Tag Archive | "uruguay"

Uruguay: President-Elect Creates Truth Commission


Uruguayan president-elect Tabaré Vázquez (photo: Wikipedia)

Uruguayan president-elect Tabaré Vázquez (photo: Wikipedia)

Uruguay’s president-elect Tabaré Vázquez has launched a Truth and Justice Commission to look into crimes committed during the country’s 1973-85 dictatorship.

The Commission’s objective is to advance the search for the estimated 200 people who were disappeared during the junta, and will be made up of families of the victims and religious leaders.

The entity will formally come into being on 1st March, when Vázquez takes over from current president José Mujica. The group will work to analyse existing archives, follow up on cases that have been brought locally and internationally, and take witness statements from victims of human rights abuses and their families.

“The missing information is somewhere, and we have to find it, and I have high hopes that we can substantially advance,” said Vázquez at the press conference earlier today.

“We have moved forward but we want to advance further; we are going to work to overcome any hurdles that exist or that we may encounter, so that they disappear.”

It was not until Vázquez’s first term began, in 2005, that investigations into the country’s dictatorship began, with excavations at military barracks and other sites, where the remains of some of those killed were found. However, the vast majority of the victims have yet to be found.

Since then, 15 people have been convicted for crimes committed during the period, including former dictators Gregorio Álvarez and Juan María Bordaberry. All were imprisoned on murder charges. The majority of those disappeared were kidnapped in Argentina, under Plan Condor in which the de-facto governments of the region collaborated, through shared intelligence and assassinations of opponents.

 

 

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Uruguay: Congress Passes New Media Law


Uruguayan Senate (photo courtesy of Uruguayan Parliament)

Uruguayan Senate (photo courtesy of Uruguayan Parliament)

The Uruguayan lower house of Congress has passed a new Audiovisual Communication Services Law, by 50 votes out of 75.

The bill was backed by all the deputies of the governing Frente Amplio, and rejected by the opposition. The executive now has 120 days to implement it.

The new Media Law seeks to regulate radio, television, and other audiovisual media services to “avoid or limit the existence and formation of monopolies and oligopolies in audiovisual communication services, as well as to establish mechanisms to control it.” It also establishes limits to foreign media ownership.

The law has been praised by former UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue, who considered that “it democratises audiovisual media and facilitates freedom of expression.”

The law “must never be considered a gag, or an impediment to political expressions,” said La Rue on a visit to Uruguay last year. “One may argue about whether to regulate more or less, but they’re legitimate regulations, which exist everywhere in the world. It’s bad to bring the debate to an excessive degree of polarisation. We must be measured and we must not confuse freedom of expression with commercial freedom.”

The opposition has rejected the law on the basis that “it affects freedom of expression” and “affects private [actors] in order to benefit the state.”

The bill had been passed by the House of Representatives in late 2013, however the Senate introduced changes to it before approving it last week, and it had to be voted on again.

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Uruguay: Senate Approves New Media Law


Uruguayan Senate (photo courtesy of Uruguayan Parliament)

Uruguayan Senate (photo courtesy of Uruguayan Parliament)

The Uruguayan Senate approved a bill for a new Audiovisual Communication Services Law, which seeks to counter the concentration of media ownership in the country.

The bill was passed by 16 votes to nine. It received the support of the governing Frente Amplio, whilst the opposition voted against it.

The new Media Law seeks to regulate radio, television, and other audiovisual media services to “avoid or limit the existence and formation of monopolies and oligopolies in audiovisual communication services, as well as to establish mechanisms to control it.” It also establishes limits to foreign media ownership.

The bill creates an Audiovisual Communication Council, to be formed by five members —four picked by Parliament and one by the Executive— which will regulate the issuance of broadcast licences.

The opposition has criticised the bill, with the Partido Nacional saying it is excessively “detail-oriented” and “pro-state”, “monopolistic”, and against international law.

