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Argentina sentences seven former soldiers for crimes committed during the dictatorship

The defendants were sentenced to between four and 25 years in prison for their involvement in crimes such as the kidnapping of a newborn baby and torturing inmates

Argentina
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo on October 19 in Buenos Aires (Argentina).Mariana Eliano

A court in the Argentine province of Corrientes on Monday convicted seven former soldiers who took part in the illegal repression of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The court sentenced them to between four and 25 years in prison for their involvement in kidnappings and torture, among other crimes against humanity. Among the hundred victims were Judith Casco, who was detained in April 1976 with her 11-day-old baby, and Juan Carlos Fernández, who was born in captivity in January 1977. This was the largest trial for crimes against humanity to be held in this region of northern Argentina.

Standing trial were army captain Juan Carlos De Marchi and colonel Horacio Losito, who were sentenced to 25 years in prison; the main commander of the Gendarmerie Raúl Reynoso (18 years), army brigadier general Eduardo Antonio Cardoso (15 years), army colonel Abelardo De la Vega (12 years), colonel Raúl Harsich (eight years) and gendarmerie assistant sergeant Pedro Armando Alarcón (four years). The court acquitted army lieutenant colonel Alfredo Farmache and gendarmerie senior commander Abelardo Palma.

The former military officers belonged to the VII Infantry Brigade, based in the city of Corrientes. From there, state terrorism was directed in four provinces in northeastern Argentina: Corrientes, Chaco, Formosa and Misiones.

“The justice that we and 30,000 others had been denied has been won,” said Casco, in reference to the 30,000 people who were disappeared during the military dictatorship.

Human rights representatives highlighted the importance of the ruling given the rise of denialism in Argentina, where the far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei and his running mate, Victoria Villarruel, have sought to raise doubts about the dictatorship.

“This resolution once again shows us the magnitude of terror [of the dictatorship],” Pablo Vassel, former undersecretary of human rights of the province of Corrientes, told local media. “Although, like all verdicts of this kind, it has arrived too late for the victims, I hope it is a bit of relief for those who suffered and sought justice without giving up.”

One of those people who never gave was Víctor Hugo Benítez, a survivor of the 9th Infantry Regiment’s secret detention center. “It makes me very happy because it is a vindication for those who are not there and is a strong blow to impunity,” he said. “It means, in the current context, that memory is present, because we are on the verge of it being able to happen again in a different way.”

During the three-month trial, the judges heard testimony from numerous victims, including Casco and her daughter Guadalupe Arqueros, who was a newborn baby, when she was kidnapped with her mother. Both remained for more than a year in the Pelletier Institute, a women’s prison, where the military threatened to torture the baby if the mother did not give them the information they requested. Arqueros said that the color of the walls and the smell of dampness in the prison remained with her from those months. Afterward, she was sent to her grandmothers and was only reunited with her mother when she turned six years old, in 1982.

Ramón Cura, another survivor, recounted the torture to which he was subjected by members of the brigade. One morning, they took him to the river and threw him into the river with his feet tied to stones. They only took him out when he was on the verge of drowning. During the interrogations, they tied bicycle tires to his ankles and wrists, to which they attached wires to provoke electric shocks by means of a battery-powered generator.

This is the tenth trial for crimes against humanity that has been carried out in Corrientes, and it involved the largest number of victims and defendants, according to the Secretariat of Human Rights. Since the return of democracy in Argentina in 1983, almost 1,200 people have been convicted of crimes against humanity.

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