from Weekly News Update on the Americas
Argentine bricklayer Luis Gerez, a survivor of torture who testified against a former police official, disappeared the evening of Dec. 27 in his town of Belen de Escobar, 60 kilometers north of the city of Buenos Aires, in Buenos Aires province. He left the house of a friend to buy some meat at the butcher shop for a barbecue and never returned. His vehicle was found with his documents, money and keys still in it.
Gerez is a member of the Evita Movement and of the Commission for Memory of the Campo de Mayo. Last May, Gerez provided key testimony that led the Chamber of Deputies to prevent deputy-elect Luis Abelardo Patti—a former rightwing police agent and former mayor of Escobar—from taking his seat in the national legislature. In his testimony to the Chamber of Deputies, Gerez recounted being tortured in the Escobar police station in 1972, when he was a 17-year-old member of the Peronist Youth. Although he was kept hooded during the ordeal, he recognized Patti’s voice.
Patti still faces criminal charges for human rights violations—including the 1980 murder of two leaders of the Montoneros [urban guerilla] organization, among other cases—and Gerez will almost certainly be called to testify against him in court. (AP, Dec. 29; La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 29; Resumen Latinoamericano, Dec. 28 from ANSA, Agencia Walsh; Clarin, Buenos Aires, Dec. 30) Last Nov. 8, Gerez reported that he and his family had received recent serious threats. Gerez said his tires were repeatedly slashed, and several times people pointed guns at him from other vehicles while he was driving. (Indymedia Argentina, Dec. 28; LJ, Dec. 29) Patti publicly condemned Gerez’s disappearance. On Dec. 29 Patti told a radio station that he felt no resentment against Gerez, and that whoever is behind his disappearance is “against democracy.” (AP, Dec. 29)
On Dec. 29, hundreds of people took part in two marches in Buenos Aires province, including one in Escobar, demanding the safe return of Gerez and of Jorge Julio Lopez, a torture survivor and witness who disappeared last Sept. 18 and remains missing. Lopez’s testimony was key in sentencing former Police Chief Miguel Etchecolatz to life in prison for the disappearance of six people. (AP, Dec. 29; Clarin, Dec. 30)
The Buenos Aires provincial government offered $130,000 for information on Gerez’s whereabouts, and President Nestor Kirchner postponed a trip to the southern province of Santa Cruz to coordinate efforts to locate Gerez. Human rights groups say the disappearances of Gerez and Lopez are an effort to intimidate witnesses so they don’t testify in trials scheduled for the coming months against human rights violators. The trials were reactivated after the Supreme Court annulled, in 2005, two amnesty laws that had protected rights violators from prosecution.
Late in the evening on Dec. 29, President Nestor Kirchner spoke about the disappearances in a televised address, calling them a blackmail attempt by former military and police agents seeking amnesty for abuses committed during the military dictatorship (1976-1983). “Everything seems to indicate that both cases involve… paramilitary or para-police elements who want to intimidate, to achieve their goal of maintaining impunity,” Kirchner said.
“Let it be known to everyone that this president will not allow any type of amnesty to be carried out. All of Argentine society is victimized by the mafioso actions of those who want to guarantee their impunity,” warned Kirchner. “We won’t give in to this extortion, we won’t allow the trials to be stopped,” Kirchner insisted. “On the contrary, we demand that the courts act swiftly in these trials, so we can at once obtain a just sentence that puts the murderers where they belong: in common jails.”