Talking to local radio, President José ‘Pepe’ Mujica said: “It seems that anything that implies regulation is a deadly sin. I think the exact opposite. If we don’t regulate the sharks, they’ll end up swallowing us.”

He added that “the worst threat is that someone will come from overseas and from the top or the bottom they will end up taking over. More clearly: I don’t want [Argentine media group] Clarín, [Brazilian media group] Globo, or [Mexican media mogul Carlos] Slim to become owners of communications in Uruguay.”

The bill will now return to the Lower House, where it is expected to be passed on 22nd December.

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Uruguay: Guantanamo Detainees Arrive in Montevideo


Uruguayan president José "Pepe" Mujica (photo by Vince Alongi/Wikipedia)

Uruguayan president José “Pepe” Mujica (photo by Vince Alongi/Wikipedia)

Six former prisoners freed from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp arrived in Uruguay in the early hours of Sunday. They were taken to the Military Hospital in Montevideo before being released.

The former prisoners are Syrians Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Ali Hussain Shaabaan, Omar Mahmoud Faraj, and Jihad Diyab; Abdul Bin Mohammed Abis Ourgy, from Tunisia; and Mohammed Tahanmatan, from Palestine.

Uruguayan authorities explained that the six men underwent routine tests for anemia, malnutrition, breathing problems, and other ailments, and were being kept in hospital for psychological examinations. They are between 32 and 49 years old, and were some of the first people to be taken to Guantanamo in 2002.

According to the lawyers representing some of the ex-prisoners, they are “doing very well” and look forward to learning Spanish and integrating into their new host country. The Uruguayan government is currently processing their applications for asylum.

The transfer of the six men to Uruguay was the result of an agreement between the government and its US counterpart earlier this year. There are now 136 people left in the Guantanamo Bay prison, located in Cuba. Of those, 67 have been approved to be transferred, 59 cases are being studied to determine whether they can be freed, and only 10 are facing charges, have already been charged, or have been convicted.

Uruguayan President José Mujica said that Guantanamo “is not a jail, it’s a kidnapping den, because a jail involves being subject to some legal system, to the presence of some prosecutor, to the decisions of some judge, whoever they may be, and to some minimum reference from the judicial point of view.” He added that, “for me, refuge is one of the most noble institutions that make humanity viable. Because there will always be someone who needs to escape from somewhere.”

Sunday marked the first time former Guantanamo detainees were transferred to South America, and the second time they were transferred to Latin America, since El Salvador gave refugee status to two Uighur men released from the prison in 2012.

The US government thanked the Uruguayan government for “its will to support the efforts” of the Obama administration “to close down the Detention Centre in Guantanamo Bay.”

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Uruguay: Tabaré Vázquez Wins Presidential Run-Off


Tabaré Vázquez and his running mate Raúl Sendic (photo: Pepe Delloro/Télam)

Tabaré Vázquez and his running mate Raúl Sendic (photo: Pepe Delloro/Télam)

Frente Amplio (FA) candidate Tabaré Vázquez won the presidential run-off yesterday by more than 12% of the vote.

Vázquez beat Partido Nacional candidate Luis Lacalle Pou by 53.6% to 41.1% and will take office from current president José ‘Pepe’ Mujica on 1st March 2015. It will be Vázquez’s second term in office (the first one was between 2005 and 2010) and the FA’s third consecutive presidency.

Addressing his supporters in Montevideo last night, Vázquez said: “We’re going to rule with you, we don’t want you to follow us, we want you to guide us. Don’t leave us alone.” He also promised that “we’re going to fulfill the programme of the FA to the last comma. Within the Constitution and the law, everything; without it, nothing.”
Before the official results were announced, Lacalle Pou conceded defeat. “A few minutes ago I called Tabaré Vázquez to recognise his victory, and to congratulate him for the legitimate victory he has just achieved,” said the former candidate.

