction—out of his Ministry of Social Welfare. Although some of its victims were armed insurgents, most were “soft targets”— leftist politicians and other progressives. Perón made his official break with the leftist Peronists in a May Day speech in 1974. Despite the seeming finality of that pronouncement, many on the Peronist left remained loyal to the general. Some attributed his position to “error” and hoped he would reverse course; others attributed his public statements to political maneuvering. All hope for negotiation, however, was lost when Perón died on 1 July 1974. Isabel (“Isabelita”) Perón, his vice president and third wife, assumed the presidency, inheriting a government facing serious economic decline and increasing political violence. Unlike his second wife, Evita, who was known for her advocacy of the working class, Isabel was associated with the Peronist right. Along with López Rega—her personal secretary, social-welfare minister, and longtime spiritual advisor—she unleashed a wave of repression against the media, universities, and trade unions. Guerrilla organizations (primarily the Montoneros and ERP) quickened the tempo of violence in turn, carrying out more operations, some of them spectacular assaults on military targets. In November 1974 Isabel Perón, who made no secret of her enmity toward guerrillas, declared a state of siege, suspending constitutional guarantees. The following year, she placed the armed forces in charge of counterinsurgency, giving them a free hand. They took the opportunity to test “dirty war” tactics that they would put into full production a year later. Meanwhile, the economy continued its downward trend. Inflation, running at a rate of 600 percent in 1975, was expected to reach 1,000 percent by the end of 1976. The peso plummeted, dropping from 36 to the dollar in 1975 to 320 in early 1976. Her administration was also noted for being corrupt. It was in this context of economic and political crisis that the military intervened.THE “DIRTY WAR” AND ARGENTINA UNDER THE JUNTAS:The coup of 24 March 1976 placed Isabel under house arrest (she was later exiled) and imposed a junta consisting of General Jorge Rafael Videla, Admiral Emilio Massera, and Brigadier Orlando Ramón Agosti—the commanding officers of the army, navy, and air force, respectively. Led by General Videla, the junta dissolved Congress, provincial legislatures, and municipal councils; appointed a cabinet composed of military officers; replaced all members of the Supreme Court and other judges; suspended all political activity and political parties at the national, provincial, and municipal levels; took control of universities and trade unions; and censored the media. It also maintained the state of siege called by the preceding administration and waged its “dirty war,” or “holy war,” against subversion. The junta argued that armed guerrilla organizations posed a serious threat to national security and that the state was justified in using any means necessary to defend itself. Subversion, however, was broadly defined. In addition to armed insurgents, the term included dissenters of all types. According to General Videla, terrorists were not necessarily those with guns and bombs; they were also those who spread ideas that fell outside the scope of “Western, Christian civilization.” Thought itself became subversive.Given this wide definition, the war against subversion took both conventional and unconventional forms. Alongside the traditional encounters with armed insurgents was a clandestine campaign of terror waged against the civilian population. Tens of thousands of innocent people were kidnapped off the streets and disappeared. The two levels of warfare continued in tandem. Most of the disappearances occurred in 1976 and 1977, at the height of the military’s antiguerrilla campaign. The number of disappearances decreased sharply in 1978—the ERP and Montoneros having been largely defeated the year before—then tapered off until 1982. The junta, meanwhile, categorically denied any violation of human rights, attributing any disappearances to the work of groups acting independently of the government. The death squads that had operated during the previous Peronist administrations, however, had been absorbed by the new regime and brought under military control.Despite official denial, the facts became known. A few torture victims survived and related their experiences, and families untouched by violence most likely knew others that lost children or friends. Most people, however, were too intimidated to protest or accepted the explanation that extraordinary methods were needed—that those who had been taken must have been involved in something subversive. Nevertheless, individuals and groups managed to break the silence and attract international attention. In 1977 a group of women who later formally organized as the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) began demonstrating every Thursday outside the Casa Rosada (the Pink House, or presidential palace), calling on the government to account for their missing children or grandchildren. Besides the