[News] Julio Lopez: Impunity Yesterday and Today in Argentina

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 23 12:33:59 EDT 2009


Julio Lopez: Impunity Yesterday and Today in Argentina

http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/2126/1/
Written by Marie Trigona
Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Julio Lopez went missing three years ago on September 18, 2006 in his 
hometown of La Plata, Argentina. However, September 18, 2006, was the 
second time the father, construction worker, activist and torture 
survivor was disappeared. Julio Lopez went missing for the first time 
during Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship, when he was 
kidnapped from his home during the night by a commando group, taken 
to a secret detention center and tortured in several different police 
barracks that served as clandestine network for disappearing 
thousands. During his 1976 kidnapping and torture sessions, during 
which he was tortured with the Picana [electric prod], he met Miguel 
Etchecolatz, the police chief who coordinated kidnappings and torture 
in the network of clandestine detention centers in La Plata, 30 miles 
from Buenos Aires.

Lopez's testimony during a historic human rights trial in 2006 led to 
Etchecolatz's conviction. The police chief was sentenced to life in 
prison for crimes against humanity and genocide during the 
dictatorship. Absent from the courtroom following his forced 
abduction, Julio Lopez missed seeing the face of his torturer, 
Etchecolatz, dressed in police clothing and a bullet proof vest, 
kissing a rosary as he was sentenced to life in prison.

Three years after the key witness's disappearance, thousands marched 
in Buenos Aires, La Plata and other cities to demand an end to 
impunity and that Julio Lopez reappear alive. Protestors marched in 
cold rain and under gray skies, which further clouded remaining hope 
that Lopez will be found alive. Investigations have led to no answer 
as to where Lopez could be located, alive or dead. "Three years after 
the disappearance of Julio Lopez, the investigation into his 
whereabouts is practically paralyzed," said Myriam Bergman, attorney 
who represented Lopez during the trial against Etchecolatz. "We feel 
as if there's been an absolute negation of justice."

Human rights groups presented a formal letter to the Supreme Court 
accusing authorities of delaying the investigation into Lopez's 
forced disappearance.  These groups suspect police and court 
authorities with ties to officials who participated in rights abuses 
have disrupted the investigation into Lopez's disappearance. "Three 
years after the second disappearance of Julio, we have denounced that 
the investigation has been tied up by corrupt judges and authorities 
with affinity to impunity for the military," said Margarita Cruz, 
torture survivor and human rights activist. "Today, September 18, 
marking 3 years since Lopez's disappearance, is a very painful day 
because once again we are condemned to live with impunity."

A Legacy of Impunity

Impunity is an all too long living legacy for Argentines. And justice 
for the crimes committed during the bloody dictatorship has been 
slow.  Immediately following the dictatorship's end in 1983, several 
junta leaders were tried and sentenced. However, former President 
Carlos Menem passed an amnesty law in 1990 that released jailed 
leaders of the former junta and other military and police jailed for 
rights abuses. Following the Due Obedience and Full Stop laws, all 
doors to justice were closed, providing blanket amnesty for officers 
until 2003 when the Supreme Court cancelled junta pardons. Miguel 
Etchecolatz was one officer who was formerly pardoned. He had been 
sentenced to 23 years in prison for 91 cases of torture, but was 
released when the Due Obedience law went into effect. In the years 
since the Supreme Court revoked amnesty, ruling that immunity for 
former officers was unconstitutional, several high profile human 
rights cases have begun.

The trials were made possible by the work of human rights activists 
who have endlessly demanded justice for the crimes committed against 
their loved ones. One such group is HIJOS, 'Children for Identity and 
Justice,' which developed the escrache or "exposure" protest held at 
the home or workplace of an unpunished criminal, as a method to 
deliver justice. Eduardo Nachman is a part of HIJOS. "Justice is not 
only slow, but the courts have organized the trials to take years," 
says Nachman. "This favors impunity: the suspects who are not held in 
jails while awaiting trials can enjoy freedom and the witnesses who 
must wait to testify are dying before they have information as to the 
whereabouts of their loved ones and seeing the murderers go to jail."