President Mujica, who has an approval rating of 65%, will the country’s highest office with a healthy economic performance after 11 years of growth. Current annual growth in Uruguay is of around 3% and unemployment of 6.7%. During his presidency, important social laws were passed, such as those legalising marijuana, same-sex marriage, and abortion (the latter was passed under Vázquez’s first term, but the then-president vetoed it). Mujica will now return to the Senate.

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The Indy’s Weekly Review – 28th November 2014


Coming up on this episode of The Indy’s Weekly Review:

We analyse the mining lobby in Argentina after Wednesday’s release of a polemic photo, we speak to Juan Pablo Hudson of the Club de Investigaciones Urbanas about drugs, violence and police corruption in the city of Rosario, and we look at the media uproar over the Uruguayan president calling Mexico a “failed state”.

All that, plus the main news headlines from Argentina and Latin America and a preview of the new album by this week’s featured artist, Los Animales Superforros.

(Click on ‘Descargar’ to download)

Presented by: Kristie Robinson & Celina Andreassi
Editing: Pablo Fisher

We will be looking to continually improve and add to this podcast, and we’d love to hear your feedback on it, as well as suggestions for any additional stories or content you’d like to hear in it in the future. Send us an email at info@argentinaindependent.com, or comment on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Uruguay: Campaigns Close Ahead of Sunday’s Presidential Run-Off


Presidential candidate Tabaré Vázquez (photo: Pepe Delloro/Télam/ema)

Presidential candidate Tabaré Vázquez (photo: Pepe Delloro/Télam/ema)

Presidential candidates Tabaré Vázquez (Frente Amplio) and Luis Lacalle Pou (Partido Nacional) will close their campaigns today, ahead of Sunday’s presidential run-off.

Vázquez and his running mate Raúl Sendic will participate of a festival at Parque Battle, outside the Centenario stadium, in Montevideo. The event will begin at 6.30pm with the performance of the murga Reina de La Teja and will finish close to midnight with a set by candombe musician Rubén Rada. At 8.30pm, Sendic and Vázquez will address the crowds for the last time before the election.

Meanwhile, the Partido National will hold a rally in the city San Carlos, district of Maldonado, where Lacalle Pou and his vice-presidential candidate Jorge Larrañaga will give their final speeches at 8pm.

The latest polls show Vázquez well ahead of Lacalle Pou, with between 53 and 55% of the vote against the Partido Nacional’s 40 to 42%. This result would give the Frente Amplio its third consecutive government, with Vázquez becoming president for the second time.

Luis Eduardo González, director of pollster Cifra, told Uruguayan newspaper El País: “This last month of the electoral campaign has been odd by Uruguayan standards: there was little mobilisation, a relatively low amount of publicity, few appearances by the candidates. But even with this campaign at half throttle, the most likely outcome is that Vázquez will win by a broader margin than its predecessor [President José Mujica], and will become the third Uruguayan to be elected president twice.”

The reasons behind the support for the Frente Amplio, according to the polls, would be a good economic performance by the current government and the good image of President José ‘Pepe’ Mujica.

Vázquez came ahead in the first round of the election, on 26th October, with 47.17% of the vote, followed by Lacalle Pou with 30.55%.

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Uruguay Election: Vazquez To Face Lacalle in Presidential Run-Off


Presidential candidate Tabaré Vázquez (photo: Pepe Delloro/Télam/ema)

Presidential candidate Tabaré Vázquez (photo: Pepe Delloro/Télam/ema)

Former president Tabaré Vázquez, of the governing Frente Amplio, came ahead in yesterday’s presidential election in Uruguay, with 47.17% of the vote. He will face Partido Nacional’s Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, who came second with 30.55%, in a second round next month.

Uruguayans went to the polls yesterday to elect not only their next president, but also senators and deputies. The latest data indicates that the Frente Amplio obtained 15 senators (out of 30), and if they win the second round they will have a majority in the upper house, which is presided by the vice-president.

As for the lower house, Mariana Pomés of Cifra Consultancy explained local newspaper El País that “deputies are distributed differently because they are elected by department [district], so we need to have all the departments to know how many votes they got.” The Electoral Court is yet to finish counting the votes in important districts such as Montevideo and Canelones.

