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ARGENTINA
Kirchner keeps his promise
1/19/2006
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New measures confront human ri

President Néstor Kirchner’s vow to investigate the human rights abuses during the country’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983 has materialized in recent months.

On Oct. 26, an Argentine Court declared unconstitutional a decree under which former President Carlos Menem (1989-99) pardoned former Gen. Luciano Benjamín Menéndez, accused of torture and running concentration camps. The same day a court ordered the arrest of 295 officials, and the capture of 16 military and police officers that allegedly participated in the 1977 execution of writer and journalist Rodolfo Walsh.

"None of this would have been possible without the will of the political power and an independent judicial power, now composed of the best jurists in the country," said Eduardo Luis Duhalde, undersecretary for human rights.

Duhalde was referring to the political will Kirchner has displayed in relation to human rights and a June 14 Supreme Court ruling that nullified the Final Point and Due Obedience laws. These two legislations, passed in 1986 and 1987, respectively, by then-President Raúl Alfonsín (1983-89), impeded prosecution of human rights violators.

The pardon was overturned by the Federal Chamber of the central province of Cordoba, where Menéndez headed the Third Army Corps during the dictatorship. The ruling allows for the case, which was closed in 1989 when Menem issued the decree in favor of the ex-general, to be reopened.

"This ‘mega trial’ will group 450 cases of human rights violations committed against some 2,000 political dissidents, in which no fewer than 50 torturers were involved," said Claudio Orosz, a lawyer with Children for Identity and Justice against Forgetting and Silence (HIJOS), an organization composed of the descendents of victims of repressive violence during the dictatorship.

 

A step forward

Buenos Aires Judge Sergio Torres ordered the arrest of 295 army, navy and police officers accused of kidnapping and murdering 614 people in the Navy Mechanics school, a death camp that Kirchner converted into The Museum of Remembrance last.

A third of the 295 officials are only known by an alias, but the public prosecutor has identified 153 supposed human rights violators by name, only one of whom is still in active duty.

Torres then ordered the capture of 16 military and police officers who allegedly collaborated in Walsh’s murder, an emblematic case, not only because of the victim’s identity, but because it was the first case initiated since the Final Point and Due Obedience Laws were repealed.

Walsh, one of the founders of the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina and the author of numerous books on some of the most resonant political crimes in the second half of the 20th century, was the creator of the Clandestine News Agency (ANCLA), and was also the father of María Victoria Walsh, a guerrilla killed by the dictatorship.

Walsh was killed on March 25, 1977, one year and one day after the military coup. The day before his death, his last dispatch from ANCLA circulated: an open letter to the military junta in which he condemned the crimes it had committed and questioned its economic policies.

"These [crimes] do not represent the greatest suffering that has been brought upon the Argentine people, nor are they the gravest human rights violations," Walsh said in his letter. "In the economic policy is where not only an explanation behind crimes is found, but also a greater atrocity that punishes millions of people with planned misery."

Kirchner attacks neo-liberal policy

Two days after the arrest warrant for Walsh’s alleged killers was issued, Kirchner gave a surprisingly harsh criticism of neo-liberal policies, the same action that, 28 years earlier, cost the writer his life. "They were a part of an apparatus that planned genocide," said the president.

"These arrest warrants that Torres issued are the fruit of the tireless labor of human rights organizations and so many people, who have fought for during these years so that the crimes of the dictatorship do not go unpunished," said Lilia Ferreira, Walsh’s widow.

On Dec. 8, Kirchner took part in an emotional ceremony at the Plaza de Mayo, where every Thursday since April 30, 1997, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have met to demand justice for their children who disappeared during the dictatorship. The ashes of Azucena Villaflor, the group’s founder who was assassinated by the dictatorship, were scattered there. A plaque was unveiled that read, "Judgment and punishment for the guilty," the motto of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, words that have been adopted by human rights organizations and now, the president himself.


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