Former Argentine dictator Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981) died the morning of May 17 in the Marcos Paz prison in Buenos Aires province, where he was serving a 50-year sentence for crimes against humanity. He was 87. Videla led the coup that removed then-president Isabel Perón from office on Mar. 24, 1976 and started a period of military rule that lasted until 1983. Videla himself was made de facto president on March 29, 1976 and held the office until March 1981, when he was replaced by Gen. Roberto Viola.
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.
Some 200 to 300 agents of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police invaded the grounds of the José T. Borda public psychiatric hospital in the Argentine capital during the early morning of April 26 to guard demolition workers as they bulldozed one of the hospital buildings. When hospital workers, patients and community members gathered later to protest the demolition, police agents used nightsticks and rubber bullets against the crowd. Protesters said some 50 people were injured, including at least 10 patients, seven nurses, three media workers and a member of the city legislature, María Rachid. The authorities reported 36 people injured, 17 of them police agents. Eight people were arrested.
The Appeals Court of Copiapó province in Chile's northern Atacama region issued an order on April 10 completely suspending work at the massive Pascua Lama facility, an open-pit gold, silver and copper mine under construction in the Andes on both sides of the border between Argentina and Chile. The order was in response to a complaint filed by five communities of indigenous Diaguitas in the Huasco Valley; the residents charged that the work was damaging the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers and contaminating water resources in the area, according to Lorenzo Soto, the communities' lawyer. The Chilean government's National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) and the Environmental Evaluation Service have also found environmental damage from the project. Construction is about 40% complete at the mine site, which is under the control of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation.
As of April 1 the Environmental Evaluation Service of Atacama, a region in northern Chile, had imposed a new fine on the Chilean subsidiary of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation for violations at its Pascua Lama facility, a giant open-pit gold, silver and copper mine being built in the Andes at the border between Argentina and Chile. The fine on the subsidiary, the Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, came to about US$85,509 (expressed as 1,000 Monthly Tax Units, UTM, a special unit Chile uses for mining taxes and fines; it is set this month at 40,125 pesos). This was in addition to a US$256,518 (3,000 UTM) fine the service imposed a month earlier. According to Pedro Lagos, Atacama's regional minister for the environment, the fines are for the company's failure to meet requirements for monitoring damage the mine's construction could cause to nearby glaciers.
A group of 40 Argentine environmentalists invaded the Embalse Nuclear Center in the central province of Córdoba on March 11 to mark the second anniversary of the earthquake that caused meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan's Fukushima prefecture, the second-worst nuclear accident in history. The protesters, members of Greenpeace Argentina, "entered [the complex] peacefully, waving flags and wearing orange overalls," according to Greenpeace Energy Campaign coordinator Mauro Fernández. They proceeded to climb to the top of the reactor, where they unfurled a giant banner reading: "Enough with nuclear danger!" The activists were then "beaten and arrested," Greenpeace said, and taken to Río Cuarto federal court, with jurisdiction over the facility.
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.