A referendum question was also included in yesterday’s election, whereby Uruguayans were asked to decide whether to lower the criminal age from 18 to 16, in a bid to curb crime. The ‘No’ vote won by 53.65% to 46.35%. Fabiana Goyeneche, who led the ‘No’ campaign, said: “Information and reflection won because people got informed about what was really being proposed, and when they started to realise that this proposal is not a good alternative, when they started to see that the actual defenders of the proposal had to admit that it wasn’t a solution to insecurity, then people started to think about it.”

Vázquez, an oncologist, was president of Uruguay between 2005 and 2010, and received the support of current president José Mujica in the left-wing Frente Amplio’s primary election. On his victory speech, Vázquez thanked Uruguayans for “the enormous support the people have given to this political force [the Frente Amplio] to keep changing,” and added that “beyond the parliamentary majorities, the path [we will take] will be to favour dialogue and respect.”

Partido Colorado’s candidate Pedro Bordaberry, who came second with 12.77% of the vote, said he will support Lacalle Pou on the second round. “I will work every hour of the next 34 days so that Lacalle Pou wins the run-off. I will do it with the conviction that it’s the best for my country,” said Bordaberry.

The presidential run-off will be held on 30th November.

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Uruguay’s Election: The Pending Questions of Justice and Human Rights


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily representative of The Argentina Independent.

On Sunday, Uruguayans will be electing their new president for the next five years. Browsing newspapers headlines, many are the themes on the political and social agenda, ranging from the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the capital, Montevideo, to rising levels of insecurity.

Leading presidential candidates in Uruguay, from left to right: Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry  (Photos via Wikipedia)

Leading presidential candidates in Uruguay, from left to right: Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry (Photos via Wikipedia)

Thirty years have passed from the historic elections of 25th November, 1984, which hallmarked the return of democracy in Uruguay after more than a decade of dictatorship and 13 years without an election. So much has changed since then. In 2013, Uruguay was selected by The Economist as the country of the year for “path-breaking reforms that do not merely improve a single nation but, if emulated, might benefit the world,” such as gay marriage and a law legalising and regulating the use of cannabis.

But much has stayed the same. In particular, coming to terms with the legacy of the dictatorship – that is, the systematic human rights violations such as political imprisonment, enforced disappearance and torture – is an unfinished business, and remains an open wound within society. Last year, the newly established and appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, unambiguously summarised the situation in Uruguay at the end of his first visit to the country.

De Greiff stated that “a chapter of Uruguay’s recent past is yet to be resolved adequately”, pointing to how there had been “little progress” since the end of the dictatorship in confronting the serious human rights violations committed between 1973 and 1985. The expert further asserted how this was “not about revenge or looking only to the past, but about laying a solid foundation for a just and equitable society that will allow new generations to address the challenges of the future.”

More recently, in August and September 2014, the director of Amnesty International Uruguay, Mariana Labastie, met with the four presidential candidates – Pedro Bordaberry of the Partido Colorado, Pablo Mieres of the Partido Independiente, Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Blanco and Tabaré Vázquez of the Frente Amplio – to discuss their commitment to human rights and the struggle against impunity.

Labastie underscored how “the topic of human rights is often absent from the agenda of the electoral campaign or it does not occupy the place it should.” She also highlighted how all the four candidates committed themselves to continue investigating the truth about victims of enforced disappearance. But is this enough?

Former dictator Juan María Bordaberry (photo: Wikipedia)

Former dictator Juan María Bordaberry (photo: Wikipedia)

Forty Years On

The Uruguayan dictatorship, in power between June 1973 and February 1985, perpetrated countless human rights violations inside and outside the country’s borders – the latter committed within the framework of Operation Condor, a continent-wide operation set up by the dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt down political opponents across borders.

