José Ricardo Arab Fernández

27.04.2016 ( Last modified: 14.06.2016 )
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José Ricardo Arab Fernández, also known as “El Turco”, was born on 7 February 1941. He joined the army on 1 March 1958 and in 1967 he was named First Lieutenant at military school. He was promoted to Captain in 1970 and at this rank he moved to the Engineer Batallion at Paso de los Toros, in northern Uruguay.

As Captain, Arab served in the Information and Defence service (SID) in 1976. Under the nom de guerre “305”, Arab participated at the “300 Carlos” torture centre that was located in the depths of the Nº 13 Infantry battalion. Afterwards he joined OCOA, the body that coordinated counter-insurgency operations.

In 1976, Arab participated in operations that repressed Uruguayan people at the “Automotores Orletti” clandestine detention centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and he helped transfer some 50 citizens there illegally. Around 20 of them were passengers on Orletti’s so-called “second flight”. Various Uruguayan dissidents that had taken refuge in Argentina were locked-up and tortured at the centre. They were later secretly transferred to Uruguay under the “Condor Plan”.

In August 1977, Arab helped to kidnap María Claudia García de Gelman. Seven months pregnant at the time, García de Gelman was the daughter-in-law of Uruguayan author Juan Gelman. She was kidnapped with her husband, Marcelo Ariel Gelman Schubaroff, her sister-in-law and a friend. The sister-in-law and friend were released four days after the kidnapping while Marcelo Gelman was murdered after being subjected to heavy torture at the “Automotores Orletti” centre. At either the end of September or the beginning of October 1976, he was executed and his body thrown in the river. His wife, María Claudia, was transferred, in secret, from Orletti to Uruguay and, although she was not a member of any political party, she remained imprisoned until her daughter was born. Following the birth, María Cluadia was murdered.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found Uruguay guilty of these crimes and ordered the state to remove all obstacles blocking the trials of those responsible for these acts.

On 9 February 1978, Arab was dismissed and demoted.

With the help of the Centre for Legal and Social studies, on 19 June 2002 Juan Gelman and María Cluadia García’s families submitted a complaint against Arab and six other servicemen for the disappearance of María Claudia García Iruretagoyena de Gelman.

legal procedure

With the help of the Centre for Legal and Social studies, on 19 June 2002, Juan Gelman and María Cluadia García’s families submitted a complaint against Arab and six other servicemen for the disappearance of María Claudia García Iruretagoyena de Gelman.


On 8 May 2006, Aida Vera Barreto, a judge, ordered that José Ricardo Arab Fernández, Ernesto Avelino Ramas Pereira, José Gavazzo, Jorge Alberto Silveira Quesada, Gilberto Valentín Vázquez Bision and Ricardo José Medina Blanco be placed in preventive detention. This order was made following an extradition request from Argentinian judge Daniel Rafecas, who is in charge of investigating María Claudia García Iruretagoyena’s disappearance, which happened in Buenos Aires in 1976.

As a result of a campaign by the family of the victim, on 24 February 2011 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights at the OAS forced Uruguay to shed light on what had happened. The court also declared the state of Uruguay to be responsible for García’s disappearance and ordered that claimants be paid indemnities of US$513,000. According to the OAS, the statute of limitations did not apply. The organisation said Uruguay did not uphold its obligation to adjust its law according to the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons.

On 27 October 2011, the criminal court in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, decided to try Gavazzo for the especially aggravated murder of María Claudia Garciá and in her daughter, Macarena’s, case, for child abduction and elimination of civil state. The judge rejected the charge of enforced disappearance. Silveira, Arab and Vázquez were also tried in this case.

On 21 March 2012, Uruguayan president, José Mujica, publicly recognised the State’s responsibility in María Claudia García’s enforced disappearance and her daughter’s birth in captivity. The State also recognised that statutes of limitations were also acting as obstacles on the path to justice.


On 11 September 2006, Arab, along with Silveira Quesada, Gavazzo, Vásquez Bisio, Ramas Pereira, Gavazzo, Luis Alfredo Maurente Mata, Medina Blanco and José Felipe Sande Lima, was charged with deprivation of liberty and joint criminal enterprise. The charges relate to the disappearance, in 1976, of Adalberto Soba, Alberto Mechoso, León Durarte, Gerardo Gatti and Washington Barrios, who were members of the “People’s Victory Party” (PVP). This was a militant leftist party that fled Argentina before the March 1976 coup d’état that brought the military to power in Buenos Aires.

