MONTEVIDEO – An Uruguayan court said it has sentenced eight former soldiers and police to prison terms of up to 25 years for a series of killings under Operation Condor, an underground alliance of 1970s South American right-wing military regimes to coordinate and carry out the cross-border detention and elimination of political enemies.
Judge Luis Charles sentenced former military men Jose Nino Gavazzo, Ricardo Arab, Jorge Silveira, Ernesto Ramas and Gilberto Vazquez to 25 years behind bars after finding them guilty on 28 counts of “extremely aggravated” homicide.
Another former soldier, Luis Maurente, and ex-police officers Ricardo Medina and Jose Sande Lima received prison terms of 20 years each for the same crimes because the judge found they participated to a lesser degree, Uruguayan media reported Friday.
The defendants had been arrested and jailed in September of 2006 in connection with the crimes that date back to 1976, three years after a Uruguay’s 1973-1985 military regime took power.
The case involved the disappearance and killings of Uruguayan political dissidents who had taken refuge in Buenos Aires and who were either killed there or taken by force to Montevideo by military and police troops participating in Operation Condor.
In Charles’ verdict, he rejected prosecutor Mirtha Guianze’s characterization of the crimes as “forced disappearances,” instead focusing his sentence on the crime of “extremely aggravated homicide.”
“The obligation to investigate serious violations of human rights is an international (one), under both treaties and international common law, and is one of the components of the state’s duty to guarantee” human rights, the online version of local daily El Pais reported, citing the judge’s verdict.
The defendants’ attorneys said they will appeal the sentence, while Guianze said she will do the same to ensure the crime of “forced disappearance” is included in the sentence.
An amnesty law – known in Uruguay as the Ley de Caducidad (Expiry Law) – that was approved in 1986 and ratified in a plebiscite three years later granted members of the security forces immunity from prosecution for crimes committed during the military regime.
However, the administration of leftist President Tabare Vazquez, elected in 2005, has excluded human rights crimes that were committed outside Uruguay – and within the scope of Operation Condor – from the amnesty.
As a result of that exemption, former dictators Gregorio Alvarez, who ruled from 1981-1985; and Juan Maria Bordaberry, in power from 1973-1976, have been arrested and indicted.
Vazquez also said earlier this year that he regards the Ley de Caducidad to be unconstitutional and wants the Supreme Court to rule on the matter.
A signature-gathering campaign is currently underway for a referendum – which could be held in October – on whether the law should be revoked.
The organizers of the campaign are less than 10,000 signatures short of the minimum total of 250,000 they need to gather by the end of April, but they say their goal is to collect 300,000 by the deadline.
Together, the Southern Cone military regimes of the ‘70s and ‘80s killed tens of thousands of people, while hundreds of thousands more were tortured or forced into exile.