Monday, May 20, 2013

WNU #1177: Argentine Dictator Dies in Prison

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1177, May 19, 2013

1. Argentina: Ex-Dictator Videla Dies in Prison
2. Latin America: 7 Ex-Rulers Remain Jailed or on Trial
3. Brazil: 30,000 People Displaced for Sports Events
4. Mexico: Activists Protest GMO Corn With Giant Banner
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Argentina: Ex-Dictator Videla Dies in Prison
Former Argentine dictator Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981) died the morning of May 17 in the Marcos Paz prison in Buenos Aires province, where he was serving a 50-year sentence for crimes against humanity. He was 87. Videla led the coup that removed then-president Isabel Perón from office on Mar. 24, 1976 and started a period of military rule that lasted until 1983. Videla himself was made de facto president on Mar. 29, 1976 and held the office until March 1981, when he was replaced by Gen. Roberto Viola.

Human rights groups estimate that 30,000 people were disappeared during the “dirty war” against suspected leftists that the military junta carried out. Some 5,000 people are known to have died, and about 500 children were given up for adoption under false names after their parents were killed; so far 108 of the children have learned their real identities. The military leaders were sentenced to life in prison during the presidency of Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989), but two laws passed in 1986 and 1987 gave them immunity from any further trials, and President Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) granted pardons in 1989 and 1990. The Supreme Court overturned the immunity laws in 2005, and in December 2010 a court convicted Videla of crimes against humanity. At the time of his death the former dictator was on trial for his role in Operation Condor, in which South American military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s aided each other in repressing opponents; his last court appearance was on May 14.

Videla never apologized for the violence of the military regime. “Our objective was to discipline an anarchized society,” he said in an interview published in 2012 [see Update #1125]. The generals wanted “to get away from a populist, demagogic vision; in relation to the economy, to go to a liberal market economy. We wanted to discipline unionism and crony capitalism.” On the military practice of keeping pregnant captives alive until they’d given birth and then executing them, Videla said in court that the women, “whom I respect as mothers, were active militants in the machinery of terror. And many of them used their embryonic children as human shields at the time that they were operating as combatants.” (Adital (Brazil) 5/17/13 from TeleSUR; La Jornada (Mexico) 5/18/13 from correspondent)

The US government was aware of the military junta’s crimes. “We want a stable situation,” then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger told Argentine foreign minister, Adm. Cesar Augusto Guzzetti in 1976, according to declassified US documents. “We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before [the US] Congress gets back, the better” [see Update #723]. In December 1982 then-assistant secretary of state for human rights Elliott Abrams described a discussion he had with Argentine ambassador Lucio Alberto García del Solar about the “[c]hildren born to prisoners or children taken from their families during the dirty war.” Abrams wrote that he told the ambassador that “[w]hile the disappeared were dead, these children were alive and this was in a sense the gravest humanitarian problem.” Despite the “humanitarian problem,” Abrams had the US government certify that the dictatorship was making progress on human rights [see Update #1110].

*2. Latin America: 7 Ex-Rulers Remain Jailed or on Trial
The death of former Argentine dictator Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981) on May 17 brings to seven the number of Latin American and Caribbean de facto heads of state who are now in prison or facing criminal charges for their acts while in power. All but one were charged in the last decade.

Former Bolivian dictator Luis García Meza (1980-81), known as the “narco-dictator,” has been serving a 30-year sentence since 1995; charges against him included sedition, genocide and the theft of the diaries of Argentine-born guerrilla leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara [see Update #926]. He seized power in a coup in 1980 but was forced to resign in 1981. (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/19/13 from AFP)

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2009 for crimes that included the deaths of 25 people, two kidnappings, corruption and illicit enrichment [see Updates #1019, 1109]. Although he was elected democratically in 1990, Fujimori seized dictatorial powers with a “self-coup” in 1992. He was hospitalized on May 17 of this year with gastroduodenitis, according to his daughter, rightwing politician Keiko Fujimori. She blamed his condition on depression. The former president has been seeking a pardon on grounds of ill health. (La Nación (Argentina) 5/18/13 from DPA, AFP)

Former Uruguayan de facto president Gregorio Alvarez (1981-1985) was sentenced to 25 years in prison in October 2009 for 37 aggravated homicides committed from 1977 to 1978 as part of Operation Condor, a program coordinating repression in several South American nations [see Update #1030]. Alvarez’s presidency came during Uruguay’s 1973-1985 period of military rule.

Gen. Reynaldo Bignone (1982-1983), the last president in Argentina’s 1976-1983 military regime, was sentenced to 25 years of prison in 2010 for crimes committed in the Campo de Mayo, a military camp that included four torture centers during the dictatorship. In April 2011 he received an additional sentence, this one for life in prison, for crimes against humanity [see Update #1076].

Former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) was sentenced to 80 years in prison on May 10 of this year for genocide and crimes against humanity during the bloodiest period of the country’s 1960-1996 civil war [see Update #1176].

Francisco Morales Bermúdez, who headed Peru’s military dictatorship from 1975 to 1980, has never been convicted, but in 2007 the Italian justice system requested his detention and extradition for the disappearance of 25 Italians in South America in connection with Operation Condor. In February 2012 an Argentine judge also charged him with participation in Condor. He doesn’t face any charges in Peru. (LJ 5/19/13 from AFP)

Like Morales Bermúdez, former Haitian “president for life" (1971-1986) Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier has never been convicted. In January 2012 investigative judge Carvès Jean ruled that Duvalier should stand trial for corruption under his regime, but the judge said the statute of limitations had run out for human rights violations. A Port-au-Prince appeals court panel has been considering challenges from people who say they were victims and are demanding that the former dictator be tried for human rights abuses as well as corruption; Duvalier was forced to appear in court for one session on Feb. 28 [see Update #1166]. On May 16 the judges heard summations from the different parties; a ruling is expected soon.

