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ARGENTINA | 30-04-2019 15:23

Campo de Mayo 'mega-trial' into dictatorship-era crimes begins in San Martín

Trial relates to alleged crimes committed against 323 people who were detained during the dictatorship at the Campo de Mayo Army barracks. Four clandestine detention centres operated there during the dictatorship.

A major trial into the human rights abuses of Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship began Tuesday in San Martín, an industrial city adjacent to Buenos Aires.

The trial brings 11 individual judicial processes into one, after the Judiciary decided to unify several investigations – among them the kidnapping and appropriation of women detainees' babies or young children, and human rights abuses against former workers of Mercedes Benz in Argentina.

Known as a "mega-trial" or megacausa, the trial involves 323 victims detained during the dictatorship at the Campo de Mayo military barracks, the Argentine Army's largest, which is located on the far outskirts of Greater Buenos Aires. Four clandestine detention centres operated there during the dictatorship.

"This is a mega-trail, a large trial where many cases are brought together after a long delay because of the many difficulties that exist to form a tribunal," Pablo Lachener, a lawyer for the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights organisation, told AFP.

"We represent around 40 victims, among whom were a number of women detained illegally and who remain disappeared," he said. That casefile was opened in 2007, he explained.

An illegal maternity ward operated at Campo de Mayo, like the one at the infamous ex-Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in Buenos Aires. The work of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo focuses on finding the children of the disappeared or detained during the dictatorship who were adopted illegally by other families.

On the footsteps of the San Martin district court, Lorena and Flavia Battistiol have come to find information about their parents, Egidio and Juana, whose son or daughter was due in late 1977.

"We want justice and information which will help us find where our missing relatives are and about the people who took our brother or sister. Our grandmother began this journey. When this case opened, she was still healthy enough to testify but since it took so long, 12 years, her health has deteriorated and today she cannot come," Lorena, 43, said.

María Ester Landaburu is seeking justice for her sister Leonor Rosario and her brother-in-law Juan Carlos Catnich, who were kidnapped in 1977.

"My sister was seven-and-a-half month's pregnant. Our parents began this search. Neither of them are with us today and instead my siblings and I keep going. I mean to say the aunties and uncles of my niece or nephew who is today 41 years old", she explained.

The court will try 22 defendants. Among them are former military and police officials, most of whom have already been sentenced in previous trials.

UNION ACTIVISTS

Most of the victims in the case-file were unionised workers in factories located in the industrial areas of northern Greater Buenos Aires, among them workers at the Mercedes Benz factory.

"They are not documented as union activists but the idea is that with this trial they will be recognised this way", said assistant prosecutor Gabriela Sosti.

Former workers of Mercedes Benz have for year tried to shed a light on the supposed complicity of the company with Argentina's military dictatorship, in particular the disappearances of 14 unionised workers and the illegal detention of the sole survivor Héctor Ratto.

"We come for justice because we have the obligation to ensure that justice is served for younger workers so they do not have to experience economic power this same way", said 73-year-old former factory worker Julio D'Alessandro, who spent time in exile in Italy.

In December 2018, a court sentenced two former directors of Ford for participating in the illegal detentions of 24 unionised workers from the Ford factory.

Former Junta leader Reynaldo Bignone was tried for crimes at Campo de Mayo. He was the commander of the barracks where approximately 5,000 people are thought to have been held, according to human rights organisations. Bignone died last year.

- AFP, translation by TIMES

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