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Argentina: Human Rights Witness Goes Missing and is Released PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marie Trigona   
Wednesday, 07 May 2008 05:33

Juan Puthod
Juan Puthod
Juan Puthod, a human rights activist was kidnapped in Argentina; his disappearance prompted an intense manhunt and concern from rights groups. This is the third case in as many years of a human rights witness going missing since Argentina opened up Dirty War trials investigating rights violations.

Just hours after his disappearance, the government launched a massive manhunt and human rights groups started a media campaign for information on the whereabouts of the human rights activist. Puthod, who survived the terror inside several clandestine detention centers during the dictatorship was kidnapped and later released. During his 28-hour disappearance his captors blindfolded him, beat him and threatened him to stop participating in the trials against former military officers for crimes they committed.

His kidnapping sent a chilling reminder of the crimes committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. At a press conference last week, Puthod gave details of his kidnapping. "One of the things my kidnappers told me was clear. They said, 'buddy, you don't understand that we still have your life in our hands. Even after 32 years, your life still belongs to us. We decide when you live and die. You haven't understood the messages we've sent to you."

President Cristina Kirchner and Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli expressed immediate concern over Puthod's disappearance. In a televised speech Kirchner said that the government was "very worried" over Puthod's disappearance. Hundreds of police flooded the Buenos Aires province looking for traces of the victim. Puthod was found just blocks from offices dedicated to investigating crimes committed during the nation's bloody military dictatorship.

Juan Puthod was set to testify in several high profile trials involving military personnel who served during Argentina's so called dirty war. Just days after the March 24, 1976 military coup, Puthod was kidnapped by a commando group. During his detention, he was taken to seven clandestine detention centers. He was tortured so severely, he lost his left eye.

Unlike the previous case of Julio Lopez who went missing September 18, 2006 - police reacted quickly. Lopez, a retired construction worker and former political prisoner disappeared just hours before he was slated to give his final testimony on the eve of the conviction of the former police investigator, Miguel Etchecolatz. Human rights groups are pointing to provincial police with ties to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship for kidnapping the witness.

Sara Cobacho, Mother of Plaza de Mayo and provincial human rights secretary warned that left-overs from the military dictatorship could be behind Puthod's disappearance. "

Forced disappearance means pain, trauma and open wounds. Returning to kidnappings, with the kidnapping of Juan, even though it was brief doesn't make it less traumatic. When someone goes disappeared, we already have the case of Julio Lopez, the perpetrators know that the disappearance of someone is the most traumatic act possible.

Puthod was last seen leaving human rights offices dedicated to investigating crimes committed during the nation's bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Relatives and rights activists worry Puthod was kidnapped in order to silence him and other witnesses. The first disappeared witness Julio Lopez went missing September 18, the eve of the landmark conviction of Miguel Etchecolatz, the first military officer to be tried for crimes against humanity and genocide.

Puthod was last seen leaving human rights offices dedicated to investigating crimes committed during the nation's bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship. He was set to testify in several high profile trials involving military personnel who served during Argentina's so called dirty war. Relatives and rights activists worry Puthod was kidnapped in order to silence him and other witnesses

Since his initial detention, Puthod has relentlessly dedicated his life to defending human rights. He has a weekly radio program, organizes human rights activities and volunteers at the Casa de la Memoria de Zarate, human rights offices dedicated to investigating crimes committed during the nation's bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship. He was set to testify in a mega-case investigating the forced disappearance of individuals in the Camp de Mayo, a giant clandestine detention center used to hide, torture and murder so-called dissidents during the dictatorship. The case looks at the force disappearance of 150 people.

Puthod was organizing a commemorative act for two young activists kidnapped and murdered during the dictatorship - Osvaldo Agustín Cambiasso and Eduardo Pereyra. They were kidnapped on May 14, 1983, by a commando group during the last reigning months of the dictatorship when the disappearance of people had almost ceased completely. Tied up, his captors interrogated Puthod on the commemorative act, asking who else was involved in the organization. "Whose idea was it to commemorate the deaths of Osvaldo Agustín Cambiasso and Eduardo Pereyra and why do you have to dig up the death of those two terrorists?" were just some of Puthod's questions during their interrogation.

Luis Patti, an ex-police senior office has been investigated in the case of Osvaldo Agustín Cambiasso and Eduardo Pereyra. Luis Patti has served time for the crimes, but was later released. Patti, also a politician served as a suburban Mayor deputy in the 90's In 2008, while Patti's actions during the 1970s were still under formal investigation, the Supreme Court of Argentina ruled against the decision of the Chamber of Deputies, saying that he should be allowed to take his seat in Congress. Another witness who went missing, Luis Gerez, had testified that Patti was in charge of torture sessions he endured. Gerez went missing in December 2006 for 48-hours, in which he was allegedly interrogated and physically attacked.

Relatives and rights activists worry Puthod was kidnapped in order to silence him and other witnesses testifying in human rights cases. More than 200 former military personnel and members of the military government have been accused of human rights crimes and are now awaiting trial.

An estimated 30,000 were disappeared during the so called dirty war. Justice is now legally possible since the Supreme Court nullified the amnesty for military leaders through the full-stop and due-obedience laws passed in the 1990's. Much of the evidence has been researched by human rights organizations, with very little support from the government. As the perpetrators face trial 32 years on, key witnesses are disappearing and terror is back on the streets. How long will survivors have to put their lives at risk in order to bring their captors to justice? Rights groups worry that military operating from their VIP jail cells will try to end the human rights trials. Until impunity ends, justice will be unmet, a historic memory incomplete and a new generation of activists in danger.

Marie Trigona is a writer, radio producer and filmmaker based in Buenos Aires. She can be reached at mtrigona@msn.com

 

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