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(en) [AFIB] Argentina: Resisting Impunity

From Tom Burghardt <tburghardt@igc.apc.org>
Date Wed, 26 Aug 1998 17:50:53 -0700 (PDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

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|| * --  SPECIAL  --  *  August 26, 1998  * --  EDITION  -- * ||
                       * SPECIAL EDITION *
                              * * *
     1. (TC)     THE CONSORTIUM: Argentina's Dapper State
     2. (FR)     FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Hijos - Children of
                 `Disappeared' Keep Up the Pressure
                 INSTITUTIONAL REPRESSION: Popular Action Against
                              * * *
     On April 29, 1976, a month after the military coup, an army
     lieutenant colonel ordered the burning of a thousand books
     in Cordoba. The event was televised on local stations. The
     next day a communique was issued by III Army Corps and
     published in almost all the newspapers of the country:
     The Third Army Corps lets it be known that it has proceeded
     to incinerate this pernicious documentation that affects the
     intellect and our Christian way of being. So that none of
     these books, pamphlets, magazines, etc., will be found
     anywhere, this decision was taken so that our youth is not
     to be tricked any longer about the true good that our
     national symbols, family and church - in short, our most
     traditional spiritual estate synthesized in God, Fatherland
     and Home - represent.
     Martin Edward Andersen, _Dossier Secreto: Argentina's
     Desaparecidos and the Myth of the "Dirty War"_, 1993,
     Boulder, Westview Press, p. 195
                              * * *
                       * THE CONSORTIUM *
                   For Independent Journalism
               Web: http://www.consortiumnews.com/
                       Tel: (703) 920-1580
                  E-mail: rparry@ix.netcom.com
        - Volume 3, No. 17 (Issue 69) - August 24, 1998 -
                         By Marta Gurvich
                               * * *
     "What is your favorite book," a journalist asked Gen. Rafael
     Videla, after he ascended to power in Argentina in 1976.
     "Book?" Videla replied.
     The journalist was perspiring. He didn't think it was a hard
     question to ask someone leading the nation. But suddenly the
     journalist felt that the question could jeopardize not only
     his career but his life.
     It was embarrassing that the new president could not come up
     with at least one title of one book. So the journalist tried
     to help out with suggestions: "The Bible perhaps? Martin
     Fierro (the most important book in Argentina's literature)?"
     Videla said something about his first-grade reading book,
     but ... he could not remember its title. [Diario Perfil, an
     article by Omar Bravo, July 10, 1998]
                              * * *
     Former Argentine president Jorge Rafael Videla, the
73-year-old dapper dictator who launched the so-called Dirty War
in 1976, was arrested on June 9 for a particularly bizarre crime
of state, one that rips at the heart of human relations.
     Videla, known for his English-tailored suits and his
ruthless counterinsurgency theories, stands accused of permitting
-- and concealing -- a scheme to harvest infants from pregnant
women who were kept alive in military prisons only long enough to
give birth.
     According to the charges, the babies were taken from the new
mothers, sometimes by late-night Caesarean sections, and then
distributed to military families or shipped to orphanages. After
the babies were pulled away, the mothers were removed to another
site for their executions.
     Yet, Argentina now is engulfed in a legal debate over
whether Videla can be judged a second time for these grotesque
kidnappings. After democracy was restored in Argentina, Videla
was among the generals convicted of human rights crimes,
including "disappearances," tortures, murders and kidnappings. In
1985, Videla was sentenced to life imprisonment at the military
prison of Magdalena.
     But, on Dec. 29, 1990, amid rumblings of another possible
military coup, President Carlos Menem pardoned Videla and other
convicted generals. Many politicians considered the pardons a
pragmatic decision of national reconciliation that sought to shut
the door on the dark history of the so-called Dirty War when the
military slaughtered from 10,000 to 30,000 Argentineans.
     Relatives of the victims, however, continued to uncover
evidence that children taken from their mothers' wombs sometimes
were being raised as the adopted children of their mothers'
murderers. For 15 years, a group called Grandmothers of the Plaza
de Mayo has been demanding the return of these kidnapped
children, estimated to number as many as 500.
     After years of detective work, the Grandmothers documented
the identities of 256 missing babies. Of those, however, only 56
children were ever located and seven of them had died. Aided by
recent breakthroughs in genetic testing, the Grandmothers
succeeded in returning 31 children to their biological families.
Thirteen were raised jointly by their adoptive and biological
families and the remaining cases are bogged down in court custody
     But the baby kidnappings gained a new focus last year with
developments in the case of Silvia Quintela, a leftist doctor who
attended to the sick in shanty towns around Buenos Aires. On Jan.
17, 1977, Quintela was abducted off a Buenos Aires street by
military authorities because of her political leanings. At the
time, Quintela and her agronomist husband Abel Madariaga were
expecting their first child.
     According to witnesses who later testified before a
government truth commission, Quintela was held at a military base
called Campo de Mayo, where she gave birth to a baby boy. As in
similar cases, the infant then was separated from the mother.
What happened to the boy is still not clear, but Quintela
reportedly was transferred to a nearby airfield.
     There, victims were stripped naked, shackled in groups and
dragged aboard military planes. The planes then flew out over the
Rio de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean, where soldiers pushed the
victims out of the planes and into the water to drown.
     After democracy was restored in 1983, Madariaga, who had
fled into exile in Sweden, returned to Argentina and searched for
his wife. He learned about her death and the birth of his son.
Madariaga came to suspect that a military doctor, Norberto Atilio
Bianco, had kidnapped the boy. Bianco had overseen Caesarean
sections performed on captured women, according to witnesses. He
then allegedly drove the new mothers to the airport.
     In 1987, Madariaga demanded DNA testing of Bianco's two
children, a boy named Pablo and a girl named Carolina, both of
whom were suspected children of disappeared women. Madariaga
thought Pablo might be his son. But Bianco and his wife, Susana
Wehrli, fled Argentina to Paraguay, where they resettled with the
two children. Argentine judge Roberto Marquevich sought the
Biancos' extradition, but Paraguay balked for 10 years.
     Finally, faced with demands from the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights, Paraguay relented. Bianco and Wehrli
were returned to face kidnapping charges. But the two children --
now young adults with small children of their own -- refused to
return to Argentina or submit to DNA testing.
     Though realizing they were adopted, Pablo and Carolina did
not want to know about the fate of their real mothers and did not
want to jeopardize the middle-class lives they had enjoyed in the
Bianco household. [For more details about this case, see The
Consortium, Oct. 13, 1997, or iF Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 1997.]
     As an offshoot of the Bianco case, judge Marquevich ordered
the arrest of Videla. The judge accused the former dictator of
facilitating the snatching of Pablo and Carolina as well as four
other children. Marquevich found that Videla was aware of the
kidnappings and took part in a cover-up of the crimes. The aging
general was placed under house arrest.
     In a related case, another judge, Alfredo Bagnasco, began
investigating whether the baby-snatching was part of an organized
operation and thus a premeditated crime of state. According to a
report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the
Argentine military viewed the kidnappings as part of a larger
counterinsurgency strategy.
     "The anguish generated in the rest of the surviving family
because of the absence of the disappeared would develop, after a
few years, into a new generation of subversive or potentially
subversive elements, thereby not permitting an effective end to
the Dirty War," the commission said in describing the army's
reasoning for kidnapping the infants of murdered women.
     The kidnapping strategy conformed with the "science" of the
Argentine counterinsurgency operations. The Dirty War's clinical
anti-communist practitioners refined torture techniques,
sponsored cross-border assassinations and collaborated with
organized-crime elements.
     According to government investigations, the military's
intelligence officers advanced Nazi-like methods of torture by
testing the limits of how much pain a human being could endure
before dying. The torture methods included experiments with
electric shocks, drowning, asphyxiation and sexual perversions,
such as forcing mice into a woman's vagina. Some of the
implicated military officers had trained at the U.S.-run School
of the Americas.
     Behind this Dirty War and its excesses stood the slight,
well-dressed, gentlemanly figure of Gen. Videla. Called "bone" or
the "pink panther" because of his slim build, Videla emerged as a
leading theorist for international anti-communist strategies in
the mid-1970s. His tactics were emulated throughout Latin America
and were defended by prominent American right-wing politicians,
including Ronald Reagan.
     Videla rose to power amid Argentina's political and economic
unrest in the early-to-mid 1970s. "As many people as necessary
must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure,"
he declared in 1975 in support of a "death squad" known as the
Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance. [See A Lexicon of Terror by
Marguerite Feitlowitz.]
