Miguel Etchecolatz, 91, the former deputy Buenos Aires provincial police chief and an emblematic figure of abduction, torture and murder during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, has received his eighth life sentence for these crimes against humanity.
Also sentenced on Wednesday at the conclusion of the two-year trial in La Plata were 15 co-defendants on 84 counts of abduction, torture and murder against an identical number of victims, 19 of whom remain missing to this day, while there was one acquittal.
These crimes were committed at the clandestine detention centre operating at the San Justo (La Matanza) headquarters of the provincial detective squad (which Etchecolatz headed), one of 21 such clandestine centres in the province, all under the then deputy provincial police chief. The San Justo precinct has also been mentioned as a centre for baby-snatching.
Nine other defendants also received life sentences – three ex-policemen, five former military servicemen, a police doctor and former Buenos Aires provincial Government (Interior) minister Jaime Smart.
On rising to hear his sentence, Etchecolatz displayed hanging around his neck a poster reading: "Lord Jesus, if they convict me, it’s for having defended your cause."
More recently Etchecolatz’s notoriety was renewed when building worker Julio López, 77, disappeared in 2006 just before testifying against him.
Human rights organisations set a figure of 30,000 people for the missing under the dictatorship while an estimated 400 babies were illegally adopted, of whom 130 have been able to regain their identity.