Ex-officers get life sentences for 1972 jail massacre in Argentina

Trial opens against wife of governor accused of shooting him on New Year's Day

Families of the victims of the Trelew massacre await the verdicts on Monday.
Families of the victims of the Trelew massacre await the verdicts on Monday.MAXI JONAS / EFE

Three former military officers in Argentina were convicted on Tuesday for the August 1972 massacre of 16 members of a guerrilla commando unit who were detained at a military base. The case is known as the Trelew massacre, and is considered one of the country's biggest human rights investigations in recent years.

Former navy captains Emilio del Real and Luis Sosa, and former corporal Carlos Marandino, were sentenced to life in prison by a court in Comodoro Rivadavia, some 1,300 kilometers from Buenos Aires. Two other former captains, including the base commander at the time, Rubén Paccagrini, were acquitted.

The incident occurred on August 22, 1972 during the dictatorship of General Alejandro Lanusse, when 25 members of an armed leftist group escaped from a prison in Rawson, Chubut province and took over the nearby airport in Trelew. The military was able to capture 19 inmates but six succeeded in hijacking a plane to Chile.

In Trelew, 16 died after officers opened fired with machine guns

The seized 19 were taken to the Almirante Zar naval base in Trelew, where 16 died after officers opened fired with machine guns while they were in their cells. Three others, who were seriously wounded, survived but eventually disappeared during the following military dictatorship that took over the country when President María Estela "Isabel" Martínez de Perón was overthrown in 1976.

When the verdicts were read out, many family members of the deceased guerrillas cheered inside and outside the courtroom. But many were appalled by the acquittals, especially that of Paccagrini.

Fernando Gelves, the federal prosecutor in Rawson, said he will appeal. "We don't understand how [the judges] can declare this a case of crimes against humanity while at the same time considering that Paccagrini wasn't responsible for relaying the order [to massacre the inmates] from Buenos Aires," Gelves said. The court has asked for the extradition of another suspect, Roberto Guillermo Bravo, who is living in the United States.

The court has asked for the extradition of another suspect

In another high-profile case, the murder trial against the wife of the late governor of Río Negro province, who is accused of shooting her husband last January, opened on Monday in San Carlos de Bariloche.

Lawyers for Susana Freydoz have said that they will argue that she lost her senses when she grabbed a .38 caliber revolver and shot her husband on January 1 - just 21 days after he took office - following an argument at their home. Freydoz was charged with murder the following February and was taken to a prison mental hospital.

Her lawyer, Alberto Riccheri, said that his client will not testify because she is heavily sedated. The couple's four children will be called but Riccheri has asked the court that they testify in a closed courtroom.

Historic vessel docked for unpaid debt


Argentina"s navy chief has been replaced due to the ongoing row the country"s government is having with Ghana. The disagreement has arisen due to the West African nation"s seizure of a historic frigate on a US court order, which demands the embargo of the vessel until Argentina repays bondholders money it owes them after its massive 2002 debt default.

The 19th-century training vessel Libertad was seized on October 2 after it made a stop in Tema, Ghana. The African nation"s government agreed to enforce a ruling filed by a US District Court in favor of NML Capital, an affiliate of investment firm Elliott Management. NML is demanding the Argentinean government pay its shareholders more than $282 million it owes them but says that it will agree to release the ship if the country pays back at least $20 million.

According to reports in the Buenos Aires daily La Nación, Argentina has asked for the support of South American and African nations, including South Africa, to pressure Ghana into releasing the ship.

Argentina is arguing that the government of Ghana should not have seized the ship because it was on a military visit and had diplomatic immunity. But a Ghanaian court ruled last Thursday that Argentina forfeited such immunities when it issued the bonds.

The Argentinean Defense Ministry announced in a statement that it had replaced navy chief Carlos Alberto Paz soon after removing two other senior officials as part of a probe into who was responsible for the ill-fated stop in Ghana.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner dispatched several officials to Accra, including Deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Zuai, to resolve the stand-off while angry lawmakers in Buenos Aires continued to question why Ghana was included on the tour of the region.

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