ESMA: The Argentine Ministry of Defense expels six repressors of the dictatorship from the Navy

Some of the repressors convicted in October 2011 in the ESMA mega-cause.
Some of the repressors convicted in October 2011 in the ESMA mega-cause.

Almost 40 years after the return of democracy in Argentina, six retired Navy officers lost their military status for crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship. A court had convicted them in October 2011 for the atrocities committed at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA), the Navy’s largest detention center. The sentence was final in 2020 and the Ministry of Defense finally proceeded to discharge them. The seafarers thus lost their right to a pension, in addition to all the benefits related to their retired status. The decision was celebrated by different human rights organizations, such as Grandmothers and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.

The list of exonerated includes the names of the most well-known repressors of the Navy: Jorge Tiger Acosta, Adolfo Donda, Ricardo Cavallo, Alberto González, Jorge Radice and Antonio Pernías. There is also Alfredo Astiz, the Ángel Rubio, who had already lost his military rank in the past. Casualties are the power of the senior officers of the Force, but the Ministry of Defense understood that “in this particular case it is the issuance of a final sentence whose compliance is unavoidable and cannot be postponed for this ministerial portfolio.” The resolution, which bears the signature of the minister, Jorge Taiana, argued that “it is unacceptable and contrary to law that there are personnel with military status who are, at the same time, convicted of crimes against humanity.” The discharge comes 11 years after the sentence.

“In addition to the fact that the conviction took time to become firm, there was a carelessness of justice itself,” says Andrea Pochak, undersecretary for international liaison at the Nation’s Human Rights Secretariat. “They are the ones who have to inform Defense when a person has a conviction so that Defense can take the corresponding administrative measures. The Ministry’s decision is a strong message to society about which Armed Forces we want”, she explains.

All those exonerated were sentenced to life in prison for kidnappings, torture, murders and disappearances in the ESMA, the detention center that the Navy had in the city of Buenos Aires. About 5,000 people passed through, of whom only a handful survived. Jorge Tiger Acosta was as head of Intelligence one of the most powerful men in the illegal detention center. Among the crimes they are accused of is the murder of the journalist and Montoneros militant Rodolfo Walsh. Also, the kidnapping of the three founders of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo —Azucena Villaflor, Mary Ponce de Bianco and Esther Careaga—, and two French nuns who helped them, Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet. Alfredo Astiz worked as an infiltrator in these operations, marking the victims. All were thrown into the sea, alive and drugged, from an airplane. But some bodies washed ashore and were buried as “NN.”

The main Argentine human rights organizations considered that the loss of the military status of the sailors was good news. But they warned in a statement that all of them “maintain the pacts of silence that prevent knowing where the bodies of thousands of victims are.” “We hope that the measure will be extended to all those convicted with a final sentence for crimes against humanity. Civilian control of the armed forces must guarantee the effective dismissal of all those responsible for serious human rights violations,” they stated.

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