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Good news for human rights
Pablo Waisberg
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More dictatorship-era human rights violators could face jail time.

In the weeks leading up to the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s March 24, 1976 military coup, the fight to bring dictatorship-era human rights violators to justice received a boost.

In February alone, Argentina’s judiciary announced the prosecution of former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-81) and former Interior Minister Eduardo Harguindeguy for their participation in Plan Condor, a covert agreement of repression between the Southern Cone military regimes in the 1970s and 80s.

On March 9, air force chief, Gen. Eduardo Schiaffino, admitted that members of this branch of the armed forces were responsible for human rights violations during the military dictatorship. This was the last branch of the Argentine military to issue a mea culpa for the atrocities committed. The army had done so in 1995 as had the navy in 2003.

Human rights organizations applauded the federal court’s Feb. 13 announcement dictating the prosecution and preventative imprisonment of Videla and Harguindeguy, along with former Tucuman Governor Antonio Bussi, former military chiefs Ramón Díaz Bessone and Luciano Benjamín Menéndez, and others.

Judges stand firm

The federal judges said that the suspects comprised "an international criminal society" and charged them with unlawful imprisonment and aggravated unlawful assembly, as well as decreeing embargos on their assets equivalent to 1 million pesos (some US$325,000).

Human rights advances in Argentina are owed mainly to the work of rights groups, social movements and the policies of President Néstor Kirchner, who has promised to bring to justice those who committed the crimes during the eight-year dictatorship, which left 30,000 dead or missing.

On Feb. 9, former police officer Ricardo Taddei was arrested in Madrid and charged with 161 counts of kidnapping and torture committed between 1976 and 1979. Taddei’s arrest was ordered by Argentina’s judiciary within an investigation into the First Army Corps’s repressive circuit that controlled 19 clandestine detention centers in and around Buenos Aires.

Taddei’s arrest coincided with the restitution of identity of the son of Gastón Casado and Adriana Tasca, who were detained and disappeared in 1977.

A large extended family was in search of Casado and Tasca’s son. Baptized by his adopted parents as Sebastián, he is now 28.

According to the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human rights group whose members — relatives of the disappeared — work for the search and restitution of the identities of children who were kidnapped or born in captivity during the dictatorship, 500 children were taken from their parents during this period.

Gastón Casado was kidnapped in 1977 and taken to the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA), a torture camp and clandestine detention center. In 2004, Kirchner designated EMSA as the site for the Museum of Remembrance. Adriana Tasca, five months pregnant, was also detained during the same time.

Identity recovered

Sebastián, whose real parents thought of naming José or Josefina, was born in a clandestine center, which the country’s military named "La Cacha," short for Cachavacha, the name of a witch in Argentine folklore who makes naughty children disappear. Sebastián was given to a couple — friends of a military officer — who raised him. The birth certificate was signed by a Buenos Aires police doctor, who is tied to other child appropriation cases.

As in many of these cases, Sebastián contacted the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo with suspicions that his was not his true identity. When genetic test results confirmed these doubts, he signed the receipt Sebastián José Casado. Days later, he was reunited with his biological family.

"It was something magical, something so unexpected," said Ángela Barili de Tasca, Sebastián’s grandmother. "It was full of tears, laughter, something so beautiful, unforgettable for me. When he hugged me I told him that he hugged like his father. They were embraces that enveloped you, full of tenderness."

Unlike Sebastián, Evelyn Vázquez, whose parents also disappeared during the dictatorship, refused to do a genetic analysis to confirm her identity in an effort to protect her adoptive parents. Prosecutors investigating her case requested on Feb. 15 a nine-year prison sentence for retired navy officer Luis Vázquez Policarpo — who confessed to the crime in March 1999 — and his wife Ana María Ferra, and a six-year prison sentence for the midwife Justina Cáceres who falsified the birth certificate. The judges’ verdict could affect Evelyn Vázquez’s decision to refuse a genetic test.

Vázquez is suspected to be the daughter of Santiago Bauer and Susana Beatriz Pegoraro, who were kidnapped in June 1977. Pegoraro was detained when she was five months pregnant and was taken to ESMA, which also functioned as a clandestine maternity ward.

Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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