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Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla convicted of systemic theft of babies

Jorge Videla led Argentina's 1976 coup. He and eight others were convicted for stealing babies from 'enemies of the state' during the military junta's rule.

By Staff writer / July 6, 2012

Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla listens to the verdict during his trial in a courthouse in Buenos Aires on July 5.

Enrique Marcarian/Reuters

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A common tactic of sibling warfare is to tell your brother he's adopted. It's funny and harmless because it is generally so far fetched, but for hundreds of Argentines that suggestion is no joke. 

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Latin America Editor

Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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From 1976 to 1983 an estimated 500 babies were stolen and secretly integrated and adopted into families of right-wing military members and their allies as part of a sweeping program that brutally targeted left-wing militants and sympathizers during the military junta’s seven-year rule.

Bringing, perhaps, a fragment of closure to that era, a former Argentine dictator, Jorge Videla, was convicted yesterday for his role in the program. Mr. Videla, who headed the coup that brought the military to power in 1976, was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

The conviction and official recognition of these crimes marks a historical moment for Argentina, whose public has long known of or suspected these practices and which continues to search for answers.

Videla and ten other former military and police members – including a second dictator, Reynaldo Bignone – were on trial for the theft of 34 babies during the country’s so-called Dirty War. Earlier this year Videla caused an outcry in Argentina when he admitted to systemic killings during the dictatorship, but insisted that the death toll was much lower than the estimated 30,000 people murdered by the state. Many of the Junta’s political prisoners and victims, often referred to as “the disappeared” were pregnant women.

During his testimony, Videla claimed those trying to subvert the military’s rule used their babies as “human shields” in their fight against the state, according to MSNBC.

"The women giving birth, who I respect as mothers, were militants who were active in the machine of terror," he said at the end of the trial. Videla, who is already serving a life sentence for other crimes committed during the Dirty War, denied that any children taken were part of a sweeping plan.

Win for the Grandmothers

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human rights group, has played a large part in bringing international attention to the issue.

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