An Argentine judicial panel on Nov. 28 sentenced (PDF) 29 former officials to life in prison, and 19 to between 8-25 years, for murder and torture during the military junta's 1976-1983 "Dirty War." The sentencing concluded a five-year trial and represented Argentina's largest verdict to date for crimes against humanity. Collectively, the 48 defendants were charged with the deaths of 789 victims. The prosecution called more than 800 witnesses to make their case. Additionally, the court acquitted six former officials.
Tens of thousands of Argentines held protests across the country Sept. 1, demanding answers one month after the disappearance of an indigenous rights activist. Demonstrators held photos of Santiago Maldonado, who was last seen when border police evicted a group of indigenous Mapuche from lands in the southern Patagonia region owned by Italian clothing company Benetton. In Buenos Aires, protesters converged on the Plaza de Mayo, iconic for its role in the struggle to demand justice for the "disappeared" under the military dictatorship. The Buenos Aires march ended in running street battles with the riot police.
A court in the Argentine province of Mendoza on July 26 sentenced four former federal judges to life in prison for crimes against humanity carried out during the country's 1976-1983 dictatorship. The judges were originally tried as accomplices for failure to investigate the abduction, torture and murder of dissenters. The prosecutors eventually charged the judges as principals, arguing that their "inaction on the petitions preceded the disappearance of more than 20 dissidents." The sentence has been applauded by several human rights groups, including the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which has advocated for civilian perpetrators being brought to justice for their role during the dictatorship.
A court in the Argentine province of Córdoba on Aug. 25 handed life sentences to 28 former military officers over "crimes against humanity" committed under the dictatorship. The defendants included ex-general Luciano Benjamín Menéndez AKA "The Hyena"—already been serving 11 life sentences for human rights abuses. He was found guilty this time of 52 homicides, 260 kidnappings, 656 instances of torture, and 82 "disappearances." He earned his nickname from laughing as he tortured his victims in the secret prison of La Perla, where 2,000 political prisoners were held during the dictatorship. All of the defendants had been charged with torturing and killing dissidents under the military regime that ruled from 1976 to 1983. In total they were found guilty of torturing, murdering or stealing the newborn babies of more than 700 victims. Menéndez denied the accusations against him, insisting there was no torture of any kind at La Perla and an adjacent clandestine detention center, La Ribera. Some 600 survivors testified against Menéndez and his co-defendants. Prosecutors called the Perla and Ribera facilities "extermination" centers. The case first opened in 2012. Another ten defendants were given shorter terms. (DW, Aug. 26; UNO, Argentina, Aug. 25)
In the wake of US declassification of new documents related to Argentina's "dirty war," President Mauricio Macri is facing angry protests over dismissive comments on the bloody era. On Aug. 1, the White House released some 1,000 newly declassified documents on US relations with Argentina's military dictatorship in the 1970s and early '80s. Many indicate US accommodation of the regime during the period of extreme repression. In one passage highlighted by the Washington Post, national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in a March 1979 memo to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance: "When we take actions toward Argentina, which are interpreted as punitive, we not only enrage the right-wing ideologues, we also arouse the business sector and the media in the US."
A six-person jury for the US Middle District of Florida in Orlando found Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez liable for the 1973 detention, torture and execution of Chilean folksinger Víctor Jara. The court ordered Barrientos to pay $28 million in damages, $8 million in compensatory damages, and $20 million in punitive damages. The jury found that Barrientos, 67, who now lives in Deltona, Fla., shot Jara, 40, in September 1973 after three days of beatings and torture. The singer was among thousands of leftists detained in Santiago's football stadium after Augusto Pinochet's coup d'etat against Chile's democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende. Barrientos was then serving as a lieutenant in Chile's armed forces. He fled Chile in 1989 and became a US citizen through marriage. He was one of nine retired army officers indicted for the murder in Chile four years ago, but the US Department of Justice has not responded to a request for his extradition.
Argentina’s last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, and other former military officers were sentenced to prison on May 27 for their roles in Operation Condor in the 1970s. The criminal court in Buenos Aires handed Bignone a 20-year prison term on top of his previous sentences for crimes against humanity. The trial began with 22 defendants, but five died or were absolved. According to attorneys for advocacy groups, this was an important step in human rights because "it is the first time the existence of Operation Condor has been proved in court." Operation Condor was a multi-state campaign that created and sanctioned death squads from South American countries to kidnap, torture and kill political opponents from each others' countries who had fled their country of origin. Evidence was produced during the trials that showed the US was aware of Operation Condor and played a role.
President Obama's visit to Argentina this week coincided with the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup that opened the country's "Dirty War," in which thousands of leftist dissidents were killed or "disappeared" during a seven-year dictatorship. Obama made note of the occassion, joining with Argentine President Mauricio Macri to visit the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism at Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires. But the visit was boycotted and protested by some advocates of justice for the "Dirty War" victims. "We will not allow the power that orchestrated dictatorships in Latin America and oppresses people across the world to cleanse itself and use the memory of our 30,000 murdered compatriots to strengthen its imperialist agenda," said a statement by Myriam Bregman of the Center for Human Rights Professionals and other advocates. Nora Cortiñas of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo said: "I lament that Marci has accepted that the executive of the United States come during these days. It is inappropriate, a provocation."