Argentina’s last military dictator jailed for role in international death squad

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

Reynaldo Bignone sentenced to 20 years in prison for his part in running Operation Condor in 1970s and 80s

Argentina’s last military dictator, 88-year-old former general Reynaldo Bignone, was today sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in Operation Condor, under which an international death squad was set up by six South American military dictatorships during the 1970s and 80s. The plan allowed death squads from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to cross into one another’s territory to kidnap, torture and kill political opponents who had fled across the border.

Most of the 105 cases of “illegal arrest” followed by death covered by the trial involved foreign nationals – 45 Uruguayans, 22 Chileans, 13 Paraguayans and11 Bolivians – killed while living in exile in Argentina.

Persecuted for political reasons in the military regimes in their own countries, many had escaped to Argentina before 1976, when the country became the last of the six nations to fall under a dictatorship. After their arrest, the victims were made to “disappear”, usually by being cremated, or thrown drugged but still alive from military planes into the Atlantic Ocean.

“This ruling is important because it is the first time the existence of Operation Condor has been proved in court,” said Luz Palmás Zaldúa, lawyer for the Argentinian human rights group Cels (Centre for Social and Legal Studies), which represented the victims’ families. “It is also the first time that former members of Condor have been sentenced for forming part of this criminal organisation.”

The sentences against 17 former officers on trial were read out by Judge Adrián Grünberg to a courtroom packed with victims’ relatives, who sat in stony silence during the lengthy reading.

Bignone, who ruled Argentina in 1982-1983 in the wake of the Falklands war, was found guilty of being part of an illicit association, kidnapping and abusing his powers in the forced disappearance of more than 100 people. The former general is already serving life sentences for multiple human rights violations during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

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