Jorge Rafaél Videla Biography Argentina

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Jorge Rafaél Videla Biography - Argentina (Abridged. Italicized notes added by Mr. Beem.)

General Jorge Rafaél Videla's government was responsible for a campaign of suppression and human rights abuses that became known as Argentina's "dirty war.",cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,g_face,h_300,q_80,w_300/mtiwnja4njmzntm3otiyntcy.jpg

Seizing Power

In 1975, Argentina's leader, Isabel Perón, named Videla as the army's general commander. On March 24, 1976, Videla—assisted by General Orlando Ramón Agosti of the air force and Admiral Emilio Massera of the navy—ousted Perón. At the time, Argentina was besieged by attacks from guerrillas and death squads, so many welcomed Videla's move, hoping the three-man military junta would put an end to the violence. Business interests also felt that the economy, beset by inflation, might improve under Videla's rule.

After the coup, Videla—now president—began a "Process of National Reorganization" to remake the country. Courts were closed, political parties outlawed and labor unions banned. Instead of a legislature, a commission of nine military officers—answering to Videla—was set up. Military officials soon filled all important government positions.

The Dirty War

For Videla, another part of the reorganization process was defending the country against leftist (Note: communist) groups. In addition to guerrilla fighters, he considered anyone whose thoughts or ideas could undermine the government to be a threat. This meant that union leaders, journalists, left-leaning politicians and intellectuals were among those targeted.

During Argentina's "dirty war," government opponents were brought to secret detention centers, sometimes after being kidnapped in the middle of the night. Once in custody, the prisoners' punishments included beatings, torture, rape and death. Pregnant women were often held until they gave birth, and then killed afterward. Instead of being passed to relatives, the babies were usually handed over to military couples, or couples with military connections, so that they could be raised in non-subversive households.

Videla deliberately chose to cloak these arrests and deaths in secrecy; those the government wanted to be rid of permanently were "disappeared." Some victims were buried in mass graves. Bodies were dropped from planes into the Atlantic Ocean or the River Plate. Although the official toll is lower, human rights organizations estimate that as many as 30,000 people were tortured and killed during the military dictatorship.

Augusto Pinochet – Chile (Abridged. Italicized notes added by Mr. Beem.)

…Pinochet, a graduate of the military academy in Santiago (1936), was a career military officer who was appointed army commander in chief by President Allende 18 days before the coup, which he planned and led. Pinochet was named head of the victorious junta’s governing council, and he moved to crush Chile’s liberal opposition; in its first three years, the regime arrested approximately 130,000 people, many of whom were tortured. In June 1974 Pinochet assumed sole power as president, relegating the rest of the junta to an advisory role.

Pinochet was determined to exterminate leftism (Note: communism) in Chile and to reassert free-market policies in the country’s economy. His junta was widely condemned for its harsh suppression of dissent, although its reversal of the Allende government’s socialist policies resulted in a lower rate of inflation and an economic boom between 1976 and 1979. A modest political liberalization began in 1978 after the regime announced that, in a plebiscite, 75 percent of the electorate had endorsed Pinochet’s rule….

As commander of the armed forces until 1998, Pinochet frequently thwarted human rights prosecutions against members of the security forces. …

The United States and other countries were prompted to release formerly classified documents concerning Chileans who had “disappeared”—who were kidnapped and presumably killed by the Pinochet regime. The disclosures brought to light details of Operation Colombo, in which more than 100 Chilean leftists disappeared in 1975, and Operation Condor, in which several South American military governments coordinated their efforts to systematically eliminate opponents in the 1970s and ’80s. 

Near the end of 2004 the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture issued its report, which confirmed more than 35,000 cases of torture that took place during the Pinochet regime….

Alberto Fujimori - Peru

By Christopher Minster. (Abridged. Italicized notes added by Mr. Beem.)

Alberto Fujimori (1938-) is a Peruvian politician of Japanese descent. An academic by background, he was elected President of Peru three times between 1990 and 2000, although he fled the country prior to completing his third term. A highly controversial figure, he is credited with ending the armed rebellion associated with the Shining Path and other guerrilla groups and stabilizing the economy. However, his administration is considered corrupt and there were many human rights violations during his time in office.

