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General Videla

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General Videla

Jorge Rafael Videla
42nd President of Argentina
De facto
In office
29 March 1976 – 29 March 1981
Preceded by Isabel Perón
Succeeded by Roberto Viola
Personal details
Born Jorge Rafael Videla
(1925-08-02)2 August 1925
Mercedes, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina
Died 17 May 2013(2013-05-17) (aged 87)
Marcos Paz, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina
Nationality Argentine
Spouse(s) Alicia Raquel Hartridge
Children 7
Alma mater Colegio Militar de la Nación
Profession Military
Signature
Military service
Allegiance Argentina
Service/branch Argentine Army
Years of service 1944–1981
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands Argentine Army

Jorge Rafael Videla (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈxorxe rafaˈel βiˈðela]; 2 August 1925 – 17 May 2013) was a senior commander in the Argentine Army and de facto President of Argentina from 1976 to 1981.

He came to power in a coup d'état that deposed Isabel Martínez de Perón. Two years after the return of a representative democratic government in 1983, he was prosecuted in the Trial of the Juntas for large-scale human rights abuses and crimes against humanity that took place under his rule, including kidnappings or forced disappearance, widespread torture and extrajudicial murder of activists, political opponents (either real, suspected or alleged) as well as their families, at secret concentration camps. An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 political dissidents were killed during this period. Videla was also convicted of the theft of many babies born during the captivity of their mothers at the illegal detention centres and passing them on for illegal adoption by associates of the regime. He was under house arrest until 10 October 2008, when he was sent to a military prison.[1]

Following a new trial, on 22 December 2010, Videla was sentenced to life in a civilian prison for the deaths of 31 prisoners following his coup d'état.[2][3] On 5 July 2012, Videla was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the systematic kidnapping of children during his tenure.[4] On 17 May 2013, Videla died in the Marcos Paz civilian prison two years after his sentencing, of injuries suffered five days earlier in a fall in the shower.[5]

Early life and family

Jorge Rafael Videla was born on 2 August 1925 in the city of Mercedes. He was the third of five sons born to Colonel Rafael Eugenio Videla Bengolea (1888–1952) and María Olga Redondo Ojea (1897–1987) and was christened in honor of his two older twin brothers, who had died of measles in 1923. Videla's family was a prominent one in San Luis Province, and many of his ancestors had held high public offices. His grandfather Jacinto had been governor of San Luis between 1891 and 1893, and his great-great-grandfather Blas Videla had fought in the Spanish American wars of independence and had later been a leader of the Unitarian Party in San Luis.[6]

On April 7, 1948, Jorge Videla married Alicia Raquel Hartridge (born on September 28, 1927) daughter of Samuel Alejandro Hartridge Parkes (1890-1967), an English Argentine professor of physics and Argentine ambassador to Turkey, and María Isabel Lacoste Álvarez (1894-1939).[7] They had seven children: María Cristina (1949), Jorge Horacio (1950), Alejandro Eugenio (1951–1971), María Isabel (1958), Pedro Ignacio (1966), Fernando Gabriel (1961) and Rafael Patricio (1953). Two of these, Rafael Patricio and Fernando Gabriel, joined the Argentine Army.[6]

Army career

Videla joined the National Military College (Colegio Militar de la Nación) on 3 March 1942 and graduated on 21 December 1944 with the rank of second lieutenant. After steady promotion as a junior officer in the infantry, he attended the War College between 1952 and 1954 and graduated as a qualified staff officer. Videla served at the Ministry of Defence from 1958 to 1960 and thereafter he directed the Military Academy until 1962. In 1971, he was promoted to brigadier general and appointed by Alejandro Agustin Lanusse as Director of the National Military College. In late 1973 the head of the Army, Leandro Anaya, appointed Videla as the Chief of Staff of the Army. During July and August 1975, Videla was the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Estado Mayor Conjunto) of the Argentine Armed Forces.[8] In August 1975, the President, Isabel Perón, appointed Videla to the Army's senior position, the General Commander of the Army.

