29 members of the last military dictatorship were sentenced to life in prison yesterday, after being found guilty of crimes against humanity by the Fifth Federal Tribunal, in the so-called “ESMA trial.”
This was the longest judicial process in Argentine history, and the first one to document the “death flights”: a practice conducted by which members of the dictatorship sedated their victims, who in this case were being held at the clandestine detention that gives name to the trial, to then throw them in to the Río de la Plata from a moving plane. In fact, it was the first time two pilots who partook in these flights were sentenced. They were Alejandro D’Agostino and Mario Arrú.
Among others who received life sentences were the infamous Alfredo Astiz, Jorge “tiger” Acosta and Ricardo Cavallo – although the three ere already serving sentences for previous convictions – as well as Jorge Antonio Asic, known for having “appropriated” now National Deputy Victoria Donde. Aziz was one of the members or friends of the military who stole, kept and raised as their own the children that civilians had in captivity.
Overall, 68 people were charged when the trial began in 2012, but 14 died during the process. Of the remaining 25 who didn’t receive life sentences, 6 were acquitted – three pilots from the aforementioned flights included – while the rest got sentences ranging between eight and 25 years.
All of them were accused of the death or forceful disappearance of 789 people. Among them there were high profile cases like the one concerning Swedish student Dagmar Hagelin and the twelve people kidnapped from the Santa Cruz church, including French nuns Alice Domon and Leonié Duquet, as well as three mothers of Plaza de Mayo.
The reading of the sentence took place at the AMIA room, in the federal courthouses of Comodoro Py. Members of human rights organizations and victims’ family members were present, many of them holding signs with photos of people who were taken to the infamous Higher School of Mechanics of the Navy to never get out.
“Spiteful people who kidnapped people, dark people like Astiz, were punished today. We will continue to investigate the ones who were acquitted,” head of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo Estela de Carlotto told Infobae after the trial.
Of all clandestine centers that were operative during the dictatorship, the ESMA was by far the largest one. According to historical records, roughly 5,000 people were unlawfully detained in the base, which is now a human rights memorial.