Argentina: Ex-agents sentenced in Operation Condor

Prosecutors say about 300 people passed through Automotores Orletti.

Buenos Aires: A court on Thursday sentenced a former Army general to life in prison and three ex-state agents to 20 or 25 years for crimes against humanity committed in a notorious torture centre during Argentina`s military dictatorship.

Ex-General Eduardo Cabanillas was convicted of illegal imprisonment, torture and homicide involving 65 people held at Automotores Orletti, an auto body shop that served as an operations centre for Operation Condor, a coordinated effort by South America`s dictatorships to eliminate dissidents who sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The crimes took place in 1976.

Prosecutors say about 300 people passed through Automotores Orletti, including Uruguayans, Chileans, Bolivians and Cubans, most of whom were killed or disappeared.

The federal Argentine court on Thursday also sentenced former Army intelligence agent Raul Guglielminetti to 20 years in prison while former spies Honorio Martinez Ruiz and Eduardo Ruffo each received 25 years. A fifth suspect in the case, retired Colonel Ruben Visuara, died in February.

"It is a glorious and historical day that we are living and that the `mothers` didn`t think we`d live to see. This is legal justice," said Tati Almeida of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an Argentine human rights group.

Survivors of the torture centre say bound, blindfolded prisoners were given electric shocks and hoisted up by pulleys and submerged head-first in water in what was known as "the submarine." Running car engines in the garage covered the screams of the torture victims.

Among the centre’s victims was Marcelo Gelman, the son of Argentine poet Juan Gelman. His body was found in a drum of cement in a river. His pregnant wife was abducted as well and remains missing. She gave birth in captivity and the poet located his granddaughter Macarena in Uruguay in 2000.

The trial reflects Argentina`s ongoing effort to resolve crimes of the 1976-1983 military junta. About 3,000 political dissidents disappeared during the dictatorship, according to official figures. Human rights groups put the figure at 30,000.

Bureau Report