It has been estimated that approximately 200 Uruguayans were victims of enforced disappearance, while there were approximately 6,000-7,000 victims of prolonged political detention, and thousands more instances of torture, sexual violence, and inhuman treatment and individuals having to flee into exile. Three decades from the democratic transition in 1985, responding to the human rights violations of the dictatorship can no longer be delayed. This is particularly so since, between 1986 and 2011, a law – the so-called Ley de Caducidad – effectively blocked the investigation and prosecution of all dictatorship-related crimes. Time is now of the essence. Many relatives of disappeared individuals as well as survivors of secret detention and torture have already passed away in the three decades elapsed. If there are any more delays, the opportunity for justice may be long gone.

A year after his visit, the UN Special Rapporteur presented his report on his mission to Uruguay at the 27th session of the Human Rights Council (8th-26th September, 2014). De Greiff’s report is a rather accurate diagnostic as well as a useful checklist of pending matters in Uruguay; his recommendations should be seriously acted upon by the next president of Uruguay.

The Report

The Special Rapporteur underlined in his report to the Human Rights Council that, in Uruguay, the burden to investigate the past has largely fallen on the shoulders of victims of serious human rights violations, their relatives, and human rights activists. They were the ones who tirelessly mobilised to push for – up to the present time – initiatives in favour of the promotion of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition. The Rapporteur also noted how the lack of progress and the passing of time has generated fatigue in the victims and their relatives. Taking into account that many of them are of an elderly age, it is urgent that their requests are attended to.

UN Special Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff (Photo via UN)

UN Special Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff (Photo via UN)

The Rapporteur organised his report according to the four elements of his mandate. In terms of justice, he acknowledged the important progress since 2005, especially pointing to the verdicts against two former dictators, Juan María Bordaberry in 2010 and Gregorio Álvarez in 2009, sentenced to prison for human rights violations, and the overturning of the Ley de Caducidad in 2011. At the same time, however, de Greiff joined the choir of critical opinions about the stance of the Uruguayan Supreme Court of Justice that, in 2013, considered the crimes of the dictatorship to be common crimes and, therefore, susceptible to the application of statutory limitations according to the national criminal code. Moreover, the Rapporteur expressed his concern about the transfer of criminal judge Mariana Mota last year and the unwarranted delays and obstacles that still hinder the resolution of ongoing criminal investigations and trials.

In terms of truth, de Greiff welcomed the efforts of civil society, especially the 1989 Never Again Report by the Peace and Justice Service, and the work of forensic anthropologists that located and identified four disappeared individuals in Uruguay in the past few years. However, he lamented a lack of attention paid to the larger universe of victims beyond the disappeared, to include victims of prolonged detention, torture, the kidnapping of children and sexual violence, and the establishment of policies to secure access to state archives.

On reparations, the expert applauded the sanctioning of several laws since redemocratisation to remedy different groups of victims, including the setting up of a special reparatory pension for former political prisoners and compensation for victims of state terror. Still, as of June 2014, only 360 cases of economic reparations were granted to victims of state terror, while confusion between different sets of rights characterises these laws, forcing victims to choose between pension rights and reparation benefits. Finally, in terms of guarantees of non-repetition, de Greiff commended the establishment of the National Institution for Human Rights in 2012 while highlighting the lack of vetting and thorough reforms to the Armed Forces and the Judiciary.

Tasks Ahead

The report ends with a list of conclusions and recommendations spanning across three pages, all needed in order to respond adequately to the unfinished business of the recent past. The most urgent recommendations that the new government must at least work on in its five-year mandate are -in the opinion of this author- the following three: the removal of all of the obstacles that block the denunciation of past human rights violations to the courts and the progress of judicial proceedings without undue delays; the establishment of an official mechanism to investigate past crimes; and the design and sanctioning of reparations policies encompassing both material and symbolic reparations and targeting all different categories of victims.

The next government in Uruguay has a historic opportunity to finally deliver truth, justice and reparations to victims of human rights atrocities and their families, as well as to the rest of society. This opportunity for justice should not be missed.

