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Plan Cóndor: The Search for Justice

By Emily Tarbuck | The Argentina Independent | March 20, 2013

Earlier this month, a trial of monumental historic significance commenced in Argentina. A trial that will see a group of military leaders prosecuted for their involvement in the ‘Plan Cóndor’ campaign; an agreement between the right-wing dictatorships of South America which led to the disappearance and murder of up to 80,000 people during the 1970s and 1980s.

In what is expected to last two years, and call upon over 500 witnesses, the trial represents a significant step towards achieving justice for crimes against humanity committed at the hands of the Southern Cone’s brutal collusion.

The History

The brutal right-wing military dictatorships that raged terror and political oppression across the continent defined the 1970s and 1980s in South America. The exact number of victims is disagreed upon, but it is estimated that the era saw the ‘disappearance’ of over 60,000 people in the fight to eradicate communist influence on the continent.

The sprawling dictatorships across the continent led to the clandestine kidnapping, torture, and murder of thousands of Latin Americans, with the aim of “eliminating Marxist subversion”, from Argentina, to the Augusto Pinochet-ruled Chile.

Targets of the eradication were officially stated as members of left-wing armed groups such as the MIR (Chile), the Montoneros (Argentina), and the Tupamaros (Uruguay), although the operation targeted trade unionists, family members, and anyone remotely considered a ‘political opponent’.

The formation of ‘Plan Cóndor’ – or ‘Operation Condor’ in English– was paramount to the continuation and reach of the dictatorships. The collusion of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil (and later Ecuador and Peru) enabled leaders to obtain resources and allies, thus continuing their left-wing eradication.

Set in the context of the Cold War, there was a palpable communist fear felt across the globe; something that enabled the dictatorships to garner significant funding and assistance from the United States. Declassified CIA documents –thousands of which were released in 1999 (here, here, here, and here)- show the key role the US played in the proliferation of the dictatorships. Politicians such as former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger have been heavily implicated as having been fundamental in the realisation of the kidnapping, torture, and murder of political enemies.

Argentina in particular saw one of the highest cases of ‘disappearances’ during the period of mass military dictatorships, with human rights’ organisations estimating the figure to stand at 30,000. Justice for the crimes against humanity committed during this period of state terrorism arguably began with the Juicio a las Juntas in 1985. The trial proved the crimes of the dictatorship for the first time, and led to the imprisonment of key figures such as Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, both of whom received life imprisonment sentences, along with numerous others.

However, the work of the historic trial was largely undone, or at least heavily marred, by the amnesty laws passed during Raul Alfonsin’s government, which protected military officers from allegations and prosecution for crimes against humanity. This was followed by President Carlos Menem’s pardoning of the junta leaders in 1989. Protests and campaigning by organisations such as the Madres of Plaza de Mayo were fundamental in the repeal of the amnesty laws by the Argentine Supreme Court in 2005 under the government of Néstor Kirchner.

The Trial

For the first time, the collusion between governments and dictators under the ‘Plan Cóndor’ campaign will be investigated. Twenty five defendants are on trial in Buenos Aires in what has been described as a ‘mega-trial’, expected to last two years and scheduled to hear 500 witness statements. Lawyer Carolina Varsky described the trial as: “historic as it’s the first to deal with the repression coordinated between Latin American dictatorships.”

All suspects being tried are Argentine, with the exception of Uruguayan Manuel Cordero, who is accused of participating in death squads and torture at the Orletti clandestine detention centre in the city. Cordero was extradited by Brazil, where he was living prior to the trial. The list of defendants features 22 Argentine military intelligence officers and agents, including former de facto presidents Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, both of whom are already serving life imprisonment sentences, which they will most likely not outlive.

Argentine political scientist Ariel Raidan spoke with The Argentina Independent about the significance of the commencement of the trial, and said how it signifies the government’s focus on “building a more just society, where truth and justice come first, overcoming years of impunity.”

“The countries of the continent are beginning to revise its tragic past. Both advances and setbacks have occurred in the fight for justice over the years, but this trial has a clear conviction to expose as many facts as possible” continued Raidan.

