Two of the most infamous criminals convicted of crimes against humanity during Argentina’s last military dictatorship (1976-1983) have tested positive for Covid-19.
Former Buenos Aires police commissioner Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, 91, and former Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) corvette captain chief and leader of the ESMA death squads, Jorge 'Tigre' Acosta, 79, are among the 44 former military and police officers have been infected while serving prison sentences behind bars.
Etchecolatz and Acosta were previously held at Unit 31 of Ezeiza prison, where eight other positive cases were recorded among those jailed for crimes against humanity. On Tuesday afternoon, the Federal Penitentiary Service (SPF) reported that both had tested positive.
Etchecolatz, who is currently asymptomatic, was transferred to Unit 21, located at Buenos Aires City’s Muñiz Hospital. According to information provided by the SPF, he remains stable.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal that Etchecolatz’s legal team had filed asking for him to be granted home release, filed prior to testing positive. A few days earlier, Judge Roberto Lemos Arias refused to grant the ex-police commissioner’s request, explaining that the benefit cannot be granted to someone who does not recognise human rights. The judge said that Etchecolatz’s freedom would be a great “blow” to the victims and their family members and would contradict the international obligations of the Argentine State.
Acosta, a former naval officer, has been transferred to the Naval Hospital, located in the Parque Centenario neighbourhood. Acosta has also requested house arrest, though Oral Federal Court (TOF) 5 rejected the filing on Thursday.
"He is evolving in the same way that a person at liberty would," Judges Daniel Obligado, Adrián Grunberg and Adriana Palliotti wrote. "We understand that in no way has access to the defendant's right to health been impeded, quite the contrary.”
Most of the prisoners convicted of crimes against humanity dating back to the dictatorship-era are imprisoned in Unit 31 of Ezeiza prison or Unit 34 of the Campo de Mayo former military prison.
The first to test positive was Luis Muiña, a civilian who worked in the Posadas Hospital during the first months of the dictatorship. He became an emblematic name in May 2017, when the Supreme Court controversially granted him the so-called ‘2x1’ benefit guaranteeing him an early release from prison. Muiña was subsequently told to serve life imprisonment in 2018 and is being held in Unit 34 of Campo de Mayo.
In the former military prison, 34 cases of Covid-19 have been detected to date. Among the infected is Gonzalo Sánchez, a former Coast Guard agent who operated at ESMA and was extradited in May from Brazil after more than 15 years on the run. Another known to have been infected with the novel coronavirus is a former Federal Police officer Julio Simón, also known as ‘El Turco Julián.’ The Supreme Court took up his case in 2005, declaring the amnesty laws unconstitutional and re-opene trials for crimes committed during the era of state terror.
In the last month, two human rights violators held at Unit 34 have died from Covid-19, Ramón Velasco and Juan Domingo Salerno, both former members of the police force that Etchecolatz commanded.
Edberto González de la Vega, one of the former directors of Fabricaciones Militares, who was sentenced by a court in Córdoba to 13 years in prison for his role in the explosion at the Río Tercero factory in 1995, also passed away. He was also serving his sentence at Unit 34. despite being convicted of crimes unrelated to dictatorship-era.