Argentina Arrests Pilots Believed to be Responsible for 1977 “Death Flights”

May 12, 2011 8:00 am 0 comments

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, who have been marching since 1977 to find Argentina's disappeared. Photo by Ariel Monno.

Three former pilots for the Argentine Coast Guard were brought before Federal Judge Sergio Torres on Tuesday to face charges for their involvement in death flights that killed hundreds of political prisoners during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Enrique José De Saint Georges, Mario Daniel Arru and Alejandro Domingo D’Agostino are accused of flying the military planes from which political dissidents and social activists were thrown alive into the sea, including a flight that carried two French nuns and the founder of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo to their deaths in December 1977. The men are suspected of participating in 20 such flights. Until they were suspended last month, both Saint Georges and Arru worked as pilots for Aerolíneas Argentinas.

Torres also ordered the detention of former Navy official Ricardo Rubén Ormello and lawyer Gonzalo Dalmacio Torres de Toloza for their connections to the death flights and to the clandestine detention center at the Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires (ESMA), a notorious torture site where thousands of political opponents of the military regime were disappeared.

The three pilots were ordered detained in April by judge Eduardo Taiano, who said the men flew a Skyvan plane out of Jorge Newberry Airport on December 14, 1977 after picking up a dozen political prisoners from ESMA for “transfer”, the military’s euphemism for execution. The plane returned to Buenos Aires three hours and ten minutes later.

On December 20, 1977, bodies washed up on the beaches of Buenos Aires province and were buried in unmarked graves by the authorities in the town of General Lavalle without further investigation. It wasn’t until 2005 that the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team discovered and identified the remains of those killed.

Azucena Villaflor, a founding member of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, María Ponce de Bianco, Esther Ballestrina de Careaga, Angela Aguad and Sister Léonie Duquet were all discovered in the mass grave in General Lavalle.  Sister Alice Domon was never found. The women, who had published the names of disappeared Argentines in the newspaper, were among twelve people captured between December 8 and 10, 1977, when Navy officer Alfredo Astiz infiltrated the group at the Church of Santa Cruz after the women took him under their wing, unaware of his true identity. The women were detained and tortured at ESMA before they were killed.

Astiz, 59, may face a life sentence for the murders and was tried in absentia by the French government for the deaths of Duquet and Domon. The nuns were last seen in a staged photograph taken at ESMA on December 14, 1977, posing in front of a flag for the Montoneros, a leftist guerrilla group.

According to the judicial unit coordinating human rights investigations on behalf of the Argentine Attorney General, 2758 death flights occurred in Argentina between 1976 and 1978. Human rights groups say that some 30,000 people were disappeared during the country’s dictatorship.

On April 30, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo commemorated the 34th anniversary of the rights group’s first march in front of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires in 1977, where Villaflor’s remains are now buried.

Photo: Ariel Monno @Flickr.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Other News

  • Guatemala Photo Essays Oxlajuj Baktun: Maya Era Ends, As Longstanding Tensions Remain

    Oxlajuj Baktun: Maya Era Ends, As Longstanding Tensions Remain

    HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala – Events here during the much-awaited end of the Oxlajuj Baktun, a 5,129-year period in the long Mayan calendar, provide a clear reflection of the divisions and challenges faced by Mayan communities today. The media exploited inaccurate apocalyptic rumors the Maya never predicted, the government and business sectors viewed it as an opportunity to gain economically through tourism, and progressive groups like the Consejo del Pueblo Maya del Occidente seized the opportunity “to strengthen ancestral wisdom and never-ending search [...]

    Read more →
  • Dispatches Mexico Mexico Protests: Rumors Of Deaths During Anti-Peña Nieto Demonstrations Stir Social Media

    Mexico Protests: Rumors Of Deaths During Anti-Peña Nieto Demonstrations Stir Social Media

    NEW YORK — Social media buzzed this weekend with unconfirmed rumors that several protesters had died in confrontations with police during the inauguration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Thousands took the streets to protest the return of the Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party to power, which was ousted from the presidency in 2000 after governing continuously seven decades. Some 105 protesters were left injured, with 29 requiring medical attention. Protesters hurled Molotov cocktails, threw stones, and there were reports of a [...]

    Read more →
  • Brazil Today in Latin America Brazil Supreme Court Appoints First Black President

    Brazil Supreme Court Appoints First Black President

    Top Story — The Brazilian Supreme Court appointed the first black presiding judge, Joaquim Barbosa, on Wednesday. Judge Joaquim Barbosa, 58, was appointed by ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003 and became the first black judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court. More recently, he has been known for overseeing the “Mensalão,” or “big monthly allowance” case, which convicted senior members of ex-President Lula’s administration for corruption. Barbosa will take his post once the “Mensalão” trial ends. [...]