     On March 24, 1976, Videla led the military coup which ousted
the ineffective president, Isabel Peron. Though armed leftist
groups had been shattered by the time of the coup, the generals
still organized a counterinsurgency campaign to eradicate any
remnants of what they judged political subversion.
     Videla called this "the process of national reorganization,"
intended to reestablish order while inculcating a permanent
animosity toward leftist thought. "The aim of the Process is the
profound transformation of consciousness," Videla announced.
     Along with selective terror, Videla employed sophisticated
public relations methods. He was fascinated with techniques for
using language to manage popular perceptions of reality.
     The general hosted international conferences on P.R. and
awarded a $1 million contract to the giant U.S. firm of Burson
Marsteller. Following the Burson Marsteller blueprint, the Videla
government put special emphasis on cultivating American reporters
from elite publications. "Terrorism is not the only news from
Argentina, nor is it the major news," went the optimistic P.R.
     Since the jailings and executions of dissidents were rarely
acknowledged, Videla felt he could deny government involvement.
He often suggested that the missing Argentines were not dead, but
had slipped away to live comfortably in other countries.
     "I emphatically deny that there are concentration camps in
Argentina, or military establishments in which people are held
longer than is absolutely necessary in this ... fight against
subversion," he told British journalists in 1977. [See A Lexicon
of Terror.]
     In a grander context, Videla and the other generals saw
their mission as a crusade to defend Western Civilization against
international communism. They worked closely with the Asian-based
World Anti-Communist League and its Latin American affiliate, the
Confederacion Anticomunista Latinoamericana [CAL].
     Latin American militaries collaborated on projects such as
the cross-border assassinations of political dissidents. Under
one project, called Operation Condor, political leaders --
centrist and leftist alike -- were shot or bombed in Buenos
Aires, Rome, Madrid, Santiago and Washington, D.C. Operation
Condor often employed CIA-trained Cuban exiles as assassins.
     In 1980, four years after the coup, the Argentine military
exported its terror tactics into neighboring Bolivia. There,
Argentine intelligence operatives helped Nazi war criminal Klaus
Barbie and major drug lords mount a brutal putsch, known as the
Cocaine Coup. The bloody operation turned Bolivia into the first
modern drug state and expanded cocaine smuggling into the United
States. [For more details, The Consortium, Oct. 13, 1997.]
     Videla's anything-goes anti-communism struck a responsive
chord with the Reagan administration which came to power in 1981.
President Reagan quickly reversed President Carter's condemnation
of the Argentine junta's record on human rights. Reagan's U.N.
Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick even hosted the urbane Argentine
generals at an elegant state dinner.
     More substantively, Reagan authorized CIA collaboration with
the Argentine intelligence service for training and arming the
Nicaraguan contras. The contras were soon implicated in human
rights atrocities and drug smuggling of their own. But the
contras benefitted from the Reagan administration's "perception
management" operation which portrayed them as "the moral
equivalent of the Founding Fathers."
     In 1982, however, the Argentine military went a step too
far. Possibly deluded by its new coziness with Washington, the
army invaded the British-controlled Falkland Islands. Given the
even-closer Washington-London alliance, the Reagan administration
sided with Margaret Thatcher's government, which crushed the
Argentine invaders in a brief war.
     The humiliated generals relinquished power in 1983. Then,
after democratic elections, the new president Raul Alfonsin
created a truth commission to collect evidence about the Dirty
War crimes. The grisly details shocked Argentines and the world.
     Some Argentine analysts also believe that repercussions from
that violent era continue to the present, with organized crime
rampant and corruption reaching into the highest levels of the
     President Menem's sister-in-law, Amira Yoma, is reportedly
under investigation in Spain for money-laundering. A reporter
investigating mob ties was burned alive. Relatives of a
prosecutor examining gold smuggling were tortured by having their
faces mutilated. Jewish targets have been bombed.
     Former star DEA agent Michael Levine, who served in
Argentina, is not surprised by the latest violence. "The same
militaries and police officers that committed human rights crimes
during the coup are holding positions in the same forces," Levine
told me.
     Elsewhere, foreign governments whose citizens were victims
of the Dirty War are pressing individual cases against Videla and
other former military leaders. These countries include Germany,
Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Honduras.
     Yet, in Argentina, Menem's pardon may yet protect Videla and
the others from facing any significant punishment for their acts.
