MONTEVIDEO – Former dictator Juan Maria Bordaberry was sentenced to 30 years in prison for leading a military coup in Uruguay in 1973 and for nine forced disappearances and two homicides, judiciary officials said.
Judge Mariana Motta handed down the sentence against the 81-year-old defendant on Wednesday, finding him guilty of violating the constitution by shutting down Congress 15 months after taking office in early 1972 and of rights violations in the other two cases involving disappearances and murders.
Prior to this latest sentence, the democratically elected president-turned-dictator was already serving a 30-year sentence under house arrest for the disappearance of 14 Uruguayans detained under his de facto regime.
House arrest is a benefit most Latin American countries extend to elderly convicts.
Attorney Hebe Martinez Burle, who filed the charges against Bordaberry, said Wednesday night that even though the sentence will not affect Bordaberry’s status in terms of years of detention, it has “enormous symbolic importance for Uruguay.”
He recalled in statements to the local media that the complaint filed in 2002 had the backing of 1,500 citizens from all of the nation’s political parties.
“This doesn’t change the time of reclusion at all and that’s not our concern. The issue for us is emblematic, symbolic, that when someone violates the constitution, when a coup occurs, eventually you’re going to pay,” the attorney said.
Martinez Burle said the sentence handed down to Bordaberry, who was eventually ousted by military officers in mid-1976, three years into a 12-year dictatorship, “is unusual in the world, where dictators are tried for corruption or other crimes, but not specifically for staging a coup.”
Bordaberry was arrested in 2006 in the 1976 slayings in Buenos Aires of exiled Uruguayan lawmakers Zelmar Michelini and Hector Gutierrez Ruiz and Uruguayan leftist militants Rosario Barredo and William Whitelaw.
The former dictator was first placed in preventative detention and then under house arrest in 2007 for health reasons.
According to the prosecutor in the case, Ana Maria Tellechea, “it has been clearly shown that in the period from the coup until Bordaberry was removed by the military there were hundreds of disappearances and torture-related deaths carried out by those at the head of this dictatorial process.”
In his testimony in the case, Bordaberry said he only heard about the disappearances “20 years after” his presidency and that, while in office, he kept himself removed from the actions carried out by the military.
Last year, the man who presided over the last four years of Uruguay’s 1973-1985 military regime, Gregorio “Goyo” Alvarez, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the deaths of 37 dissidents.
Prosecutor Mirtha Guianze managed to put Alvarez in the dock by persuading judges that his alleged crimes were not covered by a 1986 amnesty because they stemmed from actions carried out under Plan Condor, a collaboration among various South American military regimes to eliminate their respective political foes.
The amnesty, which was upheld in a plebiscite in 1989, also does not cover civilian leaders during the dictatorship such as Bordaberry.
Last year, Uruguay’s Supreme Court struck down three articles of the amnesty law as unconstitutional, finding that it “exceeds legislators’ powers and invades the area of a function constitutionally assigned to judges.”
But Uruguayans voted against overturning the amnesty law in a another referendum last October. EFE