Argentina: junta’s last president gets life sentence

In Buenos Aires on April 14, Argentine federal judge María Lucía Casaín sentenced Gen. Reynaldo Bignone, the last president in the country’s 1976-1983 military regime, to life in prison for crimes against humanity. The judge also handed down life sentences to former military officers Santiago Omar Riveros and Martín Rodríguez, and former Escobar mayor Luis Patti, who was a police agent under the dictatorship. Another former police agent, Juan Fernando Meneghini, was sentenced to six years in prison. The 83-year-old Bignone, who was president from July 1982 to December 1983, had already been sentenced to 25 years of prison in 2010 for crimes committed during the dictatorship in the Campo de Mayo, a military camp that included four torture centers.

The trial that led to the April 14 sentences focused on criminal acts in Escobar, a department north of Buenos Aires, including the 1976 kidnapping and murder of Gastón Gonçalvez, a member of the Montoneros rebel group, and the murder of legislative deputy Diego Muñiz Barreto, who was detained illegally in Escobar.

Hundreds of human rights activists celebrated after the sentences were announced. “This is a historic day for all Argentines of good will,” said Estela de Carlotto, leader of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human rights group formed by people whose children and grandchildren were “disappeared” under the military junta. “Many countries are viewing Argentina with growing respect because we are carrying the banners of truth and justice on behalf of the 30,000.” Human rights organizations estimate that 30,000 people were victims of the military’s “dirty war” against supposed leftists, and that 500 of the victims’ children were secretly turned over to officers and their accomplices for adoption. More than 100 of the children have since learned their true identities.

An amnesty law originally protected officers and others involved in these crimes. The law was revoked in 2005, and since then Argentine courts have convicted more than 200 leaders of the military regime, while about 800 former soldiers and police agents have yet to be tried. (BBC, April 14; Adital, Brazil, April 15 from Agencia Brasil, El Mundo, Tierra, Yahoo)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 17.

See our last post on Argentina’s “dirty war”