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Cablegate: Argentina: Court Convicts Ex-Army Chief for Dirty War

VZCZCXYZ0007
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1039 2100900
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 280900Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 1634

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001039

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DRL FOR CATHERINE NEWLING

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KJUS MARR AR

SUBJECT: ARGENTINA: COURT CONVICTS EX-ARMY CHIEF FOR DIRTY WAR
CRIMES

REF: A) 07 BUENOS AIRES 1416
B) 07 BUENOS AIRES 2033

1. (U) On July 24, 81 year-old Luciano Benjamin Menendez, an
Argentine ex-army General, was sentenced to life in prison for the
1977 kidnapping, torture and killing of four left-wing activists.
Menendez must serve a life sentence in prison since a 2007 law was
passed stating that all military officials convicted of crimes
against humanity must serve their sentences in an ordinary prison.
Most individuals who have been convicted for human rights abuses
during the 1976-83 military dictatorship and who are over 70 or in
ailing health are serving their sentences under house arrest.

2. (U) Ricardo Ramon Lardone, a civilian who worked for military
intelligence, and former military members Hermes Rodriguez, Jorge
Acosta, Luis Manzanelli, Carlos Vega, Carlos Diaz and Oreste
Padovan, were also found guilty of the same crimes. Their sentences
range from 18 years to life in prison. Secretary of Human Rights
Eduardo Luis Duhalde, and human rights organizations Madres de la
Plaza de Mayo and Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, praised the decision.


3. (U) Earlier that day, Menendez read a prepared statement in front
of live television cameras and a hostile crowd in which he justified
the military regime's repression as necessary in the face of a
leftist militant threat by armed guerilla groups such as the
Montoneros. In an indirect reference to the Cristina Fernandez de
Kirchner administration, he told the courts prior to his sentencing
that "Argentine society was involved in a war provoked by
international Marxists -- the same people that still persist in
their obscure aim . . . The difference is a sad one for our homeland
as before the terrorists were living illegally and now they do so
within the law, pretending to be peaceful citizens, respecting the
law and the constitution." Menendez claimed that the "armed
guerillas can not say that they acted in defense of democracy" and
lamented that Argentina is the only country that put its "victorious
soldiers" on trial.

4. (SBU) Left-of-center Critica published an op-ed piece by Martin
Caparros, an award-winning novelist and self-proclaimed
ex-Montonero, who reluctantly and ironically agreed with Menendez's
claims. He explained that the "Marxist subversion...wanted, without
a doubt, to challenge power in Argentina and radically change the
social order. We did not want a capitalist and democratic country:
we wanted a socialist society, without a market economy, without
inequality, without exploiters and exploited. We did not indicate
precisely what political form these goals would take, but without a
doubt, it would not be the 'bourgeoisie democracy' that we condemned
any opportunity we had."

5. (SBU) Caparros also asserted that "it is a lie when ex-Montoneros
claimed that they were fighting for democracy when in reality they
were promoting armed struggle as the only way to power." He added
that it is the same lie former President Nestor Kirchner makes when
he claims that the CFK administration fights for the dreams of the
1970s militants. He asserted that Argentine society has revised the
history of the so-called 'Dirty War' claiming that "the majority of
Argentines have forgotten that they were against revolutionary
violence, that they preferred capitalism, and that they were very
satisfied when the military acted to restore order."

-------
Comment
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6. (SBU) As noted in reftels, Argentine society remains deeply
divided over the legacy of the 1976-83 military dictatorship. While
the overwhelming majority of Argentines will say that the military
response to the 1970s armed guerrilla groups was disproportionate to
the actual threat the guerillas posed, there appears to be strong
sentiment that ex-members of the armed guerillas should also be held
accountable for their terrorist attacks and political
assassinations. The Court decision is unlikely to cause a political
backlash in the Argentine military, since the generation implicated
in these crimes is largely out of the military and today's military
is a professional force subject to civilian authority.

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