Carvès Jean, the judge who exempted Duvalier from the human rights charges, was promoted to the Port-au-Prince appeals court on May 9. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 5/17/13; LJ 5/19/13 from AFP)

*3. Brazil: 30,000 People Displaced for Sports Events
A total of 3,099 families have been removed from their homes in Rio de Janeiro and another 7,843 have been threatened with removal as part of Brazil’s preparations for hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, according to a study released on May 15 by the Popular Committee of the World Cup and the Olympics. The group estimates that 30,000 people have been affected, based on the average number of people in the households. The study, “Mega-Events and Human Rights Violations in Rio de Janeiro,” was produced with the collaboration of the impacted communities, the Institute for Urban and Regional Research and Planning (Ippur) and other groups, including the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Global Justice.

The city government initially offered 18,000 reais (about US$8,872) for each home. Residents said this wasn’t enough even to buy the land for a new house. The city finally agreed to pay 40,000 reais (US$19,735), which residents said would pay for a two-bedroom house in the hills. “What we’re seeing is an urban restructuring project without any participation of society,” said Orlando Alves dos Santos Junior, an urban planning professor and one of the coordinators of the May 15 study. “In fact, what’s going on under this pretext [of preparation for the sports events] is a serious urban intervention, on the basis of the real estate industry. The presence of inhabitants from the poorest classes has become an obstacle to be removed from the path.” (Adital (Brazil) 5/17/13 from Canal Ibase (Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses))

*4. Mexico: Activists Protest GMO Corn With Giant Banner
Four activists from the Mexican branch of the international environmental organization Greenpeace climbed the Estela de Luz monument in downtown Mexico City on May 16 to protest efforts by multinational companies to increase the commercial use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country’s corn crops. The protesters unfurled a 70-meter banner reading “No GMO” and showing an ear of corn with a time bomb. Near the monument Greenpeace spokesperson Aleira Lara told reporters that transgenic corn is a time bomb for the Mexican countryside, since it endangers the 59 native strains of corn. The activists continued the protest for four hours and then left in a van; the Mexico City police made no effort to arrest them.

Now a favorite site for protests, the 104-meter Estela de Luz was built by the center-right administration of former president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012) for the 2010 commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the War of Independence and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. It cost more than 1 billion pesos (US$78 million), five times the initial estimate. (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/17/13; Hispanically Speaking News 5/17/13)

The Mexican government still regulates the planting of transgenic corn, but it has begun allowing its use in crops for consumption. The Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company and other multinationals now have outstanding requests for permission to expand the sowing of transgenic corn in northern and western states; activists say this will cover millions of hectares and the seeds will contaminate native corn [see Update #1174]. According to Camila Montecinos from the Chilean office of the Barcelona-based group Grain, the contamination is in fact intentional, “a carefully and perversely planned strategy” for marketing patented GMO seeds. The multinationals “chose maize, soy and canola because of their enormous potential for contamination,” Montecinos says, since the pollen is carried by the wind. “When contamination spreads, the companies claim that the presence of transgenic crops must be recognized and legalized.” (Truth-Out 5/10/13)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US/immigration

A Healthy Life: Weighing Hydroelectricity’s Costs as the Climate Changes Around Us (Chile)

Uruguay: Birth of a Movement Against Mining and Extractivism

What Changes Lay Ahead for Paraguay?

After a Two-decade Occupation, Brazil's Landless Workers Movement Wins Land Rights

Brazil: The Biggest Extractivist in South America

Displaced by Gold Mining in Colombia

Potato Farmers in Colombia Rebel Against Trade Laws, Rising Production Costs

Venezuelan Peasants Relaunch the “War on Latifundio” in Lara State

Inside La Piedrita: Venezuela’s Popular Militias and the Revolution

Indigenous Nicaraguans Fight to the Death for Their Last Forest

Noam Chomsky, Scholars Ask NY Times Public Editor to Investigate Bias on Honduras and Venezuela

U.S. Still Supports Honduran Death Squads

U.S. Supported Former Ally Ríos Montt While Aware of Atrocities Committed by the Dictatorship (Guatemala)

Additional Evidence on Perez Molina (Guatemala)

Follow Guatemala's Lead: Convene a Genocide Case Grand Jury

Guatemala: So they weren’t “Zetas” after all

Despite Historic Conviction, Genocide Continues in Guatemala

Belize: Mayan pyramid bulldozed by road construction firm

Mother’s Day in Mexico: A Day of Grief and Indignation

Juarez Mothers Renew International Campaign (Mexico)

Border Poppies (Mexico)

Internet Trends in Mexico

Assata Shakur and Cuba – U.S. Relations

Mrs. Clinton Can Have Her Factories: a Haitian Sweatshop Worker Speaks

An Interview with an Organizer for Batay Ouvriye (Haiti)

Haiti's Former President Préval Has Credible Charges that UN Tried to Remove Him

Immigrant Workers Are Organizing in New York -- With or Without Immigration Reform (US/immigration)

Death and the Immigration Control Complex (US/immigration)

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