Former lieutenant colonel Alberto José Jaime (79) was given a life sentence this Thursday for the murder of Peronist Youth activist Yolanda Rosa Ponti in Santa Fe province in 1976, committed during the last military dictatorship in Argentina.
Jaime, who is currently under house arrest, was convicted of homicide doubly aggravated by malice and premeditation. He will remain in that condition until the sentence is confirmed. Once that process is complete, he will be transferred to a Federal Penitentiary System unit yet to be determined.
Jaime followed the last hearing of the trial that took place in the Santa Fe province Federal Oral Court from his home in Buenos Aires city through a video call.
Yolanda Ponti’s murder
On December 1, 1976, Ponti, an 18-year-old student and political activist, was shot to death while boarding a bus in downtown Santa Fe city. Originally from Rafaela, she had moved to Santa Fe city and was active in the University Peronist Youth movement.
Jaime, who went by the nicknames “Mono”, “Amorfo” or “Bestia” (Monkey, Amorphous or Beast, respectively) was a member of the Military Intelligence Base 122 patota (gang). The officers in this group carried out kidnappings and murders of activists, social organization and union members, among others, in the area.
The former military officer was in charge of the operation in which Army members and Santa Fe policemen intercepted the bus. They killed Ponti, another passenger, and the bus driver.
Ponti was first shot in the abdomen, and died from a final shot to the head.
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The key evidence in the murder of Ponti is an inquiry the Army conducted in 1976 after former sergeant Oscar Alberto Cabezas was killed during the operation. During that inquiry, Jaime stated that they spotted Ponti getting into a bus in the Barranquitas neighborhood, after which they followed it in two cars, and he gave the order to intercept the vehicle.
According to Lucia Tejera, an attorney for the Santa Fe branch of human rights organization HIJOS, which is a plaintiff in the case, Yolanda’s murder was part of “the constant spying and persecution political activists in Santa Fe were subjected to” both before and during the dictatorship.
Although Jaime didn’t act alone, all his accomplices have already died and were never tried. The gang he was a part of was made up of seven officers: an unidentified intelligence agent who that day was posing as a civilian; non-commissioned officer Nicolás Correa; lieutenant Julio César Domínguez; sargent Elodoro Jorge Hauque; the aforementioned Cabezas, and Santa Fe police officer Héctor Romeo Colombini.
Jaime had been on the run for four years until he was arrested in 2019. This is the first time he has been tried for crimes against humanity.
— With information from Télam