Madres, several other major Argentine humanrights organizations appeared by the end of dictatorship. The media largely failed to speak out, but there were exceptions. The editors of the Buenos Aires Herald (an English-language newspaper) and Jacobo Timerman, editor of La Opinión, both insisted on publishing the names of the missing (desaparecidos), though at great personal risk. (Timerman was abducted and tortured.) Voices outside the country joined in protest of the regime. Amnesty International and the Organization of American States both reported on the humanrights situation, and President Jimmy Carter, at least early in his administration, made human rights integral to U.S. foreign policy. In March 1981 the junta led by Videla was replaced by a second one, again composed of the commanding officers of the army, navy, and air force: General Roberto Viola, Admiral Armando Lambruschini, and Brigadier Omar Graffigna. Viola’s junta was itself replaced in December by another set of commanding officers: General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, Admiral Jorge Anaya, and Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo. By 1982 a faltering economy and growing labor unrest threatened military rule. The third junta, composed of Galtieri, Anaya, and Lami Dozo, employed a common diversionary tactic: it started a war. On 2 April 1982 it invaded the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, a group of sparsely populated islands off the coast of southern Argentina. Long claimed by Argentina, the islands were ruled by Britain, which sent troops to recover them. Argentina suffered a swift and humiliating defeat, surrendering on 18 June. General Galtieri, held responsible for the debacle, resigned in disgrace, and representatives from the navy and air force were removed from the junta. On 1 July 1982 General Reynaldo Benito Bignone became president and eased the country back to civilian rule. Before leaving office, the military government approved the Ley de Pacificación Nacional (Law of National Pacification), which granted amnesty to members of the police and armed forces involved in the “dirty war.” In the election of 30 October 1983, Raúl Alfonsín, representing the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR, Radical Civic Union) party, became president.AFTERMATH OF THE “DIRTY WAR”:Alfonsín set out to fulfill his promises to investigate the disappearances and to bring those responsible to justice. He repealed the Ley de Pacificación Nacional and charged CONADEP, led by Ernesto Sábato, with conducting the investigation. The pursuit of justice, however, required caution. Unlike the Nuremberg trials, in which the victors prosecuted the vanquished, criminal prosecutions in Argentina risked the intervention of the ever-present military. Especially troublesome were issues regarding whom to prosecute and where. One of Alfonsín’s first acts had been to arrest the nine members of the three juntas and order them to stand trial; but the question remained of how to proceed against those lower in the hierarchy— whether to prosecute the junior officers in charge of abductions and torture and the soldiers ordered to participate in such illegal activities. There was also the question of jurisdiction—whether to prosecute members of the military in military or civilian courts. Law 23.049, drafted by one of Alfonsín’s advisors and passed by the Argentine Congress, assigned original jurisdiction to the military (though with automatic appeal by a civilian court) and absolved junior officers of criminal responsibility unless they participated in atrocities. Human-rights advocates attacked the law, highly skeptical of the military’s ability to judge itself. But after months of deliberation, the Supreme Council declared in October 1984 that it could not reach a verdict against the junta members, and as a result, the cases were transferred to a civilian court. On 22 April 1985 the trial of the nine junta commanders began in the Federal Criminal Court of Appeals in Buenos Aires. It lasted five months, during which a panel of six judges heard testimony from several hundred witnesses. Verdicts were handed down on 9 December. The court made it clear that the commanders were being held responsible not for any acts of their own but for the acts of others. And while acknowledging that the army, navy, and air force may have operated independently of one another in conducting the repression, it held each commander responsible for what happened within his own service. Four defendants were acquitted: Leopoldo Galtieri and Jorge Anaya, commanders of the army and navy, respectively, after the repression largely ceased, and Omar Graffigna and Basilio Lami Dozo, commanders of the air force after Ramón Agosti. (The air force was thought to be far less active in repression than the other two services.) Life sentences were handed to Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, commanders of the army and navy during the height of the “dirty war” (1976–1979). Agosti, who commanded the air force during the first junta, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Roberto