The death of former Argentine dictator Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981) on May 17 brings to seven the number of Latin American and Caribbean de facto heads of state who are now in prison or facing criminal charges for their acts while in power. All but one were charged in the last decade.
A court in Argentina on March 12 sentenced the country's last military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during his rule in 1982 and '83. The 85-year-old former general, already serving three other terms for similar crimes, was found guilty of killings related to Operation Condor—a coordinated campaign by the Southern Cone dictatorships to eliminate dissidents from one country who sought refuge in another. Federal Oral Tribunal Federal No. 1 in San Martín found Bignone culpable in the deaths of 23 victims, including seven pregnant women, who were abducted to the now-notorious Campo de Mayo clandestine prison. Also receiving a life term was Bignone's armed forces chief and second-in-command as dictator, Santiago Omar Riveros. Three other military men received terms of between 12 and 15 years. (Argentina Independent, Rebelión, Digital Journal, March 13; BBC News, La Nación, Clarín, Gente BA, Prensa Latina, March 12)
Upon ascending to the papacy today, the newly-anointed Francis addressed the eschatological paranoia that occassioned the resignation of his predecessor, saying that some cardinals had been "seeking the end of the world, but we are still here." But it seemed to be a pun, referencing his native land at the "end of the earth." Among the joyous crowd below in St. Peter's Square were several Argentine flags. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio is now the first pope from Latin America, something millions around the world had anticipated with hope. But the election of Cardinal Bergoglio deepens growing concerns about the complicity of the Catholic Church in Argentina's "Dirty War" of the 1970s.
Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) had plans to foment violence and declare a state of emergency if he lost an Oct. 5, 1988 plebiscite on his regime, according to declassified US documents that the DC-based research group National Security Archive posted on its website on Feb. 22. The plebiscite, mandated by Pinochet's own 1980 Constitution, gave Chileans a choice between voting "yes" to have the general remain president for eight more years or "no" to end the dictatorship and hold an election in 1989. The "no" option won by 54.7% to 43% for "yes"; some 98% of eligible voters participated.
A court in Argentina's western province of La Rioja found Feb. 13 that the country's Catholic Church was complicit with crimes committed during the dictatorship's "dirty war" on leftist dissidents between 1976 and 1983. The judgement said that the Church hierarchy turned a blind eye to abuses that it clearly knew of, while some members collaborated more actively. It further stated that the hierarchy remains "indifferent" to this past today. The judgement came in a case concerning the slaying of Carlos de Dios Murias and Gabriel Longueville, two members of the Movement of Third World Priests (MSTM), a grouping of left-wing Catholic clergy, who disappeared in 1976, their mutiliated bodies dumped near train tracks. Three retired military officers were given life terms in the case. (BBC Mundo, Feb. 14; InfoNews, Argentina, El Mundo, Spain, Feb. 13)
Chilean judge Miguel Vázquez Plaza issued an order on Dec. 28 for the detention and trial of eight former military officers for their alleged participation in the murder of renowned singer and songwriter Víctor Jara during the military coup that established the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The leftist musician was one of the first and best known of the estimated 3,000 people murdered or disappeared by the dictatorship.
An Argentine federal court handed down life sentences on Dec. 19 to former Buenos Aires province interior minister Jaime Smart (1976-1979), former Buenos Aires province police investigations director Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz and 14 former police and military personnel for genocide and crimes against humanity in the cases of 280 people detained during the 1976-1983 "dirty war" against suspected leftists. Another seven police agents and civilians were given sentences of two to 25 years.
On Dec. 5 Argentine judge Alicia Vence opened an investigation into the possible involvement of four former executives of Ford Motor Company's Argentine subsidiary in the kidnapping and torture of at least 25 autoworkers during the "dirty war" against suspected leftists under the 1976-83 military dictatorship. According to prosecutor Félix Crous, former Ford Motor Argentina president Nicolás Courard, former manufacturing director Pedro Müller, former industrial relations director Guillermo Galarraga and former security chief Héctor Sibilla are suspected of collaborating with the military in the abuses, which took place in 1976 next to the company's plant in the city of General Pacheco in Buenos Aires province, just north of the city of Buenos Aires.