December 29th was a contradictory day for Argentines seeking resolution to the human rights violations committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship, or Dirty War. On one hand, the day saw former police officer and alleged death squad leader Rodolfo Almiron arrested in Spain on a warrant to face charges of murder in Argentina. Extradition proceedings are to begin soon.
On the other hand, the same day also saw the reappearance of Luis Angel Gerez, the second witness to disappear during trials against military officers who participated in crimes against humanity during the Dirty War. Official reports cite 13,000 people as dead or missing from the Dirty War, but human rights groups number the death toll as closer to 30,000 people.
Almiron is suspected to be a member of an anti-communist alliance known as the ‘Triple A,’ which was operational under the governments of Juan and Isabel Peron, and is blamed for the killing of 1,500 ‘left-wing opponents.’ Almiron, who is accused of carrying out many of these murders, fled to Spain in 1975. He had been considered immune to prosecution in Spain, but a week before his arrest, an Argentine judge ruled that Almiron’s crimes “do not fall under any statute of limitations,” allowing him to be tried.
Almiron’s arrest was a victory for human rights advocates, especially in comparison to the attempted extradition of former Argentine General Ricardo Miguel Cavallo. An investigation by Argentine Judge Garzón reports Miguel Cavallo’s participation “in 227 kidnappings and acts of torture concerning 110 people, as well as in the kidnapping of 16 babies who were removed from their mothers who were in prison.” For the past three years, Miguel Carvallo has been held in Madrid for crimes against humanity, but last week the Spanish high court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over him.
As human rights advocates celebrate Almiron’s arrest, they are facing a disturbing reawakening of Dirty War tactics. As aging but powerful military officers who participated in the kidnapping, torture and murder of political opponents realize that they could be punished for their crimes, some are using their old methods to silence witnesses. Journalist Marie Trigona (email@example.com) writes from Buenos Aires that “Hundreds of activists and torture survivors have received death threats in recent months. The situation is very serious and getting worse for human rights activists.”
The latest victim was construction worker Luis Angel Gerez, who disappeared after leaving a friend’s home the night of December 27th in the town of Escobar, north of the capital city of Buenos Aires. His disappearance came as a disturbing sequel to that of Julio López. Earlier this year López gave crucial testimony against former police chief Miguel Etchecolatz. Etchecolatz was sentenced to life in prison for the “disappearance” of six people. In September, López went missing on the eve of the conviction, and still has not been found.
Gerez, 50, is a key witness in the trial of ex-officer Luis Patti, who is charged with torture. Earlier this year, Gerez testified before a congressional committee that the retired police chief tortured him with electric shocks while he was being held in illegal captivity in 1972. Though blindfolded, Gerez said that he recognized Patti’s voice as one of his torturers. Due to the charges, Patti, though free, was barred from the congressional seat he won in the October, 2005 elections. He denies connections to Gerez’s disappearance.
On December 29th, Gerez was found by a police patrol in the town of Garin. Earlier that day, the Buenos Aires provincial government offered a US$130,000 reward for information on Gerez’s whereabouts. A friend who spoke to him in the hospital reported that Gerez said that he was kidnapped by three men who then blindfolded him, beat him, and finally burned him with cigarettes.
Gerez’s reappearance came minutes after Argentine President Nestor Kirchner ended a national address. In the address, Kirchner said that he would not be blackmailed by paramilitary groups, who he alleged were responsible for the kidnappings of Gerez and López, and were trying to scare other potential witnesses. "Everything seems to indicate than in both cases there has been the work of … former police and military agents who want to intimidate, pursuing their goal of maintaining impunity,” Kirchner said.
"Everybody be advised – this president will not back any amnesty law whatsoever," said Kirchner, and recalled protests by people related to past military regimes, “they are trying to push us to accept a veil of forgetfulness to achieve an apparent national reconciliation. . . . Recent history is evidence that any concession is ominous and ends with any advance in the struggle for human rights,” he said, referring to previous governments which passed amnesty bills.
"We are not going to yield to this blackmail. We are not going to allow the trials to be stopped," the president said. "On the contrary, we demand the courts speed them up so that once and for all the assassins be sent where they belong – to common prisons."
April Howard is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org, an online magazine uncovering activism and politics in Latin America. Email her at April.m.Howard(at)gmail.com
For more information, contact Journalist Marie Trigona firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo from indymedia.org