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Jorge Rafael Videla
Jorge Rafael Videla Redondo (born August 2, 1925 in Mercedes) was the de facto President of Argentina from 1976 to 1981. He came to power in a coup d'état that deposed Isabel Martínez de Perón. After the return to democracy, he was placed on house arrest.
Then-Lieutenant General Jorge Videla was named Commander in Chief by President Isabel Martínez de Perón on 1974. The weak-willed Perón was very unpopular, and Videla headed a military coup which deposed her on 24 March 1976. A military junta was formed, made up of himself, representing the Army, Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera representing the Navy, and Brigadier General Orlando Ramón Agosti representing the Air Force. Two days after the coup, Videla formally assumed the post of President.
Human Rights Violations
The military junta came to power during a period of extreme instability, with terrorist attacks from the Marxist groups Montoneros and the ERP and violent right-wing responses occurring regularly. Under Videla, the Argentine military was given absolute power to arrest, detain, torture, and even kill suspected terrorists and political opponents. As a result, massive human rights violations occurred, some of the worst in South American history. Up to 30,000 Argentineans are estimated to have been killed, several more were detained and tortured, and 500,000 went into exile. All legislative power was concentrated in the hands of a 9-man commission of junta members, and every single important position in the national government was filled with loyal military officers. The junta quickly banned labor unions, strikes, abolished the judiciary, and effectively removed civil liberties.
In addition to direct abuses by the military, far-right paramilitary groups, particularly the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance (AAA), carried out widespread atrocities, given free reign by the new military government.
Conflict with Chile
During Videla's regime, a dispute with Chile over three islands in the Beagle Canal at the southern tip of America, Picton, Lennox and Nueva, led to a quasi-war. By 1977 both Pinochet's Chile and Videla's Argentina were on the brink of open war.
The conflict was not completely resolved until 1984 with the Treaty of Peace and Friendship (Tratado de Paz y Amistad). Chilean sovereignity over the islands is now undisputed.
Videla largely left the whole economy in the hands of Minister José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz . The foreign debt was multiplied four times, and disparities between the upper and lower classes became much more pronounced as compared to the populist days of Perón. Martínez de Hoz has argued that the junta's introduction of neoliberal economic policies were necessary to contain the popular discontent about the state of the economy.
Videla's Image Abroad
One of Videla's greatest challenges was his image abroad. He attributed criticism over human rights as an anti-Argentinean campaign.
During a human rights investigation in September 1979, the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights denounced his government, citing many disappearances and instances of abuse. Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, leader of the Peace and Justice Service (Servicio Paz y Justicia) organization, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980, exposing much more of the human rights violations to the word at large.
Relationship with the U.S.
At first, the U.S. government was willing to maintain normal diplomatic relations with Argentina, though transcripts show U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the U.S. ambassador to Argentina in conflict over how the new regime should be treated, with Kissinger preferring to remain friendly despite talk of human rights issues. This changed in 1977 with the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter, who implemented a strict stance against human rights abuses even when dealing with friendly governments. U.S.-Argentinean relations remained lukewarm at best until Ronald Reagan became president in 1981. His administration sought the assistance of the Argentinean intelligence services in training the Contras for guerrilla warfare against the new Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Because of this, Videla maintained a relatively friendly relationship with the U.S. under the Reagan administration, though the junta later fell out of favor with the U.S. over the Falklands War after Videla had stepped down.
Democracy was restored in 1983, and Videla was put into trial and declared guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and was destituted from the military on 1985. The tribunal found Videla guilty of numerous homicides, kidnapping, torture, and many other crimes.
Videla was imprisoned for only five years. In 1990, President Carlos Menem released Videla together with many other former members of the military regime. Menem cited the necessity to get over past conflicts as his main reason.
Videla briefly returned to prison in 1998 when a judge found him guilty of kidnapping of minors during the Dirty War. Videla spent 38 days in the Caseros jail, and was later transferred to house arrest due to health issues.
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