Menem has refused to extradite the former military leaders. He
also has dragged his heels on purging the armed forces of
thousands of officers implicated in Dirty War offenses.
     So, the lingering case implicating Videla in harvesting
babies from doomed women might be the last chance for Argentina
to hold the dictator accountable -- and to come to grips with the
terrible crimes of its recent past.
     Copyright (c) 1998
                              * * *
     NEWSLETTER FORMAT: 1 year - (26 issues) $39; 6 months (13
     issues) - $24.
     iF MAGAZINE: a bi-monthly publication featuring the best
     stories from The Consortiun (six issues) for $25 a year; 2
     years - $48. (A two-year sub comes with a FREE copy of
     Robert Parry's Trick or Treason: The October Surprise
     Mystery, normally a $24.95 value.) Subscriptions can be
     placed with Visa/Mastercard by calling 1-800-738-1812 or
     703-920-1802 or by e-mailing the data. Or by checks sent to
     The Media Consortium. (Non-U.S. subs add $15).
                      THE MEDIA CONSORTIUM
                         Suite 102-231
                        2200 Wilson Blvd.
                       Arlington, VA 22201
     Families of "disappeared" determined to see former dictators
     in dock
     Sunday, 16 August 1998
     By Romeo Rey
     Buenos Aires - The police wield their batons, grab
demonstrators by the hair and drag them across the asphalt. Young
men, women and children desperately seek to defend themselves.
     They yell their slogans at the tops of their voices and use
the wooden poles from which their banners are draped to fight
     A helicopter surveys the scene, which takes place in a
high-class residential area of the Argentine capital. Onlookers
have rushed over to take a closer look at the affray.
     The activists have used paint, brushes and spraycans to daub
their slogans on walls, pavements and roads. They include "A
Torturer Lives Here," "Mass Murderer," "The People Forget
Nothing" and "Put Him On Trial."
     The sound of drums and trumpets wakes up the neighbourhood.
So do leaflets, posters, fighting songs and traffic signs such
as: "200 metres on, at Chivilcoy 3102, on the second floor, is
where the former dictator Galtieri lives."
     No subterfuge and no ploy is missed out in a bid to make
sure that the sinners of the past are denounced. And after hours
of fighting and protest, stock is taken.
     Several people have been injured and arrested, but the
objective of the demonstration has been achieved. Hijos (sons or
children), an association of children of prisoners who vanished
without trace during the 1976-83 Argentine military dictatorship,
has again drawn public attention to the human rights offences of
the time - and to the culprits.
     Even though those tragic events occurred about 20 years ago,
young people keep up the pressure. Every few weeks they hold
another protest demonstration. On one occasion it may be aimed at
one of the junta's commanding officers, on another at one of its
concentration camp commanders - or at a notorious torturer.
     Even former forces chaplains are taken to task, and everyone
is challenged outside his own home. The protest moves are called
"escraches" - and the aim is to "scratch" in public at the image
of the military and police chiefs. Residents are to find out who
their neighbours are.
     The mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, members
of human rights organisations and left-wing parties take part in
these demonstration. They made their biggest headline outside the
home of former junta chief Jorge Rafael Videla when he was
released from Caseros, a prison for serious offenders, a few days
ago and placed under house arrest in view of his age, 73.
     Nearly 100 uniformed men were sent in to protect the
ex-general should the demonstrators go too far. Videla is accused
of having been personally responsible for the kidnapping and
illegal adoption of five children born in the junta's Argentine
concentration camps.
     Like over 200 other descendants of people who "disappeared"
during the dictatorship, these babies were taken away from their
parents and entrusted to the care of forces families, using a
false name.
     In legal proceedings brought by the association of
grandmothers, Federal Judge Roberto Marquevich collected spoken
testimony by doctors and midwives and written and other evidence
compromising the former dictator and his comrades-in-arms.
     The investigations have so far shown that the unlawful
adoptions - as well as thousands of cases of torture and murder -
were not simply the result of "repressive excesses" by individual
soldiers and police but, as lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo says, "part
of a plan approved by the commanding officers."
     But ex-navy officer Rosendo Fraga, who now heads a market-
research company, contends that the "full-stop" law preventing
further trials of uniformed torturers and murderers from 1986 on,
and the law of "due obedience" passed a year later under
President Raul Alfonsin, finally closed the lid on human-rights
trials concerning the "dirty war."