Dr Francesca Lessa is a specialist in issues of justice and human rights in Argentina and Uruguay based at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford.

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Operation Condor: Justice for Transnational Crimes in South America


The Operation Condor trial in Buenos Aires has implications for justice and accountability in Argentina but also for the rest of South America.

“Could you please tell us your date and place of birth?” the president of Federal Criminal Court 1 in Buenos Aires asked the young woman testifying at the court hearing. Macarena Gelman replied that she was probably born on 1st November, 1976, in Montevideo, Uruguay, after her mother had been illegally transferred there from Argentina weeks earlier. Mystified by how her mother, María Claudia Garcia de Gelman, originally detained in Buenos Aires had ended up in Uruguay, Macarena suggested that Operation Condor (Plan Cóndor) offered the “only explanation” for what had happened.

Macarena Gelman (Still from TV Publica)

Macarena Gelman (Still from TV Publica)

Macarena’s testimony before the tribunal in November 2013 exposes some of the challenges and difficulties that victims of human rights violations have had to face since the return of democracy. Numerous South American countries experiencing similar violations share this legacy. The question of date and place of birth is one that many of us answer frequently and we do so without the blink of an eye. In the case of Macarena, as well as other victims of identity theft and illegal adoption, answering that question is anything but easy.

For Macarena, it required solving a puzzle; rejoining all the component pieces scattered across Argentina and Uruguay, but also within the entire South America region. Reconstructing her life story took over 30 years and included a grandfather who incessantly looked for her. It was also the journey of two countries in the aftermath of the shadow of dictatorship, struggling to come to terms with the brutality of the crimes that had been perpetrated.

Macarena’s identification in Montevideo in 2000 proved even further the existence of the transnational coordination of terror known as Operation Condor. Over ten years later, on March 5, 2013, in a packed Buenos Aires courthouse, two former Argentine military dictators, together with other 19 defendants, were finally put on trial for their alleged role in Operation Condor, including the atrocities committed against Macarena’s parents.

Operation Condor was a continent-wide operation set up during the Cold War by the military dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt down political opponents across borders, murdering and disappearing hundreds of left-wing activists outside their home countries’ borders in the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America.

Responding to Human Rights Violations

The rapidly growing field of transitional justice studies “strategies employed by states and international institutions to deal with a legacy of human rights abuses and to effect social reconstruction in the wake of widespread violence.” In the past 30 years, countries have developed innovative ways to confront atrocities committed during political violence or conflict. Latin America has pioneered many tools such as truth commissions, trials and reparations that have been adopted subsequently throughout the world. Yet, up until recently, the main focus has been on offences perpetrated by national actors within individual states, thus neglecting consideration of how to respond to transnational crimes such as those of Operation Condor.

Nonetheless, since the late 1990s and early 2000s, investigations into Operation Condor crimes have gradually come to play a crucial role in the struggle for accountability in South America. The strategic litigation of instances of transnational crimes, together with a parallel strategy focusing on the illegal appropriation of children born to women held in clandestine detention, turned into key tools in the struggle against impunity and in questioning the validity of broad amnesty laws that were approved soon after the dictatorships.

These ground-breaking strategies and legal tools developed by human rights activists and lawyers purposefully circumvented amnesty laws and began chipping away at the wall of impunity: the first judgment issued in March 2009 against military and police officers in Uruguay related for instance to the murder of 28 Uruguayan citizens in Buenos Aires in 1976. Likewise, in Chile, after decades of absolute impunity, Augusto Pinochet was eventually indicted by Judge Juan Guzmán for crimes relating to “Operation Condor” in December 2004.

