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Outrage flares in Argentina as former dictator breaks silence about 'Dirty War'

Jorge Videla admitted last week that the military regime killed thousands during the late 1970s and early 80s, when he was in power. But many see his confession as justification, not remorse.

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The mothers commemorate the 35th anniversary of their fight for justice next week and, despite their age – Mrs. San Martín is 82 – every Thursday they march in the Plaza de Mayo, the square opposite the presidential palace in Buenos Aires. “We have more strength every day,” says Mrs. San Martín after taking part in the march, a white shawl – the symbol of the mothers – draped around her head.

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Videla has been criticized by the mothers in the past for having shown no remorse. “These latest comments are worthy of the doctrine that he’s always advocated:” remorseless justification of his crimes, says Cecilia Medina, a former judge at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and professor at the University of Chile – where similar violations occurred under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Germán Ibáñez, who works as an academic secretary at the small University of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, believes Videla is repeating his attempt to justify his crimes. “Videla was brought to justice, but he always sought to validate what he did,” says Mr. Ibáñez, seated in a room at the university filled with pictures of Latin America’s left-wing icons. “Now, once again, he is trying to justify his actions by saying they were necessary in the triumph against Communism.”

However, Juan Santiago García, the son of a desaparecido – the name in Spanish for those people taken by the state and murdered without their whereabouts ever being revealed – says Videla’s words should not be shunned.

Mr. García, now 36, was kidnapped in 1976 together with his father, a member of the montoneros, a left-wing guerrilla group obliterated by the Dirty War. He was found a month later by his grandmother in the orphanage where the military had left him. His father was never seen again.

Watching the mothers march around the monument at the heart of the Plaza de Mayo, García, whose uncle and aunt were also disappeared, says Videla’s words have a huge educational value. “Some young people in this country can’t comprehend what occurred during the dictatorship,” he explains. “As disgusting as Videla’s comments are, they show it really did happen.”

Mr. García came face-to-face with Videla last year as he was leaving the trial of another military officer. He says he didn’t feel the need to insult or attack him. “Our fight and that of the mothers is a peaceful one," he says. "We fight for justice, memory, and truth and we do it with the law in our hands.”

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