Rank Date of promotion
Second Lieutenant 22 December 1944
Lieutenant 15 June 1947
First Lieutenant 3 November 1949
Captain 1 March 1952
Major 18 July 1958
Lieutenant Colonel 28 December 1961
Colonel 17 January 1966
Brigadier General 23 November 1971
Lieutenant General 20 October 1975[9]

Coup d'état

Upon the death of President Juan Perón, his widow and Vice President Isabel became President. Videla headed a military coup which deposed her on 24 March 1976, during increasing violence, social unrest and economic problems. A military junta was formed, made up of him, representing the Army; Admiral Emilio Massera representing the Navy; and Brigadier General Orlando Ramón Agosti representing the Air Force.[10] Two days after the coup, Videla formally assumed the post of President of Argentina.

Human rights violations

Main article: Dirty War

The military junta is remembered for the forced disappearances of large numbers of students.[11] The military junta took power during a period of terrorist attacks from the Marxist groups ERP, the Montoneros, FAL, FAR and FAP, who had gone underground after Juan Perón's death in July 1974, and violent right-wing kidnappings, tortures and assassinations from the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance, led by José López Rega, Perón's Minister of Social Welfare, and other death squads. The Baltimore Sun reported at the beginning of 1976 that,

"In the jungle-covered mountains of Tucuman, long known as 'Argentina's garden', Argentines are fighting Argentines in a Vietnam-style civil war. So far, the outcome is in doubt. But there is no doubt about the seriousness of the combat, which involves 2,000 or so leftist guerrillas and perhaps as many as 10,000 soldiers."[12]
In late 1974 the ERP set up a rural front in Tucumán province and the Argentine Army deployed its 5th Mountain Brigade in counterinsurgency operations in the province. In early 1976 the mountain brigade was reinforced in the form of the 4th Airborne Infantry Brigade that had until then been withheld guarding strategic points in the city of Córdoba against

ERP guerrillas and militants.[13]

The members of the junta took advantage of the guerrilla threat to authorize the coup and naming the period in government as the "National Reorganization Process". In all, 293 servicemen and policemen were killed in left-wing terrorist incidents in 1975 and 1976.[14] Videla narrowly escaped three assassination attempts by the Montoneros and ERP between February 1976 and April 1977.[15]

Justice Minister Ricardo Gil Lavedra, who formed part of the 1985 tribunal judging the military crimes committed during the Dirty War, later declared, "I sincerely believe that the majority of the victims of the illegal repression were guerrilla militants".[16] Some 10,000 of the disappeared were guerrillas of the Montoneros (MPM), and the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP).[17][18][19]

According to human right groups, thousands of Argentines — perhaps as many as 15,000 or even 30,000[20] — "disappeared" while in the custody of the police or the military.[20] 10,000 to 12,000[21] of the "disappeared," PEN (Poder Ejecutivo Nacional) detainees held in clandestine detention camps throughout the dictatorship, were eventually released under diplomatic pressure.[22] Terence Roehrig, who wrote The prosecution of former military leaders in newly democratic nations: The cases of Argentina, Greece, and South Korea (McFarland & Company, 2001) estimates that of the disappeared "at least 10,000 were involved in various ways with the guerrillas". In the book Disposición Final by Argentine journalist Ceferino Reato, Videla confirms for the first time that between 1976 and 1983, 8.000 Argentinians have been murdered by his regime. The bodies were hidden or destroyed to prevent protests at home and abroad.[23] Videla also maintained that female guerrilla detainees allowed themselves to become pregnant in the belief they wouldn't be tortured or executed, but they were. The children whom they bore in prison were taken from them, illegally adopted by military families of the regime, and their identities were hidden for decades.[24]

Some 11,000 Argentines have applied for and received up to US$200,000 as monetary compensation from the state for the loss of loved ones during the military dictatorship.[25] The Asamblea por los Derechos Humanos (APDH or Assembly for Human Rights) believes that 12,261 people were killed or disappeared during the "National Reorganization Process".[26] Politically, all legislative power was concentrated in the hands of Videla's nine-man junta, and every important position in the national government was filled with loyal military officers.

