Jorge Rafael Videla, former dictator and leader of the Argentine junta, has died in jail aged 87.
That is a pretty amazing sentence to write, actually. It's the "in jail" part that is amazing. I suspect that for most of the 30 years since the end of the dictatorship, most people in Argentina would not have put much money on the chances of any of the junta leaders seeing the inside of a jail cell. I've been blogging about Videla & Co. for getting on for six years now and the fact that such a key figure in the "dirty war" died while serving his sentence for crimes against humanity means that this post can be peaceful, and not angry. Do I wish he had spent more of the past three decades behind bars? Yes. Do I celebrate his death? No. I hope that it can to some extent be cathartic for Argentina and I also hope it can serve as a reminder that pending legal cases against other perpetrators need to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
In its headline, Clarin accurately picks up on Videla's iconic status, "The symbol of the last Argentine dictatorship died in prison". The paper writes,
Until the coup which put him at the head of the Process of National Reorganisation, as the last dictatorship called itself, Videla was unknown to a large part of society. He was a military man - grey, taciturn, enigmatic, more devoted to closed order than high strategy, punctilious and almost mysterious.
Certainly, his controlled features, his thin face, long nose and famous moustache will go down in history as a symbol of military cruelty against its own population.
The Guardian cites Argentine human rights activist and Nobel prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel as saying, "He spent his life doing great damage, which left a mark on the life of the country. His death ended his physical presence but not what he did to the country." True, of course, and the process of remembering the dictatorship will go on.
Pagina 12, which runs the striking front page at the top of this post, also quotes Estela Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers, as saying, "He was a despicable human being. He never expressed remorse." The paper writes that there was no sadness for Videla, but for the information which died with him - details about the fate of the disappeared and their children, who are nowadays in their 30s and still unaware of their true identities.
Several commentators, including Carlotto as reported by La Nacion, mention a feeling of relief at his death - not vengeance or rejoicing, but just a sober awareness of relief that a mass murderer has left this Earth. That is a feeling I would share.