Argentina’s last ruling military dictator Reynaldo Benito Bignone died Wednesday aged 90.
Bignone was the last de-facto president of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military regime, the country’s sixth and final dictatorship of the last century and one of Latin America’s most gruesome.
The former Army official died Wednesday in the Military Hospital in Buenos Aires. His death follows Luciano Benjamín Menéndez’s death 10 days ago on February 27 in the city of Córdoba.
Bignone, who was de-facto president from July 1982 to December 1983, had received his most recent life sentence in 2017 for human rights violations committed between 1976 and 1977 against conscripts at the National Military College.
In 2016, he also faced trial for crimes connected to the Cóndor Plan, an intelligence network that involved the military regimes of Chile, Paraguay and Brazil collaborating with their Argentine counterparts to hunt down and eliminate around 200 left-wing militants and other political enemies.
Bignone received a 20-year sentence in the Plan Cóndor trial, which looked at cases that followed the military and police’s modus operandi at the time of kidnapping, torture and disappearance.
Another 13 former Argentina military and intelligence officials and one Uruguayan, Manuel Cordero, were found guilty and handed sentences ranging from eight to 25 years behind bars.
RISE TO THE TOP
Bignone had been appointed head of the Military College in 1975, the same building from which, in 2004, Néstor Kirchner famously removed his and other military men’s portraits (see lead photo).
His role in the 1976-1983 regime began as secretary of Army Staff under dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. Videla was the first and longest serving de-facto president during the last dictatorship.
Bignone is believed to have played an important role in 1976 overthrowing former president Isabel Perón, the widow of Juan Domingo Perón who had authorised the first stage of repression and violence against the country’s left. Following the coup, he also oversaw the military take-over of the Posada Hospital in outer Buenos Aires.
From 1976 to 1977, Bignone was Commander and Chief of Staff of the Command of Military Institutes at Campo de Mayo, a detention centre considered a paradigm of the military’s brutal underground operations. From 1980 he was Commander of Military Institutes.
In 1982, Bignone took charge of a military regime in crisis, a period which culminated in the elections of 1983, the reinstating of the right to protest and an end to martial law.
His rise to power followed dictator Leopoldo Galtieri’s disastrous 1982 takeover of the Malvinas Islands and the subsequent war with Britain that left hundreds of Argentine conscripts and troops dead.
His presidency saw him unsuccessfully tackle inflation and a series of complex economic problems which had slowly boiled to the surface following the reforms of former Economy minister José Martínez de Hoz.
However, his intention had always been to restore democracy, albeit with conditions to ensure impunity for himself and his comrades.
During his first public address Bignone had announced plans for elections in 1984, prompting resistance to his leadership within military circles. But pressure from political and human rights groups forced him to announce elections for late 1983.
Bignone was not tried in the Trial of the Juntas in 1985, an historic legal process supported by then president Raúl Alfonsín. Only in 1999, with the reopening of trials into the removal of babies and infants from their kidnapped and murdered mothers, did Bignone have his day in court. He would receive a total of six sentences in the 20 years that followed.
The 90-year-old was set to face trial in early 2018 for human rights crimes committed at the Posadas Hospital in Greater Buenos Aires, parts of which operated as a detention centre following the March 1976 coup.