The trial of Argentina’s last military ruler opened this week at a Buenos Aires sports arena, attended by hundreds of relatives of his victims. Reynaldo Bignone is accused of involvement in the kidnapping, torture and murder of 56 people at Campo de Mayo military base. Seven other retired military and police officials, including five generals, are on trial with him.
Bignone was president from 1982 to 1983, when he transfered power to an elected president, Raúl Alfonsín. The rights abuses took place from 1976 to 1978. As president, he granted amnesty to rights violators and ordered the destruction of documents related to the torture and disappearance of political opponents ahead of the transition to democracy. Argentina’s courts and congress later overturned the amnesty, and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has made a high priority of prosecuting former leaders of the dictatorship. Gen. Bignone was charged in 2003, but the trial was delayed until now.
Taty Almeida, co-founder of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo rights group, said her 20-year-old son Alejandro was kidnapped by security forces and killed at Campo de Mayo. Gen. Santiago Omar Riveros, the base’s intelligence chief, is accused of giving the orders. “They should at least get a life sentence, which is what they deserve for those abominable crimes,” she told the New York Times. “We can’t forgive and forget. We won’t rest until the last of them has been served justice.” Human rights groups say up to 30,000 people were killed or disappeared in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. (BBC News, AlJazeera, Nov. 3; NYT, Nov. 2)