On 5 July 2010, Videla took full responsibility for his army's actions during his rule. "I accept the responsibility as the highest military authority during the internal war. My subordinates followed my orders," he told an Argentine court.[27]

Conflict with Chile

Main article: Beagle Conflict

During Videla's regime, Argentina rejected the binding mediation process. His representative, Antonio Samoré, successfully prevented full-scale war.

The conflict was not completely resolved until after Videla's time as president. Once the democratic rule was restored in 1983, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1984 between Chile and Argentina (Tratado de Paz y Amistad), which acknowledged Chilean sovereignty over the islands, was signed and ratified by popular referendum.

Economic policy

Videla largely left economic policies in the hands of Minister José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, who adopted a free trade and deregulatory economic policy. During his tenure, the foreign debt increased fourfold, and disparities between the upper and lower classes became much more pronounced.[28] The period ended in a tenfold devaluation and one of the worst financial crises in Argentine history.[29]

Public relations

One of Videla's greatest challenges was his image abroad. He attributed criticism over human rights to an anti-Argentine campaign.[30] On 19 May 1976, Videla attended a luncheon with a group of Argentine intellectuals, including Ernesto Sábato, Jorge Luis Borges, Horacio Esteban Ratti (president of the Argentine Writers Society) and Father Leonardo Castellani. The latter expressed to Videla his concern regarding the disappearance of another writer, Haroldo Conti.

On 30 April 1977, Azucena Villaflor, along with 13 other women, started demonstrations on the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Casa Rosada presidential palace, demanding to be told the whereabouts of their disappeared children. They became known as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Madres de Plaza de Mayo).


During a human rights investigation in September 1979, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights denounced Videla's government, citing many disappearances and instances of abuse. In response, the junta hired the Burson-Marsteller ad agency to formulate a pithy comeback: Los argentinos somos derechos y humanos (Literally, "We Argentines are honest and humane") The slogan was printed on 250,000 bumper stickers and distributed to motorists throughout Buenos Aires to create the appearance of a spontaneous support of pro-junta sentiment, at a cost of approximately $16,117.[31]

Videla used the 1978 FIFA World Cup for political purposes. He cited the enthusiasm of the Argentine fans for their victorious football team as evidence of his personal and the junta's popularity.[32]

In 1980 Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, leader of the Peace and Justice Service (Servicio Paz y Justicia, SERPAJ) organization, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for reporting many of Argentina's human rights violations to the world at large.

Later years

Videla relinquished power to Roberto Viola on 29 March 1981; the military regime continued until it collapsed after losing the Falklands war in 1982. Democracy was restored in 1983.

The new government began prosecution of top-ranking officers for crimes committed during the dictatorship in what was called the Trial of the Juntas of 1985. Videla was convicted of numerous homicides, kidnapping, torture, and many other crimes. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and was discharged from the military in 1985.

Videla was imprisoned for five years. In 1990, President Carlos Menem pardoned Videla and many other imprisoned former members of the military regime. Menem also pardoned the leftist guerrilla commanders accused of terrorism. In a televised address to the nation, President Menem said, "I have signed the decrees so we may begin to rebuild the country in peace, in liberty and in justice ... We come from long and cruel confrontations. There was a wound to heal."[33]

Videla briefly returned to prison in 1998 when a judge found him guilty of the kidnapping of babies during the Dirty War, including the child of the desaparecida Silvia Quintela, and the disappearances of the commanders of the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP), Mario Roberto Santucho and Benito Urteaga.[34] Videla spent 38 days in the old part of the Caseros Prison. Due to health issues, he was later transferred to house arrest.[35][36]

In an August 2001 radio interview from exile in Spain, Mario Firmenich, the commander of the Montoneros guerrilla movement, said that, "In a country that experienced a civil war, everybody has blood in their hands."[37]

Following the election of President Néstor Kirchner in 2003, there was a renewed widespread effort in Argentina to show the illegality of Videla's rule. The government no longer recognized Videla as having been a legal president of the country, and his portrait was removed from the military school. In 2003, Congress repealed the Ley de Punto Final, which had ended prosecutions for crimes under the dictatorship. In 2005, the Argentine Supreme Court ruled that the law had been unconstitutional. The government re-opened prosecution of crimes against humanity.

