Argentine Torture Survivor and Witness Is Disappeared Under Democracy

After 17 days of searching, Buenos Aires provincial police have hit a deadlock in the hunt for a missing 77-year-old witness whose gripping testimony of torture helped convict a former police officer in the first junta trial since an amnesty law was overturned. Video on Ágora TV on the disappearance and campaign for the safe return of Julio Lopez: http://www.revolutionvideo.org/agoratv/secciones/derechos_humanos/marcha_por_lopez.html No one has seen or heard from Julio Jorge Lopez since September 18 when he was last seen in his home in La Plata, 40 kilometers from Buenos Aires. He went missing just hours before he was slated to hear the conviction of a former police investigator who was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity in the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Since Lopez’s disappearance, over 11 judges, the Buenos Aires Human Rights secretariat, and the president of human rights group Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have received threats. Most of the torture survivors testifying in the ongoing trials against former figures from the military dictatorship have entered witness protection programs. Meanwhile, human rights organizations are pressing for direct access to information into the provincial police’s investigation on the whereabouts of Lopez. The Association of Ex-detainees and HIJOS (children of the disappeared) are pointing to the provincial police with ties to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship for the kidnapping OF Lopez. Human rights groups will hold an exposure protest outside the Buenos Aires provincial offices this evening. “Today Julio is disappeared again and we are here to demand that he is found alive, right away!” said Nilda Eloy, a torture survivor who testified along with Julio Lopez to convict a former police investigator. She stood in front of thousands who rallied to demand the whereabouts of the 77-year-old witness on September 27. Julio López, a key witness in the trial of a landmark human rights case, went missing on the eve of the September 19 conviction of a former police investigator who was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity in the 1976-1983 dictatorship. While choking down tears, Eloy said that the government is responsible for Lopez’s disappearance because police officers who served under the dictatorship are sill operating. “Most of the evidence suggests that Julio López was kidnapped by the gangsters from the Greater Buenos Aires police force and right-wing fascists because Julio was one of the key witnesses that lead to Etchecolatz’s life imprisonment in a regular jail. During the three months that the trial lasted the prosecutors, witnesses and lawyers suffered innumerable threats.” Eloy herself received several threats during the trial. In the past week since the trial ended she has received several anonymous phone calls. “The repressive apparatus tried to stop us, anonymous phone calls and threats were used against those of us who put at risk the impunity that the military has benefited from for over 30 years. Even after the sentence, the threats continue because with our never ending struggle for the first time a court ruled that the dictatorship had committed crimes against humanity in the mark of planned genocide.” Following pressures from human rights groups Buenos Aires governor Felipe Solá has retired 70 provincial police who operated in clandestine detention centers this week. “He needed Jorge’s disappearance and our demands to fire the officers,” said Eloy. “This is horrendous and only causes more impunity.” During a meeting between human rights groups and Buenos Aires government officials, activists questioned Buenos Aires Security Minister León Carlos Arslanián whether police officers who served during the dictatorship were still active. He answered, “yes, about 70 officers but they were only 20-years-old during the military dictatorship.” Adriana Calvo who was kidnapped and forced to give birth in a detention center ran by Etchecolatz attended the meeting. “You have no idea how the young officers with only 20-years-of-age tortured us,” said Calvo. Even the government is worried over the whereabouts of López. Provincial police aided by police dogs are hunting for Lopez. A government sponsored television ad has aired nightly, offering 64,000 dollars in award money for leads on López’s whereabouts. Eight judges handling dictatorship trials received threatening letters this week. Earlier this week Governor Solá admitted that López is the “first disappeared in democracy.” According to Enrique Fukman, an ex-detainee at the ESMA Navy Mechanics School the largest clandestine detention center in Buenos Aires, police with ties to the military dictatorship want to implement fear to stop the trials. “They couldn’t scare the witnesses off, the witnesses testified which lead to the historic conviction. The court declared that the military dictatorship carried out a plan of genocide to wipe out dissidents.” Retired police chief Miguel Etchecolatz, now 77, ran clandestine detention centers in the Buenos Aires province during the military dictatorship. He is the first military officer to be sentenced for crimes against humanity and sentenced to life. This is the second junta conviction after Argentina’s Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional legal immunity for former officers who served during the era of military dictatorship. Fukman added that provincial police have interests in upholding legal amnesty for human rights abuses. “The government uses security forces to repress, that’s where the state’s responsibility in the disappearance of López begins. Because the government is saying that it needs the police to repress and it’s clear that these groups are going to repress to defend their impunity.” For Margarita Cruz, a torture survivor from the northern province of Tucuman, Julio López’s disappearance is the result of 30 years of injustice. “For survivors López’s disappearance brings back memories of our kidnappings and what we lived through during the military dictatorship. López’s disappearance is the maximum expression of traces of the dictatorship and impunity for crimes against humanity.” Despite increasing threats against torture survivors, human rights groups are determined to continue their struggle for justice after 30 years of the military dictatorship. Human rights groups throughout the nation continue to rally for the safe return of Julio Lopez. If organizations would like to send a letter repudiating the disappearance and support for Julio’s safe and immediate return contact Memoria Verdad y Justicia: treintaanios@yahoo.com.ar or send messages to association of ex-detainess/disappeared aedd@exdesaparecidos.org.ar

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