Jose Gavazzo

26.06.2012 ( Last modified: 07.06.2016 )
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Jose Gavazzo was born on 2 October 1939 in Uruguay. He is married and is the father of three daughters.

He joined the army in 1956 and served in the artillery. He became specialized in the Intelligence service and participated in anti-insurrection courses in the United States. During the military dictatorship he worked in the Office for the Coordination of Anti-Subversive Operations (OCAO). He was then head of Department III POE (Planning-Operations-Links) for the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIS) which coordinated arrests of Uruguayans in Argentina.

The period between 25 and 29 November 1975 saw the start of “Operation Condor” which had as its aim to find a regional solution to the security of the countries within the Southern Cone against subversive alliances operating throughout the south of the continent. José Gavazzo was known to have played a leading role in this operation on behalf of Uruguay. The operation took aim at the regional activities of groups such as the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta (JCR) which was made up of the MLN-Tupamaros of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) of Argentina, the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) of Chile, and the Bolivian National Liberation Army (ELN).

Intelligence documents discovered in 2005, indicate that “Operation Condor” was set up by five countries, which in alphabetical order were Argentina “Condor 1” , Bolivia “Condor 2”, Chile “Condor 3”, Paraguay “Condor 4”, and Uruguay “Condor 5”. Brazil was not formally a member of the operation but collaborated with its neighbours in coordinating the repression. In Uruguay, the operation was led by the Defence Intelligence Agency with the documents showing also that the head of the “Condorop” (Operation Condor) in Uruguay was Jose Gavazzo, at the time a major in the army.

One of the documents, dated 16 August 1976, was established following the first mass abductions which Gavazzo and the OCAO, carried out in Buenos Aires with the illegal transfer of 23 Uruguayans to be tortured in the secretive Automotores Orletti Centre. This document was signed by Gavazzo as the head of “Condorop”.

It confirmed at the same time that Gavazzo was the head of Operation Condor when, in September 1976, another mass seizure of 22 Uruguayans took place. After being captured and tortured in Orletti they were illegally put on board the “second flight” to Montevideo, and have never been seen since.

Gavazzo and other military personnel responsible for these crimes were protected by the 1986 Law on the Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the State (Expiry Law), a law which had permitted impunity for policemen and military personnel who had been guilty of human rights violations. This law was adopted in 1986 by the first government following the restoration of democracy then ratified in 1989 and again in 2009 following two national referendums, which were however considered to be held under doubtful circumstances.

The administration of Tabare Vazquez (2005-2010) then provided a new interpretation of the Expiry Law, which allowed for the prosecution of a certain number of former military officers and policemen for crimes committed during the regime.

On 19 June 2002, with the help of the Center of Legal and Social Studies, the families of Juan Gelman and María Claudia García brought a complaint against Gavazzo and six other militaries for the disappearance of Maria Claudia Garcia Iruretagoyena de Gelman.

legal procedure

On 19 June 2002, with the help of the Center of Legal and Social Studies, the families of Juan Gelman and María Claudia García brought a complaint against Gavazzo and six other militaries for the disappearance of Maria Claudia Garcia Iruretagoyena de Gelman.


On 8 May 2006, Judge Aida Vera Barreto ordered preventive detention of Gavazzo along with Ernesto Avelino Ramas Pereira, Jorge Alberto Silveira Quesada, José Ricardo Arab Fernández, Gilberto Valentin Vázquez Bisio and Ricardo José Medina Blanco, based on an extradition request from Argentinean judge Daniel Rafecas, who is investigating the 1976 disappearance in Buenos Aires of Maria Claudia Garcia Iruretagoyena de Gelman, daughter-in-law of Uruguayan writer Juan Gelman.

On 24 February 2011, as a result of the campaigning by the victim’s relatives, the Inter American Court of Human Rights ordered the Uruguayan state to shed more light on the case. The Court also found the Uruguayan state responsible for the disappearance of the young woman, and ordered the state to pay almost US$ 513,000 to the claimants in compensation. Moreover, it was held that the Uruguayan Limitation Act was contrary to the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.

On 27 October 2011, the criminal court in Montevideo decided to indict him for the especially aggravated homicide of María Claudia García and for removal of a minor and revocation of civil status in the case of Macarena. The judge rejected the qualification of « Enforced Disappearance». Silveira, Arab and Vázquez Bisio were also indicted in this case.

On 21 March 2012, President José Mujica publicly recognized the responsibility of Uruguay in the enforced disappearance of María Claudia García and the birth in captivity of Macarena. The state also recognized that the “Ley de Caducidad” represents an obstacle to justice.


On 11 September 2006, Gavazzo was indicted before the Uruguayan criminal court, along with Vázquez Bisio, Ramas Pereira, Silveira Quesada, Arab Fernández, Luis Alfredo Maurente Mata, Medina Blanco and Jose Felipe Sande Lima on charges of “deprivation of liberty” and “association to commit crime”. The charges related to the disappearance in September 1976 of Adalberto Soba, Alberto Mechoso, Leon Durarte, Gerardo Gatti and Washington Barrios, members of the People’s Victory Party (PVP), a militant Uruguayan leftist party, who had fled to Argentina prior to the March 1976 coup that brought the military to power in Buenos Aires.