     He defends Argentina's armed forces saying they had "bowed
to civilian rule as in no other South American country," he said.
Cuts in spending and wages were accepted without a fight - even
the privatisation of military sites and businesses was swallowed.
And the thought of appearing in court again worries these men, he
     Argentina pursued some of the worst crimes against human
rights in the 1980s through the courts. But the various laws and
decrees to appease those in uniform, which the democratic
government under Raul Alfonsin seriously threatened, has created
in many the impression that the officers were amnestied too soon.
Many feel the old pain and desire for these men to be brought to
account for the atrocities they committed.
     In the meantime, human rights activists have discovered a
loophole in the mountain of cases heard at the time which allows
them to begin fresh proceedings against the same defendants: the
unlawful adoptions.
     The groundwork done over the years by the grandmothers of
the Plaza de Mayo was decisive in this. In 1984 they set up a
genetic database run by 30 doctors, biochemists and molecular
biologists at the Durand Hospital in Buenos Aireas.
     And thanks to a gift from the French government, the
research laboratory is fitted with the most up-to-date equipment.
It has allowed the combattive grandmas to identify 59 of at least
230 unlawfully adopted children.
     Of these, 31 have been reunited with their biological
families. Fourteen decided to stay with their adoptive because
the process of separation is linked to traumatic experiences for
the youngsters. In six cases court judgements are awaited. Eight
of the identified children were murdered or died of other causes.
     The "full-stop" amnesty does not apply abroad, however, and
some of the crimes of the ex-dictators and their thugs are now
being heard in cases in Spain, France, Italy and Germany. They
deal with the "disappearance" and death of hundreds of citizens
of these countries while in Argentina in the 1970s.
     The Swiss judiciary is also concerned with the former
dictatorship, but primarily with clues to stolen goods than with
the fate of people. During a state visit to Scandinavia,
President Menem was forced to listen to searching questions about
Argentina's as yet unsurmounted past.
     But within the country itself supporters of the Hijos
Movement are turning to the offensive. In contrast to the victims
of apartheid in South Africa, they are not prepared to learn the
truth and then live reconciled with their parents' murderers.
     "We not only want them to admit their crimes," say the
children of the disappeared, "they must suffer for them, too."
     Copyright Frankfurter Rundschau 1998
                           * CORREPI *
      Coordinator Against Police & Institutional Repression
                     Buenos Aires, Argentina
                    E-mail: straga@rcc.com.ar
          Web: http://www.derechos.org/correpi/eng.html
                   - Monday, 24 August 1998 -
                              * * *
     On September 1st in Bariloche city, in Patagonian Argentina
- one thousand kilometers from Buenos Aires - the Human Rights
Organization will commemorate the third anniversary of the one
action of popular resistance against impunity.
     In 1995, Astiz one of the most brutal murderers of the Army
Dictatorship was skiing in the Andes mountains. Astiz is free due
to the "Full Stop" Bill of Alfonsin's administration and because
of the Menem government's pardon. A park-keeper and former
prisoner of the Dictatorship, Alfredo Chavez recognized him
(Astiz). The dialog went something like this:
Alfredo Chavez: - Are you Astiz? -
The repressor:  - "Yes" -
     So Alfredo Chavez punched Astiz's face breaking his nose in
the process. The incident spread like fire all over the country.
People were happy for Alfredo Chavez's reaction.
     Astiz submitted a police report. The judge accused Alfredo
Chavez of "serious injuries". The situation was unbelievable:
Astiz, who had killed lots of people was free, and Alfredo Chavez
had to face trial. As people showed solidarity toward Chavez, the
case was dismissed. The judge had to declare Chavez innocent. 
     After this incident, on three other occasions, when the
opportunity presented itself, Astiz was punched by other people
who saw him in the street.
     Astiz can no longer walk relaxed along the street. He is
only calm in the Army building.
     On Tuesday September 1, Alfredo Chavez, member of the human
Rights Movement of the Provinces of Rio Negro and Neuquen and a
member of the Coordinator Against Police and Institutional
Repression (CORREPI), will be the leader of a public meeting in
downtown Bariloche City. Also, in a poor neighborhood of
Bariloche, one Mother of Plaza de Mayo and Dr. Daniel A. Straga
(member of CORREPI) will make a speech to the young.
                              * * *
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