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Inside Story Americas
Argentina: Paying for the sins of the past
What can Latin American countries learn from Argentina's punitive approach?
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2012 12:40

Two former leaders during Argentina's military rule, Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, have been found guilty of overseeing the systematic theft of babies from political prisoners.

"Truth is like opening a Pandora's box in Latin America. And once you have the truth you have power to move towards justice."

- Peter Kronbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive

The case concerned 34 of the more than 400 babies stolen from parents while they were held in detention centres.

Videla assumed power in the military coup of 1976 and ruled the country for five years. He consolidated the position of the right-wing regime by commencing what is known as the dirty war, in which between 10,000 to 30,000 of the dictatorship's political opponents were killed.

Videla's conviction has been greeted with relief by the victims of the regime. But Argentina's punitive approach stands in contrast to the approach of other countries in the region in confronting their brutal pasts.

"I believe that we have to have justice and truth in order to have a better society, a better democracy ....What we have learned and what we have seen during these years is that people or victims are not just satisfied with the truth, that a truth commission can give them, they need a judicial proof."

- Katya Salazar, the executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation

Brazil, which was ruled by a military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985, has set up a truth and reconciliation commission but no one is set to face criminal trial for their crimes.

There is also the question of the US's key role in supporting a continent wide campaign of political repression and terror, but should American politicians and officials be formally held to account for their actions?

And what can other Latin American countries learn from Argentina's punitive approach?

Inside Story Americas is joined by guests: Peter Kornbluh, the director of the National Security Archive's Chile Documentation project. He has played a key role in the campaign to declassify key US government documents relating to the US government's role in Latin America; Juan Mendez, an Argentinian lawyer, who has represented many victims of Argentina's military dictatorship and was tortured and detained in the 1970s. He is currently the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; and Katya Salazar, the executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation, who previously worked for the Peruvian Truth Commission.

"My origin is horrible. To find out that I was born in a clandestine detention center, that my mother was probably killed the day I was born, that the people that adopted me did not adopt me but robbed me. There is a lot of pain in that story but there is also happiness. I learnt that with the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo that everything you do you have to try to find joy in it and that sometimes help pain to go away. These Human Rights trials help the scar to close."

One man who's parents died under the military junta


LATIN AMERICA - DEALING WITH THE PAST:

  • Two former Argentine dictators were convicted of stealing babies from political prisoners
  • A court in Buenos Aires sentenced Jorge Videla to 50 years in prison and Reynaldo Bignone to 15 years
  • They are already serving jail sentences for crimes committed under military rule, between 1976 and 1983
  • At least 400 babies are thought to have been taken from their parents while they were held in detention centres
  • Thousands of people disappeared in Argentina between 1976 and 1983
  • Human rights abuses in Guatemala killed hundreds of thousands after President Arbenz was deposed in 1954
  • A 1964 coup in Brazil ushered in two decades of military rule
  • The military junta in Brazil created Latin America's first death squads
  • Bolivian doctator Hugo Banzer accused of human rights abuses
  • Chile's Salvador Allende was deposed and replaced by Augusto Pinochet
  • The Pinochet government is said to have tortured and murdered thousands of left-leaning Chileans
  • The civil war in El Salvador left some 63,000 people dead
  • Nicaragua's government fought CIA-backed fighters in the 1980's

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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