CONADEP (The National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons) 
held an investigation into human rights abuses in 1984. The 
government gave the commission only 9 months to complete its report 
about fate of thousands who were forcefully disappeared.  CONADEP put 
together a 50,000 page document, published as an official document 
Nunca Mas (Never Again). From the testimony of survivors, the 
document details crimes committed in a network of over 370 
clandestine detention centers. Logically, thousands must have been 
involved in the illegal detention and disappearance of tens of 
thousands of activists, students and union organizers. "The reports 
from 25 years ago documents 1,600 repressors involved in crimes. If 
there were more than 400 clandestine detention centers, each center 
would have needed many people to operate, so it's logical to conclude 
that several thousands were involved," says Nachman.

Despite concrete evidence concluding that thousands of officers were 
involved, only 280 are facing trial, and many of those charged with 
crimes are under house arrest rather than waiting for trial in jail. 
Only 58 people have been sentenced, most are under house arrest. 
Three have been pardoned and Hector Febres, who worked at the 
infamous ESMA Navy Mechanics School, died in his jail cell from 
cyanide poisoning just days before he was to be sentenced. Rights 
groups believe that he was murdered so the former officer wouldn't 
break a pact of silence and release information as to the whereabouts 
of children born in captivity and appropriated by military and raised 
with a false identity. In another case of impunity, Juan Miguel Wolk, 
who ran the Pozo de Banfield detention center where hundreds 
perished, lives in a beach home in Mar del Plata. He was sentenced to 
25 years in prison but was later pardoned. When judges ordered him to 
appear in court, following the Supreme Court's decision, they were 
informed that he had died. But Wolk, alias "the Nazi" lives pretty 
well for a dead man in his home, just blocks from his neighbor, 
Etchocolatz , who recently moved to a jail following his 2006 life 
sentence according to journalist Roberto Garron from Miradas del Sur 
newspaper.

The disappearance of Lopez has reopened painful wounds of impunity 
and fears about the possibility of violent repercussions against 
survivors and witnesses participating in human rights trials. "Julio 
Lopez had the courage to identify Etchecolatz as a torturer," said 
Nachman. "His disappearance isn't a coincidence. He was disappeared 
to scare off and threaten many people who must testify."  Evidence 
that has surfaced leads to Etchecolatz and his connections with the 
Buenos Aires provincial police. "When the investigation made 
progress, all clues led to the provincial police," says Bergman. At 
the time of Lopez's disappearance more than 70 police officers in the 
ranks of the provincial police served during the dictatorship, many 
have been "forcefully retired" following pressures from human rights 
groups. Bergman adds, "There is a lack of political commitment to 
investigate the police. The investigation was interrupted right after 
they investigated a doctor with ties to Etchecolatz and detectives 
found out that Lopez was in his car." Investigators have gathered 
evidence from Etchecolatz's cell in Marcos Paz, where another 100 
officers from the dictatorship are under arrest, including notebooks 
with information about witnesses testifying against him and telephone 
numbers of members of the police force.

Jose Shulman, a survivor from the Brusa detention center in Santa Fe, 
said that despite the threats and disappearance of Lopez, none of the 
2,500 witnesses have withdrawn their testimony or refused to testify 
in the human rights trials. He interpreted the threats as a "sign 
that those dictatorship supporters feel weak from the judicial defeat 
that they are now facing."

The slogan "Never Again" was adopted with the hope that Argentina and 
other countries in the region, including Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, 
ruled by violent military dictatorships would never repeat that dark 
chapter in history. Military dictatorships ruled the region in the 
70's under the direction of Operation Condor, a shared regional plan 
to suppress political activism with support from the US government. 
Much of the files and top-secret information has yet to be released 
about the crimes the military coups committed. And, without justice 
and with outstanding impunity, history is likely to repeat itself. 
"Without Lopez there can't be a 'Never Again,'" writes Ana Maria 
Careaga, executive director of the Institute for the Space for 
Memory. For 'Never Again' to become a reality, justice must be delivered.

But Julio Lopez is not just a new name inscribed on the doleful roll 
call of Argentina's disappeared; he is also a reminder of the crimes 
against humanity still taking place in the region. Today, Lopez's 
disappearance, threats and persecution against activists, an active 
coup in Honduras, and US military bases in Latin America are chilling 
reminders that "democracy" in the region has only advanced minimally 
since the era of bloody military dictatorships.

Marie Trigona is a journalist, radio producer and filmmaker based in 
Argentina. She can be reach through her blog at 
<http://mujereslibres.blogspot.com/>http://mujereslibres.blogspot.com/




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