A court in the Argentine province of Córdoba on Aug. 25 handed life sentences to 28 former military officers over "crimes against humanity" committed under the dictatorship. The defendants included ex-general Luciano Benjamín Menéndez AKA "The Hyena"—already been serving 11 life sentences for human rights abuses. He was found guilty this time of 52 homicides, 260 kidnappings, 656 instances of torture, and 82 "disappearances." He earned his nickname from laughing as he tortured his victims in the secret prison of La Perla, where 2,000 political prisoners were held during the dictatorship. All of the defendants had been charged with torturing and killing dissidents under the military regime that ruled from 1976 to 1983. In total they were found guilty of torturing, murdering or stealing the newborn babies of more than 700 victims. Menéndez denied the accusations against him, insisting there was no torture of any kind at La Perla and an adjacent clandestine detention center, La Ribera. Some 600 survivors testified against Menéndez and his co-defendants. Prosecutors called the Perla and Ribera facilities "extermination" centers. The case first opened in 2012. Another ten defendants were given shorter terms. (DW, Aug. 26; UNO, Argentina, Aug. 25)
In the wake of US declassification of new documents related to Argentina's "dirty war," President Mauricio Macri is facing angry protests over dismissive comments on the bloody era. On Aug. 1, the White House released some 1,000 newly declassified documents on US relations with Argentina's military dictatorship in the 1970s and early '80s. Many indicate US accommodation of the regime during the period of extreme repression. In one passage highlighted by the Washington Post, national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in a March 1979 memo to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance: "When we take actions toward Argentina, which are interpreted as punitive, we not only enrage the right-wing ideologues, we also arouse the business sector and the media in the US."
A six-person jury for the US Middle District of Florida in Orlando found Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez liable for the 1973 detention, torture and execution of Chilean folksinger Víctor Jara. The court ordered Barrientos to pay $28 million in damages, $8 million in compensatory damages, and $20 million in punitive damages. The jury found that Barrientos, 67, who now lives in Deltona, Fla., shot Jara, 40, in September 1973 after three days of beatings and torture. The singer was among thousands of leftists detained in Santiago's football stadium after Augusto Pinochet's coup d'etat against Chile's democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende. Barrientos was then serving as a lieutenant in Chile's armed forces. He fled Chile in 1989 and became a US citizen through marriage. He was one of nine retired army officers indicted for the murder in Chile four years ago, but the US Department of Justice has not responded to a request for his extradition.
Argentina’s last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, and other former military officers were sentenced to prison on May 27 for their roles in Operation Condor in the 1970s. The criminal court in Buenos Aires handed Bignone a 20-year prison term on top of his previous sentences for crimes against humanity. The trial began with 22 defendants, but five died or were absolved. According to attorneys for advocacy groups, this was an important step in human rights because "it is the first time the existence of Operation Condor has been proved in court." Operation Condor was a multi-state campaign that created and sanctioned death squads from South American countries to kidnap, torture and kill political opponents from each others' countries who had fled their country of origin. Evidence was produced during the trials that showed the US was aware of Operation Condor and played a role.
President Obama's visit to Argentina this week coincided with the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup that opened the country's "Dirty War," in which thousands of leftist dissidents were killed or "disappeared" during a seven-year dictatorship. Obama made note of the occassion, joining with Argentine President Mauricio Macri to visit the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism at Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires. But the visit was boycotted and protested by some advocates of justice for the "Dirty War" victims. "We will not allow the power that orchestrated dictatorships in Latin America and oppresses people across the world to cleanse itself and use the memory of our 30,000 murdered compatriots to strengthen its imperialist agenda," said a statement by Myriam Bregman of the Center for Human Rights Professionals and other advocates. Nora Cortiñas of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo said: "I lament that Marci has accepted that the executive of the United States come during these days. It is inappropriate, a provocation."
Authorities in Bolivia announced the arrest Feb. 1 of Felipe Froilán Molina Bustamente AKA "El Killer"—long wanted in the "disappearance" and probable assassination of socialist leader Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz during the period of military rule. Some 80 police agents were involved in the raid of a private house in the upscale Cota Cota suburb of La Paz, where Molina was found hiding behind a false wall. He had been convicted in absentia in 2007 of organizing a semi-official paramilitary death squad that carried out the disappearance of Quiroga and other leftist dissidents, and sentenced to 30 years. Quiroga, leader of Bolivia's Socialist Party One (PS-1), was abducted July 17, 1980 at the offices of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), where he was overseeing a meeting of the National Council for Defense of Democracy, a civil society group dedicated to resisting the military regime of Gen. Luis García Meza Tejada, who had just seized power in a coup d'etat. There whereabouts of his remains are still unknown, and President Evo Morales expressed hope that Molina will cooperate in recovering them. (ABI, Opinión, Cochabamba, Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Feb. 1)
Prosecutors in Guatemala on Jan. 6 announced the arrest of 14 former military and government officials for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the country's 1960-1996 civil war. Among the detained is Benedicto Lucas García, chief of the army High Command under the rule of his late brother, ex-dictator Fernando Romeo Lucas García, between 1978 and 1982. Also detained were retired Gen. Francisco Luis Gordillo, who helped bring José Efrain Rios Montt to power in the coup that toppled Lucas García in 1982, and Byron Barrientos, who was interior minister during the 2000-2004 presidency of Alfonso Portillo. "The cases that we have documented were [attacks] against the non-combatant civilian population including children," the country's chief proscutor Thelma Aldana said, asserting that they were among "the largest forced disappearances in Latin America."
Ecuador's National Court of Justice will this week open the country's first trial for crimes against humanity, with four former army generals and colonels and a police general facing charges in the disappearance and torture of three members of the Alfaro Vive Carajo guerilla group. The case was brought by veteran guerillas Luis Vaca, Susana Cajas and Javier Jarrín, who the Fiscal General of the State now admits were "forcibly disappeared" in 1985 during the government of President León Febres-Cordero. "After weeks of torture and sexual violence, Susana Cajas and Javier Jarrín were left in a field with their hands tied," according to the statement. Vaca was illegally held for another three years. He was released "almost by coincidence," after his brother then serving in the armed forces was able to determine his whereabouts. Although Ecuador returned to civilian rule after years of military dictatorship in 1979, rights abuses remained widespread for another decade. Retired military officers continiue to protest the trial, with one ex-general issuing a statement asserting that the AVC were "delinquents, criminals and terrorists." On Nov. 2, some 300 uniformed soldiers and officers demonstrated outside the National Court of Justice to demand "due process" in the case. (La Hora, Ecuador, Nov. 7; La República, Ecuador, TeleSur, Nov. 6)