by Marcela Valente
(IPS) BUENOS AIRES --
Jorge Rafael Videla has become the first former Latin American dictator to be indicted for Operation Condor, the joint intelligence and assassination missions carried out by the South American dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, with apparent backing from the United States.
Argentine Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral advised Videla July 9 of his indictment and order for "preventive prison." He is accused of participating in an "illicit association" created to kidnap, torture, assassinate and "disappear" individuals and commit other related crimes.
The indictment included an embargo of $1 million against the assets held by Videla, who refused to make a legal declaration when he was subpoenaed by the judge on June 20. The former army general was a member of the junta that held power in Argentina from 1976 to 1983.
The legal grounds cited by the judge in moving forward on the case, in conjunction with the public prosecutor's office, is the interpretation of "forced disappearance" as a crime that is ongoing until the fate of the victim is known. As such, it is not included in the amnesties granted by the laws enacted in Argentina in the 1980s.
But the former dictator's defence team questioned Canicoba Corral's decision, indicating that the matter has already been legally laid to rest, invoking the constitutional guarantee that a citizen may not be tried twice for the same crime.
Videla's attorneys maintain that the sentence the accused received in 1985, during the trials of members of the Argentine military juntas, exonerates him from undergoing a new trial for crimes committed by the government during the dictatorship.
The former dictator was sentenced at the time to life in prison for 66 homicides and hundreds of kidnappings and acts of torture. He served his sentence until 1990, when he and other chiefs of the military regime, as well as former leaders of Argentina's guerrilla movement, received pardons from then-president Carlos Menem (1989-1999).
In 1998, he was detained again -- house arrest because he was over 70 at the time -- for his participation in kidnapping the children of people who were seized by the military regime. Therefore, in practice, his situation does not change with the new indictment.
Judge Canicoba Corral declared that investigations had verified the existence "of a spurious accord between the military governments of the Southern Cone of the Americas to produce, in other territories and recurring to foreign forces, kidnappings and forced disappearances of people, among other related crimes."
He emphasized that his investigation is limited to events occurred within Argentine territory.
Operation Condor involved the military forces and intelligence personnel of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and, to a lesser extent, Ecuador and Peru, he said.
The judge also pointed out that during the region's dictatorships of the 1970s and early 1980s, the regimes exchanged prisoners and kidnapped members of the political opposition, transferring them between the various countries involved in Condor.
Declassified CIA documents indicate that figures in Washington played a key role in the formation of Operation Condor and in carrying out its actions.
Consequently, the judge has not ruled out the possibility of serving a subpoena to the U.S. secretary of State during that period, Henry Kissinger.
In the same legal proceedings, begun in 1999, arrest warrants have been issued for former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989), former Chilean general Manuel Contreras -- who served as chief of the secret police under former dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) -- and of four agents of the Uruguayan dictatorship (1973-1985).
The only affirmative response to the warrants so far has come from Chile's justice authorities, who acted quickly in apprehending Contreras for the 1974 kidnapping and disappearance of businessman David Silbermann.
The Argentine request for Contreras' extradition is pending a ruling by the Chilean judge assigned to the case.
Meanwhile, Stroessner responded to the judge -- through a lawyer -- that he would only make his declaration in Brazil, where he has lived in asylum since his regime ended 12 years ago. The former Paraguayan dictator indicated that his age and fragile health prevented him from travelling to Argentina.
The Uruguayan government refused to comply with the arrest warrants issued by Canicoba Corral for former military officers Josˇ Gavazzo, Manuel Cordero and Jorge Silveira, and for former police superintendent Hugo Campos Hermida.
Guillermo Stirling, Uruguay's Interior minister, said on July 6 that the government would wait for Argentina to send the extradition requests and then pass them on to the justice authorities for their consideration.
Stirling added that the pronouncement is "strictly juridical" and does not involve the Uruguayan amnesty law enacted in the 1980s in favor of the military personnel who participated in the dictatorship's illegal repression.
Among the cases the judge used as the legal basis for the indictments was the 1976 kidnapping in Buenos Aires of an Uruguayan woman, Sara Mendez, and her son Simon Riquelo, who was not even a month old at the time. Mendez is still looking for her son, who would now be 25 years old.
July 16, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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