Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS-ARGENTINA: Videla on House Arrest for Humanitarian Reasons

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Jul 17 1998 (IPS) - Former dictator Jorge Videla, imprisoned without bail pending trial, has been moved onto house arrest due to his old age, much to the distaste of human rights activists and his victims’ relatives.

Videla’s defence attorney got a federal court to allow him home under a new law offering house arrest for prisoners aged over 70 years-old and the terminally ill.

The former army officer, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1985 for serious human rights violations committed under the last military dictatorship (1976-1983), and later pardonned, is in prison awaiting trial on charges of abducting the children of the disappeared, a crime not subject to the pardon.

Two days after appearing in court following 37 days in custody in a common jail, the 72 year-old former dictator was transferred to his home on Thursday night. Here he will be kept under observation by periodical visits from social workers, and not by the police.

This measure came in for strong questioning by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and a group of these mothers of the disappeared, clad in their characteristic white headscarves, led by Hebe de Bonafini approached Videla’s home early Friday morning harassing his wife and neighbours.

Bonafini repeatedly rang the electrical intercom of Videla’s apartment until his wife answered. “How can you sleep with a murderer?” She asked, while Videla’s wife simply asked her to let them rest.

Then Bonafini, encouraged by a group of mothers chanting “Videla is a murderer,” rang the neighbours’ doorbells, asking them one at a time if they were happy to continue living next door to a murderer. “We knew this would happen, that in the end, Videla would go home,” protested Bonafini.

Later in the day on Friday, the police set up a fence two metres from the building with chains and a police detail of around 30 officers, plus a further group to patrol the surrounding area.

This measure was taken in order to prevent demonstrations by relatives of the disappeared who had threatened to protest opposite the building and even set up a permanent camp until Videla be taken back into a penal institution.

Federal judge, Jorge Marquevich had turned down the request for house arrest filed by the defence, ruling Videla should remain in a common prison Tuesday.

Marquevich will now be investigated for the alleged crime of “prevarication” after a public prosecutor accused him of ignoring the law benefitting the over 70’s.

Videla had been arrested on June 9 on charges of the abduction, hiding and falsification of the identity of five children born during their parents’ imprisonment, kidnapped when Videla was commander in chief of the army and leader of the regime.

Following more than a month in prison, Marquevich considered there was sufficient evidence to try Videla as being criminally responsible for these crimes. Several of the people directly involved in taking the children and falsifying their identities are already behind bars.

The defence appealed against this decision claiming Videla had already been tried as he was sentenced to life imprisonment and served six years of this term before benefitting from the pardon given to former military officers and guerrilla leaders by President Carlos Menem.

But the victims’ relatives claim at the time when Videla was sentenced there was no proof of the existence of a systemmatic plan to kidnap children, and yet there is proof the crime was committed time and time again on written orders from high ranking officers.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an organisation looking for the children of the disappeared of the 70’s, claim 500 children, many born in prison, were taken from their families.

Six months ago, a group of Grandmothers Presented Marquevich with the lawsuit alleging the abduction of five children which has Videla in the position he is in today.

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