(New York) - Human Rights Watch today applauded the Mexican judiciary's decision to detain Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, a former military official from Argentina who has been implicated in violent human rights abuses during the country's military dictatorship. According to the court's ruling, made public on Saturday, the Spanish officials who requested Cavallo's detention now have sixty days to finalize an extradition request.
Cavallo's arrest last week followed on the heels of the August 6 arrest and detention of another Argentine military official, retired Major Jorge Olivera, in Rome. Although Olivera is being held pursuant to an international capture order issued by a French judge, he has similarly been accused of egregious human rights abuses, including torture. The Cavallo prosecution is under the jurisdiction of Spanish Judge Balthazar Garz?, known for his prosecution of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, while Olivera's case is being handled by French Judge Roger Le Loire.
"After so many years when the crimes of the Argentine military regime went largely unpunished, it's encouraging to see these two men in detention, facing a real likelihood of prosecution," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch. "These cases are further proof that the Pinochet prosecution has created real momentum in favor of the criminal prosecution of egregious human rights abuses."
Cavallo and Olivera are the first Argentines to be detained abroad for human rights crimes committed in Argentina during the country's 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Cavallo was arrested in Cancun on Thursday, August 24, as he attempted to catch a plane to Buenos Aires. Until his arrest, he had lived and worked in Mexico, serving as the director of the National Registry of Motor vehicles. Olivera, who lives in Argentina, was arrested at the airport in Rome as he was returning home from vacation with his wife.
According to a November 1999 indictment issued by Spanish Judge Garz?, Cavallo, known by the name of Miguel Angel Cavallo, was a Navy lieutenant who worked in the notorious Navy Mechanics School (Escuela de Mec?ica de la Armada, ESMA) in Buenos Aires during the military regime. Between January 1977 and October 1978, the indictment states, Cavallo belonged to the operations sector of Working Group 3.3.2, a group actively involved in kidnapping and torturing persons perceived as leftist by the military. The indictment names Cavallo as a participant in the torture of Thelma Jara de Cabezas, and the execution of M?ica Jauregui and Elba Delia Aldaya.
Olivera is accused of the kidnapping, torture and disappearance of French citizen Marianne Erize in San Juan province on October 15, 1976. At the time, he was allegedly an intelligence officer with the Army's Twenty-Second Regiment. Argentine Senator Jose Luis Gioja, whose statements were published in the daily papers Pagina 12 and Clar?, claims that Olivera personally tortured him while he was a political prisoner in San Juan in 1976.
Important progress in the criminal prosecution of "dirty war" abuses is currently being made domestically in Argentina as well, Vivanco noted. A number of former military officials, including the president of the first military junta, have been arrested in conjunction with prosecutions involving "disappeared" children. According to the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, more than 200 children were taken away from people who "disappeared" during the military dictatorship. The children were either abducted together with their parents or were born in secret detention centers during their parents' captivity. The amnesty laws that bar most human rights prosecutions for the abuses that occurred under the military specifically exempts the cases of these children.
The 1984 report of the Argentine truth commission names 8,961 people who "disappeared" under the military dictatorship, noting that this figure is not exhaustive. Although some high-level officials were criminally prosecuted in the 1980s for these abuses, the vast majority of military perpetrators were covered by the country's amnesty laws, while pardons issued by then-President Menem in 1989 and 1990 freed those who had been convicted. "The struggle for justice in Argentina has been continuing since that time," Vivanco explained. "The current prosecutions, both in Argentina and abroad, have revived hopes of seeing that justice is done."