Human rights groups rallied throughout Argentina over the weekend for the safe return of a missing witness whose gripping testimony of torture helped convict a former police officer of crimes committed during Argentina’s military dictatorship. After two months of searching, there are still no signs of the 77-year-old witness and former political prisoner.
"We demand from the national government for Julio Lopez to be found alive right away! And punishment for those guilty!" Thousands marched to Plaza de Mayo to demand an end to the recent wave of threats against torture survivors and grass roots activists leading the ongoing trials of former members of the dictatorship. Julio Lopez, a key witness in the trial of a landmark human rights case, went missing on the eve of the September 19 conviction of a former police investigator who was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity in the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Liliana Downes read the central document at this weekend’s rally, pointing to police with ties to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship for kidnapping the witness. "As we said from the first day on, the government should look among the Buenos Aires provincial police, the repressive apparatus and fascist right wing who rally in San Martin to justify torture and death. This is where the threats are coming from: threats against journalists, detention of grass roots activists like Pablo Francello in La Plata, the torture Maria and Ariel Montes received in a Buenos Aires police precinct and the kidnapping of Romiro Gonzales. All of these acts are expressions of the repressive apparatus that continues to act with impunity. Not only have the intimidating phone calls and death threats not been investigated, the government’s response has been silence. President Nestor Kirchner has political responsibility for the safe return of Julio Lopez."
Several activists have been attacked in the midst of mobilizations for Lopez’s safe return. In La Plata, Pablo Francello, the boyfriend of an organizer from the human rights group H.I.J.O.S. (Children for Identity Justice and Against Silence and Oblivion) was attacked by three men with ski masks. They cut his arms and warned him to distance himself from human rights activities.
Ariel and María Montes were detained as they left their neighborhood in Greater Buenos Aires in early October, to protest for the release of state intelligence documents at the Interior Ministry. A police car drove up alongside them and while they were detained, the police told them they knew exactly where they were headed to and all about the protest. They were held in a local precinct, where police used light-torture techniques, beating them for four hours.
Ariel Montes says that police today have a clear interest in defending amnesty laws that protect military and police who disappeared and tortured 30,000 people. "They took me to the back of the police precinct where they handcuffed me, beat me and threatened me saying: ‘If Julio Lopez went disappeared, we can disappear you too.’ They also called me leftie and terrorist. During all of this they beat me. We aren’t going to give in to the police intimidates."
"We are going to hold an exposure protest in front of the police precinct so that local residents know what kind of police are patrolling the area: this is the police who have caused 1,200 easy trigger deaths in the Buenos Aires province. This is the police that kidnap our comrades, that threaten us and we are going to report these abuses publicly."
In another case, Ruben Gonzalez, son of a disappeared, was forced into an unmarked car by four men on October 4, who beat him while showing him pictures of activists and asking for their names. The kidnappers took his finger prints before releasing him 2 hours later.
According to Julio Talabera, an activist from H.I.J.O.S. – AN ORGANIZATION OF Children OF THE DISAPPEARED – police with ties to the military dictatorship seek to instill fear to stop the trials against military officers who served during the dictatorship. "If an investigative commission is going to be formed, human rights groups should form part of the commission. The commission should have the power to knock down the doors of the Buenos Aires police and demand that the police tell us where our comrades are and that they tell us where Julio Lopez is."
He also said that police continue with the same repressive practices used during the military dictatorship. "Whether they are in uniform or not, it’s the police that torture youths in the police precincts. This government that says it defends human rights has been reported to the Inter-American court of human rights because every 72 hours a young kid is killed by police in the streets of the Buenos Aires province."
Human rights organizations are pressing for direct access to information into the provincial police’s investigation of the missing witness. They are demanding that the government release state intelligence documents that could help to point to groups possibly connected with Lopez’s disappearance and the wave of threats. Groups will lead a series of exposure protests outside of police precincts this week.
Marie Trigona forms part of Grupo Alavío, direct action and video collective. She can be reached at email@example.com For more information on the campaign for the safe return of Julio Lopez, visit www.agoratv.org