Architect Of Argentina's 'Dirty War' Dies In Prison

Jorge Rafael Videla was a former senior commander in the Argentine Army who was the de facto president of Argentina from 1976 to 1981. He came to power in a coup d'etat that deposed Isabel Martinez de Peron. After the return of a representative democratic government, he was prosecuted for large-scale human rights abuses and crimes against humanity that took place under his rule, including kidnappings or "forced disappearance," widespread torture and extrajudicial murder of activists and political opponents (either real, suspected or alleged) as well as their families, at secret concentration camps.

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The architect of state terror in Argentina's so-called Dirty War has died. Dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was a general who led Argentina's brutal military dictatorship. NPR's Juan Forero tells us more.

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Jorge Rafael Videla was skeletal in appearance. But he struck fear into the heart of leftist activists in Argentina after leading a bloodless coup that took power in 1976. His military junta is accused of having disappeared - that's the lexicon - up to 30,000 people in the Dirty War.

They were guerrillas, political opponents, students, journalists and human rights activists seen as subversives by the state. Snatched off the streets, they were tortured and killed, their bodies buried in unmarked graves. Some were drugged and thrown out of airplanes over the South Atlantic.

Videla cast his struggle as an all-out, live-or-die battle against Communism. And he openly said as many people as necessary needed to die to bring normalcy to chaotic Argentina.

His government stamped out the Montoneros guerrilla group, and he stepped down in 1981. But the military junta he'd led collapsed two years later after its ill-advised invasion of the Falkland Islands. That led to a disastrous war with Margaret Thatcher's Britain.

War criminals were protected from prosecution in democratic Argentina until Nestor Kirchner was elected in 2003. Argentina then began prosecuting its aging former generals.

In a trial in 2010, Videla was given a life sentence in the killing of prisoners. Later, he was convicted of orchestrating the thefts of newborn babies, whose mothers had been kidnapped and killed. The old general never showed regret, saying terrorists didn't just plant bombs but were people whose ideas were contrary to Western Christian civilization. Videla died at 87 in the Marcos Paz prison on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. For NPR, I'm Juan Forero.

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