from Weekly News Update on the Americas
On the evening of Sept. 19, in front of an overflow crowd of public spectators, the No. 1 Federal Oral Court in the Argentine city of La Plata, Buenos Aires province, sentenced former police investigations director Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz to life in prison for the crimes of wilful homicide, illegal privation of liberty and application of torture. Etchecolatz must serve his sentence in a common prison; he will continue to be held at the Marcos Paz prison, where he has been detained since shortly after the trial began in June.
The court treated the charges as crimes against humanity in the context of genocide, ruling that the kidnappings, torture and murders carried out by Etchecolatz were part of a systematic extermination plan by the state. It was the first official court recognition that the actions of Argentina’s military regime (1976-1983) constituted genocide. An estimated 30,000 people were detained and disappeared by the regime, and presumably murdered, though most of the bodies were never found.
Etchecolatz was the director of investigations for the Buenos Aires provincial police, which operated under the armed forces during the dictatorship. As his defense, he claimed he was merely following orders–specifically that he was carrying out a decree issued on Feb. 5, 1975, by the constitutional government of Isabel Peron, which ordered the military to use any necessary means to neutralize rebels operating in Tucuman province. (Adital, Sept. 21; Justicia Ya – La Plata, Sept. 19)
On the morning of Sept. 18, Jorge Julio Lopez, a member of Argentina’s Association of the Ex-Detained-Disappeared, was scheduled to appear at the municipal building in La Plata to observe the Etchocolatz trial as a witness and plaintiff in the case. But the 77-year-old Lopez failed to appear at the hearing, and when he was still missing at the end of the day, his colleagues quickly became alarmed; they filed habeas corpus petitions with the appropriate authorities and began a massive search effort.
Lopez had testified in the trial that he saw Etchecolatz shoot to death two detainees, Patricia Dell’Orto and her husband, Ambrosio De Marco, in the clandestine prison known as Pozo de Arana. Lopez had also identified Etchecolatz as a member of the gang that illegally detained him at his home in October 1976. Lopez, who had worked as a bricklayer, was tortured while detained at Pozo de Arana and the Fifth Police Station of La Plata.
The Association of the Ex-Detained-Disappeared reports that a number of its members have suffered intimidations and threats during the course of the Etchecolatz trial, and they are concerned that Lopez’s disappearance could be related to his testimony against the former police chief. Association member Nilda Eloy, another survivor who testified against Etchecolatz, received phone calls on the night of Sept. 16 in which recordings of torture sounds were played. Activists were further spooked by the Sept. 20 discovery of a burned corpse at a site known as Camino Negro, where authorities frequently dumped their victims during the dictatorship. The body turned out to not be that of Lopez–though it remains unidentified–but Lopez’s lawyer, Guadalupe Godoy, called the incident “symbolic and threatening; when we found out, we understood the message.”
The Association of the Ex-Detained-Disappeared has formed a coalition with other human rights groups, Justice Now – La Plata, which is leading the campaign to demand Lopez’s safe return. Human rights supporters, union members, students and others held a vigil on the night of Sept. 20 in the San Martin plaza in La Plata to demand that Lopez be found alive and well. Another demonstration was held the next evening, Sept. 21. Supporters held another, larger march for Lopez on Sept. 22 in La Plata.
On Sept. 21, the Buenos Aires provincial government announced a 200,000-peso ($64,541) reward for anyone providing information about the whereabouts of Lopez. (Communiques from Asociacion de ex Detenidos Desaparecidos, Sept. 19, 20, 22 via Red Solidaria por los Derechos Humanos-REDH; Pagina 12, Buenos Aires, Sept. 20, 22; Diario Hoy, La Plata, Sept. 20; Clarin, Buenos Aires, Sept. 22; Argentina Indymedia, Sept. 23)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 24
Weekly News Update on the Americas
WW4 REPORT #119, March 2006
“Argentina: ex-agent gets 25 years”
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 8, 2006
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Oct. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution