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Italy convicts eight South Americans for Cold War political murders

An Italian court has ruled South American military dictatorships conspired to kill each other's political opponents. Among those convicted were the former presidents of Bolivia and Peru.

A court in Rome on Tuesday convicted eight former South American political and military figures for the murder of 23 Italian citizens during the 1970s and 1980s, as part of what the court ruled was a vast conspiracy by the region's dictatorships to hunt down left-wing political opponents.

Right-wing dictatorships in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia cooperated in killing thousands of each other's political opponents in the US-backed "Operation Condor."

While declassified documents in Latin America and the United States have unearthed details of Operation Condor and there have been previous trials, Tuesday's verdict was the first issued by an Italian court.

The court found there was a conspiracy between the Latin American governments and convicted in absentia eight people to life sentences. Among those convicted were former Bolivian President Luis García Meza Tejada, former Peruvian President Francisco Morales Bermúdez, two retired Chilean army officials and an Uruguayan politician. The court acquitted 19 other people. 

Several of the convicted are already serving sentences in their home countries.

"It's clear that this conviction confirms that Operation Condor existed and that it was a criminal conspiracy," Prosecutor Tiziana Cugini told Reuters after the ruling. "It's very significant, especially given that heads of state from the time were convicted."

Under Italian law, prosecutors can investigate cases involving the murder of Italian citizens abroad. The ruling can be appealed twice before a final sentence is served.

Most of those involved in the conspiracy are now in their 80s and 90s. Italy may ask for extradition, but given the age of the defendants, it is more likely that they would serve sentences in their own countries.

cw/gsw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

 

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