After 9 PM on Dec. 29, less than an hour after Kirchner’s speech, Gerez was found alive, stripped to the waist, after having been thrown from a moving vehicle onto the street in the city of Garin, less than 10 kilometers from Escobar. Gerez was taken to the hospital for treatment; he was described as being in reasonable health but emotionally traumatized. (AP, Dec. 29; Miami Herald, Dec. 30 from AP, EFE; Clarin, Dec. 30) According to Alberto Fernandez de Rosa, a friend who spoke to Gerez after his reappearance, Gerez said he was kidnapped by three men who kept him blindfolded with his hands and feet bound and burned him with cigarettes. (AP, Dec. 29) Gerez’s wife, Mirta Praino, confirmed on Dec. 30 that Gerez had cigarette burns on his chest, but had not been beaten. (Clarin, Dec. 30)
A day before Gerez was abducted, disappeared activist Hector Dario Bustos reappeared alive after being tortured for 13 days by four individuals who Bustos said “seemed to be police agents.” Bustos, a member of the Solidarity Network of Children of the Disappeared from the town of Venado Tuerto in Santa Fe province, was found on Dec. 26, nearly naked, on a road near San Gregorio. He had burns over his whole body, including his genitals, and a swastika burned into his chest. Bustos said that while they were burning him, his torturers yelled: “Shitty little lefty, we’re going to change your heart.” They also left him with a scar on his face, a warning that every time he looks in the mirror he should remember that the disappeared don’t talk. Bustos attributed his abduction to “political motives.” “They put a hood over my head and talked on a cell phone, they said ‘mission accomplished, we got him,'” said Bustos. Criminal court judge Hugo Perazzi in Venado Tuerto characterized the case as “torture”; the Santa Fe provincial government has ordered special protective custody for Bustos. (Resumen Latinoamericano, Dec. 28 from ANSA; Indymedia Argentina, Dec. 28)
Spain to Return Rights Violators
On Dec. 28, Argentine judge Sergio Torres formally asked the Spanish courts to extradite Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, accused of committing genocide, terrorism and torture while he was a lieutenant commander at Argentina’s Navy Mechanics School (ESMA), used as a torture center for political prisoners under the country’s 1976-1983 dictatorship. On Dec. 20, the Criminal Chamber of Spain’s National Court ruled that Cavallo’s case should be transferred to Argentina, where the “Final Point” and “Due Obedience” amnesty laws that prevented his prosecution were overturned in 2005. The Mexican government must also approve the extradition, since Cavallo was arrested in Mexico in August 2000 and extradited to Spain by Mexican authorities in June 2003. Cavallo has been jailed in Spain since his arrival there. (La Jornada, Dec. 29; El Nuevo Herald, Dec. 27 from EFE)
On Dec. 28, Spanish authorities arrested another Argentine rights violator, Rodolfo Eduardo Almiron Sena, in Torrent, a suburb of the city of Valencia. Almiron, a former leader of the ultra-rightwing Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (AAA), is charged in Argentina with the murders of at least four people in a criminal case first filed in 1975. Argentine judge Norberto Oyarbide requested Almiron’s arrest and extradition after the Madrid daily El Mundo published an expose on Dec. 17 detailing the fugitive’s undisturbed life in Torrent.
The AAA was founded in 1973 by Jose Lopez Rega, minister of social welfare in the government of President Juan Domingo Peron. Lopez stayed in that post after Peron’s widow, Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, became president, while Almiron served as a bodyguard for Martinez. Under pressure from the military, Lopez and Almiron were forced out of the Martinez government in 1975. The two moved to Spain, where they were protected by fascist supporters of ex-dictator Francisco Franco; Almiron served as a bodyguard for Manuel Fraga Iribarne, founder of the right-wing Popular Alliance, which later became the Popular Party. The Popular Party continued to support Almiron, and was paying for his apartment in Torrent. Lopez died in 1989.
Almiron is wanted in Argentina for the murders of Rodolfo Ortega Pena and former police chief Julio Troxler, and for the double murder of teacher Silvio Frondizi and his friend Luis Mendiburu. The AAA is considered responsible for between 1,500 and 2,000 murders and numerous other human rights violations between 1973 and early 1976. Following Argentina’s 1976 military coup, a number of AAA members went on to form paramilitary groups responsible for abductions, torture and disappearances under the dictatorship. Lopez and the AAA had the support of Robert Hill, former US ambassador to Argentina, who helped Lopez establish links with death squads in Central America, especially in Guatemala—links which continued under the Argentine dictatorship. (El Nuevo Herald, Dec. 29 from EFE; La Jornada, Dec. 28, 29; El Mundo, Dec. 17)
Martinez de Peron, better known as Isabelita, who served as president of Argentina from July 1974 to March 1976 and is also said to be living in Spain, may be called to testify in the case against Almiron. Evidence presented in court in the 1970s mentions Martinez de Peron presiding over a cabinet meeting on Aug. 8, 1974, at the Olivos presidential palace, at which participants (including Lopez and Almiron) viewed slides showing individuals who were later assassinated for alleged subversive activities. At the same meeting, a decision was made to eliminate Troxler, a Peronist who was deputy police chief of Buenos Aires province under the brief progressive government of President Hector Jose Campora Demaestre, from May 25 to July 13, 1973.
According to Judge Oyarbide’s resolution, the AAA acted in obedience to “political circumstances with a context that was also ideological, and all organized from the state’s own apparatus.” This state support granted AAA members a “guarantee of impunity,” said Oyarbide, in carrying out “a widespread practice of crimes.” (La Jornada, Dec. 28)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 31
Weekly News Update on the Americas
Our last report on Argentina:
WW4 REPORT #129, January 2007
Our last report on the “dirty war” legacy:
WW4 REPORT #126, October 2006
Argentina: Amnesty Laws Overturned WW4 REPORT #111, July 2005
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution