Eight individuals were sentenced to jail time on Thursday in the so-called ‘ESMA IV’ trial probing crimes against humanity that took place at the ex-Navy Mechanics School during the dark days of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
After hearings that lasted more than two-and-half years – the process was delayed heavily by the coronavirus pandemic – the fourth trial probing crimes at the infamous ESMA clandestine detention centre in Buenos Aires concluded with sentences handed down to the accused via Zoom videoconference software.
Oral Federal Criminal Court No. 5 (Buenos Aires City) sentenced former Federal Police agent Raúl Cabral, former Navy officer Carlos Castellví and civilian Miguel Conde, who was a member of an intelligence group dedicated to to kidnapping and torture at ESMA, to life imprisonment.
The first defendant to hear his sentence was Cabral, who was known by the alias ‘Tiburón’ (“shark”). Handed life in jail for his crimes, the 72-year-old was convicted of more than 400 cases of unlawful deprivation of liberty, aggravated torture, more than 60 homicides and 21 cases of abductions, retention and concealment of minors.
Judges Daniel Horacio Obligado (presiding), Adriana Palliotti and Gabriela López Iñíguez also sentenced former Navy officers Carlos Carrillo, José Iturri, Jorge Ocaranza and Ramón Zanabria to 15 years in prison, while ex-Navy conscript Claudio Vallejos, extradited from Brazil for the trial, was sentenced to six years in jail as he could only be tried for the crime which validated his transfer back to Argentina.
The group received less severe punishments as they were considered “secondary participants in the events,” a statement from the government hailing the convictions explained.
One of the accused, retired Rear Admiral Horacio Luis Ferrari, was excluded from the trial after his legal team successfully appealed on impartiality grounds related to two of the judges. He will be tried by the same court with another composition, local media reported.
"These acts were committed against humanity. Those who committed them are enemies of humanity," said Prosecutor Felix Crous during the trial, who described the ESMA clandestine detention centre as an "industrial apparatus of human destruction."
This is the fourth trial probing crimes at ESMA and the first time all eight had found themselves in the dock. Together the cases – known as a 'megacausa' in Spanish – have produced 59 convictions addressing crimes related to more than 800 victims, among them charges related to the birth of more than 30 babies born in captivity.
Human rights organisations believe at least 5,000 of the estimated 30,000 individuals who were kidnapped and disappeared by the dictatorship were held at the ex-ESMA.
More than 1,000 convictions
The convictions bring the list of people convicted of crimes against humanity in Argentina to more than 1,000, according to the report filed by the Office of the Prosecutor for Crimes against Humanity, published on December 30.
Trials probing crimes against humanity began in 2005, when pardons previously granted by late president Carlos Menem during his time in office were declared unconstitutional. Since then 3,448 people have been charged with such offences with some 250 sentences handed down. A total of 1,013 people have been convicted (276 of them have at least one firm final judgment) and 164 have been acquitted.
Approximately 25 people accused of crimes against humanity remain at large, with rewards of between 500,000 and one million pesos offered for information leading to their capture by the national government.