Argentina: Witnesses Against Genocide are Murdered

 (The Case of Silvia Suppo, March 29, 2010)

Carlos Alberto Lungarzo

Amnesty International (USA)

Reg 2152711

The Argentine military dictatorship of 1976, whose 34th anniversary was completed last week, continues to produce victims. Since 1976, the dictatorship was the seventh in a country that only knew that they call "democracy" for very short periods and never in perfect form, and that had governments only moderately conforming with the law since 1983.  This beginning of a relatively modern democracy (in the style of other countries in the region such as Brazil), was not a triumph of the political class, which always colluded with state terrorism, but because of the failure of the military in the war of 1982 , leaving the government in an untenable situation in national and international scenes.

It is easy to show that this dictatorship was the most cruel and bloodthirsty authoritarian process in the West (limited to one country only, I am excluding the Second World War), after the Spanish dictatorship, and most of regimes such as Pinochet and dictatorships in Central America.  I urge the Human Rights organizations to read this statement, they do know the news as much as possible.

The General Context

Consider briefly the history of the problem. According to calculations of human rights organizations during the Argentinian dictatorship (and its predecessor, the government of Maria Estela Peron, widow of Juan Peron) were captured, kidnapped and made "missing" for 30 thousand people in a country whose population average for the period 75 - 81 was 30 million, setting a rate never achieved before in the West than 1% of the population. This calculation, as a standard, may be conservative, in my opinion. Documents recently declassified in Chile show that the Argentine military had reported to Chile in August 1978 that around 22 thousand were missing. Note that the dictatorship lasted until 1983, and continued practicing kidnapping until 1981. This date is below the midpoint of the acute period of the captures (1976-1980), which might suggest that there may have been a similar amount in the following period.

In 1983, Raul Alfonsin, a member of an old party of central Argentina (UCR), representing mostly middle class, and famous throughout history for his collaboration with coups and conspiracies, won elections for president. Alfonsin, the first leader of the UCR claimed not to worship the typical style of urban warlord and, with much effort, tried to sell an image of modern, democratic government.

Pressed by several governments (in Argentina citizens of 32 countries were killed, someone in fact concerned with human rights and Sweden) and by relatives and friends of killed or exiled (almost 10% of the population). The government was forced, reluctantly, the open an investigation, where the number of unsolicited complaints from relatives of victims reached almost a 3rd of the actual number of missing (by around 9 thousand in 1984). This is a high number, if we think about the climate of terror that haunts the society since at least 1975, and the enormous amount of political crimes against defenders of human rights or friends of the victims.

The denunciation process became massive and escaped the purely symbolic landmark in which the government and almost the entire political class wanted to keep it. The matter ended in court, where 9 commanders (accused of hundreds of proven killings, application of torture, kidnapping, rape, etc..) They were sentenced to terms ranging from life imprisonment (Videla) to less than 10 years.

The very dynamics of the process has led people to continue presenting complaints. The few survivors have denounced their captors, torturers, jailers, etc. In 1986, the list of police and military personnel accused of crimes which, if punished according to law, life imprisonment would (a pity that there is in Argentina) be the result.

Frightened by the turn events were taking, the Argentine politicians (except a minority of the left that was less than 1% of the parliament) decided to close the case. It can confuse the fact that several right-wing parties (like Justicialista, founded by Perón) opposed amnesty for the military, but this was a ploy to oppose the government and leave it alone, seeking the next election. The Peronist and the conservative parties were saved at that moment, most defended the soldiers.

But the government managed to pass two laws in the following months: theLaw of Punto Final (Final Point), which closed the receipt of further complaints from a certain date, and the infamous Law of Due Obedience, justifying almost any crime (except rape and record of kidnapped children, but not murder and torture), provided that the author could justify that they were following orders. Except the biggest dictator in each moment, anyone might adduce that they were following orders.

In 2005, after 20 years lost, the Argentine judiciary found this law unconstitutional. The stimulus of the Kirchner government began to be incorporated, slowly. The trials against the military, many of them on the brink of the grave after having lived 80 or more years plagued society. I could not say exactly without consulting any source, but I believe that in this period, more than a dozen guilty, some high-ranking officers, were sentenced to more than 20 years.

Some years ago, a gentleman who had been tortured by the military, and declared in a case in 2006, abruptly disappeared after testifying against a soldier who was convicted. The Kirchner government has made a great effort to find the kidnapped, and identify and punish the culprits, but it was useless. The Argentine social fabric is poisoned by decades of denunciations, fear of military and police, and victimized by state terrorism. The task of normalizing society will be difficult.

Brusa Cause

Repression in Argentina had many peculiarities that are not found even in the worst moments of Nazism. One of them is relevant here: the tendency of the judiciary to become an accomplice to torture committed by military and police. The dictatorship did not have to make a great replacement of legal frameworks, as in Germany, where near the traditional justice was being introduced gradually, a style of National Socialist justice. In Argentina, the same conventional judges took testimony and directed or legitimized torture committed under investigation.

There were few judge torturers in the strict sense. As the judges have a higher social background than police or military noncommissioned officers, they did not want (or need) "dirty hands" using shock machines, knives, heated metal, etc.., or practicing rape, but they were assisting the torments during which they threatened the victims with even greater torture. They also practiced all kinds of intimidation and psychological torture.

