Luciano Benjamín Menendez
Luciano Menéndez was born in 1927 in the Buenos Aires suburb of San Martin. He enrolled in the Colegio Nacional de Guerra and was appointed Chief of the 5th Mountain Infantry Brigade during the Independencia Operation against groups of the left wing.
In 1975 he was appointed Chief of the 3rd Army Corps. As the military commander of ten Argentine provinces, he ordered the arrests of hundreds of people (syndicalists, students, professors, journalists and anyone else suspected of sympathizing with the left wing). His disagreement with the military leadership led him to start an insurrection in 1979, but it was crushed. He was imprisoned for 90 days, dismissed from his post and forced into retirement by the General Viola.
Menéndez died on 27 February 2018 at the age of 90 in a hospital in Cordoba, Argentina.
In 1985 Menendez was accused of 800 crimes. In 1988 he was indicted with 47 homicides, 76 cases of torture and 4 kidnappings of children. However, he was released as a result of the “Loi du Point Final” and absolved by the President Carlos Menem. In 2006 he was accused of ordering, supervising and participation to tortures and forced disappearance in the La Perla camp (where 2’200 people were executed).
THE “PARTIDO REVOLUCIONARIO DE LOS TRABAJADORES” ‘S VICTIMS
The “Loi du point final” was repealed in 2006. As a result, Menendez was brought before justice and accused of illegal arrest, torture and homicide of Hilda Flora Palacios, Humberto Horacio Brandalisis, Carlos Enrique Lajas et Raul Osvaldo Cardozo, all members of the “Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores” (PRT).
On 24 July 2008, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, alongside Antonio Domingo Bussi. His appeal was dismissed.
ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE OF GUILLERMO VARGAS AIGNASSE
On 28 August 2008, Menendez was found guilty of the enforced disappearance of politician Guillermo Vargas Aignasse, and condemned to a life sentence.
RICARDO FERMIN ALBAREDA CASE
Menendez was accused of the kidnapping, torture and homicide of deputy police superintendent Ricardo Fermin Albareda on 25 September 1979. Menendez ordered Fermin’s torture and abandonment until he bled to death. Two other cases (known as “Morales” and “Moyano”) were joined with the trial, as were nine other cases of torture of prisoners. In his defence, Menendez declared that he had to fight “the communist threat”.
In December 2009, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Colonel Rodolfo Campos (chief of the provincial police), César Cejas and Hugo Britos (ex-agents) were condemned to life imprisonment, too. Miguel Gomez was sentenced to 16 years. Calixto Flores (policeman) was acquitted. They were all members of the “Information Department of (D2) the Cordoba police”.
CRIMES AGAINT HUMANITY CASE IN TUCUMAN
The Cordoba “Tribunal Oral Fédéral (TOF1)” found Menendez guilty of committing crimes against humanity, being a co-author of criminal association (conspiracy), trespassing, illegal arrest, torture and murder of 22 people.
In his defence, he declared that the continual forced disappearances took place in a war context that started “because we had to take action against the international communist conquest”. A witness brought before the Court two notebooks containing 293 names: 195 of them were followed by the note “FD” for “Final Disposition”, for people that were to be executed.
On 9 July 2010, Menéndez was sentenced to life imprisonment for the crimes that occurred while he was the Chief of the police in Tucuman.
Roberto Albornoz, former head of intelligence of the Tucuman’s police was also sentenced to life imprisonment.
LIFE SENTENCE IN CORDOBA
On 22 December 2010, Menendez was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Cordoba “Tribunal Oral Fédéral” for: illegal arrest (6 charges); aggravated torture by the political persecution of the victim (38 charges); homicide (30 charges); torture followed by homicide (1 charge); and grievous bodily harm (1 charge).
