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ITALY has sentenced 24 people to life imprisonment for their role in Operation Condor, a US-backed programme that led to the killing and disappearance of political opponents across South America in the 1970s and ’80s.
Their trial began in 2015, focusing on the involvement of senior officials and military personnel in the dictatorships of Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina in the killing and disappearance of 43 people, including 23 Italian citizens.
It was the first case of its kind to be heard in Europe.
Former Peruvian president Francisco Morales Bermudez was one of the most high-profile figures sentenced by the Rome court.
Uruguay’s former foreign minister Juan Carlos Blanco and his compatriot Jorge Nestor Fernandez Troccoli, an ex-naval intelligence officer, also received life sentences, as did Chilean former intelligence chief Pedro Espinoza Bravo.
The court’s decision changed a January 2017 ruling which sentenced eight people but acquitted 19 others.
The accused were tried in absentia. Many of those found guilty had died before the case against them was heard, including Bolivian dictator Luis Garcia Meza.
All were convicted of “voluntary homicide” and ordered to pay the costs of the trial.
As many as 60,000 people were killed, 30,000 disappeared and 400,000 were jailed during Operation Condor, which was established in Chile by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in 1975.
It was backed by the US to prevent the emergence of democratic governments with social democratic or left-wing programmes that could threaten capitalist interests.
Methods were brutal as military dictatorships in Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina colluded in hunting down left-wing activists and political opponents, tens of thousands of whom disappeared or were assassinated.
Many victims had their stomachs sliced open and thousands were dropped from helicopters into the sea by Argentina’s military junta in collusion with the country’s notorious state intelligence services.
Recently declassified documents revealed that European spy agencies were considering their own Operation Condor to deal with left-wing activists.
“Representatives of West German, French and British intelligence services had visited the Condor organisation secretariat in Buenos Aires during the month of September 1977 in order to discuss methods for establishment of an anti-subversion organisation similar to Condor,” a CIA document stated.
Speaking outside the court, Aurora Meloni, 68, whose husband, Daniel Banfi was killed in Buenos Aires in 1974, said the relatives of the victims had “never given up and today we won.”
She added: “Today’s ruling is dedicated to all the people killed and kidnapped under Condor.”
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