These eight officials were the first to be tried by Uruguay’s justice system for violations of human rights under the dictatorship that lasted from 1973 to 1985.

On 26 March 2009, the federal judge of the first instance criminal court (19th turn) found Ricardo Arab Fernández, along with servicemen Luis Maurente, Gilberto Vásquez, Ernesto Ramas Pereira and Jorge Silveira and police officers Ricardo Medina y José Sande guilty of killing 28 Uruguayans that were detained in Argentina. The majority of these 28 people belonged to the PVP. Arab, Gavazzo, Silveira, Ramas and Vásquez were sentenced to 25 years in prison while Maurente, Medina and Sande were given a 20 year sentence. This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 4 February 2010.

The sentence, handed down for the crime of especially aggravated murder, was appealed by Arab and Gavazzo’s defence team while the prosecution requested an explanation, given that the original accusation was of enforced disappearance and crimes against humanity. On 6 May 2011 the Supreme Court in Uruguay rejected the appeal and upheld Arab and Gavazzo’s sentence of 25 years in prison. Additionally the Court confirmed that, at the time of the events, the crime of enforced disappearance did not exist in the legislation and it was only created by law in October 2006. Consequently, the applicable law in this case was that against first degree murder.


As part of the investigation into the Condor Plan, this case was also investigated in Argentina, under the title “Videla Jorge Rafael and others on illegal deprivation of liberty”.

On 8 May 2006, an Argentinian judge requested the extradition of Arab, Gavazzo, Medina, Vásquez, Silveira and Ramas. Uruguay’s justice system accepted the request on 7 December 2005 and ordered that they be extradited to Argentina on completion of their sentence in Uruguay. This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal in September 2008 and by the Supreme Court on 3 November 2008. The decision, therefore, was definitive. This is the first time that Uruguay has authorised the extradition of servicemen for violating human rights under the dictatorship.



Upon accession to the presidency, in December 1967, of Jorge Pacheco Areco, Uruguay entered a long period of repression. In order to confront the social movements and trade unions due to the serious economic and social crisis in the country, security measures were voted and maintained durably, especially censorship and detention without charges. To repress the socialists and communists, the Pacheco government supported the death squadrons and the police started to make use of torture.

In November 1971, Juan María Bordaberry, supporter by Pacheco, won the elections and the army took so much importance that they gained significant control over Bordaberry after a coup in 1973. The military dictatorship dissolved the political parties, suspended the Constitution and put one out of 450 inhabitants of Uruguay in jail.

In In the years 1970, the Uruguayan government joined Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Bolivia, all governed by dictatorial regimes and all controlled by the CIA, to coordinate their efforts in order to eliminate political opponents, regularly subjecting them to torture. In that context of persecutions, violence was used in a systematical way to exterminate the “communist world”.

This plan, called “Operation Condor”, operated in three major ways: the activities of political monitoring of dissident political refugees and people in exile, secret counter-insurrectional actions and joint actions of extermination directed against specific groups or individuals, for which special teams of killers operating in and outside the borders were formed (also in Europe and the United States). The opponents were placed in clandestine detention centers. The military dictatorship only ended with the elections in 1984 and the liberation of political prisoners in 1985.


In 1986, in order to promote national reconciliation, president Sanguinetti approved the Law of expiry on punitive claims by the State, which grants amnesty de facto for all crimes committed by the military during the dictatorship and until 1985, any prosecution having to be approved by the executive. It is only under the presidency of Tabaré Vazquez (socialist), in 2005, that the executive started to authorize prosecutions against militaries involved in violations of human rights. Finally, on 27 October 2011, the Uruguayan Congress adopted a law that considers the crimes committed during the military rule as crimes against humanity and therefore imprescriptible and that eliminates the effects of the 1986 Amnesty Law.


In October 2000, president Jorge Battle created a Commission for Peace, which has no judicial power but can investigate and establish facts in its report, published in 2003. However, the Commission for Peace itself admits that its work was insufficient because it had to face the reluctance of the armed forces and of the police. A survey has shown that 80% of the persons aged 18 to 29 years old in Uruguay are unable to give the name of one dictator.