Argentina: mass graves excavated

The Argentine government, the opposition and grassroots organizations all marked Dec. 10 as the 25th anniversary of the return of democratic rule after a bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The Mothers (Founding Line) and the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo—organizations of women demanding the return of youths disappeared during the dictatorship’s “dirty war” against suspected leftists—demonstrated in the Plaza de Mayo to demand justice for the crimes of the period. “Let’s look after democracy,” said Tati Almayda, one of the leaders of the movement. “And let’s get justice now, also, because the perpetrators of genocide are dying of old age—and the mothers are too.”

One day earlier, on Dec. 9, experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) reported on their excavations in Pozo de Arana, a secret detention center used by the dictatorship from 1976 to 1977, or later, near La Plata in Buenos Aires province. They reported that they had found more than 10,000 charred bone fragments in four mass graves at the site, along with a wall apparently used for firing squads. The excavations, which were ordered last year by prosecutor Felix Crous, confirmed testimony by witnesses that the military executed detainees at the center and then incinerated and buried the remains. The EAAF has sent 38 bone samples to specialists in the US who worked on identifying the remains of victims of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

Former Buenos Aires province police investigations director Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz and his deputy, Ramon Camps, were responsible for Pozo de Arana; police agent Miguel Kearney was in direct command of the detention center. Camps died of cancer in 1994 without having spent a day in jail; Kearney is currently in detention and is being tried for his role at the center. Etchecolatz was sentenced to life in prison in September 2006, thanks in part to the testimony of a former detainee at the center, Jorge Julio Lopez, who disappeared at the same time that Etchecolatz was convicted.

Among those presumed killed at the center were six students from a La Plata high school who were seized on Sept. 16, 1976 for participating in a protest over increased bus fares; they were the subject of a well-known film, La Noche de los Lapices (The Night of the Pencils).

Also on Dec. 10, a court upheld preventive detention for Juan Carlos RolĂłn, who has been accused of the disappearance and death of journalist Rodolfo Walsh in 1977; Walsh was reportedly executed at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in the city of Buenos Aires. (La Jornada, Dec. 11 from Notimex, AFP, PL; El Diario, Mexico, Dec. 10 from AFP; El Pais, Spain, Dec. 11 from correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 14

See our last posts on Argentina and the Dirty War.