Argentina Shifts Human Rights Focus to Civilian Collaborators of Dictatorship

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, December 2, 2011 | Go to article overview

Argentina Shifts Human Rights Focus to Civilian Collaborators of Dictatorship


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


Argentina has expanded its policy of punishing those who violated human rights during the 1976-1983 dictatorship by stepping up efforts to try civilians who facilitated the state terrorism of which the military were the visible face. Amid ongoing trials that have already sent to prison almost 300 high-ranking officials of the three branches of the military and hundreds of other military and police, dozens of cases are now in process in which the accused are judges, former judges, legislators, prosecutors, and a multitude of small, medium-sized, and above all large national and multinational businesses. Such businesses not only negotiated with the dictatorship and benefitted from measures that cost the state more than US$17 billion, but they were also at the forefront of mounting the complex infrastructure that the dictatorship needed to murder thousands of opponents, cause the disappearance of 30,000 people, appropriate and change the identify of almost 600 children, and send into exile an entire generation of youth.

In this phase that favored almost the entire business class, the principal defendant is former economy minister Domingo Felipe Cavallo, a central figure in Argentine politics during the last three decades (NotiSur, Feb. 1, 2002). He, the civilians who assisted him when he was president of the Banco Central de la Republica Argentina (BCRA) from 1981-1983, and the large businesses that made use of an "exchange-rate insurance" should have to answer to the Argentine state for the US$17.2 billion stolen from the treasury.

This is an unprecedented shift. Until now, throughout the world as well as in Argentina, when dictatorship is mentioned, the reference is always to the military. At most, but almost as a formality, a "civilian-military regime" has been acknowledged.

Argentina, which has developed a policy recognized as a model worldwide, has had few cases of civilians tired and convicted for participating in acts of state terrorism. Although the judiciary was absolutely subservient to the military, only one judge is in prison. He is Victor Brusa, sentenced in 2009 to 21 years in prison for being present at 38 interrogations under torture and personally torturing eight prisoners with beatings and electric shocks (NotiSur, July 1, 2011).

Although hundreds of civilians served as ministers or high officials in the dictatorship, only former economy minister Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz was tried and has been jailed since 2010.

Although various cases are still in process, Martinez de Hoz went to jail for the kidnapping and disappearance of businessmen Federico and Miguel Gutheim, as well as for extorting the Gutheim families for their businesses and property.

Although even Pio Laghi, the apostolic nuncio from 1976 to 1980, is under investigation in various cases, only one member of the Catholic clergy is in prison. He is former chaplain Christian von Wernich, detained since 2003 and condemned to life in prison for 42 kidnappings, 31 cases of torture, and seven of felony murder (NotiSur, Nov. 2, 2007).

Complicit judges now held accountable

On Aug. 25, judges Otilio Romano, Luis Miret, and Martin Pereyra Gonzalez were relieved of their duties. The day before, and with the complicity of another judge, Romano fled to Chile, where the administration of President Sebastian Pinera gave him political asylum. The three are being prosecuted for "unlawful imprisonment, torture, and covering up crimes against humanity," according to the charges presented on Nov. 14, when the Consejo de la Magistratura opened the trial against Romano.

From late August to mid-November, the Romano case opened the door throughout the country for initiating investigations of another 55 judges, former judges, lawmakers, and prosecutors. In recent years, denunciations of magistrates' complicity with state terrorism began to come out spontaneously in the trials of the military repressors. …

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