The Shining Path and the MRTA

….During the 1980’s, two terrorist groups had all of Peru living in fear: the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA: Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, named after the last ruling Inca, executed by the Spanish in 1572) and the Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”). These groups wished to topple the government and replace it with a communist one modeled on Russia (MRTA) or China (Shining Path). The two groups organized strikes, assassinated leaders, blew up electrical towers, detonated car bombs, and by 1990 they controlled entire sections of the country, where residents paid them taxes and there were no government forces whatsoever. Ordinary Peruvians lived in fear of these groups, especially in the Ayacucho region where the Shining Path was the de facto government.

Fujimori Cracks Down

….Just as he had done with the economy, Fujimori attacked the rebel movements directly and ruthlessly. He gave his military commanders free rein, allowing them to detain, interrogate and torture suspects with no judicial oversight. Although the secret trials drew the criticism of international human rights watchdog groups, the results were undeniable. In September of 1992 Peruvian security forces severely weakened the Shining Path by capturing leader Abimaél Guzmán in a posh Lima suburb. In 1996, MRTA soldiers attacked the residence of the Japanese ambassador during a party, taking 400 hostages. After a four-month standoff, Peruvian commandos stormed the residence, killing all 14 terrorists while losing only one hostage. For his success in defeating these two groups, Fujimori is credited by most Peruvians for ending terrorism in their country.

According to a 2004 Transparency International Report, the Fujimori administration was the seventh-most crooked of the last forty years, siphoning off no less than $600 million during his ten years in office…

As troubling as the stealing are the myriad allegations against Fujimori for human rights crimes. One incident is the Barrios Altos Massacre: on November 3, 1991, masked Peruvian security troops raided a residence in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima looking for Shining Path guerrillas. Fifteen people were shot to death, including an eight year-old boy. Apparently, none of the victims had any ties to the Shining Path, which were actually meeting elsewhere. Fujimori stands charged with being complicit in this case, although evidence that he had anything to do with it is sketchy at best.….

Manuel Noriega – Panama (Abridged. Italicized notes added by Mr. Beem.)

[Noriega forced Panama’s President  Nicolás Ardito Barletta to resign]. The reason had less to do with Barletta's economic policies than his alleged threat to investigate the brutal slaying of Hugo Spadafora, who had publicly accused Noriega of being a drug trafficker. G-2 agents had taken him from a bus near the Costa Rican border. In September 1985 searchers found his tortured, decapitated body stuffed in a U.S. mailbag on the Costa Rican side of the border. In June 1986 journalist Seymour Hersh reported that U.S. Defense Intelligence agents had evidence implicating Noriega in Spadafora's death and, just as disturbing, that in the mid-1970s Noriega had obtained National Security Agency classified material from a U.S. Army sergeant and had given it to the Cubans. In addition, Hersh wrote, Noriega had used his position to facilitate sale of restricted U.S. technology to Eastern European governments. In the process, he had earned $3 million.

Noriega denounced these and other allegations as a conspiracy of right-wing U.S. politicians looking for a way to undo the Panama Canal treaties before the canal became Panamanian property on December 31, 1999. It was becoming evident that Noriega had outfoxed his U.S. benefactors. During the Reagan administration's covert war against the government of Nicaragua, Noriega helped to supply arms to the Nicaraguan resistance called the Contras (Congress prohibited any expenditures to bring down the Nicaraguan government). At the same time, he received arms from Cuba and sold them to Salvadoran leftist guerrillas and supplied Nicaraguan leaders with intelligence reports. Although Noriega was a gun-runner, money-launderer, drug trafficker, and double agent, he was still useful to the U.S. government…

…[I]n June 1987 … Noriega's former chief of staff, Colonel Roberto Diaz Herrera (forced into retirement), stated that Noriega had fixed the 1984 election and ordered Spadafora's killing. He also implicated Noriega in the death of [former Panama President] Torrijos. Middle-class Panamanians organized street demonstrations, demanding his ouster. Noriega responded by declaring a national emergency. He suspended constitutional rights, closed newspapers and radio stations, and drove his political enemies into exile. A special riot squad— nicknamed "the Dobermans"—laid siege to the home of Diaz Herrera, who was captured and compelled to recant. Church leaders, businessmen, and students organized into the National Civil Crusade, dressed in white, and went into the streets banging pots and pans. The riot squads dispersed them. By now Americans were outraged, and in June 1987 the U.S. Senate called for Noriega's removal. Noriega retaliated by removing police protection from the U.S. embassy. A pro-Noriega mob attacked the building and caused $100,000 in damages.

