Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla died of natural causes in prison on Friday. Videla was a former army commander who led the country during the bloodiest part of a “dirty war” dictatorship.
During that time, Videla was ruthless and unrepentant about kidnappings and murders ordered by the government. The former dictator was the first president to head the military junta, which was responsible for “disappearing” thousands of suspected leftists.
The disappearances happened between 1976 and 1983. Jorge Videla spent the rest of his life behind bars after being convicted of human rights crimes. He was convicted of systematic thefts of babies born to political prisoners in secret torture centers.
A government spokesman explained that the former dictator died of natural causes in a prison cell outside Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires. Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Latin America for US-based Human Rights Watch, added of the dictator’s life:
“Videla presided over a government that engaged in one of the most cruel repressions that we have seen in Latin America in modern times. He was arrogant to the end and unwilling to acknowledge his responsibility for the massive atrocities committed in Argentina.”
Vivanco added, “Many of the secrets of the repression will die with him.” Before a March 24, 1976 coup that put him in charge of the repressive system, the former dictator had a low profile. But Videla didn’t remain unknown for long. Instead, his government became famous for about 30,000 “disappeareds,” or people who were kidnapped and never seen or heard from again.
His government was also known for “death flights,” where political prisoners were drugged and thrown alive from navy planes into the sea. But the crime that set him apart from other Latin American dictators was the country’s policy of holding pregnant prisoners. Once they gave birth, the women were killed and their babies were adopted by military or police families.
Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who spent 28 months in prison during Videla’s reign and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work that documented the dictator’s crimes, stated of his death:
“The death of Videla should not bring joy to anyone. We need to keep working for a better society, more just, more humane, so that all this horror doesn’t ever happen, never again.”
The former dictator died while standing trial in a case focused on some of his kidnappings and killings.