Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla, on trial again for the first time in 25 years, testified on Tuesday that his military junta was called by society to stamp out an incipient Marxist revolution, and warned that the same “terrorists” have now completely infiltrated the government.
“Yesterday’s defeated enemies have achieved their goal: Today they govern our country and put themselves on pedestals as champions of human rights,” Videla complained. “They’re now in power and from there they are attempting to install a Marxist regime … taking captive the institutions of the republic.”
Videla, 85, gave a long speech before a panel of judges deciding whether he and two dozen other defendants are responsible for the torture and murder of 31 political prisoners in the provincial city of Cordoba in 1976. Prosecutors have asked for a life sentence for Videla. A ruling was expected late yesterday.
This is the first trial for Videla since the Supreme Court in 2007 declared unconstitutional the amnesty that enabled him and other junta leaders to escape the life sentences they received in an historic trial in 1985, as Argentina was returning to democracy after the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Videla was considered the architect of systematic repression that officially eliminated 13,000 people. Human rights groups say the full toll was 30,000.
Videla has said he alone was responsible for the crackdown, as leader of the first military junta that ruled after the March 1976 coup. He repeated that on Tuesday in a long, defiant speech in the provincial courtroom, which was televised nationwide.
“Argentina had to confront directly a violent internal conflict, irregular in its form, of revolutionary character, with deep ideological roots and supported from outside the country,” Videla declared, referring to armed leftist groups including the Montoneros and People’s Revolutionary Army that committed bombings, robberies and kidnappings to destabilize the government in the early 1970s.
Videla reminded the court that it was the constitutional government of former Argentine president Isabel Peron who decreed in 1975 that the armed forces must “annihilate” subversive groups.
That order, which came several months before Videla and others deposed her in the coup, was unopposed in Congress “and had the support of the majority of the citizens,” he declared.
“I accept responsibility,” Videla said again on Tuesday, but he also called it a dishonest oversimplification to suggest that the military junta he led was solely to blame.
“It was precisely the Argentine society that was the main protagonist,” he said, one that “ordered its armed wing to rise to its defense.”
He called his trial an act of revenge “by people who after being defeated militarily now occupy all manner of positions in government.”
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner pushed for judicial reforms and then encouraged a wave of new trials of military and police figures. This is the first of dozens of cases against Videla to go to trial after the Supreme Court overturned the amnesties in 2007.
The case involves 31 political prisoners who were jailed pending civil proceedings before the coup.
Instead, they were pulled from their cells, tortured and officially “shot while trying to escape” between April and November 1976, prosecutors said.
Videla’s fellow defendants include former general Luciano Benjamin Menendez and 23 other retired military and police officials and civilians.
“We have to admit that in our country there was an internal war, initiated by terrorist organizations,” Videla said. “Some describe it as a dirty war. I refuse to accept this label.”
Videla described it as an irregular war, fought with political ideas as well as weapons, and said it is still being waged today.
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