May 17 (Bloomberg) -- Jorge Rafael Videla, Argentina’s former dictator who led the country’s military junta from 1976 to 1981, has died. He was 87.
Videla died today in a Buenos Aires prison from natural causes, the government reported on the presidential website.
Videla was serving life imprisonment for human rights violations, including kidnap, torture and murder, during what the dictatorship called “the Dirty War” against opponents.
As an army general, Videla led the March 1976 coup that toppled the government of Maria Estela Martinez de Peron. Under the regime, an estimated 30,000 people disappeared, presumed dead, and thousands of others were tortured, according to human rights groups. Some were thrown out of airplanes over the Rio de la Plata estuary.
“Unfortunately, he died without confessing,” Estela Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group, told CN23 television channel today. “He never allowed us to recover the corpses of our sons that they killed, nor our grandsons that are alive.”
Videla, backed by navy commander Emilio Massera and air-force chief Orlando Agosti, ordered a campaign against opponents that involved systematic kidnap, torture and murder, according to a government commission that investigated the regime 28 years ago. Children born in captivity were often stolen from their mothers and given to regime members and allies for adoption, the commission said in its report.
Argentina returned to democracy in 1983 with the government of Raul Alfonsin of the Radical Civic Union party. Five days after taking office, Alfonsin ordered the trial of military officers and guerrilla leaders for crimes committed during the dictatorship.
In 1985, Videla, Massera and Agosti were sentenced to life in prison. Along with others sentenced during the trials, the three were pardoned by former President Carlos Menem in 1989 and 1990. In 2007, under the government of then-President Nestor Kirchner, the late husband and predecessor of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a federal court annulled the pardons.
During a trial in 2010, at which he was found guilty of being responsible for the death of 29 prisoners, Videla said he didn’t regret his actions.
“I haven’t come to defend myself or argue in my defense,” Videla told the court. “I’ll accept under protest the unfair sentence that I may be given.”
Ricardo Gil Lavedra, one of the judges who passed the sentences in 1985, said that Videla was backed by high-level officials who approved the “genocide plan.”
“Videla will be remembered as a dictator who planted death in Argentina,” Gil Lavedra, now an opposition lawmaker, told Todo Noticias television channel today. “He led the most bloody dictatorship that we have ever had.”
Military rule continued until 1983, when Alfonsin was elected and took power from the junta’s last leader, Reynaldo Bignone.
In April 1982, Bignone’s predecessor Leopoldo Galtieri ordered the invasion of the U.K.-controlled Falkland Islands. A British task force recovered control of the South Atlantic archipelago, over which Argentina still claims sovereignty, after a two-month conflict in which 255 British and 649 Argentine servicemen died.
“The Argentine state, in its 30 years of democracy, will never celebrate the death of anybody,” the country’s Human Rights Secretary Martin Fresneda said in a statement posted on the presidential website. “It’s important that he died by natural causes in a common jail.”
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