According to Argentina's Center for the Legal Study of Terrorism and its Victims, guerrilla groups also were implicated in the violence, killing or wounding some 13,000 Argentines before the coup d'état that established the military dictatorship. These were considered common rather than state crimes, and had exceeded the statute of limitation by the 21st century.[38]

On 6 September 2006, Judge Norberto Oyarbide ruled that the pardons granted by President Menem was unconstitutional.[39] On 25 April 2007, a federal court struck down Videla's presidential pardon and restored his convictions for human rights abuses.[40]

He was put on trial on 2 July 2010 for new charges of human rights violations relating to the deaths of 31 prisoners who died under his rule.[2] Three days later, Videla took full responsibility for his army's actions during his rule, saying, "I accept the responsibility as the highest military authority during the internal war. My subordinates followed my orders."[27] On 22 December 2010, the trial ended, and Videla was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.[41] He was ordered to be transferred to a civilian prison immediately after the trial.[41] In handing down the sentence, judge María Elba Martínez said that Videla was "a manifestation of state terrorism."[42] During the trial, Videla had said that "yesterday's enemies are in power and from there, they are trying to establish a Marxist regime" in Argentina.[43]

On 5 July 2012, Videla was convicted and sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment for his participation in a scheme to steal babies from parents detained by the military regime. According to the court decision, Videla was an accomplice "in the crimes of theft, retention and hiding of minors, as well as replacing their identities."[44] The children were given to military families for illegal adoption, and their identities were hidden. An estimated 400 children were stolen during this period, often from mothers who gave birth in prison and who were later "disappeared." By the early 21st century, 77 of these adoptees had their identities restored.

Death

On 17 May 2013, Videla was reported as having died of natural causes in his sleep while serving his sentence at a Marcos Paz prison.[45][46] An autopsy revealed he died from multiple fractures and internal hemorrhaging caused by having slipped in a prison shower on May 12.[47] According to a 2009 ruling by the military, he (and others) convicted of human rights violations were not eligible for a military funeral. A private ceremony was held by his family.[48]

Human rights organizations throughout the political compass denounced Videla, saying that he died without admitting what he was aware of the disappeared persons and kidnapped children. None of the tried ex-officers has provided details about the fate of those missing. Videla appeared mostly unrepentant for the actions against those whom he deemed terrorist subversives.[49]

Several Argentine politicians commented on his death. Deputy Ricardo Gil Lavedra of the Radical Civic Union said that Videla will be remembered as a dictator, while Hermes Binner expressed condolences to the victims of his government.[50] Hernán Lombardi, Minister of Culture of Buenos Aires city, praised Argentine democracy for having tried and sentenced the dictator.[50] Ricardo Alfonsín said it was good that Videla had died in prison.[51] Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Argentine recipient of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize, said, "The death of Videla should not delight anybody, we have to keep working for a better society, more just, more humane, so that all that horror never happens again".[52]

Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Juan Manuel Abal Medina, Jr. said that he was glad that, "Videla died prosecuted, sentenced and imprisoned in a common cell, repudiated by the Argentine people".[53]

See also

Argentina portal

References

External links

  • Democracy Now!
  • "Former Dictator of Argentina Found Guilty Of Crimes Against Humanity", Buenos Aires English, December 2010
Military offices
Preceded by
Ernesto Della Croce
Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
July–August 1975
Succeeded by
Eduardo Betti
Preceded by
Arturo Numa Laplane
General Commander of the Army
1975–1977
Succeeded by
Roberto Viola
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army
Political offices
Preceded by
Isabel Perón
President of Argentina
1976–1981
Succeeded by
Roberto Viola

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