Viola was sentenced to 17 years, and Armando Lambruschini to eight, having commanded the army and navy, respectively, when state violence had begun to wane. In December 1986 the Supreme Court upheld the convictions, affirming the life sentences given to Videla and Massera and the eight-year sentence for Lambruschini. It made two minor reductions, cutting Viola’s 17-year sentence by six months and reducing Agosti’s fourand- a-half year sentence to three years and nine months. The search for justice did not stop with the junta commanders. A second level of trials spread responsibility for the repression even further. On 2 December 1986 the former chief of police of Buenos Aires province and four other former police officials were convicted on charges of torture. Two of the defendants, Ramón Juan Alberto Camps and Ovidio Pablo Riccheri, held the rank of general. Camps, the torturer of the journalist Jacobo Timerman, was sentenced to 25 years in prison; Riccheri, Camps’s successor as chief of police, was sentenced to 14. It was noteworthy that the trial led to the conviction of those further down the chain of command. Miguel Etchecolatz, Camps’s aide, received 23 years; Dr. Jorge Berges, a former police physician accused of assessing the degree to which prisoners could withstand pain, received six; and Norberto Cozzani, a corporal, received four.By extending criminal responsibility, the second level of trials threatened more than a thousand other junior officers with prosecution. Human-rights organizations advocated a wholesale purging of the military, arguing that it was impossible to decide who had committed which atrocities. After all, many of the victims had been killed, most survivors had been blindfolded, and the dirty warriors had concealed their identities. Yet the government feared that a general prosecution of the military would provoke a military rebellion. Unlike the former junta commanders, who were retired or tainted by the Falklands Islands/Islas Malvinas debacle, junior officers were still in the field. The government sought a way to limit prosecution. In late 1986 it proposed legislation that would allow new cases of human-rights violations to be brought before civilian and military courts—but only within a 60-day period. The Ley de Punto Final (Full-Stop Law), passed on 24 December 1986, set 22 February 1987 as the cutoff date for new cases. Despite the time limitation, about 400 officers were indicted. On 15 April 1987 the approaching judicial proceedings, combined with increasing pressure from human- rights groups, set off a military rebellion known as Operación Dignidad (Operation Dignity), led by Lieutenant Colonel Aldo Rico, one of a group of military officers known as the carapintadas (literally, “painted faces”). Alfonsín met with the rebels and announced on Easter Sunday that they had agreed to surrender.One month later the government proposed the Obediencia Debida (Due Obedience) Law, which granted an amnesty for all officers below the rank of brigadier general. The new law, passed on 4 June, caused widespread public concern, reducing the number of officers due to stand trial from about 400 to 39. In the September gubernatorial and legislative elections, the Partido Justicialista (PJ, Justicialist [Peronist] Party) made significant gains against the UCR. Peronist success was attributed partly to political fallout from Obediencia Debida and partly to the government’s austere economic program unveiled in July. In 1988 the government suppressed two more carapintada rebellions—one in January led by Rico, and another in December led by Colonel Mohammed Alí Seineldín. The demands were higher pay for soldiers, a larger military budget, and an amnesty for officers due to be prosecuted for their involvement in the “dirty war.” On 23 January 1989 still another rebellion took place, this one led by a leftist organization called the Movimiento Todos por la Patria (MTP, Everyone for the Motherland). The group, fearing that the military would escape prosecution altogether, took the infantry garrison at La Tablada. Alfonsín called in the army to suppress the uprising, and in the end 39 lay dead, most of them rebels. The elections of May 1989 returned the Peronists to power, and on 8 July Carlos Saúl Menem assumed the presidency. In September, reports of an amnesty deal between the new government and the military prompted a massive human-rights rally in Buenos Aires. The reports were confirmed the following month. On 8 October the government pardoned 277 officers, including 39 generals due to stand trial for human-rights abuses, the three junta members in power during the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas war (who had received prison terms for negligence), and participants in the recent military uprisings. Also included in the pardons were 64 Montoneros, who were either exempted from prosecution or set free. Excluded from the pardons were Jorge Videla, Emilio Massera, Orlando Agosti, Roberto Viola, Armando Lambruschini, Ramón Camps, and Carlos Suárez Masón, as well as Mario Firmenich, the leader of the Montoneros. The