bye bye bignose
Jacinta: So Canto, what has been catching your attention of late.
Canto: Well, amid all the noise about tubby little Carl Williams, I've just heard that justice has been meted out to the old Argentinian dictator, Reynoldo Bignone, 82, the last of the dictators in the so-called 'dirty war' period between 1976 and 1983. He was sentenced to twenty-five years jail - in a real jail, a federal prison - and six other officials of the period were also given jail time.
Jacinta: A former head of state, a dictator no less, jailed! Sounds v promising, amnesty-wise. Tell us more about this Bignone fellow.
Canto: He became dictator in 1982, after the previous dictator, Galtieri, was forced to resign following the Falklands debacle, but he wasn't jailed for anything he did as dictator. After a career in the military, he became involved in running the notorious detention centres inside the Campo de Mayo, Argentina's largest military training base, after the coup deposing Isabel Peron. This is usually designated as the starting point of the dirty war, but in fact left-wing and right-wing militias had been operating in Argentina since the early seventies, as things spiralled out of control under Peron.
Jacinta: Yes it's fascinating how the times can make or break people like that. Were he born and raised in Australia, someone like Bignone might have quietly made a fine career for himself, ending up as a 'typical' retired general with conservative political sympathies.
Canto: I don't know about such speculations. I do know that during the dirty war period, or the dictatorships of Videla, Viola, Galtieri and Bignone, between 9,000 and 30,000 people were 'disappeared', not to mention the abduction and kidnapping of children. Videla or one of his henchmen cynically described this as the 'National Reorganisation Process', and it was part of a larger right-wing process involving the governments of Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia, known as 'Operation Condor', with the US providing plenty of support before and after the Carter Administration.
Jacinta: Okay, enough with the conspiracy theories, let's get back to Bignose.
Canto: This is cold hard fact mate, read all about it, and it's Bignone, though he did have a big nose. But let's move forward to the guy's prosecution. In 2005, the Argentinian Supreme Court repealed the notorious amnesty laws instituted nearly twenty years before under then President Raul Alfonsin. Before those laws came into play, Videla and a number of the other military leaders were tried and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. But then another Prez, Carlos Menem, started issuing pardons in the late eighties.
Jacinta: So it's been an in and out sort of thing with the amnesties and the imprisonments.
Canto: Yeah, and there's been a lot of anger about the soft treatment of these guys, with cushy house arrests and the like. But after the election of the relatively unknown Nestor Kirchner in 2003 things changed pretty quickly. Kirchner injected a healthy dose of integrity into the Argentine government, increasing accountability and transparency, standing down powerful military figures, and making changes to the Supreme Court, pressuring some justices to resign and facilitating the impeachment of others. He didn't stand for re-election in 2007, though, and now his wife is Prez.
Jacinta: Seems to be the sort of thing that happens in Argentina.
Canto: Yep, the memory of Evita still lingers. Anyway, it has taken a while, but Videla was stripped of his Presidential pardon in 2007, and in 2008 he was sentenced to life, I think, in a military prison. And now it's Bignone's turn. Down with amnesties! Down with immunities! Justice for the oppressed!
Jacinta: Great, you've set the world to rights once again, time for bed.