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General J.R. Videla: The Face of Argentina’s Dirty War

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south america jorge raphael videla jorge raphael vadella was born on august 2 1925 in mercedes argentina his father was raphael bedella an army major and his mother was olga redondo they named their newborn after his older brothers twins jorge and raphael who had been born in 1922 and died one year later due to a measles outbreak the young videla spent his formative years in a well-to-do middle-class provincial mello it was a childhood shaped by the austere military values of his father and the catholic piety of his affectionate mother jorge shared these religious values serving with enthusiasm as an altar boy in the mercedes cathedral in 1942 before finishing secondary school jorge raphael expressed his wishes to enlist in the military academy and follow his father’s footsteps young vadella was a quiet austere and morally upright boy the life in uniform already appeared to him to be the only way he could live and interact with the wider world despite some objections from his father jorge enlisted in the academy and in 1944 he graduated as a second lieutenant in the infantry in the meantime argentina had experienced one of its many military coups in july 1943 the group of united officers had seized power the military cabinet included an ambitious colonel juan peron in charge of the ministry of national labor after suffering some setbacks including incarceration peron won the presidential elections on june the 4th 1946 flanked by his charismatic second wife evita yes the one from the musical he gave rise to the movement that took his name peronismo this movement had many intellectual contradictions which would later erupt into opposing factions it was based on a strong cult of personality surrounding juan and evita who appealed to the lower classes by running strong welfare programs in foreign policy peron and his cold war era government sought a third position that aligns to neither capitalism nor communism yet at the same time perron had a fascination with european fascism offering shelter to many former nazi war criminals young officer videla had apparently no interest in political matters at this stage and was more focused on building his family in 1948 vidilla married alicia hartridge daughter of an ambassador who was often speculated to have been his one and only girlfriend the couple would go on to have six children two of whom would join the military another son alejandro suffered from oligophrenia a severe learning disability alejandra was ultimately educated by two french nuns renee leonie cuer and alice de moore the sisters took good care of the boy helping his development and teaching him how to read in 1957 president juan peron had been ousted by yet another coup and was living in exile with his third wife maria estella martinez better known as isabelle videla was rising in his military career he had attained the rank of major and worked in washington d.c as a delegate to the inter-american defense board or idb this institution was designed to coordinate the militaries of the americas in an anti-communist function over the next 10 years the quiet but rigorous officer went from strength to strength he secured a senior post at the department of defense directed the military academy and returned to washington to define the continental strategy of the idb but a relatively quiet and productive decade would soon clash with the chaos brought about by the 1970s in 1971 jorge raphael became general bedela appointed by argentina’s military dictator alejandro nusse two years later he was promoted again serving as chief of staff of the army that same month by popular demand la nussar ceded power to a resurgent juan peron with wife isabelle as vice president this term was short-lived on july 1 1974 president juan domingo peron died of a heart attack opening another pandora’s box of tumultuous argentinian politics bedella and the army inherited a nation in chaos here is the situation in simplistic terms power was seized by isabel perron supported by her minister of social welfare and chief advisor mr lopez rhaegar this duo had many political opponents including left-wing paronists who had organized the montanera’s guerrilla movement they were not the only left-leaning armed group in action there was also the erp or people’s republican army a marxist guavarist gorilla group funded by castro’s cuba during 1974 and 1975 both groups carried out spectacular attacks often resorting to terrorist methodologies for example in october of 1975 a montenegro commander hijacked a plane and flew it to formosa on the border with paraguay taking dozens of hostages they then assaulted an american barracks killing 12 soldiers and looting the armory the commando rushed back to the hijacked plane and flew to safety in santa fe 700 kilometers south of formosa the erp from their side conducted a bitter guerrilla warfare in the tucamon province in northern argentina while conducting several assassinations and kidnappings all around the country the montenegros and the erp were opposed by a third faction the aaa argentinian anti-communist alliance this was a terrorist group funded and armed by none other than isabel perron’s chief advisor mr rhaegar amidst the chaos that the military tried to maintain order fighting everything and everybody bedella in particular was worried about the increasing paramilitary power of the anti-communist alliance so with backing from his subordinates videla pressured isabel peron into naming him as commander-in-chief of the army in this role videla reorganized the high echelons of the armed forces eliminating all officers deemed too friendly to paranism vadella’s heavy-handed tactics and dukemon virtually eliminated the erp’s profile in the ongoing conflict but other factions still remained powerful moreover the argentinian economy was in shambles as isabel perron’s government failed to curb a 300 percent per year inflation rate many high-ranking officers began conspiring against the president and vera was one of