public was told to expect another wave of pardons by the end of 1990, the expectation raising fears that the military would escape punishment altogether. Another carapintada uprising in December, the last, was followed later in the month by the announcement of the pardon and release from prison of the remaining officers (including Videla, Viola, and Massera) and Firmenich. They were released on 2 January. The news prompted a demonstration of more than 40,000 in Buenos Aires, and critics rejected Menem’s explanation that the pardon was necessary for national reconciliation.In 1995 the chiefs of the army, navy, and air force publicly expressed regret for crimes committed by the military during the “dirty war.” Human-rights issues, however, remained in the political forefront. In January 1998 protesters forced President Menem to halt his plans to demolish the Escuela Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA, Navy Mechanics School)—the most notorious torture center operating during the repression—and to erect a monument to national reconciliation in its place; they insisted that the site would better serve as a museum of remembrance. Also in January President Menem asked the navy to punish Alfredo Astiz, a retired naval captain and notorious participant in the “dirty war,” for comments published in a magazine; Astiz had defended the military’s role in the repression and threatened journalists and politicians who insisted on dredging up the past. (He was dishonorably discharged.) In February came the discovery of Swiss bank accounts owned by Astiz and other military officers and believed to contain money stolen from the detained and missing.Although by now the issue of impunity seemed to be settled, the quest for justice continued on a different front. Among the victims of the “dirty war” were an estimated 500 children. Some of them were abducted with their parents, but many of them were born in captivity—their mothers kept alive until giving birth. Children often disappeared by way of a “baby trade,” having been illegally adopted and raised by people connected with the military. In June 1998 Videla was arrested and charged with ordering the abduction and illegal adoption of children—crimes not covered by the pardon. By April 2000, 10 more former officers were arrested in connection with the kidnapping of children, including Massera, Bignone, Lieutenant General Cristino Nicolaides, and Vice Admiral Rubén Oscar Franco. A seminal but controversial ruling by a federal court in September 1999 strengthened the case against these officers and provided a potential breakthrough in bringing other “dirty war” participants to justice. The court argued that in cases of disappearance, whether of children or of political prisoners, the criminal acts remain in progress until the children or the bodies are identified. As a result, the 11 arrested former officers remain in detention. (Those, like Videla, who are over 70 years old, are allowed by Argentine law the benefit of house arrest.) Meanwhile, since its founding in 1980, the humanrights group Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo) has identified the biological parents of 100 children. Another front opened as well. Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who in 1998 prevailed on Britain to arrest General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte of Chile, turned his attention to Argentina. On 2 November 1999 he indicted 98 military officers on charges of torture, terrorism, and genocide, and requested their extradition to Spain. Among those named in the indictment were Videla, Massera, and Galtieri. Although the claim had a legal basis (an estimated 600 victims of the “dirty war” were Spanish citizens or of Spanish descent), Menem refused to cooperate, arguing that Spain (Argentina’s former colonial master) was interfering in his country’s domestic affairs. There the matter of justice stood until 2001, when two federal judges, Gabriel Cavallo and Claudio Bonadio, each declared Punto Final and Obediencia Debida unconstitutional. In October Bonadio ordered the arrest of Massera and five other navy officers on charges of stealing property from people kidnapped during the “dirty war.” (Massera was already under house arrest for his role in the trafficking of children.) In July 2002 Bonadio ordered the arrest of 29 former high-ranking officers on charges of human-rights violations. Among them were Galtieri, Nicolaides, and Suárez Masón. In May 2003 Néstor Kirchner was inaugurated president, promising to bring dirty warriors to justice. By late June he had purged the military command of officers from the “dirty war” period and signed a decree allowing the extradition of Argentine officers to Spain to face human-rights charges. In April 2005 Spain sentenced Adolfo Scilingo to 640 years in prison, becoming the first country to convict someone in person (rather than in absentia) for humanrights violations committed beyond its borders. Kirchner then called on Congress and the Supreme Court to scrap Punto Final and Obediencia Debida, the amnesty laws shielding officers from