Argentina: ex-dictator gets life in Operation Condor

A court in Argentina on March 12 sentenced the country’s last military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during his rule in 1982 and ’83. The 85-year-old former general, already serving three other terms for similar crimes, was found guilty of killings related to Operation Condor—a coordinated campaign by the Southern Cone dictatorships to eliminate dissidents from one country who sought refuge in another. Federal Oral Tribunal Federal No. 1 in San Martín found Bignone culpable in the deaths of 23 victims, including seven pregnant women, who were abducted to the now-notorious Campo de Mayo clandestine prison. Also receiving a life term was Bignone’s armed forces chief and second-in-command as dictator, Santiago Omar Riveros. Three other military men received terms of between 12 and 15 years. (Argentina Independent, Rebelión, Digital Journal, March 13; BBC News, La Nación, Clarín, Gente BAPrensa Latina, March 12)

Operation Condor went into effect after the 1973 coup in Chile that ousted socialist Salvador Allende—apparently with the cooperation of the Argentine military even before it seized power three years later. One of the operation’s first victims was Chilean general Carlos Prats, who had remained loyal to Allende, and was assassinated in Buenos Aires in September 1974, together with his wife, Sofia Cuthbert. Proof of the operation emerged in 1992, when secret reports, known as “Archives of Terror,” were discovered in branches of the Paraguayan government. The documents recorded authorization for the armed forces to cross national borders to hunt down regime oppoonents taking refuge in neighboring countries.

One well-known case was that of María Claudia García de Gelman, daughter-in-law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, detained in her own country but taken to Uruguay in 1976, where she gave birth to a daughter in clandestine detention. The daughter was given to a Uruguayan police officer. Gelman managed to join his grand-daughter Macarena in 2000, when she was found and recovered her identity. (Lo de Allá, March 9)

Bignone was also given a life sentence in April 2011 for the torture and murder of political opponents, and then a 15-year term in July 2012 in baby theft cases. Fellow ex-dictator Jorge Videla received a 50-year term at that time as well. At least 400 babies are thought to have been taken from their parents while they were held in Argentina’s clandestine prisons. (BBC News, July 5, 2012)