Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS-ARGENTINA: Justice for Victims of ‘Triple A’ Death Squad?

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 8 2007 (IPS) - Three decades after the crimes committed by the ultra rightwing Triple A paramilitary group in Argentina, which served as a rehearsal for the state terrorism waged during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, one of the group’s heads, former police chief Juan Ramón Morales, was arrested Monday.

The 88-year-old Morales, who has prostate cancer, refused to testify and was put under house arrest in his apartment in the upscale Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo. The former police chief had been discovered and photographed on his balcony by a photographer with the weekly publication “Perfil”, which published the photo on Sunday.

Another head of the now-defunct Triple A (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance) death squad, former assistant police commissioner Rodolfo Almirón, was tracked down in Valencia, Spain by the Madrid daily “El Mundo” and arrested there on Dec. 28.

“Many people were calling for a reopening of this case, and we know that the whereabouts of other Triple A leaders are now being investigated,” lawyer Rodolfo Yansón of the Argentine League for the Rights of Man, one of the organisations that asked the courts to issue an extradition order for Almirón, told IPS.

The Triple A was created in 1973 by then minister of social welfare José López Rega, who had a tremendous influence over President María Estela “Isabel” Martínez de Perón (1974-1976). Martínez became president after the death of her husband, the legendary Juan Perón, who was three times president of Argentina.

The aim of the Triple A was to eliminate leftist dissidents – those who belonged to the left wing of the ruling Peronist party as well as activists from other groups. To that end, López Rega recruited former federal police officers who had been kicked off the force for providing protection to an organised crime group.

López Rega got them rehired and promoted. He named Almirón assistant police commissioner and instructed him to track down leftists. Almirón was later assigned as a bodyguard to President Martínez.

Morales, meanwhile, was one of the Triple A’s military chiefs, and reportedly personally took part in numerous murders, according to testimony. In 1975, when López Rega fled to Spain ahead of the March 1976 coup, Morales flew with him to head up his protection in Madrid.

According to human rights groups, more than 1,500 people were killed between 1973 and 1975 by the group of police officers and civilians, which enjoyed support at the highest levels of government.

Among the death squad’s highest profile actions were the 1974 assassinations of legislator Rodolfo Ortega Peña, assistant police chief Julio Troxler, and Marxist intellectual Silvio Frondizi, who was gunned down in front of his house, along with his son-in-law Luis Mendiburu.

In 1975, lawyer Miguel Radrizzani Goñi brought legal action against López Rega and the Triple A. But the case inched along until it was finally closed when the former minister died in 1989.

Since then, demands for justice voiced by human rights activists and the families of victims have focused on the abuses committed during the dictatorship, when an estimated 30,000 people fell victim to forced disappearance, according to human rights groups.

Not until February 2006 did federal prosecutor Eduardo Taiano seek the reopening of the case, arguing that since the Triple A’s killings were crimes against humanity, they were subject to no statute of limitations.

But it took nearly a year for any developments to occur in the case.

In December, El Mundo journalists found Almirón in Valencia, and the Galician Trade Union Confederation immediately reported that the former Argentine police officer had served as chief of security for the former rightwing governor of Galicia, Manuel Fraga. They also denounced complicity between Spain’s centre-right Popular Party and Almirón.

Argentine federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide, who has been handling the case since it was reopened, then asked Spain’s high court, the Audiencia Nacional, to order the arrest of Almirón, who is being held in custody in Spain while his extradition is arranged.

“The existence of the Triple A and the crimes committed by its members obeyed political circumstances mounted by the state, under whose shelter and guarantee of impunity the association operated,” the judge wrote in December, adding that the organisation was clearly created from within the state itself.

Oyarbide also said there was evidence of an August 1974 meeting in the Olivos presidential residence in which then President Martínez, after watching a slide presentation, agreed to the elimination of former assistant police chief Troxler.

The Buenos Aires daily “Página 12” reported Sunday that Felipe Romeo, director and founder of the magazine “El Caudillo”, the mouthpiece of the Triple A, is also living in Buenos Aires. The magazine used to state that “the best enemy is a dead enemy”, and carried paid ads from López Rega’s ministry.

“Perfil”, meanwhile, published Sunday the photo of Morales enjoying the summer sun on his balcony. Two days earlier, the journalists had warned Oyarbide that they would do so, and the judge ordered the arrest, which took place a few hours after the newspaper came out.

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