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Argentina: Ford Execs Convicted of Torturing Union Activists Under the Junta

Started by Richard Mellor, December 16, 2018, 11:52:05 am

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Richard Mellor

Argentina: Ford Execs Convicted of Torturing Union Activists Under the Junta

Carlos  Gareis, right, a former worker at Ford and a former political prisoner,  held the hand of his daughter, Estela, center, after the verdict that  sentenced two former executives at the plant to long prison sentences.CreditCreditJuan Mabromata/Agence France-Presse ? Getty Images
BUENOS  AIRES ? A court in Argentina on Tuesday convicted two former Ford Motor  executives and sentenced them to prison for helping the country?s  military dictators kidnap and torture 24 workers during the 1970s.

The  convictions were the first in which representatives of a multinational  firm were found culpable in a human rights trial in Argentina.

Activists  hailed the sentences as a major step toward making amends for the  cooperation that several businesses provided to the brutal junta that  ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Union leaders were among the tens of  thousands of people sent to clandestine detention centers where  suspected dissidents were arbitrarily detained, tortured and often  killed.

Relatives of the 24 victims in the Ford case burst into applause in the courtroom as a judge read the verdicts.

A  three-judge panel sentenced Pedro Müller, 87, then a manufacturing  director at a Ford factory in Buenos Aires province, to 10 years, and  Héctor Francisco Sibilla, 92, then the security manager at the plant, to  12 years for assisting in the kidnapping and torture of their  colleagues.

The two executives  ?allowed a detention center to be set up inside the premises of that  factory, in the recreational area, so that the abductees could be  interrogated,? according to court papers.
The  court also sentenced Santiago Omar Riveros, a former head of the army?s  fourth battalion, to 15 years in prison. All the sentences can be  appealed.

?We were able to show  during the trial that the company benefited economically during the  period and how it used the repressive arm of the dictatorship to get rid  of people that bothered them,? said Marcelo García Berro, the  prosecutor.

Of the 24 workers whose cases are detailed in the case, 17 were detained in their workplace and 11 are alive today.

Pedro  Müller, left, then a manufacturing director at a Ford factory in Buenos  Aires province, was sentenced to 10 years, and Hector Francisco  Sibilla, right, then the security manager at the plant, was given 12  years.CreditJuan Mabromata/Agence France-Presse ? Getty Images
?These weren?t people tied to the subversion or anything of the sort. They participated in the unions,? Mr. García Berro said.

Although the prosecution had requested sentences of 25 years, the victims? lawyers said they were satisfied.

?The  sentencing of two company executives leaves no doubt that Ford was  directly involved in committing crimes against humanity against workers,  and that is historic,? said Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, one of the  lawyers.

Another one of the victims?  lawyers, Tomás Ojea Quintana, told Reuters that a lawsuit against the  automaker may be filed in a federal court in the United States.

?It  is clear that Ford Motor Company had control of the Argentinian  subsidiary during the ?70s,? said Mr. Ojea Quintana. ?Therefore, there  is a direct responsibility of Ford Motor Company and that might give us  the possibility to bring the case to the U.S. courts.?

Ford  said in a statement the company was ?aware of the verdict about the  supposed participation of ex-employees of the firm in events related to  human rights in the ?70s.? The company added that it ?always had an open  and collaborative attitude with judicial authorities supplying all the  available information.?

Officials at Ford declined to comment further, noting that the sentences can still be appealed.
Argentina  has done far more than its neighbors to punish former military officers  and their accomplices for crimes committed during the dictatorships  that became the norm in much of the region in that period.

As  of September, Argentine courts had convicted 862 people among the more  than 3,020 individuals charged for human rights abuses, according to the  attorney general?s office. The vast majority of those convictions  involved former military officers. Relatively few civilians who were  complicit in grave abuses have been convicted.

Experts  said Tuesday?s verdict marked a turning point because it made a clear  link between the dictatorship and the persecution of union activists.

?This  is the first time that Argentina convicts business executives for  crimes against humanity relating to union activism,? said Victoria  Basualdo, a historian who served as an expert witness in the case.

Many  businesses saw the dictatorship ?as the opportunity to resolve labor  conflicts in a repressive manner and increase profits,? the Center for  Legal and Social Studies, a human rights group in Argentina said in a  statement. By giving material assistance to the dictatorship, ?they  became one more link in the structure of state terrorism.?

Source: Argentina: Ford Execs Convicted of Torturing Union Activists Under the Junta