An Italian court has found eight men guilty for their role in US backed Operation Condor, an international campaign of political repression and state terror coordinated by various Latin American governments in the 1970s and 80s to stamp out opposition.
Those sentenced included former Peruvian dictator, Francisco Morales Bermúdez, as well as his interior minister, Luis Arce Gómez. Former Chancellor of Uruguay, Juan Carlos Blanco, was also given a life sentence for his role in the operation.
This brings a kind of posthumous peace for two disappeared Italian-Argentines, Horacio Campiglia and Lorenzo Ismael Viñas, with the court finding four Peruvian and two Bolivians responsible for their deaths. The case of Argentine Luis Stamponi and his mother was also given some resolution – the court sentenced ex Uruguayan Chancellor, Juan Carlos Blanco, to life in prison for their disappearance.
This landmark case was the first time an Italian court has brought proceedings against those involved in Operation Condor. 17 years in the making, it all began in 1999 when victims’ families complained to Italian prosecutor, Giancarlo Capaldo, in an attempt to gain legal redress at a time when Latin American governments refused to act. A tortuous and challenging procedural affair, the trial saw 27 former heads of state, soldiers, officials and secret service agents (down from an original list of 146) processed for their involvement in the murder of Italian-Argentines, Italian-Uruguayans, Italian-Chileans and Uruguayans during the covert Cold War operation.
Finally, on Tuesday, after two years of trial hearings and a massive amount of testimony, the court handed out eight life sentences for the murder of 23 Italian citizens. 19 men were acquitted. A victory, in the eyes of some:
“It’s clear that this conviction confirms that Operation Condor existed and that it was a criminal conspiracy,” said a prosecutor to Reuters. “It’s very significant, especially given that heads of state from the time were convicted.”
However, not all were pleased with the verdict. In particular, a number of Uruguayans felt “cheated” by the result, as former Chancellor Blanco was the only Uruguayan found guilty for participating in the operation:
“It’s a disgrace that 13 of the 14 accused were absolved. Truly, I travelled from Argentina to be present at this case and I’m leaving outraged,” said, María Victoria Moyano, whose parents were disappeared, to La Nacion.
In the original list of some 146 accused, 61 argentine leaders appeared. However, none were tried as part of the Italian proceedings, because Argentina assured it would conduct its own legal proceedings. And indeed last year in Argentina, in the first ever Operation Condor trial, 14 ex military chiefs and intelligence officials were sentenced to between eight and 25 years in prison for crimes against humanity.
What was Operation Condor?
Formally adopted in 1975, Operation Condor was a coordinated effort to stamp out leftist opposition to various military dictatorships across Latin America in the 1970s and 80s. Originally conceived as a means of eradicating soviet influence within the region, it soon grew into full-blown state terrorism: nuns, teachers, students, moderates, farm workers, unionists and civilians became the target of this systematic, regional “anticommunist crusade.” Clandestine detention centers were opened and furtive parallel state apparatuses were created, as Southern Cone governments worked together to kidnap and torture citizens. Operations were even taken overseas, and included the car-bombing death of Orlando Letelier, leading figure of the Chilean resistance, in Washington D.C. It is estimated that 50,000 people were murdered or disappeared in Latin America during Operation Condor.