Justice after 30 years
IT HAS taken a long time, but the prosecution, conviction, and return to jail of former junta leaders Jorge Rafael Videla (86) and Reynaldo Bignone (84) for baby abductions may at last serve as long-overdue closure to their victims, at least those so far identified. It is also important testimony to the rootedness of Argentina’s democracy and rule of law, and sends another welcome message to dictators the world over that lifelong impunity is no longer the norm. The court found that the military junta which ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983, waging a brutal “dirty war” against left-wing opponents that cost as many as 13,000 lives, was also involved in a systematic campaign to ”rescue” up to 500 babies of women militants.
The stolen children were raised by military or “reliable” families in ignorance of their subsequently murdered parents’ identities or fates. Videla was convicted and got 50 years as chief architect of the “Systematic Plan”. He, Bignone, and ex-navy officer Jorge Acosta, “The Tiger” – 15 and 30 years respectively – are already serving life terms for crimes against humanity.
Crucial to the case, which related to 34 specific abductions, was the tireless work over the years, much of it in a very hostile political climate, of the resilient “Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo” campaign whose members have so far identified 106 abductees through DNA testing, a quarter of whom were part of the trial.
For Francisco Madariaga it was a bittersweet moment. He discovered his true identity two years ago through DNA testing after a dogged 32-year search for him by his father, and had given evidence in the case against abusive adoptive parents, former captain Victor Gallo and his ex-wife Susana Colombo. They received 15 and five years in jail respectively. The fate of Madariaga’s natural mother, Silvia Quintela, had been typical of the “disappeared” – after giving birth at the Campo de Mayo army base where thousands died, she had been sent on a “death flight” from which drugged victims were thrown alive into the south Atlantic.
Videla remains unrepentant, claiming to be a political prisoner. Ten days ago in his closing comments at the trial, though denying there had been a systematic plan, he still justified the abductions as protecting children from the pernicious influence of Marxism: “The women giving birth, who I respect as mothers, were militants who were active in the machine of terror . . . Many used their unborn children as human shields.”
Many grandparents’ desperate search goes on.