News / Americas

Former Argentine Dictator Videla Dies in Prison

Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla listens to verdict in human rights abuse trial, Cordoba, Dec. 22, 2010.
Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla listens to verdict in human rights abuse trial, Cordoba, Dec. 22, 2010.
Reuters
Jorge Rafael Videla, an austere former army commander who led Argentina during the bloodiest period of a "dirty war" dictatorship and was unrepentant about kidnappings and murders ordered by the state, died on Friday at age 87.
 
Videla was the first president to head the military junta that "disappeared" thousands of suspected leftists from 1976 to 1983, and he spent his final years behind bars for human rights crimes including the systematic theft of babies born to political prisoners in secret torture centers.
 
He died of natural causes in his jail cell in a prison outside the capital, Buenos Aires, a government spokesman said.
 
"Videla presided over a government that engaged in one of the most cruel repressions that we have seen in Latin America in modern times," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Latin America for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
 
"He was arrogant to the end and unwilling to acknowledge his responsibility for the massive atrocities committed in Argentina," Vivanco added. "Many of the secrets of the repression will die with him."
 
Rights groups say up to 30,000 people were "disappeared" — a euphemism for kidnapped and murdered — during the dictatorship, which began in March 1976 when Videla and two other military leaders staged a coup against President Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, the widow of former leader Juan Domingo Peron.
 
Argentina's left-wing guerrilla groups such as the Montoneros had been weakened by the time Videla came to power. He targeted union organizers, students, journalists and anyone else perceived to be associated with communism.
 
Last year Videla told an Argentine journalist that the crackdown he oversaw was the price that Argentina had to pay in order to remain a republic.
 
"War, by nature, is cruel," Videla said. "An internal war, between brothers, is especially cruel."
 
Worst excesses

Videla was born in the town of Mercedes to a middle-class family in 1925. He followed in the footsteps of his father, an army colonel, enlisting in the military academy where he was well-respected.
 
Following the coup of 1976, the mustachioed Videla headed a three-man military junta and he led the country until 1981.
 
The junta pledged to end left-wing subversion, put the economy in order and respect human rights. Videla said several times that the aim of his government was to return Argentina to democracy.
 
However, he conditioned that on the "Process of National Reorganization," in which the military planned to foster sweeping reforms to reduce the state's role in the economy and rid Argentina of the influence of former strongman Peron.
 
He quickly suspended the normal functions of Congress, local government and the Supreme Court, and oversaw the worst excesses against those suspected of left-wing activities.
 
It was also the government of "sweet money" when Argentines briefly enjoyed the benefits of the monetarist policies of Economy Minister Jose Martinez de Hoz. He did away with import tariffs and revalued the peso against the U.S. dollar, helping Argentina build up a $50 billion foreign debt.
 
When Videla was succeeded by army chief Roberto Eduardo
Viola in 1981, the political balance inside the armed forces began to crumble but Argentina was still deeply entrenched in military rule.
 
It remained so until the catastrophe of the Falklands War against Britain in 1982 eroded the military's power.
 
Only four years after leaving Argentina's presidential palace, with the democratically elected government of President Raul Alfonsin in office, Videla was sentenced to life in prison for human rights abuses under his rule.
 
He spent just five years behind bars because of a pardon granted in 1990 by then-President Carlos Menem. But eight years later, a judge scrapped the pardon. He spent the next 10 years under house arrest before being sent back to prison for a final stretch in 2008.
 
More "dirty war" cases were opened in Argentina during the 2003-2007 presidency of Nestor Kirchner and in subsequent years, and Videla was given several life sentences.
 
During a trial in 2012, Videla was sentenced to 50 years in prison for being the architect of a systematic plan to steal babies from prisoners at clandestine detention centers.
 
An unrepentant Videla described himself as a "political prisoner" during the trial.
 
"The women giving birth, who I respect as mothers, were militants who were active in the machine of terror," the former dictator said in his closing remarks. "Many used their unborn children as human shields."

You May Like

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent, Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

More Americas News

1 Man Pleads Guilty, 2 Indicted in Massive Data Breach

US prosecutors say defendants, working abroad, stole 1 billion email addresses and used them to send spam
More

Venezuela Swaps Oil to Import Beans as Coffee Output Sinks

Once a proud exporter, country reduced to bartering crude oil for growing volumes of Nicaraguan coffee beans to make sure people get their caffeine fix
More

ExxonMobil Set to Begin Drilling Off Guyana

Project could turn up the heat under a long-running territorial row with neighboring Venezuela
More

Peru Indigenous Groups Settle US Court Claims with Occidental

Achuar communities alleged Occidental spilled oil and dumped toxic waste while operating country's biggest oil block, triggering widespread health problems
More

Petrobras Scandal Threatens Brazil's Political, Business Elite

Executives reportedly feeling inclined to cut plea bargains that would result in less jail time in return for disclosing graft scheme details
More

Tests Indicate Argentine Prosecutor Was Slain, Ex-Wife Says

Alberto Nisman, found dead days after accusing president of involvement in cover-up, didn't commit suicide, Sandra Arroyo Salgado says
More