Sun, May 29, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Court sentences Condor participants

CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY:The Argentine investigation and trial helped uncover truths about a covert program that hunted down exiles from six Latin American dictatorships

AP, BUENOS AIRES

Argentina’s last dictator and 14 other former military officials were sentenced to prison for human rights crimes, marking the first time a court has ruled that Operation Condor was a criminal conspiracy to kidnap and forcibly disappear people across international borders.

The covert operation was launched in the 1970s by six South American dictatorships that used their secret police networks in a coordinated effort to track down their opponents abroad and eliminate them. Many leftist dissidents had sought refuge in neighboring countries and elsewhere.

An Argentine federal court on Friday sentenced former junta leader Reynaldo Bignone, 88, to 20 years in prison for being part of an illicit association, kidnapping and abusing his powers in the forced disappearance of more than 100 people. The ex-general who ruled Argentina in 1982 and 1983 is already serving life sentences for multiple human rights violations during the 1976 to 1983 dictatorship.

In the landmark trial, 14 other former military officials received prison sentences of between eight and 25 years for criminal association, kidnapping and torture. They include former Uruguayan army colonel Manuel Cordero Piacentini, who allegedly tortured prisoners inside Automotores Orletti, the Buenos Aires car repair shop where many captured leftists were interrogated under orders from their home countries.

Two of the accused were absolved.

The sentences are seen as a milestone, because they mark the first time a court has proved that Operation Condor was an international criminal conspiracy carried out by US-backed regimes in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

“Operation Condor affected my life, my family,” Chilean Laura Elgueta told reporters outside the court room.

Her brother, Luis Elgueta, had taken refuge in Buenos Aires from then-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s forces, only to be forcibly disappeared in Buenos Aires in 1976 as part of Operation Condor.

“This trial is very meaningful, because it’s the first time that a court is ruling against this sinister Condor plan,” she said.

The investigation was launched in the 1990s when an amnesty law still protected many of the accused. The Argentine Supreme Court overturned the amnesty in 2005 at the urging of then-Argentine president Nestor Kirchner.

“Forty years after Operation Condor was formally founded, and 16 years after the judicial investigation began, this trial produced valuable contributions to knowledge of the truth about the era of state terrorism and this regional criminal network,” said the Buenos Aires-based Center for Legal and Social Studies, which is part of the legal team representing plaintiffs in the case.

Over the course of the trial, several defendants either died or were removed from the judicial process. Since the bodies of many victims have never been found, Argentine prosecutors argued that the crime of covering up their deaths continues today and that statutory time limits do not apply.

The victims included Maria Claudia Irureta Goyena, the daughter-in-law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, who was pregnant when she was kidnapped and held for months inside Automotores Orletti before an Argentine Air Force airplane took her to Uruguay. She gave birth there, and then disappeared. Decades passed before her daughter, Macarena Gelman, discovered her own true identity.

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