Ex-Argentine officer on trial in Miami in massacre case

MIAMI (AP) — A former Argentine naval officer is on trial Monday in Miami for his alleged role in a 1972 massacre of political prisoners in his home country.

Roberto Guillermo Bravo, who has lived in the US for decades, is the only former Argentine military officer charged with taking part in what is known as the Trelew Massacre yet to face trial. Three others were convicted in Argentina and given life sentences.

“For nearly 50 years, the families of the victims of the Trelew Massacre have been waiting to address all the perpetrators,” said Katerina Siefkas, an attorney with the Center for Justice and Accountability, which is one of those representing the plaintiffs.

“Our clients are seeking the opportunity to present their story and achieve the justice” they have long been denied,” she said.

Bravo faced a lengthy trial in his home country because Argentine law prohibits anyone from being tried if they are not present. The US rejected Argentina’s request to extradite Bravo in 2010, but he must now face a civil trial under the Torture Victim Protection Act, a law that allows legal action against residents of the United States for alleged acts committed elsewhere. have been committed.

More than a dozen witnesses are scheduled to testify in a US federal courtroom about what happened in August 1972 at the Almirante Zar naval base in the Patagonian city of Trelew.

Bravo and other former military officers reportedly shot dead 16 unarmed political prisoners and seriously injured three others, according to the complaint filed in October 2020 in Miami federal court. They are also alleged to have participated in torture and extrajudicial killings that violated both international and US law.

The official version of events claimed that the political prisoners had tried to escape, but after the return of democracy in 1973, the three survivors regained their freedom and told a different story. Those three were later kidnapped and killed by the military after a coup in 1976 that ushered in Argentina’s last military dictatorship.

The four plaintiffs are relatives of Raquel Camps, Eduardo Cappello, Alicia Krueguer and Marcela Santucho. Krueguer, Cappello and Santucho were among the dead, while Camps was one of the first three survivors.

Bravo left Argentina in 1973. He first worked as an Argentine military attaché and after retirement resided in the United States, where he became a citizen in 1987.

The civil trial, which begins Monday, is seeking economic compensation for the damage Bravo’s alleged role in the killings caused.

His lawyers argue that the murders did not take place in a massacre, but rather resulted from a firefight between military officers and a group of guerrilla fighters trying to escape from prison.

Bravo “has always been an honest, contributing businessman with an impeccable track record. He continues to vigorously deny these false allegations and he will vigorously defend this lawsuit and his honor,” Neal Sonnett said when the lawsuit was filed in 2020.

The incident took place under the dictatorship of General Alejandro Lanusse at a time when left-wing guerrilla groups began operating in Argentina. According to human rights groups, it paved the way for the extensive human rights violations that took place during Argentina’s last military dictatorship in 1976-1983.

Argentina’s judiciary began formally investigating Trelew’s murders after repealing amnesty laws protecting military officers in 2003.

Three other former military officers – Luis Sosa, Emilio Del Real and Carlos Marandino – were charged with participating in the Bravo massacre and sentenced to life in prison.

The legal complaint filed by the plaintiffs in the US case alleges that Bravo threatened, tortured, forced to strip and simulated their execution inmates.

It says that on August 22, 1972, Bravo and three other military officers entered the prisoners’ cells while they were asleep and ordered them to leave and line up against a wall while facing the ground.

“Some fled back to their cells. Bravo and the other officers searched the cells for survivors to execute them,” the indictment reads.

The plaintiffs say their goal is not financial.

“What they really want is for Mr. Bravo to return to Argentina and face trial,” said Ajay Krishnan at a law firm that also represents the plaintiffs. “But if they can’t get that, and they still haven’t succeeded, then they’re doing what they need to do, and that’s the process right now.”

Rey reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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