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Dirty War in Argentina: Guilty of Systematic Kidnapping of Babies

by Mariana Rodriguez Pareja and Salvador Herencia Carrasco on 11 Jul 2012 | Comments

In another historic ruling by a Federal Court in Buenos Aires, former de facto Presidents Videla and Bignone were sentenced to serve 50 and 15 years, each for their role in the systematic plan to kidnap babies and steal their identities.

Former dictator, M. Rafael Videla (86), was sentenced to serve 50 years in prison for the theft of children under ten years old belonging to parents that were kidnapped and tortured at the ESMA military facilities during the Argentinean Dirty War (1976-1983). In the ruling, the Federal Court highlighted the existence of a “systematic practice” regarding the kidnapping of babies. The Court emphatically stated that this constituted a crime against humanity against civilian population, via the implementation of State-sponsored terrorist practices.

During the proceedings, the defendants claimed that statute of limitations were applicable, requesting the annulment of the trial. However, the Court disregarded such claim stating that in the prosecution of crimes against humanity, such defense is not applicable under Argentinean and International Law.

Most of the abductions took place in the ESMA military facility and according to M. Videla, who did not deny having committed those crimes, “mothers used babies as human shields”. Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo estimate that 600 babies were abducted and, so far, only 106 have been reunited with their families. This case related to the abduction of 35 babies, who are all now in their 30s and late 20s and cried while hearing the sentence.

According to testimonies of survivors, pregnant women gave birth and in very few cases, were allowed to see their babies. Most of the babies were given to members or friends of the security forces to raise them as “non-communists”. Mothers were generally tortured and disappeared after their baby was taken away from them.

Two Former de Facto Presidents are found Guilty

Videla was the one who took power on March 1976. He was the first face of the so-called “National Reorganization Process”, which left 30,000 people killed or disappeared according to un-official estimates. He is already serving life sentence for tortures committed under his regime. Other of the defendants was M. Reynaldo Bignone, the last de facto President who ruled before the recovery of the Democracy in 1983. He was found guilty of hiding 31 under aged kids.
None of them was granted to serve prison in house- and both have to be transferred to jail.

Apart from M. Videla and M. Bignone, 9 other people were prosecuted. In the end, two out of the 11 defendants were acquitted.

Other members of the military, such as former Vice-admiral Antonio Vañek was sentenced to serve in jail for 40 years,  Jorge “Tigre” Acosta, 30; Santiago Omar Riveros, 20; Víctor Gallo, 15; Juan Antonio Azic, 14; Jorge Magnacco, 10; and Susana Colombo, 5.

An ESMA-Related Case

The Escuela Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) is a former navy school which became the biggest clandestine detention centre during the military dictatorship. It is estimated that more than 5,000 people were arbitrarily detained, tortured, sexually abused and ‘disappeared’ at this facility. Fewer than 200 of these are believed to have survived. Many of them- men and women- were thrown into the Rio de la Plata river, at the so-called “Flights of Death”.

Estela Barnes de Carlotto, the President of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group that continuously seeks for the finding of those abducted children hailed the verdict, saying that “confirmed that there was a systematic plan to steal babies”.

Former Argentina's dictator and General Jorge Rafael Videla (L), former general and member of the military junta, Reynaldo Bignone (R). (Getty)
Former Argentina's dictator and General Jorge Rafael Videla (L), former general and member of the military junta, Reynaldo Bignone (R). (Getty)