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Dictatorship-era repressor Luciano Benjamín Menéndez dies at 90

He had been hospitalised in Córdoba as of a few weeks ago. He was one of the strongmen of the last military dictatorship, considered to be the 'master of life and death' in Córdoba during those dark days.

Friday 2 March, 2018
Luciano Benjamín Menéndez intentando atacar con un cuchillo a manifestantes en 1984.
Luciano Benjamín Menéndez intentando atacar con un cuchillo a manifestantes en 1984. Foto:Enrique Rosito

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Luciano Benjamín Menéndez, the former general and commander of the Third Army Corps who was handed multiple life sentences for atrocities committed during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983), died on Tuesday. He was 90 years old.  

Menéndez, an infamous and unrepentant figure, was given a total of 14 life sentences for the numerous crimes against humanity he committed during the dark days of the dictatorship, including torture and murder at clandestine detention centres in Córdoba. 

According to reports, he was accused of committing more than 800 crimes committed during the period of military reign.

The former leader of the Third Army Corps was hospitalised in Córdoba’s military hospital on February 7, where he had been in a critical condition due to complications from a liver condition.

The Córdoba-based newspaper La Voz del Interior described Menéndez as "the master of life and death" the region. He ruled the province with an iron hand, helping to decide who would be tortured and killed. He was currently serving his sentences under house arrest, with another trial against him in the works. He would have been 91 years old on June 19.

The Full Stop Law – which granted dictatorship-era criminals relief from investigations into their crimes – initially meant Menéndez  did not face prosecution for his actions, although Menéndez was eventually imprisoned for various crimes against humanity. However, in 1990, he was officially pardoned by former president Carlos Menem, days before a further decision and sentence would have been handed down. In 2005, the Justice Department declared the pardon, along with others affecting repressors, unconstitutional and he was charged with crimes against humanity. 

Menéndez, nicknamed "the jackal" and "the hyena," holds the dubious honour of being the Argentine general with the most life sentences in the country’s history. In a key 2006 trial, he was found guilty of 282 disappearances of people at the La Perla-La Ribera concentration camp in Córdoba, along with 52 homicides, 260 kidnappings, and 656 cases of torture.

During his defence, before being read his sentence for this case, the ex-general expressed: “We hold the suspicious honour of being the first country in the history of the world that judges their victorious soldiers who fought against the Marxist guerrillas and defeated by the orders of and for their compatriots.”

He remained unrepentant for his crimes, declaring in one trial that "there was no clandestine repression." Under his logic, the victims of his crimes against humanity were criminals themselves. His hatred held no bounds on his behaviour – in an emblematic photo taken by DyN, Menéndez was caught with a knife in his hand while he sprang at a group of protesters in 1984.

Among the military he was known as one of “the tough ones,” principally alongside the ex-Armada leader Emilio Eduardo Massera.

Additionally, the repressor spurred a coup within the proper military coup. Menéndez revolted on September 28, 1979, in the north of Cordoba but, against the strength of Jorge Rafael Videla’s forces, ended up surrendering and was jailed for ninety days in the cell at a base camp in Curuzú Cuatiá, Corrientes, Página/12 reported.

A steadfast proponent that Argentina enter into war with Chile over the Beagle Channel Conflict, Menéndez was known for uttering the phrase: “If we let the chilotes attack us, we’ll run them to Easter Island, the toast at the end of the year we’ll have it in the Palace of the Coin, and after we’ll piss the champagne into the Pacific.”

Menéndez also disappeared books in 1976 when he orchestrated a burning of books as large as it was strict. The purpose, as the repressor himself put it, was to impede “the continued betrayal of our children” and “destroy by fire” the “pernicious documentation that affects intellect and our ways of Christianity.” Among the many books reduced to ash were those of Julio Cortázar, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriel García Márquez.

- TIMES/PERFIL

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