Warrants out for Latin American dictators
While General Augusto Pinochet appeals against a London magistrate's ruling last month that he could be extradited to Spain to face charges relating to his bloody record as dictator of Chile, former leaders of other South American dictatorships are being targeted for international arrest warrants. At the same time, more documentary evidence has been found linking Pinochet to an international terrorist network targeting left-wing and progressive activists. A French investigating magistrate, Roger Le Loire, has formally requested the Chilean authorities for permission to interview 56 people there. They included the alleged torturers and murderers of five French nationals who "disappeared" during the political repression of the Pinochet regime. And on November 2, Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who indicted Pinochet on charges of genocide, terrorism and torture, issued warrants for 98 former members of the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976-1983. Judge Garzon, accused them of waging a "dirty war" against their own people. Former Argentinian strongmen Leopoldo Galtieri, Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera and other military chiefs were among those named, along with officers who headed the Buenos Aires marine school and turned it into a detention and torture centre. Judge Garzon expanded on charges made last year to hold Galtieri and other junta leaders responsible for "the creation and development of a regime of terror and genocide" during their time in power including the creation of as many as 340 clandestine detention centres in which victims were burned, electrocuted and otherwise tortured to death. The victims' bodies were then dumped in gullies and dense forest, often from the air, so that they would never be found. Judge Garzon likens the Argentinian junta's systematic destruction of human life, and the methods it used, to Hitler's Nazis. The Spanish judge's warrants also accused Galtieri of having been "the instigator of the assassination, kidnapping and disappearance" of Spanish nationals in Argentina. Although Argentina's President-elect Fernando de la Rua promptly declared that the warrants would have "no effect" in Argentina, the international warrants mean that — just as in the Pinochet case — the accused can now be arrested by Interpol in any country in the world. Videla, the leader of the 1976 coup, who was President and army chief between 1976 and 1981, is already the object of a Swiss arrest warrant for the 1977 disappearance of a Swiss-Chilean. The British newspaper The Independent pointed out, in commenting on Judge Garzon's new warrants, that "to a far greater extent than in Chile, Argentina used `disappearances' as a weapon against political opponents. "Human rights organisations who asked Judge Garzon to bring the charges and helped build the case say the military were responsible for 30,000 deaths and disappearances. Official estimates put the number at 15,000. "The disappearances led to the `Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo' — women who marched outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires each Thursday chanting Donde Estan? (`where are they?')." The women's organisation has campaigned tirelessly for information on their disappeared children and grandchildren, and its secretary, Alba Lanzilotto, welcomed Garzon's renewed intervention. "As it has not been possible to seek justice in Argentina it seems very fitting that it should be sought in other countries on our behalf", she said. "Insecurity has led to impunity ... in a country where torturers, rapists and those responsible for disappearances are left to walk free", she added. Garzon has already charged 192 Argentine military officials with participating in the "disappearance of thousands of people", including 600 Spaniards, and engaging in "fierce and bloody" acts of repression against local people in the regions they controlled. The Spanish judge has also received documents from Martin Almada, a Paraguayan lawyer and former political prisoner, who eight years ago discovered in a disused torture chamber outside Assuncion 700,000 files that provide a detailed history of Operation Condor, the top secret organisation set up by Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Brazil in the mid-1970s to track down and eliminate political opponents. The five tonnes of archive files are stored on the eighth floor of the supreme court in the Paraguayan capital, Asuncion, and Almada has appealed to the UN to save them from accidental or deliberate destruction. "Some [of the files] have already disappeared, like a booklet on how to keep torture victims alive. But it's impossible to tell how much has gone, because only about five percent of the archives have been studied", he said. Almada fears vital evidence may be disappearing because the archives are unguarded. "These documents are freely accessible every working day from 7am to midday to researchers, but also to any eventual saboteurs", he pointed out. He told the French daily Liberation that the files showed that "Pinochet wanted to create an organisation similar to Interpol, except for hunting down and exterminating dissidents". Among the documents is a letter from the former head of the Chilean secret police, Manuel Contreras, asking General Pinochet for US$600,000 to help him "neutralise the enemies of the junta abroad, particularly in Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, the United States, France and Italy". A lawyer for the family of a French victim of Pinochet's terror, said Almada's documents "prove beyond any doubt the extremely close collaboration, under the command of Chile, between all the repressive forces and agencies of the Latin American dictatorships of that period. "They also show beyond doubt what Contreras has always said — that Pinochet was the man who really ran the Chilean secret police, and hence Condor, and that he met him every morning to discuss all these many individual cases. The line of responsibility through to Pinochet is completely clear."