Menem Pardons Accused Military Officers
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ President Carlos Menem on Saturday pardoned more than 200 military officers accused of human rights abuses and aiding military rebellions, saying the move was essential for national reconciliation.
The pardons also cover several dozen suspected leftist guerrillas.
″I know there will be those who are unhappy ... but I’m also convinced that millions of Argentines are applauding this measure,″ Menem said in brief comments from his home in La Rioja Province, 745 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.
Included in the pardons were Leopoldo Galtieri, a former president and army commander, and 38 other officers who faced trial in connection with the arrests, disappearances and presumed killings of nearly 9,000 suspected subversives during the so-called ″dirty war″ of the 1976-83 military dictatorships.
Also pardoned were Lt. Col. Aldo Rico and Col. Mohamed Ali Seineldin, the leaders of military uprisings in April 1987 and January and December 1988 that threatened the elected government of then President Raul Alfonsin.
In all, 39 officers charged with human rights abuses and 164 officers accused in connection with the uprisings were free to leave prison, Menem said. The pardons also applied to three officers convicted of mishandling the 1982 Falklands War with Britain - former navy chief Jorge Anaya; former air force chief Basilio Lami Dozo, and Galtieri, who faced the separate human rights charges dating from his days as a military commander before he became president in 1981.
Menem and his Peronist Party said the pardons were the best way to end the rancor that divides this South America nation of 32 million people.
Alfonsin, elected in October 1983 to end military rule and voted out of office last May, was wedged between the military, which opposed trials, and human rights advocates who insisted they be held.
The military claimed the accused officers used unconventional tactics against an unconventinal enemy - guerrillas whose bombings and assassinations led to the March 1976 coup against President Isabel Peron.
Human rights groups claim the official list of 8,960 people who ″disappeared″ is only about a third of the actual total.
″Justice should have been allowed to operate,″ Enrique Pochat, coordinator of the General Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights, said of the pardons.
Rene de Epelbaum, a leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group, said the pardons ″mock justice.″
″It is a true moral aberration that leaves in liberty those who violated human dignity and those who rose up against the constitutional order,″ the activist said.
The opposition Radical Civic Union, Argentina’s second-largest party, also criticized the presidential pardons.
″One of the things that is necessary to consolidate democracy is justice, and impunity should not be sanctified,″ said national Deputy Leopoldo Moreau.
Menem, who took office on July 8 in the midst of an economic crisis involving triple-digit monthly inflation, had as little room to maneuver as Alfonsin.
More than 100,000 protesters joined a rally sponsored last month by human rights groups to urge Menem to reconsider the pardons he had hinted for months he would grant.
The groups also launched a petition drive to collect 1 million signatures to oppose pardons.
However, Menem, a provincial governor at the time of the 1976 military coup and then a political prisoner for nearly five years, seemed to favor the military argument from the day he took office.
With the econony in such bad shape, he said, the country could not tolerate such bitter social divisions.
Former presidents and generals Jorge Videla and Roberto Viola, who were convicted in December 1985 of murder, kidnapping and torture during the ″dirty war,″ remained in prison. They could be pardoned at a later time.
Also remaining in jail on human rights charges were former Buenos Aires Province Police Gen. Ramon Camps, who was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in jail, and former Gen. Carlos Guillermo Suarez Mason, who was extradited from the United States in May 1988 and faces trial on charges of homicide.
The pardons also excluded one of the most notorious of the leftist guerrillas and the only one now in jail. Mario Firmenich, co-founder of the Montonero terrorist group, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in jail.