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Saturday, December 9, 2023

World News | Argentine dictatorship ‘death flight’ plane returns home for historical reckoning


Streaks of light seen in California. (Photo credit: Video Grab)

BUENOS AIRES (Argentina) June 25 (AP) — It usually takes about 10 hours to fly from Florida to Buenos Aires, but the turboprop that landed in Argentina Saturday was not ordinary airplane. It has been en route for 20 days, and many Argentines are eagerly refreshing their flight-tracking software to keep tabs on its progress.

The Short SC.7 Skyvan is not carrying important cargo or VIP passengers. Instead, the plane will be another way for Argentines to confront the country’s brutal history with a military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.

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The plane, discovered in the United States, was the first to be shown in court to have been used by Argentina’s military junta to hurl political prisoners to their death in one of the bloodiest atrocities of the bloody period.

The Argentine government will add the plane to the Museum of Memory, housed in the junta’s most notorious secret detention center.Known as ESMA, it housed many of the detainees who were later thrown alive into oceans or rivers from “death flights”

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Azucena Villaflor was one of the victims linked to the returning plane, whose son Nestor disappeared and was probably murdered early in the dictatorship. After his disappearance, she formed Mothers de Mayo to demand information on missing children before being detained and killed herself.

Villaflo’s daughter, Cecilia DeVincenti, told the Associated Press: “As family members, it is very important to us that this plane is part of history because both the body and the plane tell an accurate account of what happened. things.”

The plane’s return was prompted by Italian photographer Giancarlo Ceraudo, who spent years searching for the “flight of death” plane. The plane has since carried mail in Florida and, more recently, parachutists in Arizona.

Throughout his search, Serraudo said, countless people wondered why he remained steadfastly focused on finding the junta plane, especially since the bodies of many victims of the dictatorship remained undiscovered.

“These planes had to be recovered because they were an important part, like the (Nazi) gas chambers, a terrible tool,” Serraudo said in an interview.

Argentina’s military junta is widely regarded as the deadliest military dictatorship to rule much of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. It detains, tortures and kills those suspected of opposing the regime. Human rights groups estimate that 30,000 people were killed, many of whom have disappeared without a trace.

Some of them disappeared on the “flight of death”.

In an extensive trial between 2012 and 2017, survivors confirmed that the flights took place at least once a week. Prisoners were often told they would be released and were sometimes forced to dance to loud music in celebration, according to witnesses. They were then given a so-called vaccination, which was actually a powerful sedative. When the drugs took effect, they were hooded, strapped up and boarded a plane.

The trial, in which 29 former officials were sentenced to life in prison, demonstrates that the authoritarian regime uses death flights as a systematic method of extermination. It stated that Skyvan, who had just returned to Buenos Aires, was used to kill Villaflor and 11 other detainees.

Prosecutors said it was impossible to know how many detainees were thrown from the plane in total. But at least 71 bodies of suspected victims of the death flight washed up on the coast, including 44 in Argentina and 27 in neighboring Uruguay, according to the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Group, an NGO.

Between December 1977 and February 1978, the bodies of five women washed ashore, including Villaflores, two other members of the Order of the Mothers of Place de Mayo and two French nuns who helped mothers find their loved ones. They were buried without identification and their bodies were not identified until 2005.

Ceraudo teamed up with journalist and ESMA survivor Miriam Lewin to find the plane.

The pilots of the flight that killed Villaflor were convicted in part of flight logs recovered by Ceraudo and Lewin in 2010 after they tracked down the PA-51 Skyvan in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Mercedes Soiza Reilly, the prosecutor on the 2012-2017 trial, said: “These records led us to the pilot and from those names we were able to identify the pilots in the service of a systematic extermination program. Find them in repressive structures.”.

Serraudo and Lewin found the planes through a painstaking search that included digging into websites where aircraft-spotting enthusiasts tracked the planes.

Of the five Skyvans known to have been used in deathflights, two were destroyed in the 1982 war with Britain over the Falkland Islands. Three more aircraft were sold in 1994 to CAE Aviation in Luxembourg. One of the planes was sold to GB Airlink, which uses it to provide private mail services from Florida to the Bahamas.

This year, the plane was found in a skydiving facility in Phoenix after the Argentine government decided to buy it following a campaign by DeVincenti and other human rights activists.

“What an incredible story, right?” Devincenti said. “Because they were thrown out without a parachute and now they’re using it to jump.”

It’s not easy to get back such an old plane. The engine failed shortly after the plane took off from Jamaica and was stranded in Jamaica for two weeks. The ship was also stranded in Bolivia for several days due to bad weather.

In an effort to bring justice to victims of the junta, Argentina has held 296 trials for dictator-era crimes against humanity since the amnesty law was repealed in 2006. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, 1,115 of them were convicted.

Activists say displaying the plane will help Argentines understand the realities of the authoritarian regime.

“It’s very important because generations of people who were born and lived in democracies didn’t suffer from the horrors of those years,” Lewin said. (Associated Press)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a syndicated news feed, the latest staff may not have modified or edited the body of content)


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