them videla believed that support for president perron was still strong enough to grant a new election in late 1975 he openly admitted to his contacts in washington that he was preparing plans for a military takeover of the government but a cia report identified him as the voice of patience curbing his subordinates enthusiasm who thirsted for a coup immediately finally vadella led a bloodless coup in the night between the 23rd and the 24th of march in 1976. a military hunter took power which held on for seven years until 1983. the hunter included bedella as the new president and representative of the army general ramon agasti represented the air force and admiral eduardo masera the navy in his official address to the nation president vadella declared the armed forces realizing that the current state of affairs could not offer an acceptable future for the country have produced the only possible answer to this crucial situation as the de facto dictator of argentina vadella quickly dissolved congress handing over legislative functions to a nine-member commission he then forbade all democratic political activity suspending civilian courts and banning political parties he also put a stop on all trade union activity putting the general confederation of labor under strict military control videla and friends exercised tight censorship on any media or cultural product which did not sit well with their ultra-nationalist and ultra-conservative agenda for instance the sky of buenos aires became darkened by the smoke of burning books the hunter called this set of measures a process of national reorganization some sectors of argentinian society welcomed the coup as an antidote to the rampant chaos and economic instability that had marked the last prior administration but it was no secret that the respect of human rights was nobody’s priority cia reports from this period also raised some concerns while still acknowledging that of the hunter’s triumvirate vadella was the most level-headed one u.s intelligence described him as a professional soldier of unquestioned integrity a strict moralist of the old school a devout roman catholic his hatred of corruption and his religious devotion a legendary in argentina a cia brief of april 1976 highlighted a rift within the military government on one corner there was president vadella and his confidante army chief of staff general biola on the opposite corner was air force general augustini and admiral macera in general these hardliners were trying to force general vadella to take a tougher stand on the subversion of leftist guerrillas and their sympathizers who were still quite active more than 70 policemen have been killed by the erp or the monteneros since the takeover the response of the hunter was brutal the hundreds of guerilla fighters were killed or arrested even when the threat was almost eradicated the ever-present security forces were still abducting alleged dissidents for questioning or worse masira and agosti were also concerned that the videla was seeking a reconciliation with the peronist faction which was somewhat true some of bedella’s subordinates were in fact coordinating with paranist labor and political leaders to build a common base of popular support for the new government rather than ousting vadella masira and the hardliners focused instead on removing his moderate advisers president vadella while apparently not 100 agreeing with brutal repression eventually endorsed it in order to stay in power and keep one hand on the wheel in the following years anyone suspected of leftist or parentist sympathies as well as factory workers trade unions students professors intellectuals journalists entrepreneurs social workers even members of the clergy everybody could fall foul of the country’s new death squads and this was the start of the dirty war death squads began prowling the streets at night they were composed of young soldiers airmen or sailors dressed in jeans and leather jackets nick kyster of the bbc recalls how one of the death squads invaded his sister-in-law’s family home at 2am his sister-in-law was only 20 at the time and her guerrilla actions consisted of talking politics at sunday lunch distributing pamphlets and writing graffiti once she and her terrorist cell had attacked a nurse in the street resulting in no injury in kyster’s retelling the death squad could not find this dangerous rebel unbeknownst to them she had already left the country the captain of the squad did not hide what would be her destiny i can see you are nice people madam but we know your daughter is in with the gorilla if we find her you know what is going to happen and most people did know dissenters were abducted and imprisoned without trial and incarcerated in one of 520 detention and torture centers throughout argentina the most infamous ones were the esma the school of mechanical engineering of the navy and la berla prison the majority of those who walked through those gates never returned they simply disappeared that’s how argentinians used to call them los desaperacidos the mothers of the disability began staging silent protests in the central plaza de mayo and buenos aires they were the madres de la plaza de mayo later to be joined by the abuelas or the grandmothers their activism demanded answers from the government focusing on the truth surrounding the fate of their children in most cases it was a truth too ruthless to imagine the suspected enemies of the state were subjected to atrocious tortures regardless of their age or gender a common technique was to tie prisoners to a metal structure such as a bed frame and run a strong electric current through their bodies if jailers felt particularly sadistic they connected the electrodes to the victim’s genitals and then laughed to tell the victim jumped up and down on the bed frame shaken by uncontrolled spasms of pain in many cases the electric shocks were administered by a cattle prod jacobo tinaman renowned editor of the newspaper la penyon was tortured in such a way luckily he survived he later revealed how during his captivity one of the torturers had clarified their ideology to him argentina has