Ricardo Miguel Cavallo
Ricardo Miguel Cavallo was born on 29 september 1951.
In 1976, as an navy officer he integrated the ESMA (Navy Mechanics School of the Argentine army) in the activity group 332 which specialised in interrogations, torture and the so called “flights of death”, during which opponents to the regime were thrown either from a helicopter into the Rio de la Plata or from an airplane flying off the coastline. The school’s elegant building, situated on one of Buenos Aires’ most opulent avenues, was the nerve centre for the repression of thousands of students, teachers, lawyers or trade union members between 1976 and 1983.
According to a 1984 report of the Argentine Truth Commission, 8961 individuals disappeared during that period of time. Numerous NGO reports claim that 30000 individuals disappeared and that 9000 persons were tortured.
After being Argentina’s military attaché in Paris for three years, Ricardo Miguel Cavallo settled in Mexico in 1984, where he managed the office for vehicle immatriculations. When the last military junta fell in 1986, Cavallo retired from the army and redirected his career to the world of business. In October 1999 he obtained both a residence and a work permit in Mexico.
In 1999, the Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón, initiated proceedings against Ricardo Miguel Cavallo and 98 other Argentine officers. He accused him of participating in 227 kidnappings and acts of torture of 110 people, as well as in the kidnapping of 16 babies who had been removed from their mothers who were in prison. The judge’s investigation also mentioned other cases concerning 248 individuals who had been arrested, detained and finally freed.
On 12 December 2000, Judge Garzón formally requested Cavallo’s extradition from Mexico for genocide, terrorism and torture.
The French judiciary for its part, had also opened up files on the disappearance of 15 French citizens, including those of the Sisters Léonie Duquet and Alice Domont in 1977, when Cavallo presided the ESMA. At the time these files were opened, Cavallo was living under a false identity in Mexico.
Alerted by the disclosure of his real identity in a Mexican paper, Cavallo tried to escape to Argentine, where he could not be tried thanks to the application of the amnesty acts, referred to as «final point» and «due obedience», which were passed to appease the armed forces. However, he was arrested by the Mexican authorities at the Cancun airport (in Yucatan, Mexico) on 24 August 2000.
Subsequently, Cavallo contested the extradition request, which was drawn up on 12 September 2000 by Judge Garzón. After nearly three years of procedures, the Mexican Supreme Court found on June 10 2003 that the extradition treaty of 1978 between Spain and Mexico and its protocol were legitimately ratified by the Mexican authorities and did not violate any of the Mexican constitution’s dispositions. In addition, the Supreme Court stipulated that the ratification of the 1948 Convention against Genocide did not violate either the principle of self-determination or the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of a foreign state, which are inscribed in the Mexican constitution.
The Mexican Supreme Court assented to Cavallo’s extradition related to the charges of terrorism and genocide. However, it refused to include the charge of torture, because under Mexican law, the crimes of torture ascribed to Cavallo were subject to prescription.
Cavallo was put on board a plane belonging to the Spanish Air Force on 28 June 2003 to be extradited and tried in Spain.
On 11 January 2006, Spanish Prosecutor Dolores Delgado formally accused Cavallo of genocide, organised terrorism, crimes against humanity and murder.
The Prosecutor asked for a prison sentence of between 13’000 and 17’000 years, but if convicted, Cavallo would only have to serve the maximum sentence under Spanish law of 30 years.
On 17 July 2007 the Spanish Supreme Court annulled the ruling by the Spanish court in Madrid and held that Cavallo should remain in Spain to be tried, instead of being extradited to Argentina.
On 28 February 2008 however, the Spanish government authorized his extradition to Argentina.
The decision was taken after the Mexican authorities had approved his re-extradition to Argentina.
Cavallo was extradited to Argentina on 31 March 2008. He was handed over to Argentinean officials after the Third Section of the Spanish Criminal Court officially closed the case against him to enable his trial in Argentina.
On 11 December 2009, Ricardo Cavallo, Alfredo Astiz, Jorge Acosta together with other officials was accused by the Argentinian Prosecution of having participated in the commission of crimes against humanity.
On 26 October 2011, Ricardo Cavallo was sentenced to life imprisonment and perpetual disqualification by the Federal Oral Court No. 5 of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was found guilty on 13 accounts of murder aggravated by premeditation, 12 accounts of torture aggravated by the condition of political persecution of the victim, 12 accounts of aggravated unlawful deprivation of liberty and aggravated robbery. These crimes were committed at the Naval Mechanical School (ESMA) during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.
The Court dismissed the action for annulment and the plea of extinction of the criminal liability by amnesty and prescription of the crime submitted by his counsel. The trial lasted almost two years. It included testimony from more than 150 witnesses, including 80 survivors.
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.