Argentine junta admiral Massera dies

 

THE FORMER Argentine admiral who came to symbolise the terror of the country’s military dictatorship in the late 1970s, died on Monday after a long illness.

Emilio Eduardo Massera (85) was a member of the three-man military junta which overthrew Argentina’s democracy in 1976 and set about exterminating left-wing radicals.

In a campaign officially labelled the Process of National Reorganisation – but today better known as the Dirty War – an estimated 10,000 people were murdered or disappeared by the country’s military, according to a truth commission established after the return of democracy in 1983.

Under Massera, Argentina’s navy was the most brutal of the three services in the campaign against Marxist guerrilla groups and other opponents of the regime. He set up a secret torture and killing centre in a naval school in the prosperous northern suburbs of Buenos Aires, from where junior officers would set out to kidnap opponents.

Their victims were subjected to brutal interrogation by torture before most were drugged and thrown alive from military planes into the river Plate estuary. An estimated 5,000 people passed through the centre, with only a handful emerging alive.

By the time Massera stepped down from the junta in 1978, the various guerrilla groups that had wreaked havoc in the country during the previous decade had been largely dismantled. Massera always remained unrepentant about his actions, claiming he fought a “fair war”.

During his trial in 1985 for human rights abuses, he defended torture, telling his judges “you cannot interrogate a terrorist like you are questioning a child”.

He was convicted of kidnap, torture and murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, but he was released following a presidential pardon in 1990.

In 1998, Massera was arrested for orchestrating the illegal adoption by people connected to the dictatorship of babies born to women in military captivity and in 2001, he was charged with stealing from the families of his victims, both crimes not covered by a 1990 amnesty law. He was also sought by Spain, Italy and Switzerland in connection with the murder of foreign nationals in Argentina.

A stroke in 2002 left him suffering from dementia and a judge declared him unfit to face further justice. He died in a naval hospital.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Uruguay a court on Monday convicted a general for his role in the murder of a communist activist in 1974.

Gen Miguel Dalmao becomes the first serving member of the country’s armed forces to be found guilty of human rights abuses during the country’s own Dirty War between the military and left-wing radicals.