three main enemies karl marx because he tried to destroy the christian concept of society sigmund freud because he tried to destroy the christian concept of the family and albert einstein because he tried to destroy the christian concept of time and space [Music] for all their declared love of christian values the military hunter and its minions showed little respect for members of the clergy for example on may 23 1976 a military squad arrested two priests orlando yorio and francisco yalix they were tortured for months and eventually freed during their detention their provincial superior of 41 year old jesuit pleaded with general bedella and admiral masira for their freedom receiving only empty promises in return after their release the jesuit made sure that the two priests left the country and offered shelter to other clergymen and lay people persecuted by the regime that jesuit’s name was jorge bergaglio now known as pope francis the first other priests were not as lucky as fathers yario and yalix on july the 18th 1976 the regime kidnapped and murdered a different pair of young priests who had spoken out against the junta four days later bishop henrique angeli denounced the killers in a homily he invited good christians to forgive them but to seek the truth nonetheless on the 4th of august bishop anjali lee died in a very suspicious car crash decades later it was revealed to be an assassination more than one year later on december 8 1977 the death squads abducted two nuns who worked in the deprived areas of buenos aires they were taken to esma beaten tortured and photographed with a flag of the montenero insurgents this was to provide some sort of justification for their incarceration their real crime had been to help the madras de plaza de mayo for their quest for answers those two nuns were not even argentinian nationals they were french their names were rene lenny duquette and alice de mor the very same women who had looked after president vadella’s son not so many years earlier according to biographers maria sione and vincente malero vadella was made aware that the two sisters were in the grasp of the torturers and what did he do nothing sister renee and sister alice suffered the same fate as thousands of other enemies of the junta every brutal regime has its own methods of mass murder gas forced labor firearms or even just clubs and machetes in the case of the argentinian hunter it was death by gravity fidella’s minions loaded special cargo flights with hundreds of passengers they had been stripped naked bound hooded and sedated with pentatil the planes took off flying over the estuary of the rio de la plata where the river meets the atlantic ocean then the plane doors opened and the prisoners were dropped from a height of hundreds of feet these were the vuelas de la muerte the flights of death some of the victims may have died immediately others may have survived the initial impact with their bones shattered only to drown immediately afterwards decades later the regime admitted to killing between seven thousand and nine thousand dissidents but the madres and other humanitarian sources claim that the number is really between twelve thousand and thirty thousand and the dirty war was responsible for another type of victim between 1976 and 1983 the argentinian military kidnapped between 400 and 500 babies born in captivity to incarcerated dissidents according to british journalist christopher hitchens some of those children may have been born after their mother had been raped by the wardens these babies were then given to couples with ties to the military as adopted children most of them grew up without knowing their real origins who their parents were and whether or not they were still alive decades later only 109 of these children were able to trace their origins [Music] in addition to fighting internal threats realer imagined videla had to deal with a collapsing economy in rampant inflation his government was ill-suited to economic matters and they made things worse bedella and his minister of the economy jose martinez de la hoyas favored foreign investment from private corporations while incentivizing foreign trade as a result local industrial output and infrastructure greatly declined at the same time inflation skyrocketed and so did foreign debt in matters of foreign policy vadella sought to cement relationships with other right-wing regimes in south america back in march of 1976 when the hunter had taken power the cia first heard reports of operation condor this was a cooperative effort by the intelligence and security services of several latin american countries to combat terrorism and subversion participant states included argentina bolivia brazil chile ecuador paraguay peru and uruguay this plan became formalized only in may of 1956. two months later the member states had agreed to take executive actions even outside their respective borders to strike at terrorists and dissident leaders residing abroad according to a declassified 1976 fbi report condor included a secret program called phase 3 the formation of special teams of assassins with a mandate to murder subversive enemies anywhere in the world while the cia did not take part in the formation of condor they were fully aware of it and even provided some assistance for example they helped set up computerized links among the intelligence units of the condor member states there’s also evidence that security personnel at the u.s embassy in buenos aires cooperated with argentinian secret services in at least one condor operation the arrest of chilean dissident jorge isaac fuentes the argentinian and chilean regimes surely cooperated in counter-insurgency matters but their relationship soured in november 1978. this is when border disputes threatened to escalate into full-scale war jorge rafael vadella vs chilean dictator augusto pinochet that would have been an interesting match the dispute was about ownership of three islands picton lennox and nueva located in the beagle channel of tierra del fuego whichever country controlled them could extend their exclusive economic zone 200 miles into the south atlantic