“ROMERO NIKLISON” CASE
On 23 March 2011, Menendez received another life sentence for the murder of five urban guerrilla group members in 1976 (“Romero Niklison” case). A panel of judges found him guilty of conducting a violent police raid on a home in Tucuman province against members of an anti-government group on 20 May 1976. Roberto Albornoz also received a life sentence for this crime.
On 25 May 2011, Menendez suffered a cardiac arrest and was hospitalised.
On 24 November 2011, Menendez received a custodial sentence for the murder of Bishop Enrique Angelelli, a former bishop from La Rioja. Jorge Rafael Videla and Albano Harguindeguy were also found guilty. Angelelli was a leftist social activist during Argentine’s last dictatorship, who died in 1976 in a car accident.
On 4 July 2014, before the Court in La Rioja, Menendez, alongside another former military officer, was convicted to life imprisonment for the death of Bishop Angelelli. During the trial, the evidence included two letters, written by Angelelli before his death. They were provided by Pope Francis in the Vatican. In the letters, Menendez had denounced the military regime abuses.
THE PALOMITAS POLITICAL PRISONERS CASE
On 5 December 2011, Menendez received a new life sentence for the murder of eleven political prisoners in Palomitas, near the city of Salta in July 1976. Joaquín Guil received the same sentence, and Juan Carlos Alzugaray was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
THE AGUIRRE CASE
On 15 March 2012, Menendez was scheduled to face trial together with Miguel Angel Moreno before the Federal Court of Tucuman. However, he was dispensed from attending trial due to health reasons. This hearing related to charges of unauthorised entry, unlawful deprivation of freedom by coercion and harassment, torture and aggravated conspiracy against the victim Emma del Valle Aguirre.
On 17 February 1977, Menendez was allegedly part of a group of people who entered the home of Aguirre in disguise before proceeding to blindfolding and kidnapping her. The group took her to an unknown location, where she was locked in a room, blindfolded, tied up, and tortured. She was finally released on 6 March 1977. According to the prosecution, it is likely that the kidnapping and torture took place in Ex Ingenio Nueva Baviera, a former mill located in Famaillá in Tucumán province.
LA PERLA CASE
In December 2012, a new trial in relation to crimes committed at the “La Perla” detention centre from 1975 to 1978 started before the Federal Criminal Court of Cordoba. This process concerns 417 victims who disappeared during the last dictatorship. During the 352 court hearings, which took place in this process, almost 600 witnesses testified, among them many survivors of “La Perla” detention centre. Among the witnesses, also the National University of Cordoba issued six videos with witnesses of relatives of the victims.
Due to health reasons, Menendez was allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest at his home in Bajo Palermo.
This was the biggest trial in the history of Cordoba, and lasted a total of 3 years and 8 months, condemning 43 people for crimes against humanity, of which 28 will serve a life sentence.
“PLAN CONDOR” CASE
On 5 March 2013, the “Plan Condor” trial started in which 25 accused, included Menéndez, were to be tried for crimes against humanity committed during the last dictatorship.
BABY THEFT TRIAL
On 25 August 2016, Menendez received an new life sentence by the Cordoba “Tribunal Oral Fédéral” for, among other crimes against humanity, appropriation of Sonia Torres’ nephew (one of the “Las abuelas de Plaza de Mayo”), who was born in captivity on 14 June 1976. His grandmother has been looking for him for the last 40 years. This was the first time Menendez was sentenced for baby theft.
Menendez denied the charges brought against him in all his trials.
On 23 November 2011, the Federal Court of Mendoza found Menendez jointly responsible with Juan Agustín Oyarzabal, Eduardo Smaha and Armando Osvaldo Fernández, for the widespread acts of sexual violence committed during the dictatorship. This judgment against Mendoza is of particular significance as it recognised the prevalence of sexual violence throughout the dictatorship, and qualified these acts as crimes against humanity.
In this case, the Federal Court of Mendoza ruled that “the last dictatorship in Argentina established a systematic and widespread violation of human rights targeted mainly at women, through acts of gender violence and sexual violence.”
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.