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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

CONCACAF Details Rebuilding Plans After FIFA Scandal

North and Central American and Caribbean soccer body publishes anti-corruption proposals Monday after its two of its officials were implicated in racketeering
More

Thousands Camp Out for Pope's First Mass in Ecuador

Pilgrims converge on coastal city of Guayaquil; after Ecuador, pope heads to Bolivia and Paraguay
More

Pope Begins South America Tour With Ecuador Mass

Thousands of worshipers camped out overnight in Ecuador awaiting Pope Francis, who began tour with open-air service in southwestern city of Guayaquil
More

Pope Starts 8-Day Trip to South America

Francis says he wants to emphasize plight of impoverished people in three countries - Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay - he is visiting
More

Right to Die: Colombian Man Ends Life with Government Backup

After heated public debate and last-minute legal challenges, 79-year-old becomes first Colombian to die as result of government-sanctioned euthanasia
More

3 Mexican Journalists Assassinated in Week

Rights groups call on Mexican authorities to thoroughly investigate recent murders in Oaxaca, Veracruz and Guanajuato
More