prosecution. In August 2003 both houses of Congress repealed the laws, winning Kirchner praise both at home and abroad, though the repeal did not take effect until 14 June 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled 7–1 that the laws were unconstitutional. The ruling meant that military officers could again face prosecution. It left intact, however, the pardons issued by Menem in 1989 and 1990, a matter that Kirchner decided to leave in the hands of the courts. Federal courts have since struck down pardons for Videla; Albano Eduardo Harguindeguy, the former interior minister; and José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, the former finance minister. In addition to urging the repeal of the amnesty laws, on 24 March 2004, the 28th anniversary of the military coup, Kirchner signed an order converting ESMA into a museum of memory. In March 2006 he made 24 March a permanent holiday, called the National Day of Memory for Truth and Justice.One of the first cases reopened after the repeal of the amnesty laws was that of Miguel Etchecolatz, the police chief who had been convicted in 1986 and sentenced to 23 years in prison before being freed by Obediencia Debida. On 19 September 2006 he was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping, torture, and murder. The trial, however, claimed a victim. The day before the sentencing, one of the witnesses, Jorge Julio López, a 77-year-old former construction worker who had been tortured by Etchecolatz, disappeared. He is believed to have been kidnapped by former security agents as a warning to future witnesses. His disappearance spread fear throughout the country, and thousands took to the streets of Buenos Aires in a show of solidarity. López remains among the missing. Next to face trial was Christian Federico Von Wernich, a Catholic priest and former army chaplain, who on 10 October 2007 was handed a life sentence for complicity in kidnapping, torture, and murder. Other targets for prosecution include the former president Isabel Perón, arrested in January 2007 in connection with the 1976 disappearance of a student activist, and several members of the AAA death squad.In June 2008 two retired federal police officers were given life sentences for the 1976 “Fátima massacre,” in which 30 people were kidnapped and executed. In July, retired General Luciano Benjamin Menendez, six other officers, and one civilian collaborator were convicted for the 1977 kidnapping, torture, and execution of four members of the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT, Workers’ Revolutionary Party). Menendez and three others were given life terms; the others, terms of 18 or 22 years. In September Menendez was given another life term, along with Antonio Domingo Bussi, for the 1976 kidnapping, torture, and disappearance of a legislator. By the end of 2008, 28 “dirty warriors” had been convicted. The past also caught up with a couple who illegally adopted a child born to political prisoners. In April 2008 Osvaldo Rivas and María Cristina Gómez were convicted of falsifying documents and concealing the identity of their adopted daughter, María Eugenia Sampallo. Rivas and Gómez were sentenced to eight and seven years in prison, respectively. The case was brought by Sampallo, who, calling her adoptive parents kidnappers, had asked for them to receive the maximum sentence, 25 years. DNA tests in 2001 revealed that Sampallo’s real parents were Mirta Mabel Barragan and Leonardo Ruben Sampallo, left-wing activists who were seized in December 1977 and never seen again.More than 20 years after the end of the “dirty war,” many cases have gone to the grave, though not all of them through natural causes. On 10 December 2007 Héctor Febres (nicknamed “Savage”), a former coast guard officer awaiting a verdict on torture charges, died in his cell from cyanide poisoning. A judge ruled Febres’s death a murder—Febres had been an administrator at ESMA and could have revealed secrets about the fate of hundreds of babies abducted from prisoners. In February 2008 Paul Navone, a retired military officer on trial for baby trafficking, died from a gunshot wound to the head before he could testify in court. And in November 2008 Mario Ferreyra, a former police chief, shot himself dead during a live television interview—police were on their way to his farm to arrest him on charges of kidnapping and torture. His suicide was attributed to a refusal to testify against former officers.Despite the intimidation and efforts to impose silence, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the former first lady, who succeeded her husband as president in December 2007, said she hoped to complete all the trials by the end of her four-year term. She is also expected to oversee the completion, in 2010, of the Museum of Memory, which opened in April 2008 on the site formerly occupied by ESMA. Inspired by Fernández de Kirchner, it is already the largest humanrights museum in Latin America.
Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars” . David Kohut and Olga Vilella. 2010.
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