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Argentina: The End of Impunity

During the course of one day, Buenos Aires saw amnesty laws protecting military officers responsible for the illegal repression of the seventies over-turned, and the imprisonment of a symbol of corruption during Menem's administration in the nineties

Slowly but firmly, justice advances and sheds its light over the 30 yearlong night of a country that lived in the darkness.  


On Tuesday, the lower chamber passed a resolution that nullifies the amnesty laws for military officers held liable for crimes against humanity during the so-called "dirty war" of the 1970s. Such legislation protected second line officers who commited crimes alleging obedience to their superiors. At the same time, a top aide of former President Carlos Menem, Maria Julia Alsogaray, was arrested on embezzlement charges as part of an anti-graft campaign.


A crowd gathered early in the afternoon at the gates of the fin de siecle building of the National Congress. Claiming justice for the 30,000 missing citizens during the juntas' regime between 1976 - 1983, demonstrators had to wait until late in the evening to see the nullifying of the amnesty laws voted by the same congress in 1987, after a military insurrection that endangered the young democracy.


The Deputies’ debate began earlier, as a long list of orators expressed their positions on the question. The most spirited speech came form the center-left coalition leader, Elisa Carrio, who thanked President Kirchner for his bravery to overturn the law. "There will be no peace in Argentina, as long as we do not have truth, justice and punishment", said Carrio.


Deputy Patricia Walsh, leader of the Communist block within the lower chamber, had advanced the bill. Her initial proposal included the nullity of the pardon orders issued by former President Carlos Menem in 1990 that released from prison the junta's entire leadership, condemned in 1985. However, the official peronist block opted to leave the case to the final resolution of the federal courts.


In fact, the Congressional resolution does not mean the automatic imprisonment of those released in the eighties. The Supreme Court of justice has to rule over the issue and declare unconstitutionality of the amnesty laws so they can become officially overturned.


Menem and 1990's corruption


On Tuesday, Maria Julia Alsogaray, a top aide of former president Menem was arrested. Alsogaray served as Natural Resources Secretary under Menem and was responsible for the privatization of public companies early in the nineties, particularly during the controversial selling of the telecommunication national company to Telefonica (Spain) and France Telecom.


Since then, she became a symbol of corruption and banality, as the daughter of the pro-market and Army supported former country's Minister of Economy, Alvaro Alsogaray, used to appear in the front pages of the heart magazines showing her expensive life-style to the impoverished population.


The 59-year-old industrial engineer's arrest comes weeks after local airport magnate Eduardo Eurnekian, who also had close ties to Menem, was forced to pay a $5 million guarantee to avoid jail on tax evasion charges. Menem himself, whose 1989-99 tenure ended amid corruption scandals, spent five months under house arrest in 2001 during an arms trafficking to Croatia and Ecuador investigation before being released for lack of evidence. It is expected that the Justice Ministry will re-open files soon.


Menem, has been also accused of taking a $10 million bribe to cover up the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish club. There have been claims that he holds this money secret accounts in Swiss banks.