Ten life sentences handed down in emblematic dictatorship trial

The ‘Las Brigadas’ case tried crimes against humanity committed in four different clandestine detention centers in Buenos Aires Province, including Pozo de Banfield

Ten life sentences were handed down to former police and army officers on Tuesday, bringing one of the most notorious trials for crimes against humanity committed by the last military dictatorship to a close. Known as Las Brigadas, the trial encompassed crimes committed in three police brigades across Buenos Aires province (Banfield, Quilmes, and Lanús).

“The trial had many relevant aspects: the persecution of working-class people, young students, the appropriation of more than 10 children since in one of the clandestine centers there was a clandestine maternity ward,” said Ana Oberlín, assistant prosecutor in the trial. “The sexual violence against both cisgender and transgender women was also highlighted, the first time in Argentine history that the systemic violence towards the trans community is put on trial.”

The sites were known as “Pozo de Quilmes” (Quilmes Pit), “Infierno” (Hell) — which operated at the Lanús Investigations Brigade —  the San Justo Brigade headquarters, and “Pozo de Banfield” (Banfield Pit), where kidnapped pregnant women gave birth. Only one of the children born in such conditions was reportedly restored to their family, the rest were illegally appropriated by security officers. Among them was Daniel Santucho, son of disappeared victim Claudia Navajas, and the latest stolen grandchild recovered by the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo.

“This trial was really moving, and shocking,” said Santucho to La Garganta Poderosa. “To hear all the names of the victims and what they went through, including my mother and myself, being robbed and separated from her, was so hard,” he added.

“Luckily, justice was served”.

The court read the verdict last Tuesday against Federico Antonio Minicucci, Guillermo Domínguez Matheu, Jorge Héctor Di Pasquale, Carlos María Romero Pavón, Roberto Balmaceda,  Jaime Lamont Smart, Juan Miguel Wolk, Jorge Antonio Bergés (a police medic who attended childbirths in Pozo de Banfield), Horacio Luis Castillo and Carlos Gustavo Fontana.

Alberto Julio Candioti was served a 25 year-sentence, while Enrique Barre — who had been defended by current Minister of Justice Mariano Cúneo Libarona until taking office last December — was acquitted. Oberlín told the Herald that Candioti’s sentence was the maximum he could receive due to a technicality and once prosecutors were able to analyze the reasoning behind Barre’s acquittal, they were highly likely to appeal.

Nine of the defendants were already serving prison terms — most of them in house arrest — for prior convictions. Three of them, Castillo, Fontana and Barre, were on trial for the first time. 

​​Six other defendants died before the end of the trial, including the infamous Director of Buenos Aires Police Investigations, Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, who was already serving seven life imprisonment sentences.  

The Brigadas trial is one of the most emblematic cases against state terrorism during the dictatorship. The almost 500 victims included 10 high school students who were kidnapped and disappeared in an operation known as Noche de los lápices (Night of the Pencils). Only four of them survived. 

The case also featured the testimonies from time trans women for the first time in Argentine history, with eight being recognized by the ruling as victims of kidnapping and torture at the Pozo de Banfield. 

“This trial established that those who carried out state terrorism not only had a religious economic, social and cultural model, but also a model of sexual and gender-based violence,” Oberlín told the Herald, highlighting that the bodies of both trans and cisgender women were disciplined under said model.

According to information submitted at the trial by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), there are still more than 100 victims from those centers who remain unidentified in a mass grave in the Avellaneda cemetery.

“This is not the end,” said Pablo Díaz, survivor of the Night of the Pencils.

“I still want to know where they all are, where Claudia [Falcone] is, so I can sit next to wherever she is, and read my poems to her.”

You may also be interested in: Argentine travestis demand reparations for dictatorship’s sexual violence


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