[Later, ] the United States [with George H.W. Bush as President] launched a full-scale attack (Operation Just Cause) with 24,000 troops on December 20, 1989. [Noriega surrendered and was put on trial in the U.S. for cocaine trafficking, racketeering and money laundering]

Latin American Dictators and Transitional Justice Role Play

Directions: You are a tribunal of the International Criminal Court. You have been tasked with the role of deciding whether the Latin American Dictator you have been assigned should be charged for any crimes, and what the punishment should be. Read the article about your dictator and answer the questions below.

  1. Who is the dictator you are reading about?_____________________________

  2. What country did this dictator rule?_________________________________

Read: International Law has defined the following as “International Crimes,” or crimes that are recognized as criminal everywhere:

  • War Crimes – Happens while a country is at war. Attacking civilians (people who aren’t fighting), attacking medical personnel (medics, doctors, nurses), attacking wounded and sick who are unable to fight, and treating prisoners without dignity (not providing food, water, and communication with family).

  • Crimes Against Humanity – Serious degrading of human beings. This is a widespread attack against the civilian population. Happens while a country is at war or at peace.

  • Genocide – Murder or serious bodily or mental harm committed with the intent to destroy a group of people (race, ethnicity, national, or religious)

  • Torture – Aggravated form of inhumane treatment

Source: Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Edited from information posted at Accessed 11/25/15.

  1. Which of the above International Crimes has your dictator committed? (There may be more than one).

  1. Can you think of other kings, dictators, or elected leaders that we have studied this year that have committed one or more of the crimes listed above? List three and their crimes.




(Continue on next page)

Read: During the 20th Century, a response to the atrocities committed around the world was developed called Transitional Justice. Transitional Justice attempts to help a society grapple with the abuses of past leaders while allowing the country to move forward by a process of justice and reconciliation. The following options can be used during the Transitional Justice Process:

  • Prosecution – Charging violators of International Law with crimes, and giving them a fair trial to ensure justice is served. Fairness is important, as many countries that have had oppressive leaders or civil war may need help developing objective, timely, and impartial justice systems.

  • Truth Commissions – A fact-finding group of people will investigate what human rights violations happened under the rule of the oppressor or civil war. This will happen through study of a country’s records and interviews of victims and witnesses. People need to know the truth about what happened, and allowing details to come to light will allow people to have understanding and a level of closure about what has occurred.

  • Reparations – Reparations are payments made to victims or other services that restore some of what was lost during the violation of rights.

  • Institutional reform – The government or other institution that participated in the conflict must be transformed into one that sustains peace, protects human rights, and fosters a culture of respect for the rule of law. This includes vetting (investigating) public officials and removing those who were responsible for violations.

  • National Consultation – Ask for the opinions of the men and women in the country. Doing so will allow communities to share their needs as a result of the repressive rule that they were previously under.

Source(s): Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Edited from information posted at Accessed 11/25/15.

United Nations Approach to Transitional Justice. Guidance Note of the Secretary General. March 2010.

  1. Which Transitional Justice tools will you use in the country formerly ruled by your dictator? (You may choose more than 1). Why did you choose the solutions that you did?


Now that you have come up with solutions for your individual and country, come together with your group. Explain your dictators to each other (particularly, answer the questions on the first page). Then, decide what Transitional Justice tools you will use in each situation and why.

Videla – Argentina

Videla - Argentina

Fujimori – Peru

Noriega – Panama

  1. Did your group make the same decisions about Transitional Justice that you did individually in your assigned country? Why or why not?

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