It has been announced that Jorge Rafael Videla, the pitiless Argentine army commander who came to power in a coup that launched the most savage and bloody period of the country’s modern history, who was responsible for thousands of extrajudicial killings and kidnappings, died May 17 at a prison near Buenos Aires. He was 87 years old.
According to Reuters, His death was confirmed by a government spokesman, however, no cause for death has been given.
General Videla, was born into a family that was part of the country’s “elite” ranks of the political and military hierarchy. His ancestors were active participants in both arenas. He was the last member of the three man junta that seized power in the 1976 military coup.
Videla was skeletal in appearance and an outwardly nondescript man except for his prominent moustache. He was an important, wily and ruthless player in the military dictatorship’s reign of terror. He served as the country’s president from 1976 to 1981, which were the worst years of bloodletting before the military stepped down in 1983.
In the so called “dirty war” that followed the coup, that was led by Gen. Videla, between 13,000 and 30,000 suspected “subversives” were “disappeared,” tortured and then killed based on little to no evidence. Suspected leftist guerrillas and their alleged sympathizers were drugged and thrown out of airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean or River Plate. Most of these “subversives” were buried in mass graves.
Videla also set up concentration camps and clandestine torture centers. Both of these horrors became a part of everyday life in the country and the women who gave birth in these horrific conditions were often put to death. Allegedly hundreds of unfortunate women had their children taken and then, with the use of forged documentation were “given” to childless military families.
General Videla expanded the definition of subversives to include members of the political opposition, Jews, authors, intellectuals and journalists such as Jacobo Timerman, who survived his torture to write the damning and harrowing account Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number. According to the General, terrorists and subversives or guerrillas were, “not only someone who plants bombs but a person whose ideas are contrary to western, Christian civilization.”
Economic turmoil and excessive violence by left-wing groups in the 1970s gave the military coup legitimacy and the junta which took over the running of the country after they had overthrown President Isabel Peron. The new military government promised to stamp out the subversives who had been responsible for hundreds of kidnappings and killings of business leaders and government officials and to return the country to normalcy.
The United States was among the first countries to recognize the new regime, but subsequently became critical of it when President Jimmy Carter declared the preservation of human rights a U.S. policy priority.
Before taking power, Gen. Videla was not averse to sharing his unorthodox view on killing to achieve stability. He spoke to a group of military leaders from various American countries in 1975 saying, “As many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure.
He had spent his last part of his life overwhelmed by legal battles that stemmed from the dictatorship and, in recent years, he was convicted of human rights abuses which included the stealing of babies from from suspected left-wing radicals.
Robert Cox, the editor of the Buenos Aires Herald, who endured constant threats and harassment for his media coverage of the infant thefts said, “They wanted to believe they were fighting this third-world war against communism while the rest of the world was sleeping.”
No information on his burial has been given at this time.
By Michael Smith