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Argentina convicts ex-military strongmen

May 28, 2016

A court has convicted 15 ex-military officers for conspiring to kill dissidents during a US-backed crackdown decades ago. Hundreds of officers have been tried for atrocities carried out in the 1970s and '80s.

Argentinien Prozess Reynaldo Bigone
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Fernández

Some 15 of the 18 defendants were convicted Friday of criminal conspiracy for their role in torture and murder cases that are connected with 105 executions and kidnappings in Latin America.

The court was the first to try atrocities committed under Operation Condor, a coordinated plan of repression launched in 1975 by the military regimes of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay - with diplomatic, political and military backing by the United States.

A key piece of evidence in the case was a declassified 1976 FBI cable that described in detail Washington's initiative to share intelligence and eliminate leftists across Latin America.

"It's the first verdict on Operation Condor as a coordinated structure for repression," said Gaston Chillier, head of Argentine rights group CELS.

Landmark conviction

The 88-year-old former military dictator Reynaldo Bignone was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the forced disappearance of more than 100 people. The 77-year-old Uruguayan ex-colonel Manuel Cordero - the only non-Argentine national in the dock - was sentenced to 25 years.

Argentinien Reynaldo Bigone
Argentine's notorious junta leader Reynaldo Bignone was sentenced to 20 years in prison for Operation Condor crimesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/E. Garcia Medina

"The trial has allowed us to better understand Operation Condor," victims' lawyer Luz Palmas said. "Until now, historians and journalists were the only ones who had carried out investigations."

The former general who ruled Argentina in 1982 and 1983 is already serving life sentences for multiple human rights violations during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

The various regimes communicated with each other using a telex system they had been trained to use at the infamous School of the Americas in Panama, a US training center that drilled Latin American strongmen in counter-insurgency tactics.

Prosecutors had sought to cast a wider net but numerous suspects living outside Argentina had their extradition requests denied. Some former regime officers are protected by amnesties.

jar/gsw (AFP, AP)