Ricardo Gil Lavedra: What did it mean for Argentina to judge the commanders?

He Trial to the Boards It is the most emblematic historical event, after the dictatorship, of the time in which Argentines recovered democracy. Taking it forward was a huge job for a group of men who, in record time, launched an unprecedented process for the country and the world. A fundamental part of this task fell on the judges who made up the National Chamber of Appeals in Federal Criminal and Correctional Matters of the Capital.

Ricardo Gil Lavedra, member of that tribunal, turned into a recently published book the memories of that experience that, according to what he confesses, was the most important of his life. He was fighting against sectors of society that tried to close the past, facing a process with thousands of causes for which the usual procedures of the Argentine justice had to be reformulated, listening for hours and hours to testimonies that gave an account of extreme violation of human rights that had taken place between us; the men who made up the Chamber did not stop until they reached an essential sentence for the country to establish itself in democracy.

The book is called “The brotherhood of astronauts” (South American). “It was a metaphor by Jorge Torlasco -explains Gil Lavedra-. He said that we were like a group of astronauts in a spaceship. We depended on each other.”

Current president of the Buenos Aires Bar Association, during his long professional career, Gil Lavedra has been minister, deputy and judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rightsamong other positions that linked him to both politics and justice, in the country and in the world.

“I pretended to be a spokesperson for that group of judges, brothers until today, and to tell the story of that trial in this book,” he explained to NOTICIAS. Carlos Arslanian, Guillermo Ledesma, Jorge Valerga Aráoz, Andrés D’Alessio and Jorge Torlasco (these last two, now deceased) were the companions on that unforgettable trip.

Carlos Arslanian, Ricardo Gil Lavedra, Jorge Valerga Aráoz and Guillermo Ledesma

NEWS: If we think of the Juntas Trial as a dividing line, how could we describe the justice prior to that moment?

Ricardo Gil Lavedra: One of the basic characteristics of the criminal plan ordered by the commanders was secrecy. This couldn’t work if it wasn’t absolutely secret. All habeas corpus petitions filed by judges received negative responses from state agencies. No one had that person he was wondering about. What could a judge do? Many began to raise notes to the Court. In 1977, following the case of Ana Pérez de Smith, the Court expressed its concern to the government. In some specific cases there may have been some type of acquiescence on the part of some judges towards the military. But in the face of the general questioning that justice had not done anything, it must be said that very little could be done. The military was in control of the state apparatus. They were the state itself.

NEWS: How important was the previous work of the Conadep for the progress of the Trial?

Gil Lavedra: At the end of October 1984, when we decided to apply the rules of the code of military justice to the Trial of the Juntas, so that it would be an oral trial; We also decided that we had to choose a few specific cases. In practice, the selection of these cases (which covered all weapons, throughout the country, throughout the historical period) was made by the Conadep and the Human Rights Undersecretary. The prosecution could not do it. They could not review, in twenty days, thousands and thousands of files.

Ricardo Gil Lavedra

NEWS: Did the fact of going to military justice proceedings represent an extra effort for you?

Gil Lavedra: The oral process was not in force in the federal system. We plunged into an oral trial without having the slightest experience and within a huge process. Luckily it went well.

NEWS: In the book you talk about the need to achieve a speedy sentence. Did this have to do with the situation in the country?

Gil Lavedra: The military malaise was palpable. And then it was shown that if we had delayed, we would have met with the Easter uprising. There is a phrase that Carlitos (Arslanián) used to say. We had to be “like thunder between the leaves”, because of the speed with which we had to act.

The Brotherhood of Astronauts

NEWS: The selection of few cases resulted in something that was criticized by the court: that some commanders did not receive a sentence commensurate with the crimes they had surely committed.

Gil Lavedra: Yes of course. Those were the risks of taking a few cases. But if not, you couldn’t make the judgement. Let’s understand each other, in the trial the criminal plan is proven; but to attribute personal responsibility you have to impute concrete facts. And thousands of facts could not be imputed. How did we test them? The risk was that by choosing few cases, the sample would not be representative. For example, during Roberto Viola’s command, many homicides must have been committed, but none were proven in the trial. The few that the prosecution brought fell. Because we were also rigorous in the presumption of proof.

NEWS: Time after the Judgment came the laws of Due Obedience and Full Stop. Later the pardons of Menem. Finally, Néstor Kirchner reopened the trials. How did you experience those instances?

Gil Lavedra: At the time I did not like those laws. The Law of Due Obedience pulverized the Chamber. We all left. Over time I have been more contemplative of this circumstance. During Alfonsín’s government there were three military uprisings. And the responsibility that he had was to continue with the democratic transition. Therefore, it was a bitter political necessity of the time. It seemed very good to me that years later the cases were reopened, that all the cases ended with justice.

Jorge Rafael Videla

NEWS: During those months that the Trial lasted, did you feel the support of the citizens and of the victims and their families?

Gil Lavedra: Yes of course. From all human rights organizations and victims. But society was divided, because there were many who supported the military. We started without support, nobody wanted the trial. The church did not want him, nor the press, nor the businessmen. They asked why divide waters. The one who deviated from the normal was Alfonsín. He came out of the Argentine and universal tradition. That is why it is so important to highlight his role. Without Alfonsín there is nothing.

NEWS: Why was it an exemplary and unprecedented trial? What differentiated it from processes like the Nuremberg?

Gil Lavedra: The Nuremberg trial was that of the victorious powers against the defeated power. Although the principle of individual responsibility for massive crimes was established there for the first time, the difference with the Trial of the Juntas is that never before had civil courts tried crimes of outgoing dictatorships. The admiration and appreciation in the world is that Argentina was encouraged to do so.

NEWS: What should justice (or politics and justice) do today to recover the prestige it achieved at that time?

Gil Lavedra: You have to regain trust and credibility. Political authorities must strengthen judicial independence and this cannot be achieved by attacking justice, undermining it, delegitimizing it. Above all, when what is intended in the end are favorable solutions for personal problems. And justice also has to collaborate. The judges have to contribute their own, with appropriate behaviors. In short, it is an arduous task, but it is very important to do it.

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