On 26 March 2009, Joseph Gavazzo, together with military officers Ricardo Arab, Gilberto Vazquez, Ernesto Ramas, Jorge Silveira and Luis Maurente, and police officers, Ricardo Medina and Jose Sande, were all found guilty of the death of 28 Uruguayan prisoners held in Argentina being for the most part members of the People’s Victory Party(PVP). Under this verdict, Gavazzo, Arab, Silveira, Ramas and Vasquez were sentenced to 25 years in prison whilst, Maurente, Medina and Sande were given sentences of twenty years.

These eight officers were the first to be tried by the Uruguayan judiciary for human rights violations committed during the dictatorship which lasted from 1973 to 1985.

In May 2011, the Uruguayan Supreme Court considered by majority decision that the human rights violations committed under the last military dictatorship are a breach of common law and not crimes against humanity. This declaration took place in response to a request for clarification presented by the Uruguayan Public Prosecutor related to the guilty verdict handed down on Gavazzo and the other defendants responsible for the 28 “particularly aggravated murders”.

The verdict rejected the complaint from the Public Prosecutor which had accused Gavazzo and the other defendants of crimes of “enforced disappearances”, considered as crimes against humanity. At the time of the events, the crime of enforced disappearance did not exist under Uruguayan law. It only came into being through a law established in October 2006, this being the reason why the Court rejected the application of this concept.


This case is also being investigated in Argentina, in the case of the Condor Plan, entitled « Videla Jorge Rafael and others for illegal deprivation of liberty ».

On 8 May 2006, an Argentinean judge requests the extradition of Gavazzo, as well as Medina Blanco, Vázquez Bisio, Arab Fernandez, Silveira Quesada and Ramas Pereira. The Uruguayan Supreme Court accepted that request on 7 December 2006, ordering that they be extradited as soon as they will have served their sentence in Uruguay. The Appeal Court confirmed this decision in September 2008 and the Supreme Court of Justice on 3 November 2008. It is the first time that Uruguay authorizes the extradition of militaries for violations of human rights committed during the dictatorship.


In December 1986, the Argentinean Parliament adopted a law called “final point,” which set a statute of limitation of 60 days for offences against international law committed in Argentina.

In May 1987, Parliament approved a second amnesty law called “due obedience,” which exempted from trial all military subordinates who had obeyed orders. This left only about thirty high-ranked military officers to face prosecution. The only crimes not covered by this law – and for which subordinates could still be tried – was theft, rape and the kidnapping of children. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law in June 1987.

By December 1990 the first amnesty decrees were signed.

In all, 1195 members of the military who had participated in the junta received amnesty: 730 because of the “final point” law, 379 with the “due obedience” law, 49 declared by the Supreme Court and 42 by amnesty decrees.

In mid-August 2003, the new Argentinean president, Nestor Kirchner, had the amnesty laws repealed and the absence of statutes of limitation for crimes against humanity recognized.

Prosecutions of those involved in the junta once again became possible in Argentina.

Twenty former military personnel are being held in Argentina for crimes committed within the framework of the “Condor” plan. The total number of soldiers in detention and charged under Argentinean law for human rights violations amounts to 120 – to which should be added two Argentineans held in Spain. Some of these proceedings concern cases where children were forcibly taken away at birth from their mothers who had been imprisoned for political reasons. In the opinion of the judges, the amnesty law never covered this crime. (Source: Le Monde, January 5, 2005).

On 14 June 2005, the Argentinean Supreme Court declared the Amnesty Law unconstitutional, by 7 votes in favour, 1 against and 1 abstention,– “Ley de Punto Final”; Ley 23.492- and the Due Obedience Law – “Ley de Obediencia debida”; Ley 23.521- sanctioned by President Alfonsin in 1987. The Court maintained that these laws violated article 75, paragraph 22 of the 1994 Argentinean Constitution, which gives constitutional status to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to the Genocide Convention, to the Torture Convention and to the Inter-American Convention, among others. According to the Court, following diverse decisions by the Inter-American Court and by other international bodies, the State has an obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish those who have committed violations of the right to life, to humane treatment or those who have engaged in disappearances, an obligation which cannot be limited or abolished by the enactment of an Amnesty or Due Obedience Laws as ruled by the Inter-American Court in the case of Barrios Altos v. Peru.

This historical decision allows the domestic or international investigation, prosecution and punishment of members of the military suspected to have taken part in the torture, disappearance and/or killings of more than 30,000 persons in Argentina between 1976 and 1983.

On 20 September 2006, during the course of the trial of Miguel Etchecolatz, the court for the town of La Plata used the term “genocide” for the crimes committed by the military dictatorship (1976-1983). It was the first time these crimes were qualified as genocide by a court, just like human rights organisations had long argued they should be. This legal qualification is now contained in the judgment against former police officer Etchecolatz, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for torture, murder and abduction of opponents of the regime.

The court emphasised that the crimes were committed in the context of a genocide campaign organised by the state. For future procedures against former members of the police force and the military, this view could be of crucial importance.