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‘If the judges free them, I will leave the country’

Francisco Madariaga Quintela marching on the day of Remembrance for truth and justice last March 24.
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By Santiago Del Carril
Herald Staff

Francisco Madariaga Quintela, whose identity was stolen as a baby, on the Supreme Court’s 2x1 decision, the possibility of Víctor Gallo being freed from prison and why the reaction of Argentines across the country is so important

Seven years ago, Francisco Madariaga Quintela was forced to hide out on a farm after Víctor Gallo, an ex-military official threatened to take his life. Madariaga, who was kidnapped and appropriated by Gallo when he was just a baby in 1977, had discovered his true identity.

For the last 10 days, Madariaga had cause to fear his life could be at risk again after Gallo, who was convicted of crimes against humanity committed during the days of the country’s last military dictatorship (1976-1983), became the first human rights abuser to request early release after the Supreme Court’s controversial ‘2x1’ ruling last week.

That decision by the nation’s highest court opened the door to a flood of similar requests from former military officers, police chiefs, priests and civilians convicted of participating in the clandestine kidnapping, torture and execution of thousands of people in those dark days.

Madariaga visited every major TV, radio and newspaper to tell his story, seeking to warn society of the type of criminals that could be set loose if the nation’s judges complied with the Supreme Court ruling.

In an interview with the Herald prior to Wednesday’s march and legislative action, Madariaga spoke passionately about his tormented upbringing, why he felt the Supreme Court has made a huge mistake, and how he was heartened to see Argentines across the country overwhelmingly reject the judges’ ruling.

How did you react when first learning of the Supreme Court’s 2x1 ruling?

I woke up, started doing my things, and when I heard that that the Supreme Court had ruled this way, my blood started to boil. It’s irresponsible, it’s a hidden amnesty, and they are allowing the worst (elements) of the dictatorship on the streets. It’s like dropping an atomic bomb that will paralyse us.

The repressor who kidnapped you when you were a baby was the first convicted of crimes against humanity to request early release from prison based on the ruling, right?

Yes, and last year he was transferred to a prison in the Campo de Mayo military base, which is like a luxury country house. This is only two kilometres away (from “Campito”) the place where my mother gave birth to me before they killed her. I protested against his transfer, and demanded that they move him. He was finally transferred to another prison, and now this.

How do you feel about the possibility of him leaving prison?

I’m not afraid. But this is a huge (step toward) impunity; imagine if they had freed all the Nazis who committed genocide after World War II? We aren’t asking for the death penalty against them, but that they complete their sentences that were given to them in a court of law. Now, a prisoner who robbed just so he could eat could have to serve a longer prison sentence then these human rights violators, the majority of whom are military officers, who raped, tortured, killed their victims and kidnapped their babies. I will fight this until the end.

How do you view the government’s response to this?

One day Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj says he agrees with the ruling and then he says the opposite; that he is against it. But he only changed his mind after surveys showed that most people were against the Supreme Court ‘2x1’ ruling. The poll numbers indicate that 88 percent of the population are critical of the Supreme Court’s stance, while only four percent supported it. About 200 repressors could be released onto the streets because of this, allowing these people who aren’t even human — they are animals — to be free. The Supreme Court is not respecting the laws that exist against these monsters because they have nothing to lose from this. It’s important how the public is reacting to this now.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have made a special request to the courts to provide you with protection in case Víctor Gallo is released....

Yes, it’s so the judges take note that he (Gallo) has made death threats against me, and the risk posed if Gallo is released. But I wouldn’t accept any police detail or bodyguards; the person who runs the security protection system is a friend of his. Gallo was an ex-carapintada (a military group that repeatedly rebelled against the democratic government of former UCR president Raúl Alfonsín). I won’t allow them to put a police officer at my door. What we will ask for is a restraining order; I will support that. But I will never sign anything that gives me the same protection I had before. Before there was another group of people that I trusted, but I don’t trust in the Justice system, the politicians or military now. I’m not going to have the same people who tortured my mother protecting me.

