Mexican authorities announced Jan. 6 that an estimated 61,637 people have disappeared amid the country's drug war. A previous analysis in April 2018 put the figure at just 40,000. The new figure was calculated based on analysis of data from state prosecutors. While the cases analyzed date back as early as the 1960s, more than 97% of the cases have occurred since 2006, when then-president Felipe Calderón began a military crackdown on drug traffickers. More than 5,000 people disappeared last year, according to Karla Quintana, head of Mexico's National Search Commission (Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas).
Some 60,000 marched in Montevideo Oct. 22 against the "Vivir sin Miedo" (Live Without Fear) campaign, an anti-crime initiative that will go before the voters in this week's national elections in Uruguay. The referendum, being pushed by Sen. Jorge Larrañaga of the right-wing National Party, would create a new military police force, the National Guard; allow security forces to carry out night raids; and impose mandatory life terms for serious crimes. The group Madres y Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, made up of survivors of those "disappeared" during the years of military rule in Uruguay, issued a statement warning that approval of the initiative could be a step back toward dictatorship.
An appeals court in Rome sentenced 24 to life in prison on July 8, including former senior officials of the military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. The officials were found to have been involved in Operation Condor, under which opponents of military rule were tracked down and eliminated across South America's borders in the 1970s and early '80s. The exact number of people who were killed through this operation is not known. The case before the court focused on the disappearance of 43 people, 23 of whom were Italian citizens. The prosecutors applied the universal jurisdiction precedent from the 1998 arrest in London of Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet. They also referenced the 2016 conviction of leaders of Argentina's military dictatorship, which confirmed the existence of Operation Condor for the first time.
Peru's Supreme Court of Justice on Oct. 3 overturned (PDF) the December 2017 pardon of ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, and ordered that he be returned to prison. Human rights advocates hailed the ruling, but the ex-dictator's supporters and his politically powerful daughter, Keiko Fujimori, gathered outside his home in Lima to condemn it. "This is persecution against my family," Keiko said. Alberto himself implored President Martín Vizcarra not to return him to prison, saying his "heart would not cope." The former strongman spoke in a video address from a private clinic where he is undergoing treatment for heart disease and under police guard. Fujimori's attorney has appealed the pardon's annulment The fujimorista bloc in Congress is drafting a law to make the pardon permanent, but this is on dubious constitutional grounds and arguably violates the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. (Jurist, Diario Uno, Oct. 6; Reuters, Oct. 4; NYT, Oct. 3)
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)