A retired Uruguayan Army colonel arrested for crimes during the country’s 1973-1985 dictatorship admitted to “numerous” murders, kidnappings and acts of torture in nations across Latin America, according to official documents.
The admissions were made in 2006, yet only became known on Tuesday, thanks to pressure from human rights campaigners.
"I executed many people, kidnapped and imprisoned in various countries, for which I received congratulations from the Army high command during the process and in democracy until last year," wrote Gilberto Vázquez in 2006.
The letter was revealed by the Madres y Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Uruguay (“Mothers and Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Uruguay,” Famidesa), after the group accessed the minutes of a 2006 Army trial.
Ignacio Errandonea, a member of the relatives organisation, said the court handed the letter to Carlos Díaz, the Army commander-in-chief at that time, to decide whether or not the admission amounted to a crime.
Díaz ordered the trial to continue and said the alleged crimes would be "communicated in due course" to the then-defence minister.
The court "found Vázquez guilty of offending [military] honor by using a toupée" to escape detention "but not for all the barbarities he confessed to," said Errandonea. "Where is the honor of those generals?"
"They hid these facts from the ministry, they hid these facts from justice," added the campaigner.
On Friday, the organisation shared other minutes from the court case, in which Vázquez admitted to crimes against humanity during the dictatorship that lasted from 1973 until 1985.
"I had to kill, I killed and I have no regrets. I had to torture and I tortured," said Vázquez, who was eventually sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of 28 Uruguayans captured in Argentina in 1976.
Vázquez, 75, has confirmed at least one clandestine flight to dump political prisoners into the estuary. “I had to kill and torture so I did – it costs me sleep but I don’t repent,” was the ex-officer’s comment, calling the slayings “executions, not murders” and concluding: "There was no other way to fight and I’m proud of what I did.”
He was taken before the military court after escaping from a military hospital by faking an illness to leave the prison where he was being held, using a hairpiece in the process, ahead of a possible extradition to Argentina to face charges of crimes committed during the dictatorship.
The mothers and relatives organisation gained access to the court minutes following a request to Uruguayan Defence Ministry for access to public information.
The news raises questions about why the revelations did not reach the courts before now, with the spotlight falling on officials within then-president Tabaré Vázquez’s first 2005-2010 government.