Can you tell more about Gallo’s criminal past?

He has a long criminal record. Not only was he involved in the massacre of Benavidez (an event that involved the murder of a family), for which he was sentenced to 10 years in 1997, he tried to overthrow a democratic government as a carapintada. He participated in the ‘Operation of Independence’ (a 1975 military operation that featured rampant human rights violations) — that is when he probably became crazy.

How did he abuse you?

For him, I was the son of the Montoneros (a left-wing guerrilla), I was like a botín de guerra (war booty) and he would beat me for it. He used to enter my room when I was a kid and would hit me. Luckily I had two big dogs defending me when he attacked. When he would take us to a pool in the Campo de Mayo military base, for example, instead of teaching me how to swim he would torture me by pushing my head below the water. So this guy, who should serve a 15-year-sentence, could be released with only serving seven years. He should fulfil his sentence. The Supreme Court shouldn’t treat this like a soccer game, finding some technicality like the tribunal of the FIFA did when they suspended (soccer player Lionel) Messi. This is the Supreme Court and they’re allowing the worst of them free. It’s crazy.

The obstetrician who altered your birth certificate, hiding your true identity for these past 30 years, Atilio Bianco, was also released on parole two days after the Supreme Court ruling last week. Do you think this is connected?

Well, this wasn’t because of the 2x1 ruling; the Supreme Court didn’t influence his release. Yes, he was the person who performed a caesarean section on my mum, and gave me away. But the sentence he was handed is being completed correctly.

What is your opinion about the timing of the Supreme Court ruling? As it happened the same week the Argentine Synod announced meetings addressing “reconciliation”?

It’s strange, the court did this to provoke. It’s known that the judicial system is political; the intention of their ruling I think was to create fear. Fear that paralyses you. At the same time when there is an economic crisis in which they cut the budget (for human rights investigations), there is nothing better than to create fear.

How has the news affected other recovered grandchildren?

This has affected the whole Argentine population, people have expressed that they don’t want to walk on the street with people like “Tigre” Acosta (a former Navy lieutenant who led a clandestine detention centre), murderers who raped and stole babies. Who even knows how many children they killed? And now they could be freed with all their rights like any other person. It’s crazy, it’s like all this talk of defending human rights is just rhetoric by the administration. It’s ridiculous how slow the crimes against humanity trials are progressing; it will take 20 years for all the trials to end but all the repressors will be dead by then.

You’ve criticised some Victory Front (FpV) senators for the 2x1 ruling because they voted in favour of confirming Carlos Rosenkrantz and Horacio Rosatti, the justices who swung the vote on the Supreme Court.

I’m not part of the Víctory Front. These people saw the barbarians and know how the grandchildren were abused yet they still voted for these justices.

Much of the establishment did. Many of these politicians are really in it for themselves, for their own egos, and they change their votes when the polls change. When they fight for power they forget about every else, it is part of the reason why many of the repressors were transferred to the Campo de Mayo prison. The FpV could have prevented it. They also are to blame for the Anti-Terrorist Law.

I’m not committed to any politician. I go for true justice; there isn’t any party that represents me, the politicians that represent me I can count only with my fingers.

What will you do if Gallo is freed?

I still have hopes that Gallo will remain in prison; I will fight in the Cassation Court and until the last day. But if they free them, and the 200 or other genocidal... I think I’d probably leave the country and travel around the world. Since they are old guys, I’d then return in five years and most of them would probably have passed away.

What effect do you think the march in protest of the Supreme Court ruling will have?

The people or groups that supported the 2x1 trial are going to look ridiculous — even PRO party members are participating in it. The PRO, the same day of the ruling at first supported it and then went back on it, even the human rights secretary said he made a mistake, and that the 2x1 ruling was wrong. The justices look ridiculous.

@delcarril

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