according to international maritime law negotiations stalled and both countries mobilized for full-on war which was avoided at the last minute thanks to the intervention of the vatican recently elected pope john paul ii center mediator cardinal samore who landed in buenos aires on christmas day the first naval squadrons were just about to engage in combat in the beagle channel the negotiations dragged on for seven years before chile and argentina finally made peace but for the moment an open conflict had been averted masira and agosti rumbled in the background they believed that bedella’s stance against chile had been too moderate they were also displeased with the austere economic policies imposed by vadella’s economy minister which were badly needed but they were ultimately too little too late according to the cia report the military was again conspiring against fidella in may of 1980. in 1981 maybe sensing a counter coup vadella agreed to hand over power to his deputy and confidant general roberto viola viola was succeeded by vice admiral acost then general leopoldo gautieri the newcomer willing to rally internal descent against an external foe put into action a plan that had been conceived earlier by the vadella administration the invasion of the falklands islands the defeat at the hands of the uk in june of 1982 precipitated the fall of gautieri and the eventual end of the regime by 1983 democracy had been restored to argentina [Music] new president raul afonson ensured that vadella and the hunter were tried for their crimes more precisely the allegations were for a total of 504 kidnappings acts of torture robbery slave labor and the abduction of babies in december of 1985 the once-all-powerful ex-general videla received a life sentence to be served at a military prison this was a life sentence that turned out to only last five years in 1990 vadella was freed on orders of president carlos mannen who had granted general amnesty on the basis of controversial law known as final point or full stop jorge rafael vader kept a low profile for the ensuing years but few were happy with his new-frowned freedom one of those was spanish judge baltazar garzon he reasoned that state terrorism crimes had no statute of limitations and the prosecution of crimes against humanity had universal jurisdiction he started investigating videla but argentina would not extradite him thanks to his pressure though another investigation against the former dictator had begun from june to october of 1998 verzella was tried for a crime which had been previously overlooked one which did not benefit from the earlier political amnesty the kidnapping of babies the decision was carried out by federal judge markovic following allegations brought together by the abuela’s de plaza de mayo the grandmothers of plaza mayo vadella denied that there was a systematic plan to kidnap babies and give them up for adoption what he commented about the babies and their mothers was only that the mothers were active militants within the terrorist machine and many of them used their fetuses as human shields while being combatants the retired general was found guilty but only spent one month in jail at this point he was in his seventies so it was granted home imprisonment vadella was involved in yet another legal proceeding in april of 2001. in this case judge kanikoba corral found that operation condor was a criminal organization so he subpoenaed videla to be tried as a member of a criminal organization but the craftyvadella was able to delay his appearance for two years utilizing technicality after technicality then in 2003 another coup happened not a coup d’etat but a coup d’etat peroneus president nestor kirchner campaigned that the previous amnesty of 1990 should be ruled as unconstitutional it took some time for the supreme court to agree to the decision but eventually in 2008 medela was incarcerated again he awaited trial for three years at the campo de mayo military base all the while protesting his treatment and declaring himself to be a political prisoner finally in february of 2011 the trial began videla and the other high-ranking officials were charged with the abduction of hundreds of infants in july of 2012 the final verdict was issued the tribunal found proof that the abduction of infants was a systematic and widespread practice to abduct detain and hide children under 10 years of age within the context of a general plan of annihilation jorge rafael vadella was found guilty and sentenced to 50 years to be served in a civilian prison but the time of trials was still not over for the old despot next he was to be judged for his participation in operation condor but this time he found a way out of the courthouse on may 12 2013 the elderly video slipped while taking a shower in the marcos paz prison on the 16th at 8 25 am he was found dead in his cell the autopsy found that he had died of an internal hemorrhage caused by the earlier fall jorge rafael vadella was the visible face of military rule during argentina’s dirty war but to this day his motivations remain hard to decipher declassified cia reports expressed concerns over the excesses of the junta and seemed to place hope on his stabilizing influence he appeared to seek a reconciliation with the paranist factions at least at the start of the regime and yet he seemed to endorse and enforce terrorist tactics he was a man of faith and maintained a good relationship with the vatican but he did not lift a finger to protect priests and nuns detained at the esma during his years under arrest videla eventually confessed to his crimes he did admit that some actions of the junta bordered on the horrific but he also justified them as acts of war against a guerrilla insurgency and perhaps most significantly he never expressed remorse for what he did so i really hope you found that video interesting if you did please do hit that thumbs up button below don’t forget to subscribe and as always thank you for watching [Music]


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General J.R. Videla: The Face of Argentina’s Dirty War
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