On the day before Argentina marked the 35th anniversary of the military coup that installed a seven-year dictatorial regime, an ex-general was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity. Luciano Menendez, 83, was head of the army’s Third Corps during the dictatorship period of 1976-1983. This was his sixth life sentence.
According to a verdict released by Argentina’s judiciary branch, Menendez was found guilty of homicide and unlawful entry in an army and police assault in a home in Tucumán province on May 20, 1976. A group of Montoneros, a leftist urban guerrilla group, was meeting inside the house before the forces launched explosives and entered. Five people were killed and buried in a common grave.
The verdict, which also found former Tucumán province police intelligence chief Roberto Albornoz guilty in the same case, is part of a recent series of trials that have taken place after the 2007 decision of then-president Néstor Kirchner to annul pardons against former junta members. In a particularly high-profile case, General Jorge Rafael Videla, the former leader of the military dictatorship, was sentenced to life in prison in December 2010 for crimes against humanity.
On March 24, 1976, a military junta led by Videla overthrew the elected government and began a period of military rule in Argentina that lasted until 1983. During this period, Videla and the generals that succeeded him undertook a “national reorganization process,” more commonly known as the Dirty War, to maintain social order and eradicate any political subversion. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 individuals were killed or disappeared as a part of this war, with still others tortured and/or forced into exile.
Yesterday—the National Day of Memory, Truth and Justice—thousands of people marched on the streets of Buenos Aires and other cities to remember those lost during the Dirty War and to celebrate the work of human rights groups since then. Marchers included human rights activists, including the famous Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, as well as ordinary citizens, both young and old.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was at her family’s home in the town of El Calafate in Santa Cruz province and did not participate in any of the rallies.