Two former Ford executives are facing court, accused of helping Argentina's military kidnap and torture workers during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. The case sheds light on the company's alleged collusion with the junta.
Former Ford factory director Pedro Muller and ex-security manager Hector Francisco Jesus Sibilla were due to appear in the San Martin Federal Criminal Court, just outside Buenos Aires, on Tuesday, Argentina's Telam press agency reported.
The men are accused of conspiring with security forces to target union workers at Ford's suburban factory north of the Argentine capital in 1976.
According to the prosecution, they provided names, ID numbers, pictures and home addresses to military officials who then abducted 24 factory employees and union members. The victims were allegedly subjected to hours of torture, electric shocks and interrogation on the factory premises in the suburb of General Pacheco before being hauled off to military prisons.
Two other prominent Ford officials will be absent from the court: human resources chief Guillermo Galarraga died last year at the age of 93 and then president of Ford Motors Argentina Nicolas Enrique Courard died in 1989.
Also on trial Tuesday is the head of the Argentine army's fourth battalion, Santiago Omar Riveros, 94, who faces fresh charges of unlawful search, deprivation of liberty and torture, among other offenses. He is already serving multiple life sentences for crimes against humanity.
Colluding with the dictatorship
Muller, 85, and Sibilla, 91 are accused of aiding the military to carry out these crimes — by allegedly identifying union workers, letting security forces use Ford premises for torture, and providing cars for transporting prisoners to police stations.
The court's indictment detailed a meeting around the time of the March 24, 1976 coup in which the factory's union leaders were allegedly told to "forget any kind of labor complaints" and all their problems would go away. Between the day of the coup and August of that year, two dozen Ford workers, including union leader Juan Carlos Amoroso, were arrested and taken away.
Plaintiff Carlos Propoato, 69, who worked at the factory from 1970 to 1976, told Agence France Press he was kidnapped and had his jaw broken.
Ghosts of Argentina's past
"They tortured me from 11 o'clock in the morning to 11 at night — there were beatings, electric shocks," he recalls. "What was my crime? Fighting for workers rights."
He says he was taken to a police station where he endured daily torture for 40 days. He spent nearly two years in prison before he was eventually released.
According to official data, about 13,000 people were kidnapped, tortured and disappeared as part of the campaign to eliminate leftist dissent during Argentina's so-called "dirty war." Rights groups, however, put the number of victims at 30,000.
A number of police and military officials have already been convicted of crimes committed between 1976 and 1983. But decades on, a new wave of trials has begun focusing on corporate support for the regime.
The alleged abduction and torture of Ford workers was investigated after Argentina's return to democracy in 1983, but amnesty laws passed in 1986-87 prevented the case from ever being prosecuted. The so-called "Pardon Laws" were overturned by the country's Supreme Court in 2005, clearing the way for hundreds of perpetrators to be brought to trial.
The "Ford trial," as it is known in Argentina, is expected to last for several months.