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1989 attack on La Tablada Regiment


The 1989 attack on La Tablada was an assault on the military barracks located in La Tablada, in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, by 40 members of Movimiento Todos por la Patria (MTP), headed by former ERP leader Enrique Gorriaran Merlo. 39 people were killed and 60 injured during the take-over of the barracks by the Army. The MTP has said that the assault was made in order to prevent a coup prepared for the end of January 1989 by the Carapintadas, a group of far-right militaries opposed to the investigations concerning the "Dirty War", while the official military report states that it was the MTP who planned to "take power."The Argentinean president of the time declared that the attack, with the ultimate goal of sparking a massive popular uprising, could have led to civil war.Given a life sentence and imprisoned, as fellow comrades, in high security quarters, Gorriaran Merlo was finally freed in 2003.

The January 1989 attack

On 23 January 1989, a group of approximatively 40 members of the Movimiento Todos por la Patria attacked the Third Mechanized Infantry Regiment barracks in La Tablada . They entered the barracks with a Coca-Cola truck and several cars.

According to the Clarin, three different versions about the attack exist. El Clarin. El ataque a La Tablada, la ultima aventura de la guerrilla argentina, January 23, 2004 Ten days before the assault, lawyer Jorge Banos and MTP member had declared in a conference that the Carapintadas were planning a coup for the end of January. The Carapintadas were members of the Armed Forces that had rebelled against the national government three times in 1987 and 1988, protesting the investigations on human rights abuses during the "National Reorganization Process" (1976-1983). This has remained to this day the MTP's version, held in particular by Gorriaran Merlo who claimed that the MTP was fulfilling the constitutional obligation of "bear[ing] arms in defense of the fatherland and of [the] Constitution".

The official report on the attack by head of the Army Francisco Gassino claimed in contrary that it was the MTP, formed of several former ERP members, that had planned a coup. A last version claims that the MTP was victim of a manipulation by intelligence services.

The Argentine Army, assisted by the Policia Bonaerense was called on to counterattack, and undiscriminately used white phosphorus (WP) in the zone, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Used as a chemical weapon, WP is forbidden by international law. In this case, it had the effect of completely burning the barracks and of carbonizing corpses. E/CN.4/2001/NGO/98, United Nations, January 12, 2001 - URL accessed on February 9, 2007 El Clarin. El ataque a La Tablada, la ultima aventura de la guerrilla argentina, January 23, 2004 Thirty-nine people were killed and sixty injured during the attack (the majority because of conventional bombings). Nine were military personnel, two were police officers and the twenty-eight remaining were members of the MTP.Pagina/12, January 23, 1999. Los puntos oscuros del asalto a La Tablada .In addition, 53 soldiers and police were wounded in the fighting.

The following day President Raul Alfonsin visited the site, protected by commandos of Cara pintadas, along with federal judge of Moron, Gerardo Larrambebere, who is today member of the court judging the 1994 AMIA bombing.

Human rights violations

At least two MTP members reported as killed, among whom Claudia Deleis, are suspected of having been "executed" after surrendering, and there was evidence that at least three others were "disappeared" after being captured. In all, nine are thought to have been killed after capture. Five corpses were never identified. In addition, prisoners were allegedly tortured immediately after capture, and then again while in custody of the Federal Police and the Penitentiary Service.

Retired sergent Jose Almada, who had participated in the capture of the MTP members, declared in 2004 that Ivan Ruiz and Jose Diaz had been tortured. According to sergent Almada, they referred to two persons who were not members of their brigade, and most probably SIDE agents. He identified one of them as Jorge Varando, chief of security of HSBC during the December 20, 2001 events. Furthermore, sergent Almada declared that he had clearly heard a radio conversation ordering to kill two of the captured prisoners. He also said that adjuvant sergent Esquivel, killed during the attack, had been in fact shot by the Army itself, after trying to get to his brother who had been taken prisoner. Sergent Almada explicitly denounced the OEA report done by Jorge Varando and General Arrillaga, the highest official in charge of the repression, which aimed at disguising adjuvant sergent Esquivel's suspicious death.

Jose Almada said that he had tried to inform his hierarchy about these human rights violations, in accordance with article 194 of the Military Justice Code, but that they ignored him. He notably tried to inform General Martin Balza. He also informed head of Argentine Army, General Bonifacio Caceres, also telling him about his concerns that his neighbours were insulting him, saying that they were responsible of new cases of desaparecidos. Moreover, in his complaint before justice, he also said he had informed former head of the Army Ricardo Brinzoni. After Caceres's retirement in 1989, colonel Gasquet threatened Jose Almada of 40 days of arrest — he was finally given two days of arrest on charges of wearing a beard, and then sent him to Parana, Entre Rios. Later, he was again sentenced to 30 days of arrest, confined to Crespo near Parana and finally forced to retire. He has claimed that to this day he is still being "persecuted."

The MTP guerrillas were also accused of human right violations. As a conscript serving in the 3rd Infantry Regiment, Eduardo Navascues was taken prisoner early in the assault and suffered shrapnel wounds in the fighting. Despite having later been shot in an attempt to silence him, he has given testimony in a recent court case alleging human rights abuses including physical and mental torture at the hand of the attackers.Private Victor Eduardo Scarafiocco claims that he and others were used as human shields by the guerrillas and that Private Hector Cardozo was killed as a result.

Convictions

Twenty surviving members of the MTP were later convicted and given sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. They were judged under the Ley de Defensa de la Democracia (Defense of the Democracy Act) which deprive them of a right to appeal and to a new trial.

Enrique Gorriaran Merlo was given a life sentence, and his ex-wife, Ana Maria Sivori, was sentenced to 18 years of imprisonment.

During the oral and public trial, Gorriaran put in question the legitimity of the process and objected the circumstances of his capture in the suburbs of Mexico in October 1995, which he called a "kidnapping" (secuestro). He was charged of being co-author of qualified illicit association, rebellion, usurpation, homicide with aggravated circumstances , aggravated illegal privation of freedom and reiterated injuries. His ex-wife Sivori was charged of co-author of qualified illicit association, and secondary participant to offenses of rebellion, doubly aggravated homicide, tentative of homicide, aggravated thief, reiterated injuries and co-author of the use of false identity documents.

Most of those convicted in the attacks were placed in a maximum security cell block on the eighteenth floor of the Caseros prison in Buenos Aires. Seguimiento de la investigacion criminal sobre el ataque al cuartel del Regimiento de Infanteria Mecanizada III de La Tablada.Amnesty International. Argentina: bringing the law into line with international obligations — a challenge for the legislators.

Finally, President Fernando de la Rua commuted the prison sentences. And two days before Nestor Kirchner's access to his functions, Interim President Eduardo Duhalde (member of the Justicialist Party) freed Gorriaran Merlo, on May 23, 2003, after 14 years of prison in high security quarters, who declared that it was "an act of justice."

See also

History of Argentina

Carapintadas

Enrique Gorriaran Merlo

Argentine Army

White phosphorus (weapon)

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