The five vice presidential candidates for the upcoming elections met for a TV-organized debate Wednesday night to discuss their main campaign proposals. The debate was strongly marked by accusations regarding human rights, mainly between Victoria Villarruel from La Libertad Avanza (LLA) and Agustín Rossi, from Unión por la Patria (UxP).
In addition to Rossi and Villarruel, the unofficial debate organized and broadcast by TV station TN also featured Luis Petri (Juntos por el Cambio), Nicolás del Caño (Frente de Izquierda de los Trabajadores) and Florencio Randazzo (Hacemos por Nuestro País).
The strongest moment was arguably when Rossi accused Villarruel of “infiltrating” democracy, referencing her ties with military officers who were part of the 1976 dictatorship and her defense of those tried for crimes against humanity in past years.
Rossi questioned Villarruel on why she had met several times over the last two decades with military members sentenced for crimes against humanity during the last dictatorship, like first Military Junta President Jorge Rafael Videla (who died in 2013). Villarruel said she was doing research for a book.
“I also met with [members of] Montoneros,” Villarruel said, referring to an armed group active in the 70s when the dictatorship started. “Even though they were terrorists, I guaranteed them confidentiality so they could tell me the crimes they committed.”
Villarruel has written two books about the civil victims of armed groups in the 70s: They call them… the idealist youth (2009) and The other dead – The civilian victims of guerrilla terrorism in the 70s (2014).
“What I did was completely legal; it’s not a crime. It’s something that allows you to learn about history when you haven’t experienced it,” Villarruel added. She was born in 1975, a year before the coup.
Villaruel founded the Civil Association of the Victims of Argentine Terrorism (CELTYV, by its Spanish acronym) in 2006. Although it’s technically a civil organization, it has strong ties to the military sector and aims to seek reparations for those who died in actions carried out by armed groups before and during the military government.
The CELTYV and Villarruel herself have been accused by human rights organizations of promoting denialism of state-sponsored terrorism that took place during the dictatorship. Villarruel is a lawyer, and although she has never formally represented any accused military officers, she has publicly defended them and attended several trials to support them.
“I think that, deep down, you vindicate the dictatorship,” Rossi told Villarruel. “I’ve never heard you criticize the torture, the rapes, or the stealing of babies,” the UxP candidate continued. “You remind me of [Alfredo] Astiz, you know how he infiltrated the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo organization?,” he said, referring to one of the dictatorship’s most infamous members, a former marine officer also known as “the Angel of Death.”
“You don’t believe in democracy,” Rossi told Villarruel.
Villarruel rejected the accusation. “Not only do I believe in democracy, but I have also been calling for democracy to recognize the civilian victims of terrorism that were attacked by the armed organizations you are implicitly defending,” she replied
Leftist Front VP candidate Nicolás Del Caño also asked Villarruel about her meetings with Videla and what they talked about. “You need to explain why you were in [Miguel] Etchecolatz’s contacts book,” Del Caño added. However, she didn’t respond to his inquiries.
Etchecolatz was the investigations director of the Buenos Aires Province Police during the dictatorship and one of the most infamous torturers of the last military government.
Guadalupe Godoy, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in crimes against humanity trials, recently shared a picture that shows Villarruel’s name in a notebook Etchecolatz carried with him during his trial in 2006. Etchecolatz was tried for his role in the 21 clandestine detention centers he commanded.