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ARGENTINA | 18-09-2019 16:59

Protests seek justice for Jorge Julio López, 13 years on from disappearance

Marchers renew calls for justice in case of missing bricklayer, who disappeared just days after giving evidence in trial involving Miguel Etchecolatz, one of Argentina's most notorious dictatorship-era criminals.

Protesters took to the streets Wednesday to renew calls for justice for Jorge Julio López, 13 years on from his disappearance.

Dual events took place in the Buenos Aires Province city of La Plata – where protesters marched from Plaza Moreno to the headquarters of the local government – as well as at the Plaza de Mayo in the capital. 

Demonstrators are demanding progress in the iconic and controversial case, with López's family no nearer to learning the truth about what happened to him, more than a decade on from his disappearance.

Human rights organisations, political groupings and relatives also took place in the marches, which gathered under the banner: "Pasan los gobiernos, Julio López sigue desaparecido" ("Governments move on, Julio López is still missing.")

"Every year it becomes difficult to live this day. In the last year absolutely nothing happened and the cause is stopped. Perhaps, the case has never advanced," said Rubén López, the son of the missing witness, speaking before the demonstrations.

Speaking to local outlets, he declared that "all governments should accompany" their claim from society for the truth.

Disappearance

It was the morning of September 18, 2006, when López, a retired bricklayer, left a relative's home in La Plata. He was never seen again.

López, who had previously been kidnapped in 1977, before being tortured and held as a prisoner during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, had days earlier provided key testimony as a witness and victim in a trial involving former police commissioner Miguel Etchecolatz, one of Argentina's most notorious dictatorship-era criminals. 

Etchecolatz, who the courts to date have handed six life sentences, holds convictions for torture, murder, the kidnapping of babies and for the management of at least 21 concentration camps during his time as the head of investigations for the Buenos Aires provincial police force.

López was a key witness in Etchecolatz's 2006 trial, in which the former police commissioner was eventually sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity. Testifying before the court, López identified the accused as the man who directed and carried out torture sessions, which involved the use of electric cattle-prods, as well as identifying several other clandestine detention centres he had been held at over the two years he was detained.

López's disappearance came just hours before the retiree was due to provide further testimony before the court and days before the trial was to end.

It was initially believed that López may had suffered post-traumatic shock as result of reliving his torture, but fears about his safety rose quickly. Tensions also became raised due to the timing of his disappearance, which came as many dictatorship-era criminals were being put on trial for human rights violations. Before long, images bearing his image were plastered across walls across the country.

Human and civil rights groups have speculated that active and retired provincial police personnel may have kidnapped López in order to intimidate other witnesses and impede future trials addressing crimes against humanity.

Suspicions about the cause of López's disappearance were strengthened in 2014, when Etchecolatz and 14 others were convicted in a trial addressing crimes committed at the 'La Cacha' clandestine detention centre, the place where, among others, Laura Carlotto, the daughter of the head of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlottto, was held.

As the judge handed down sentences, Etchecolatz took a piece of paper and wrote on it: "Jorge Julio López." The moment was captured by photographers and when the images were inspected, the other side of the piece of paper could also be read. It said the missing person's name, again, along with the addition of one other word: "Kidnap."

– TIMES/NA

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