One of the worst cases was a federal judge VICTOR HERMES BRUSA, wanted by Spanish judge Balthazar Garzon, one of the greatest heroes of the defense of human rights in the West. Brusa operated in Santa Fe, state of the same name, about 600 km from Buenos Aires, where he would take statements from tortured, mutilated, raped women, having gone through the sadism of the police, including women police officers.

Brusa was a permanent member of the two teams of torture in clandestine killing centers in that city, and although he had not been told to apply physical torture with his own hand, he subjected the victims to psychological torment and threats, compelling them to sign statements whose contents they could not read.

For those who know the insanity and barbarity of the process of the superlative Argentine military, the Brusa case is not the worst. In places where he collaborated in the torture, a few hundred people "just" disappeared (no one knows for sure, but more than half of victims were produced by the Brazilian dictatorship). Moreover, there were 18 who were spared and, although severely tortured, were kept alive. They all claimed the judge Brusa monitored the torture, "twisted" by the torturers and threatened the victims.

Argentina could not extradite Brusa, which was requested by Spain, because of a chauvinist and infamous law that prohibits extraditing nationals (this law exists in many countries), even in cases of crimes against humanity. I understand that the Kirchner government has proposed the annulment of this law, but do not know if it succeeded.

In late December 2009, the magistrate was tried in the city of Santa Fe and sentenced to 21 years in prison, a penalty not much more than that in which Argentina applies to a common crime such as burglary. Anyway, it was a great triumph that the judicial power would condemn one of its members, something that had never happened in the country.

Witness Silvia Suppo

In 1977, Silvia Suppo, then aged 17 was abducted by a gang of cops. The dictatorship had launched in some cities, the watchword of holding and torturing students in a certain age range (usually between 15 and 20 years), who could be suspects. When people did not respond to harsh but reversible torture, police deduced that this was not what they were looking for and could, in a few cases, let them free after a few weeks of torment. That was the case with Silvia. However, this was not the most common. The majority was a target of archive burning.

Silvia was kidnapped along with her brother and a friend, but before that fact, her boyfriend had been a victim of kidnapping by police / military, and never reappeared.

Silvia was raped by her captors and later underwent an abortion. In 2009, she stated this fact to the court, which was one of the key arguments for the condemnation of the gowned eminence.

Yesterday, Monday March 29, Silvia was attacked by unidentified persons who owned a shop in the city center of Rafaela province (state) of Santa Fe. It was 10:00 in the morning, time of maximum movement in most cities the country. Rafaela has 84 thousand inhabitants, and strong commercial movement, as well as intense police patrols. To rob a store in the center without police notice, during normal business hours, is very difficult.

Silva was a TARGET of 12 stab wounds that produced death.

The attackers also stole 10 thousand pesos and objects of gold and silver, a fact which gave a pretext for police to consider it an assault with death. It is necessary to take into account:

1. Rafaela is not a violent city, assaults and death are almost unknown in the region.

2. A burglar usually uses a short firearm to intimidate. As in any other country in the world, those who demand money have no special interest in executing someone. Moreover, police do not bother to pursue perpetrators of minor assaults, so it makes sense to think that she was killed because she saw the assailant's face.

3. Killing by knife is extremely cruel, and used by para-police and paramilitary groups for their victim to suffer the most. In general, these groups prefer to kidnap a person and subject them to torture that produces a slow death over several days. In this case, it would have been more difficult with the great movement that exists in the city. Or maybe, simply, the executioners decided between the two alternatives that seemed easier.

4. Finally, the argument of stolen money is ridiculous. The para-police groups who commit crimes against people linked to human rights tend to steal anything of value in place. That happened a lot during the dictatorship. The police have made fortunes by stealing the belongings of their victims.

5. There is a way to hide the crime. Instead, the perpetrator would prefer that the company suspected it was a "reckoning" for other witnesses who feel fear.

Due to the large movement of the hour, some people realized that a man entered the store and closed the door. However, no one claims to have details for the sketch of the perpetrator.

It is almost certain that the crime was revenge for the testimony given in December, and a threat against possible future witnesses.

Call to Brazilian human rights NGOs

Since in Brazil, the supporters of human rights are under attack (though not in urban areas, as in the case of Sister Dorothy), and taking into account that the dictatorship's victims make enormous efforts to overcome the criminal impunity that is practiced in Brazil, I ask that all activists and organizations speak jointly on this case.

I ask them to organize a demonstration to confront the government and other public bodies, and bring their concerns to the Argentine government. Emphasize the fact that solidarity and human rights are the emphasis of our constitution and exceed the boundaries.

Silvia has relatives in Brazil, which came, like many others, at the time of repression, but we do not want to give information about them publicly at least, if not authorized by them.

A detailed complaint will be sent today to our Secretariat in London, and another to the judge, Balthazar Garzon, an international champion of human rights and there shall be lawsuits against major offenders in the state, including General Pinochet.

São Paulo, March 30, 2010.

Carlos Alberto Lungarzo

RNE V033174-J


Translated from the Portuguese version by:



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Author`s name Oksana Orlovskaya