Buenos Aires, (IANS/EFE) Gen. Rafael Videla, the emblematic figure of the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976-83, died Friday inside the jail where he was serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity, prison officials confirmed. He was 87.
The news of the former strongman’s death was first disclosed by Cecilia Pando, a military spouse known for defending the actions of the junta.
“I learned from the wife of a detainee who was in the prison with Videla,” Pando told Cadena 3 radio. “He didn’t feel well last night. They took him to the hospital inside the prison, but he didn’t have anything and they returned him to his cell. This morning they did the roll call, he wasn’t there and when they went to his cell they found him dead.”
The erstwhile dictator was sentenced to life in prison in 2010 after a conviction for the summary executions of some 30 political prisoners in 1976.
Last year, a court imposed a 50-year sentence on Videla for his part in a systematic plan to steal children from political detainees.
The scheme, which often involved holding pregnant women until they gave birth and then executing them, was part of a “general plan of annihilation” targeting a segment of society seen by the military as subversive, the court found.
Human rights organizations have established the true identities of 105 people who were taken from their jailed parents and given in adoption to military families or others close to the dictatorship.
The Argentine military regime killed as many as 30,000 people and brutalized thousands more.
Thanks to amnesty laws passed in the 1980s, the junta’s crimes went unpunished for decades, but Argentina’s Congress voted in 2003 to overturn the amnesties, which paved the way for a raft of prosecutions.
The first trial of Videla and his junta colleagues was in 1985, when they were convicted and sentenced to life in prison, only to be pardoned in 1990 by then-president Carlos Menem.