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Condor crimes trial begins

March 6, 2013

A long-awaited human rights trial has opened in Argentina. Former South American military leaders and top politicians face charges for crimes against humanity perpetrated while trying to crush leftist opponents.

Former Argentine dictator and general, Rafael Videla (2-R) and other defendants are seen during their trials to investigate the crimes committed during the Operation Condor, a campaign established by Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay's dictatorships to quash the opposition during the 1970s, in Buenos Aires on March 5, 2013. Argentina's junta, which Videla led from 1976-81, is held responsible for the disappearance of up to 30,000 people during the so-called "Dirty War" against political opponents. Videla, Bignone and Menendez are among the 26 defendants. AFP PHOTO / Juan Mabromata (Photo credit should read JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images

A court in Buenos Aires began hearing a case on Tuesday that charges top South American officials in power during the 1970s and 1980s with carrying out a coordinated killing campaign known as Operation Condor. The Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet had launched the transnational conspiracy in an effort to rid neighboring countries of leftist opposition.

Argentina's former junta leader Rafael Videla, 87, (pictured above, second from the right) and Reynaldo Bignone, 85, are scheduled to stand trial. Both are currently serving life sentences for human rights violations during the country's 1976-1983 dictatorship.

#video#The remaining 23 defendants originate from Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Cross-border crimes

This is the first trial to focus on Condor crimes and seeks to reveal the coordinated effort across borders, a prosecutor told the news agency AFP.

"What we must now prove is the existence of an illicit association between the dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to pursue and eliminate opponents in any of those countries, with the support of the United States," Carolina Varsky said. Varsky is representing victims from Argentina and Uruguay.

US involvement in the conspiratorial network have long been known thanks to the publication of intelligence documents.

Tuesday's trial also had the potential to spur prosecutors in those countries to pursue a more encompassing case against alleged perpetrators, a research coordinator for the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) in the Argentine capital told news agency IPS.

"[This] is the biggest to be held so far in the region over Operation Condor, and could serve as an impetus for other countries where there have been delays or backsliding," said CELS research coordinator Lorena Balardini.

Victims 'disappeared'

Many of the victims were kidnapped, tortured and then were known to have been killed or simply disappeared.

The daughter-in-law of the Argentine poet Juan Gelman was abducted during the country's "dirty war" of the 1970s and 1980s. Maria Claudia Irureta Goyena was pregnant at the time of her incarceration in Automotores Orletti - a known interrogation center.

Shortly thereafter, she was forced to travel to Uruguay where she gave birth at a military hospital and then disappeared. Her daughter, Macarena Gelman, lived for years without knowing her own true identity, which she first learned in her early 20s.

Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier's assassination is one of the high-profile cases that draws the United States into the scrutiny surrounding Condor. In 1976, Chilean agents murdered Letelier in Washington, D.C.

More than 100 victims are to be represented in the case which could last two years.

Some 30,000 people are believed to have been killed by Argentina's military government during what became known as the Dirty War.

kms/jm (AFP, AP, IPS)