Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Second Life Sentence for Argentina’s Last Dictator

After several convictions of crimes against humanity, General Reynaldo Benito Bignone, the last president of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, received a life sentence yesterday for abuses committed against prisoners at a Buenos Aires military base, Clarin reports.

During his 1982-83 term, Bignone oversaw a major face-saving effort by the regime, and is believed to have ordered the destruction of thousands of documents implicating the military leadership in human rights abuses.

According to the ruling (.pdf here), Bignone was responsible for ordering the kidnapping, torture and killing of 23 dissidents at the Campo de Mayo base, one of the most feared detention centers of the regime. Seven of the victims were pregnant women who gave birth in the facility. As many as 5,000 were held in the base during the course of the dictatorship, and as the Associated Press notes, most were killed and subsequently “disappeared.”

The ruling is the second life sentence for 85-year-old Bignone.  In April 2011 he was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the kidnapping, torture and murder of 56 people in Campo de Mayo, on top of a 25-year prison sentence he received in 2010.

While his crimes are well-known, victims and their relatives say that the latest ruling is an important victory. Gaston Mena, whose mother was killed in the prison camp after giving birth to a sibling he has never met, told the AP that the ruling gives him "closure, but we keep looking for my brother or sister."

News Briefs
  • On Monday the State Department announced that the U.S. government had expelled two Venezuelan diplomats in response to Venezuela’s decision to dismiss two U.S. military attaches last week after accusing them of attempting to destabilize the country. The New York Times identifies the two Venezuelans as a secretary at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC and a consular officer in New York.  
  • Deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s body will be moved to a military barracks this Friday, in a procession accompanied by Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, according to El Universal. Meanwhile, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is under fire from Chavez’s family for allegedly dishonoring the former president’s memory by questioning the official account of his death. Capriles has publicly apologized for causing any offense, but the incident illustrates how difficult it will be for the opposition to even appear to attack Chavez’s legacy ahead of the upcoming April 14 election.
  • Interim President Nicolas Maduro has organized an official panel to investigate Chavez’s death, after once again claiming that the government has reason to believe his cancer was given to him by his enemies.
  • The Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, made an unusual appeal on Friday for the government to start broadcasting opposition messaging into the country, much like it does in Cuba with Radio and TV Marti. According to Royce, Chavez’s death gives Venezuela the opportunity to “hear another viewpoint, especially with the last election being so close." Here it’s worth noting that Chavez won the last election by nearly 12 points, which is far from a narrow lead.
  • In an op-ed for Colombia’s El Espectador, WOLA’s Adam Isaacson argues that Venezuela’s transition is unlikely to improve the country’s relations with the United States, as anti-U.S. sentiment will likely serve as a valuable rallying cry for the Venezuelan government in the tough times ahead.
  • The L.A. Times has an in-depth look at Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposed reforms to the country’s telecommunications sector. The paper notes that Peña Nieto’s desire to create a new regulatory commission for the industry will put him in direct conflict with billionaire Carlos Slim, who may prove worthy adversary.
  • After the Mexican military arrested 37 members of a community self-defense group in the state of Michoacan last week for unlawfully detaining a number of allegedly corrupt police, members of the same group briefly took more than 40 soldiers hostage in an attempt to negotiate the release of their comrades on Monday night. El Universal reports that the military officials have been released.
  • InSight Crime reports that manual eradication of coca in Colombia is becoming more and more difficult, a product of coca cultivation becoming much less detectable, a drop in funding and increasing opposition to eradication programs in rural areas.
  • In Peru, anti-mining activists have filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the government for alleged abuses committed against protestors during a months-long demonstration last year against a proposed gold mine in the northern region of Cajamarca. El Comercio reports that the group will travel to Washington next week to present their case to the commission.
  • Central American Politics’ Mike Allison has an overview of the upcoming 2014 elections in El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama, identifying the likely leading candidates in each country’s race and noting that runoffs are likely in both El Salvador and Costa Rica.
  • On Saturday, Bolivian President Evo Morales signed a new law on violence against women, which extends mandatory prison terms for rape from a range of 4-10 years to 15-30 years. The law also recognizes spousal rape as a crime, a historic first for the country.
  • Nicaragua Dispatch with an interesting editorial on how Chavez’s death might spell the death of ALBA and pose a serious threat to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s popular social programs. Its author argues that the decline of the international organization should serve as a “reality check” for Ortega and the Sandinista government, a sign that “results and real development matter more in Nicaragua than ideological rhetoric or fantastical promises.”
  • According to Chile’s El Mostrador, the remains of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda will be exhumed on April 8 following a court order to investigate claims that Neruda was poisoned by agents of the Pinochet regime.

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