    Read more →
  • Dispatches Mexico Photo Essays United States Caravan For Peace ‘Plants Seeds’ In New York City

    Caravan For Peace ‘Plants Seeds’ In New York City

    NEW YORK – On the night of Sept. 6, a procession of a few hundred people crossed Harlem from east to west before gathering in front of Santa Celicia Parish in the heart of El Barrio, illuminating the steps of the church with hundreds of tiny candles and filling the sidewalk with images of friends and family members lost to the drug war. There, they began to read from a list of dead and disappeared. “Regina Martines,” someone called. “¡Presente!” the crowd responded. [...]

    Read more →
  • Mexico Today in Latin America Zetas Leader Body Stolen From Funeral Home, Mexico says.

    Zetas Leader Body Stolen From Funeral Home, Mexico says.

    Top Story — The body of Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano, alias “The Executioner,” was stolen out of the funeral home where it was being kept by armed men, Mexican authorities said on Tuesday. Lazcano was allegedly killed on Sunday afternoon and his identity was confirmed on Tuesday by the Mexican Navy. However, the military seems to have been unaware that they had killed Lazcano until after his body was snatched. Lazcano, for whom there was a $5 million U.S. bounty, [...]

    Read more →
  • Mexico Today in Latin America Mexico Arrests Alleged Zetas Leader Suspected Of Migrant Massacre

    Mexico Arrests Alleged Zetas Leader Suspected Of Migrant Massacre

    Top Story — The Mexican Navy captured alleged Zetas cartel chief, Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, suspected of some of the country’s most well known crimes. Martinez Escobedo was arrested on Saturday and is thought have led the massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas among numerous other crimes, authorities said on Monday. He is also linked to the breaking of 151 prisoners out of jail and the killing of a U.S citizen in 2010, the jailbreak was the largest in recent Mexican [...]

    Read more →
  • Mexico News Briefs Guatemala Implements Police Reform Aimed At Reviewing 20,000 Officers

    Guatemala Implements Police Reform Aimed At Reviewing 20,000 Officers

    Guatemala will implement a program to root out corruption in the police and military, according to Mexican daily El Informador. The wide-reaching anti-corruption program marks an effort by the administration of President Otto Pérez Molina to crack down on the drug traffickers that have infiltrated Guatemala’s often poorly paid security forces — particularly Mexico’s Los Zetas cartel. Some 20,000 police officers will face reviews during the first phase of the program. Two-hundred of them have already begun the process, according [...]

    Read more →
  • Today in Latin America Venezuela Hugo Chavez Wins Venezuela Elections

    Hugo Chavez Wins Venezuela Elections

    Top Story —  Hugo Chávez won the presidential election on Sunday, defeating his opponent Henrique Capriles by over 1 million votes, with 54% of the vote. This will be Chávez’s third re-election after almost 14 years in office. The elections saw a high turnout and voting was extended past the closing time of polling stations.  The electoral council president said that stations where voters hadn’t been able to cast their ballots would remain open. Read more at Aljazeera. Headlines from the Western Hemisphere [...]

    Read more →
  • Honduras News Briefs 2 Honduras Officials Receive Death Threats

    2 Honduras Officials Receive Death Threats

    Two officials in Honduras viewed as sympathizers with the county’s political left have received death threats, the local press reports. The news of the death threats against National Agrarian Institute Director César Ham and Secretary of Justice and Human Rights Ana Pineda raises questions about security in one of the region’s most violent countries, after a string of attacks against journalists and political activists preceded by threats that were disregarded. Ham told Honduras’ El Heraldo that President Porfirio Lobo himself [...]

    Read more →
  • Mexico Today in Latin America U.S. Embassy Car Was Targeted In Mexico Attack

    U.S. Embassy Car Was Targeted In Mexico Attack

    Top Story – New evidence suggests that the Mexican police officers who shot at a U.S. Embassy vehicle on Aug. 24 near Cuernavaca, wounding two CIA officers, were working for organized crime, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday. Mexican officials have confirmed that they are investigating the involvement of the Beltran Leyva Cartel in the attack. Contradicting the Mexican federal police’s claims that the shooting was a mistake, a U.S. official told the Associated Press that the attack was an ambush planned [...]

    Read more →