Argentina faces bitter revival of dirty war disappearing drama

The whole South American country is searching for a missing witness of tortures and assassinations under the bloody military dictatorship of the 1970’s.

A 77-year-old witness whose testimony of torture was decisive to convict a former police officer for his crimes during Argentina’s dirty war of the seventies, is missed since last week as authorities fear it could be the first “disappeared” since the country recuperated democracy in 1983. According to official reports, federal police units across the country are seeking tips into the week-old disappearance of Jorge Julio Lopez, who went missing on the eve of the Sept. 19 conviction of a former police investigator in a landmark human rights case.

Human rights organizations, as the worldwide known “Madres de Plaza de Mayo”, are demanding as they did in the seventies “the return alive” of Mr. Lopez, who was reported missing after his son went to pick him up to attend the final trial statements and found that his father was not home. Despite family members say it wasn't normal for Lopez to vanish, police had no immediate explanation for his disappearance.

Human Rights groups believe that former collaborators of the military juntas that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983, could be behind the disappearance of Lopez to intimidate new witnesses in the forthcoming trials. These organizations along with leftist parties are calling to street protests and rallies to demand the return of Lopez “alive and in perfect health conditions”.

"The return of Lopez is fundamental for democracy," said Buenos Aires provincial Gov. Felipe Sola, who added investigators were trying to determine whether Lopez "could have been kidnapped to intimidate future witnesses or prevent future testimony" in other cases.

The day after Lopez's disappearance, ex-police officer Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in the disappearance of six people during the so-called "Dirty War" waged against dissenters by former junta rulers and their police allies in 1976-83.

The trial, held in Lopez' hometown of La Plata, 50 kilometers southeast of Buenos Aires, was the second one of its kind since the Supreme Court in June 2005 annulled a pair of 1980s amnesty laws blocking prosecution of Dirty War crimes. Earlier this year, former navy officer Julio Simon, was also convicted for crimes against humanity thanks to the overturn of these laws.

Amnesty International urged authorities to spare no effort to find Lopez. "Since the return of civilian government in 1983, lawyers and relatives of those who 'disappeared' while the country was under military rule and members of non-governmental organizations investigating those 'disappearances,' have been threatened, harassed and attacked," Amnesty said. National authorities have launched a campaign to obtain information leading Lopez, which includes a $ 64,000 reward.

About 30,000 people are killed or disappeared as a result of the dictatorship’s crackdown on dissident in Argentina. Mr. Lopez was one of the men who was tortured and illegally arrested at that time. He was a “desaparecido” in 1976 and no one wants him to be a “desaparecido” 30 years later.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov