A court in Argentina has found the country’s last dictator along with 14 other former military commanders guilty of complicity in a US-backed deadly crackdown on leftist dissidents across South America in the 1970s and 80s.
The court on Friday sentenced former dictator Reynaldo Bignone, the highest ranking figure on trial, to 20 years in prison for being part of an illicit association, kidnapping and abusing his powers in the forced disappearance of more than 100 people.
Fourteen of the remaining 16 defendants received prison sentences of eight to 25 years for criminal association, kidnapping and torture. Two were found not guilty.
The 88-year-old Bignone, who ruled Argentina in 1982-1983, is already serving life sentences for multiple human rights
violations during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. His conviction for crimes against humanity was related to Argentina’s so-called “Dirty War”, during which an estimated 30,000 left-wing guerillas, dissidents and others were disappeared under the junta.
During the dictatorship, an estimated 500 babies were stolen by the regime which also abducted, tortured and killed dissents and their suspected sympathizers.
This is the first time that a court has proved that the massive crackdown code-named ‘Operation Condor’ was carried out by the US-backed regimes in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
The ruling was hailed by rights activists.
“This ruling, about the coordination of military dictatorships in the Americas to commit atrocities, sets a powerful precedent to ensure that these grave human rights violations do not ever take place again in the region,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division.
It determines not only that state terrorism in Argentina was a “criminal conspiracy” but that it was “coordinated with other dictatorships,” said Luz Palmas Zaldua, a lawyer with the Center for Legal and Social Studies (Cels), which represented many of the plaintiffs in the case.
The prosecutors partly based their case on a declassified FBI agent’s cable, sent in 1976, which showed in detail how the regimes worked together to track down political exiles in neighboring countries and kill them or have them sent back to their home countries.