One of Argentina's most notorious dictatorship-era criminals, Miguel Etchecolatz, was yesterday granted house arrest after a 10-year stint in jail for human rights crimes.
The 88-year-old was serving six life sentences 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.
In their ruling, judges José Martínez Sobrino, Julio Panelo and Fernando Canero cited Etchecolatz’s age and health problems as justification for his release into house arrest to the coastal city of Mar del Plata.
The news was met with outrage from human rights groups, union leaders, politicians and civil society.
The lawyer representing former detainee Jorge Julio López, Myriam Bregman, questioned the judges' justification via Twitter, writing: “In 2006, when the trial against Etchecolatz started, the court justified house arrest because he was ‘very unwell’. That was 11 years ago. They only revoked it because they found weapons in his house. Now they let him live next-door to one of his victims.”
Others, like ATE-Capital union boss Daniel Cantalano, pointed to a supposed double standard in the Judiciary, citing cases like Mirta Guerrero’s, the Tupac Amaru leader who is believed to be suffering a serious post-surgical infection in Jujuy’s Alto Comedero penitentiary but whom authorities have refused to release.
During the 1976-1986 dictatorship, Etchecolatz responded to General Ramón Camps, head of Buenos Aires provincial police, who militarised the force and turned it into one of the country's slickest death machines.
This was particularly the case in the student city of La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province, where thousands of university-aged militants, guerrillas and activists were tortured and disappeared.
Like other human rights abusers, Etchecolatz was tried and jailed in 1985. However a series of presidential decrees let most free, until 2006 when the trials reopened.
A symbol of state terror, Etchecolatz had long been a house-hold name when he returned to the spotlight in 2006 during a human-rights trial holding up a note that read “Jorge Julio López, kidnap”. In a cruel irony, López, a former dictatorship-era detainee and key witness, is believed to have been kidnapped and disappeared in September 2006, the day he was due to give his final testimony.
Despite tensions with Argentina's powerful human rights movement, President Mauricio Macri’s has expressed his commitment that the trials against former Police and Armed Forces officers accused of dictatorship-era crimes should continue.