The trial will investigate the cases of over 170 victims, including 65 who were imprisoned at the infamous Orletti torture centre in Buenos Aires. Victims were often kidnapped from their home country and transported to the facilities of a neighbouring country; a practice made possible by the collusion of governments in the Southern Cone. Much evidence to be examined in the trial, and what prosecutors are heavily basing their case upon, comes from the now declassified US documents, obtained by the non-governmental organisation National Security Archive. Released under the Freedom of Information Act, the documents detail how Henry Kissinger and many other high-ranking officials in the US not only gave full support and funding to the Argentine military junta, but also urged the country to accelerate protocol and finish their operations before the US Congress cut aid. The documents, featuring signatures of many high-ranking officials, have led to accusations that the US was a secret collaborator, partner, and sponsor of the operation.

Additionally, documents identified as the ‘Archives of Terror’, discovered in a police station in 1992, were significant in the uncovering of the role of Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. These countries provided intelligence information that had been requested by ‘Plan Cóndor’ participating countries.

The victims are comprised of approximately 80 Uruguayans, 50 Argentines, 20 Chileans, and a dozen from Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. The disappearance of two Cuban consulate officials will also form part of the proceedings. Out of the 170 victims, 42 survived the dictatorship’s brutal treatment and many of them are expected to give first hand accounts during their testimonies in court. The remaining victims were murdered or ‘disappeared’ at the hands of the Cóndor agreement.

John Dinges, author of ‘The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents’, said that, “this is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.”

Alcira Ríos, the lawyer representing a Paraguayan victim whose case is to be tried in the coming months, said “we’re delighted that after years of struggle this has finally come to trial… the ‘disappeared’ deserve justice.”

The Future

Raidan spoke of his hope that “the trial will shed light on the specific articulation and coordination of the military juntas that ruled the countries of the Southern Cone”. The hope of many is to see clandestine details released that have for so long been shrouded in secrecy and cover-ups. The culmination of new documents, evidence, and witness statements has created a strong sense of hope that further justice will be achieved over the course of the trial. “The documents are very useful in establishing a comprehensive analytical framework of what Operation Condor was,” said Pablo Enrique Ouvina, the lead prosecutor in the case.

Miguel Angel Osorio, federal prosecutor in the case, has said that he is convinced of the existence of Operation Condor and that he believes it will be clearly proved, as well as “the actions of those implicated [in the plan] which prove that there was a illicit agreement to move people from one country to another”.

Perhaps closure will not be fully achieved over the brutal repression and crimes against humanity committed during this era, but there is a palpable sense surrounding the case that some semblance of a resolution will be achieved; that justice will be reached.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Former Argentine Dictator Calls for Coup Against Cristina Kirchner’s Government

By Sara Kozameh | CEPR Americas Blog | March 19, 2013

On Saturday March 16th, a weekly newspaper from Spain, Cambio16, published an interview with jailed former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. Videla is serving two life sentences, another 50-year sentence, and continues to stand trial, for crimes against humanity, kidnapping, torture, and the unlawful appropriation of babies (that were taken from female prisoners who gave birth in captivity before they were murdered). These were crimes that he and fellow junta leaders committed following the 1976 coup d’état that they directed and that was responsible for the kidnapping, torture and deaths of an estimated 30,000 Argentines.

When his interviewer, Ricardo Angoso, whom Página/12 points out is a stated opponent of the Kirchner government and far-right journalist, asked him what he would say to his “comrades” also serving time in prison for similar convictions, he stated:

I want to remind each one of them, especially the younger ones, who today on average fall between the ages of 58-68, and are still physically capable of combat, that in the case that this unjust imprisonment and slandering of the republic’s basic values continues, you reserve the duty of arming yourselves again in defense of the republic’s basic institutions, which are today being trampled upon by the Kirchner regime, led by president Cristina and her henchmen.*

According to Página/12, Videla also accuses the current government of wanting to turn towards a “failed communism of the Cuban sort.” He then declares that “it will again be the security and armed forces who, along with the people –from which they [the security and armed forces] originate- will impede it”.

As most people who pay attention to international economics can easily tell, the Kirchners’ economic and social policies fall far from this characterization of “failed communism,” and are in actuality those of a democratic western-style capitalist economy with some elements of a social-democratic state.

But that did not stop Videla from calling the armed forces to combat:  he issued a plea for the “citizenry to reject the dictators of Kirchnerism and its henchmen” and to make the “sole totalitarianism that currently governs… bite the dust forever” in Argentina. Finally, he called out the current opposition, accusing them of having “succumbed to fear and the bribes that the government imposes in all areas”.

Videla’s comments come at a time when Argentina and its government are being praised internationally for human rights trials that have convicted and brought to justice scores of perpetrators of human rights abuses during the dictatorship. Most recently, the trial against perpetrators of “Plan Condor” –a coordinated effort by the militaries of several South American countries to wipe out all opposition to their dictatorships- is under way as Argentina’s largest human rights trial yet.

Major news outlets from all ends of the political spectrum in Argentina covered Videla’s interview, with headlines such as “A golpista provocation by Videla from Prison” in the conservative and opposition newspaper El Clarín, and “Videla Called for an Armed Uprising by the Armed Forces” in the anti-government La Nación.

Former dictator Videla has also been in the news lately as the election of the new pope, from Argentina, has revived debate over accusations against Pope Francis and his ties to the dictatorship, and the well-established complicity of much of the Argentine Catholic Church in the regime’s repression.

*All translations were made by the author of this post.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historic ‘Plan Cóndor’ Trial Underway

By Sabrina Hummel | The Argentina Independent | March 6, 2013

Oral proceedings for the 24 suspects charged with crimes against humanity under the ‘Plan Cóndor’ trial began earlier this morning. The Federal Oral Court N° 1 will hear testimony from around 500 witnesses in a trial that is set to last for at least two years.

Operation Condor (as it is referred to in English) refers to a clandestine agreement between South American right wing dictatorships that sought to persecute and rid the Southern Cone of political dissidents, mainly leftists. Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay were among the countries involved.

The plan allowed for political dissidents to be persecuted outside of their own countries. This was facilitated by the collaboration and exchange of information between the respective countries, the coordination of prisoner relocation, and the ‘disappearing’ of those who opposed them politically. Argentina’s ex dictator, Jorge Videla, is among those most heavily implicated in the plot.

The plan, referred to as an “annihilation device” by the federal prosecutor Miguel Angel Osorio, is responsible for 171 crimes committed in Argentina alone, most of which were carried out in the clandestine centre Automotores Orletti.

In an example of collaboration between the regimes, the daughter in law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, María Claudia Irureta Goyena, was taken to a detention centre in Montevideo. She was killed after giving birth to her daughter, Macarena.

The human rights organisation Amnesty International said yesterday that, “the trial is a historic landmark in the fight against the impunity of crimes committed by authoritarian military governments during the 70s and 80s”.

Osorio has said that he is convinced of the existence of Operation Condor and that he believes its existence will be proved, above all, through “the actions of those implicated [in the plan] which prove that there was an illicit agreement to move people from one country to another”.

Videla, aged 87 and dressed in a blue suit and tie, listened to the opening accusations unperturbed. This is his fourth hearing related to crimes against humanity carried out under his dictatorship, when it is estimated that around 30000 people were ‘disappeared’.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Argentine court hands down jail terms over stolen babies

DW | July 5, 2012

An Argentine court has sentenced former dictator Jorge Videla to 50 years in jail for stealing babies from political prisoners. There were also heavy penalties for others involved in the practice.

Videla was sentenced at Argentina’s Federal Oral Tribunal Court on Thursday, along with other former officials from the 1976 to 1983 dictatorship.

The court ruled that Videla was guilty of systematically executing a plan in which infants were taken from detainees who had been kidnapped, tortured and killed by the regime.

While Videla was given a 50-year sentence, the country’s last dictator General Reynaldo Bignone received a 15-year-term. Both men were already serving sentences for other human rights abuses.

Hundreds cheered the ruling, which was broadcast on a giant television screen outside the courthouse.

Nine other defendants were jailed for between 15 and 40 years because of their roles in the practice.

Rights campaign group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo has fought a legal battle calling for justice for the stolen children since 1996. It claimed 500 babies were taken and subsequently raised by families close to the regime.

Dirty war cover-up

According to the evidence, Bignone had been urged to reveal the identities of the stolen babies as part of the country’s transition to democracy. Instead, the court heard, he had ordered a cover-up.

The junta’s “dirty war” on leftist dissidents eventually claimed 13,000 victims according to official records – including pregnant women who were forced to give birth inside torture centers. Rights groups place the number at closer to 30,000.

The 35 abductions dealt with in the court case took place at the Argentine Marine School of Engineering, ESMA, in Buenos Aires.

Survivors who testified said that inmates gave birth while shackled and hooded and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, were never allowed to see their babies.

In most cases babies were given to soldiers or friends of the military, while the mothers were thrown into the sea from military planes in what were known as “death flights.”

rc/ch (AFP, AP, dpa)

July 6, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Argentine court hands down jail terms over stolen babies