The connection point between the South American dictators during the last half century was the so-called “Plan Condor,” which was established so the right wing military dictatorships during those years could stalk and arrest left wing groups. These governments used methods that violated human rights. Dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay were part of the feared Plan Condor. The following is a brief summary of some of the trials of former Latin American dictators that were started because of violations of human rights.
Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981)
He got into the presidency with a self proclaimed “National process of reorganization” through a military coup to the government of María Estella Martinez de Perón.
According to human rights organizations, in a little over two years the result was 30,000 people disappeared, 500 prisons, opposition members murdered, and the illegal custody of children born in captivity.
The socio-economic crisis got worse, and there was an armed incursion to the “Falkland Islands” that were under British rule. These constituted a “coup de grace” to a government that no longer could stay in power.
In 1983 the military passed the presidency to Raúl Alfonsín. Jorge Videla was convicted in 1985 of committing 66 murders and hundreds of kidnappings and tortures. He was in jail until 1990, when Carlos Menem, the Argentinean president at that time, granted him a pardon. Menem claimed that it was necessary to get over the conflicts of the past.
In 1998, Videla went back to prison when a judge ruled that the illegal custody of children during his government constituted a violation of human rights. After 38 days Videla was granted house arrest because of his age.
Currently Videla is a defendant in numerous legal proceedings in connection with crimes and tortures during his dictatorship. In Argentina there are currently 270 members of the military and police accused and detained for human rights violations during the military governments from 1976 to 1983.
In June, 2005, some laws were repealed so the justice system could investigate former members of the security forces, the so called laws of “obediencia debida“ and “punto final”, passed during Raúl Alfonsín’s government (1983-1989).
In the Brazilian case, dictators came one after the other between 1964 and 1985, with some supposedly democratic intervals. In 1979 an amnesty was passed to forgive all Brazilians, both civilian and military, who committed human rights crimes in those two decades.
Luis Garcia Meza Tejada, former head of state between 1980 and 1981, is accused of taking part in more than 500 murders. The former soldier was sentenced to prison for 30 years in 1993, tried to flee to Brazil, and was captured and put in jail. Since 1994 he has been at the Chonchocoro jail serving a 30 year sentence without chance of bail.
Another former president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada y Sanchez Bustamante (1993-1997 and 2002-2003) resigned on October 17, 2003, after being accused of genocide for the deaths of 60 people in that period.
His second period ended violently when a government project to export gas to the United States through Chile was protested with riots around the country. Dozens of citizens died when he ordered the army to go out into the streets, creating a mass rejection of his presidency.
A prosecution was opened against the ex-president and his fifteen ministers for genocide and was accepted by the national congress after a long debate between the congress and the prosecutor’s office.
Augusto Pinochet Ugarte took power on September 11, 1973, through a military coup against the constitutionally elected president, Salvador Allende.
Under Pinochet’s government the repression was cruel but always exposed to public opinion. Over 3,000 people disappeared and 28,000 were tortured.
Pinochet stayed as Commander in Chief of the army for 17 years until 1990, when Patricio Aylwin was elected president. He stayed as a senator until 1998, when he was arrested in London with an arrest order from a Spanish judge, but he was sent to Chile instead of Spain because of his poor health.
Afterwards in Chile some criminal cases were initiated against Pinochet because of crimes perpetrated by his government. Pinochet’s legal immunity was cancelled and the road opened for him to be tried. Nevertheless, the defense alleged that Pinochet wasn’t in shape to stand trial.
Pinochet died on December 10, 2006, on International Human Rights Day. Altogether there are over 400 legal proceedings against ex-collaborators and soldiers from the regime, as human rights organizations try to continue the fight.
Alfredo Stroessner Matiuada, former military head of state between 1954 and 1989. His dictatorship was the longest in the region and it is estimated that 4,000 people were assassinated during his government.
Stroessner went into exile to Brazil where he lived protected from judicial and political prosecution until his death on August 16, 2006, at age 93 in Brasilia.