Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Benito Bignone, former leaders of Argentina, were sentenced to multiple years in prison for stealing the infants of political prisoners and giving those infants new identities.
Videla ruled over Argentina’s military government between 1976 and 1981 and will serve 50 years in prison for his part in the crimes. Bignone ruled Argentina as dictator between 1982 and 1983 and will serve a 15-year sentence, CNN reports. Videla has already been sentenced to life in prison in 2010 for torturing prisoners, Reuters reports. Bignone has also been sentenced to 25 years for kidnapping and torturing another 56 people during the years he was in power.
Both men were in power during La Guerra Sucia, or the Dirty War. In fact, these two leaders were the mastheads of this brutal era in Argentine history. This era was also called the Process of National Reorganization in which a military junta, headed by these two dictators, made thousands upon thousands of leftist or oppositional Argentinean citizens “disappear.”
These political prisoners, often quite young, have been typecast by Videla as “terrorists.” The New Yorker quotes Videla as defining a terrorist this way: “not only someone who plants bombs but a person whose ideas are contrary to Western, Christian civilization.”
The two former leaders were charged on Thursday for abducting 35 infants from mothers who were disappeared during this era. The mothers of the stolen children were often detained at ESMA, Argentina’s Marine School of Engineering, in Buenos Aires where they were tortured and gave birth in shackles, AFP reports. They were often injected with drugs after the birth and tossed into the nearby river or ocean to die.
Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a human rights group that has been seeking justice for the thousands of families torn apart by the disappearances of the Dirty War years, assert that at least 500 children were stolen from families during this era. The group has been fighting for restitution for the last 16 years and have slowly been making progress.
Videla has remained staunch in his innocence, claiming that the mothers were “terrorists” in Argentina and that destitute children were supposed to be returned to their families.
War and the Arts
La Guerra Sucia made waves in the literary and artistic worlds. Julio Cortázar, perhaps best known for his short story “Blow-Up” and his novel “Hopscotch” also wrote “Winners” a portrayal of these years in which citizens were forced to blind themselves to injustice or risk disappearing. The novel depicts a group of people who win a chance to go on a free cruise together. The ship itself works as a metaphor for the whole corrupt government contraption of those years and the way people often blinded themselves to the truth.
Cortázar stated in an interview from the 1980′s:
The military in Latin America—they’re the ones who make me work harder. If they were removed, if there were a change, then I could rest a little and work on poems and stories that would be exclusively literary. But it’s they who give me work to do.
He was exiled from Argentina for many years and was able to visit his home country again after the military government was ousted in 1983. He passed away in 1984. The film “Sur,” directed by famed writer Fernando “Pino” Solanas also documents these brutal years of disappearance and loss.
Over the last 15 years a number of political personalities, as well as the Catholic Church, have apologized for their complicity during the Dirty War years and the irreparable damage caused by the disappearances. Children of imprisoned and murdered leftists of the era are in their 20s and 30s now. Many of these adults are only now finding out their true identities.
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