‘An instrument of torture’: Argentina asks Uruguay to return Operation Condor plane

The abandoned aircraft was used to transport victims of state terror in the 1970s

The Operation Condor plane at Montevideo's Melilla Airport. Photo: provided

An Argentine judge has asked Uruguayan authorities to repatriate a plane used to transport victims of the region’s dictatorships from Paraguay to Argentina in 1977, as part of Operation Condor. It has been sitting abandoned at an airport near Montevideo for 16 years.

The plane, a Hawker Siddeley HS-125 model 400B jet, was abandoned at Ángel Adami (Melilla) Airport in 2008, after being sold by the Argentine Navy in 1987.

The plane was used to forcibly fly five political exiles — three Argentines and two Uruguayans — from Asunción, Paraguay, to Buenos Aires in May 1977, in a case known as the “Five in Asunción.” The activists remain disappeared to this day. Uruguayan air force experts confirmed in January that the abandoned aircraft was the same plane used to transport them.

The airplane’s story is an example of the horrors perpetrated when South American dictatorships worked together to form the continent-wide network of political persecution, torture and murder known as Operation Condor in the 1970s.

The aircraft was originally bought for the use of Argentine Navy Commander-in-Chief and Junta member, Emilio Eduardo Massera, during the last dictatorship. It currently belongs to an Uruguayan company called Air Wolf.

Uruguayan artist Sebastián Santana Camargo accidentally discovered the plane on Google in 2022, while researching a project about Operation Condor. After Santana formally presented his findings in 2023, the Argentine and Uruguayan judiciaries ordered for the plane to be preserved.

This week, it was revealed that on January 24, Argentine Judge Sebastián Casanello had issued an international collaboration request asking the Uruguayan authorities to return the plane to Argentina. Casanello leads the court in charge of investigating the Operation Condor case. 

Uruguayan authorities have yet to respond to Argentina’s request, which given its sensitive nature would need to be issued by the Uruguayan foreign ministry and received by its Argentine counterpart.

A source from the Argentine judiciary who is working on the case said the plane would likely need to be transported via land because it is not fit to fly.

“The aircraft was used as an instrument for the torture, transport and disappearance of victims who were illegally arrested by Paraguayan and Argentine authorities that operated within Operation Condor,” the request reads.

The plane should be repatriated not only because it is evidence linked to the Operation Condor investigation, but also because it was used to commit a crime, the document states.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald