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US jury finds ex-Argentine officer responsible for massacre

July 2, 2022

Roberto Guillermo Bravo and other military officers were accused of executing 16 unarmed political prisoners at a Patagonia military base on August 22, 1972.

Argentinien Massaker Roberto Guillermo Bravo
Roberto Guillermo Bravo was accused of taking part in the Trelew Massacre in Argentina's Patagonia region 50 years agoImage: Lynne Sladky/AP/picture alliance

A jury in the US city of Miami, Florida, on Friday found a former Argentine naval officer responsible for the 1972 massacre of political prisoners in his home country.

Roberto Guillermo Bravo, 79, was ordered to pay more than $20 million (€19 million) in damages to the families of four of the victims.

Bravo and other military officers allegedly shot to death 16 unarmed political prisoners and seriously wounded three others at the Trelew military base in Patagonia in the early hours of August 22, 1972, according to the complaint filed in the US case.

The accused, who has lived in the US since 1973 and is a US citizen, remained calm as he heard the verdict. "I'm happy for them," Bravo later told the AP news agency as he left the courtroom.

Trelew Massacre

In the official version of events, the killings in 1972 occurred when 25 left-wing insurgents were shot at while trying to escape from a prison.

It was only after Argentina returned to democracy in 1973 that three survivors of the massacre were able to tell the truth about the incident, which was declared a crime against humanity.

Those three were later kidnapped and murdered by the military after a coup that led to Argentina's 1976-83 dictatorship.

During the five-day trial in Miami, the jury was presented evidence showing that, in the early hours of August 22, 1972, Bravo and other military officers woke 19 sleeping prisoners, lined them up and opened fire.

Justice for the families

The plaintiffs were relatives of victims Eduardo Cappello, Ruben Bonet and Ana Maria Villarreal de Santucho, who were killed in the massacre, and Alberto Camps, who was one of the three initial survivors.

The jury also heard testimonies about the systemic persecution of the plaintiffs and their families that followed the massacre.

"We hope that today's verdict will provide a measure of justice to our clients, as well as to the activists, lawyers and many others in Argentina who have fought so long and so hard," said Claret Vargas, an attorney representing the families.

Bravo was the only accused military officer who had not faced justice for the event. Three other officers were convicted in Argentina for their role in the massacre and given life sentences.

The US has previously rejected a request from Argentina to extradite Bravo. He left the country in 1973 and became a US citizen in 1987. 

The civil case against Bravo was filed under a US law that allows judicial action against US residents for acts allegedly committed elsewhere.

Correction: This story has been altered to remove a reference to the city of Miami as a "state." (04.07.2022)

ss/nm (AP, EFE)