The current trial in Buenos Aires is the first prosecution to tackle the whole terror network and its operations to persecute opponents across borders in all its six member states. This prosecution is exceptional internationally and even in Argentina. Kathryn Sikkink labelled Argentina a “global protagonist” in the struggle for international human rights, where 121 criminal trials for dictatorship crimes have already been completed in recent years. Yet the ongoing Operation Condor trial is still a seminal moment. Even the landmark investigations by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón in the late 1990s only focused on atrocities perpetrated inside state borders of Argentina and Chile.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (left) and his Argentine counterpart Jorge Videla, in 1976. Both were active members of Operation Condor.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his Argentine counterpart Jorge Videla, in 1976.

Opportunities for Justice

The criminal investigation into the case of Operation Condor began in the late 1990s when the relatives of five victims from Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay presented their case to the judiciary in Buenos Aires. The amnesties that existed at the time could be circumvented because the defendants were either foreign individuals or Argentine military commanders. In the early 2000s, the federal judge charged former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and also requested the extradition of several other former dictators, including Augusto Pinochet and the former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. There were delays in the judicial and investigative process in Argentina, due to the context of impunity until the amnesty laws were overturned in 2005. Then the deferrals, due to the large numbers of trials for dictatorship crimes that resumed in 2006, and the trial only began in 2013.

The trial advances justice in new respects by tackling national and transnational human rights violations against 106 victims. The judges are investigating atrocities and perpetrators across multiple and overlapping jurisdictions: crimes perpetrated in Argentina by foreign operatives and Argentine agents, atrocities committed abroad by Argentine forces and their local counterparts as well as the transnational conspiracy of terror by South America’s dictatorships to perpetrate human rights violations. While other criminal prosecutions have established criminal responsibility for specific crimes, this trial, by examining illegal kidnappings and the circumstances surrounding them, aims to prove the actual existence of the Operation Condor network.

The trial is innovative in four respects vis-à-vis previous prosecutions in Argentina: it is the only one to have amongst its 21 defendants a foreigner, retired Uruguayan military officer Manuel Cordero. It addresses atrocities committed in the six countries that composed the Operation Condor network. It has a large number of foreign victims, including 48 Uruguayans and 22 Chileans. It uses the criminal charge of asociación ilicita (the establishment of a joint criminal conspiracy) to prosecute the transnational enterprise created to perpetrate crimes against humanity across borders. This specific charge is commonly utilised by domestic courts investigating cases relating to local criminal gangs or mafia groups; it has never been used for crimes committed during the dictatorship.

Automotores Orletti, the garage used as a clandestine detention centre during the dictatorship is closely connected to the Operation Condor trial (Photo via wikipedia)

Automotores Orletti, the garage used as a clandestine detention centre during the dictatorship is closely connected to the Operation Condor trial (Photo via wikipedia)

The Road Ahead

In less than a year’s time, the sentence in the trial will be known. It is too early to speculate on a sentence yet to come, but some preliminary evaluations can be attempted. Whatever the final verdict, the strategic importance of this trial cannot be underestimated.

This prosecution has played a key role in undermining the structure of impunity that existed in Argentina. The trial is truly unprecedented in its attempt to capture the complexity of repression in South America. It tackles domestic human rights violations but also transnational ones: it includes both Argentine and foreign victims, and there are Argentine perpetrators and foreign counterparts. It is the first time that a criminal court is probing the whole transnational terror network that existed in the region to enable cross-border repression of exiles and activists. The 106 cases are representative of the coordination of terror. Defendants are being prosecuted according to the criminal code not for establishing a domestic criminal conspiracy but an international one.

Activists and lawyers remain hopeful that the trial will have an impact on other countries in the region, especially those that lag behind in accountability for dictatorship crimes, such as Brazil and Uruguay. It is noteworthy that the Operation Condor trial began in Argentina just a few days after the Supreme Court of Justice in Uruguay released a very controversial and internationally criticised sentence regarding past human rights violations. In this context, a condemnatory verdict in the Operation Condor trial, where the majority of victims are Uruguayan citizens, may become a tool for local activists to mobilise on this issue and put pressure on the judiciary and the government to respond to myriad past crimes.

Dr Francesca Lessa is a specialist in issues of justice and human rights in Argentina and Uruguay based at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford.

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