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Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz (born 1929) was a senior Argentine police officer, who worked in the Buenos Aires Provincial Police during the first years of the military dictatorship known as the National Reorganization Process. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006, on charges of homicide, illegal deprivation of freedom (kidnapping), and torture. The tribunal, besides passing the sentence, stated that Etchecolatz's crimes were "crimes against humanity in the context of the genocide that took place in Argentina". The term "genocide" was thus employed for the first time in the official treatment of "Dirty War" crimes, as requested by the accusers.
The "Dirty War" was a series of the atrocities committed under the military dictatorship of Argentina during 1976 to 1983. The dictatorship began with a coup d'etat against President Isabel Peron followed by the accession of a military junta led by General Jorge Rafael Videla. During military rule, thousands of political dissidents were either killed or "forcibly disappeared".
During the dictatorship
Etchecolatz was the Commissioner General of Police and the right-hand man of Police Chief Ramon Camps. He served as Director of Investigations of the provincial police from March 1976 until late 1977. During his period in office, Buenos Aires Province had the highest number of illegal
detentions in the country. In particular, Etchecolatz was second in command during the Night of the Pencils, when several students were detained and then tortured and murdered.
Return to democracy
In 1983 democratic rule returned to Argentina. In 1986, Etchecolatz was sentenced to 23 years for illegal detention and forced disappearances, but was spared prison because of the "Pardon Laws" (the Ley de Punto Final and the Ley de Obediencia Debida), which halted and rolled back investigations of the crimes committed during the Dirty War.
After being released, Etchecolatz wrote a book defending his actions during the dictatorship, called La otra campana del Nunca Mas . Jorge and Marcelo Gristelli, owners of a Catholic publishing house, presented the book in 1998 at the Buenos Aires Book Fair. Etchecolatz decided not to appear in public, because according to the Gristellis he "had received threats". In his book Etchecolatz stated: "I never had, or thought to have, or was haunted by, any sense of blame. For having killed? I was the executor of a law made by man. I was the keeper of divine precepts. And I would do it again." In 2001, the Gristellis were seen guarding Etchecolatz as he came out of a court in Buenos Aires, and attacked two left-wing demonstrators who insulted Etchecolatz.Clarin, 10 Apr 2001. Hermanos de palos y libros.
Etchecolatz had to face civil trials outside the purview of the Pardon Laws (which was restricted to acts committed in the context of military or police procedure). In 2004 he was sentenced to seven years in prison for the abduction of a "disappeared" couple's child and the suppression of her identity.
He was imprisoned in Villa Devoto in 2004 and 2005, but was later allowed to continue the sentence under house arrest due to being over 70 years old. Although Etchecolatz's lawyers claimed he also had a terminal illness, in 2006 he was transferred to Marcos Paz Prison after police found a firearm in his home, in violation of the conditions for the benefit of house arrest.El Pais, 24 Jun 2006. El represor argentino Miguel Etchecolatz debera purgar una condena anterior en una carcel comun.Terra, 23 Jun 2006. Revocaron la prision domiciliaria de Etchecolatz
The 2006 trial
Etchecolatz was the first criminal of the Dirty War to be prosecuted since the repeal of the "Pardon Laws". Beginning in June 2006, he faced a high-profile trial for human rights abuses. On 19 September 2006 he was found guilty of the detention and torture of Jorge Lopez and Nilda Eloy, and the homicides of Ambrosio Francisco De Marco, Patricia Graciela Dell'Orto, Diana Teruggi de Mariani, Elena Arce Sahores, Nora Livia Formiga and Margarita Delgado. He is believed to have operated, together with Camps, at least eight clandestine detention centres in La Plata, Quilmes, Banfield and Martinez. More than 100 witnesses were called, including former president Raul Alfonsin (19831989), under whose administration the Pardon Laws were passed.La Nacion, 30 Jun 2006. Dia de testimonios en los juicios contra Etchecolatz y "El Turco" Julian.Clarin, 15 Jul 2006. Juicio a Etchecolatz: un camillero dijo que traslado cuerpos sin identificar al cementerio de La Plata.La Nacion, 19 Sep 2006. Condenaron a Etchecolatz a reclusion perpetua.
Although still claiming to be innocent during the trial, Etchecolatz did not refrain from justifying his actions. He criticized the procedures of the trial as biased, and the judges as obedient to other powers. He called himself "an old man who is ill, with no money and no power", and "a part of a war that we [won] with the arms and that we're losing politically." Furthermore, he refused to acknowledge the authority of the judges, telling them: "You are not the judge. The supreme judge awaits us after death. [...] It's not this tribunal that sentences me, it's you." The last thing he said before hearing the sentence was to claim he was "a prisoner of war" and "a political prisoner".
Disappearance of Jorge Julio Lopez
A witness in the trial, former illegal detainee Jorge Julio Lopez, was seen for the last time on 17 September 2006. The provincial government offered a 200,000-peso reward for information on his whereabouts. Lopez, a 77-year-old retired mason with Parkinson's disease, was initially suspected of having suffered post-traumatic shock after re-living his ordeal during the trial, or that he may have been threatened and chosen to protect himself, but after a few days the hypothesis of kidnapping gained weight among the authorities. Buenos Aires Governor Felipe Sola stated that Lopez "could be the first desaparecido since the years of state terrorism", and that this could be intended "to intimidate future witnesses or block their participation in other trials." President Kirchner warned: "The past is not defeated... We cannot go back to that past." Human rights organizations suspect active and retired Provincial Police personnel of taking part in the disappearance, as a way to intimidate other witnesses in upcoming trials. Pagina/12, 26 September 2006. "Esto no es una desaparicion cualquiera".Clarin, 27 September 2006. Kirchner, sobre la desaparicion de Jorge Julio Lopez: "El pasado no esta ni derrotado ni vencido".
On 6 October 2006 a demonstration gathering tens of thousands at the Plaza de Mayo demanded the re-appearance of Lopez, in the context of a denunciation of defenders of the Dirty War.BBC News, 7 October 2006. Argentine missing witness rally.Pagina/12, 7 October 2006. "No tenemos miedo, queremos justicia".La Nacion, 7 October 2006. Masivo reclamo por el testigo Lopez.
, over three years after his disappearance, Lopez is yet to be found, but retired police doctor Carlos Osvaldo Falcone, who visited Etchecolatz in prison days before Falcone's disappearance, is to be be questioned about the use of a car found at his home reported to have been used to kidnap Lopez.
Threats to judges
On 27 September 2006 judge Carlos Rozanski, president of the court that sentenced Etchecolatz, confirmed he had received a long letter which claimed that judges were being pressured by the national government, and which denounced those who "from the offices of power do not look for justice but for revenge against those who defended the Nation". The letter was sent by a so-called "Third International Congress of Victims of Terrorism - Barcelona - Spain". The three trial judges also received threatening telephone calls. The same letter was received by Santa Fe federal judge Reinaldo Rodriguez and by several federal prosecutors who are investigating Dirty War-related crimes. The text was well-written and correctly addressed, and contained covert threats, pointing out that the senders "are bound, as citizens, to monitor that [judicial officials] fulfill their functions", and that "this farce will end soon, and those who have not honored their posts will be accountable to a particularly impartial court."Clarin, 27 September 2006. Amenazaron al presidente del tribunal que condeno al represor Etchecolatz.Pagina/12, 28 September 2006. Las amenazas llegaron a la Justicia.
History of Argentina
Night of the Pencils
Jose Lopez Rega
National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
Trial Watch profile
Amnesty International: Human rights cases endangered by new wave of threats
Coverage of the trial on Human Rights Watch
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Miguel Etchecolatz