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Saturday, 13 July, 2002, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Analysis: New era for Argentine justice?
Unemployed protest in Argentina
Some say arrest is to deflect attention from economic woes

At least on the face of it, the decision by investigating judge Claudius Bonadio to issue an arrest warrant for the former military ruler Leopoldo Galtieri is a breakthrough for human rights in Argentina.

The 75-year-old retired general who served as the third of four presidents during the 1976 to 1983 dictatorship, was the man who led Argentina into the disastrous Falklands War against Britain.


He'll wind up eating good food, sleeping in his own bed, and having an easy time of it

Estella Carlotto, activist
Judge Bonadio issued the warrants for General Galtieri and 40 other former military officers for their alleged involvement in the abduction and murder of 20 left-wing guerrillas in 1980.

Organisations like Human Rights Watch have welcomed the detention, calling it a "significant victory for accountability".

But they added that the prosecutions of General Galtieri and former generals Carlos Suarez Mason and Cristino Nicolaides and former secret police chief Raimundo Ojeda were "way overdue".

Grandmother activists

Other local campaigners like Estella Carlotto have also cautiously declared it to be a victory.

Leopoldo Galtieri
Galtieri is unlikely to ever go to jail

The delicate grandmother in her 70s is also known as the pit-bull president of an organisation known as "The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo".

They are dedicated to tracing their grandchildren who disappeared during the military regime that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, and bringing those responsible to account.

"At last," she said, "after so many years, we can see now that there is a chance some of these people will pay for their crimes."

Comfortable prospects

But this grandmother is anything but naive. Like many here, she is deeply suspicious of the timing of the arrest.

Argentina is currently in the middle of the worst economic crisis in its history, with half the country of 36 million now living below the poverty line.

Graves in Buenos Aires
No-one really knows how many people the junta killed

"I think it's only a way of trying to divert attention from how bad things really are," Ms Carlotto said.

And like many here who have seen too much impunity for former military officers over the years, Ms Carlotto believes that even if General Galtieri is convicted, he will spend the rest of his days in relative comfort.

"It'll be house arrest," she said. "He'll wind up eating good food, sleeping in his own bed, and having an easy time of it."

She may be right - under Argentine law, anybody in prison over the age of 70 and in poor health can serve their sentence at home.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after armed police escorted the general to a military prison, the 75-year-old complained of heart trouble and was taken back to his Buenos Aires apartment under guard, for at least 48 hours.

Even if he is convicted, that is where he may well remain.

And for people like Ms Carlotto, that would be no justice at all.

See also:

12 Jul 02 | Americas
11 Jul 02 | Americas
24 Mar 01 | Americas
31 Dec 99 | Americas
18 Mar 02 | Politics
09 Jul 02 | Americas
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