Italy convicts eight South Americans in Plan Condor trial

Lawyers react to the sentence read by the judges of the Third Court of Rome during the trial of South American military officers and civilians accused of collaborating in the forced disappearances and murder of Italian nationals, in a US-backed regional plan dubbed "Operation Condor. Jan 2017Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The court was packed as the sentences were read out by the judges in Rome

An Italian court has given life sentences to eight South American former political and military leaders over the disappearance of 23 Italian nationals during the 70s and 80s.

Those sentenced include ex-presidents of Bolivia and Peru, and a former foreign minister from Uruguay.

All had cooperated in Operation Condor, run by military governments at the time to fight left-wing dissidents.

Another 19 men were absolved in the trial, that lasted two years.

Several of those sentenced are already serving jail time at home and none appeared in court.

They include former Bolivian President Luis Garcia Meza Tejada who is now 87 and serving a 30-year prison sentence in La Paz, as well as former Peruvian President, Francisco Morales Bermudez, who is now 95.

Mr Garcia Meza's lawyer has said he will appeal.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Many relatives of the Italian victims of Operation Condor attended the sentencing

One of the Italian prosecutors, Tiziana Cugini, told the Reuters news agency the trial had thrown a clear light on Operation Condor, which he called a "criminal conspiracy".

"It's very significant, especially given that heads of state from the time were convicted."

The Vice-President of Uruguay, Raul Sendic said he was disappointed by the sentence but would respect it.

"The Uruguayan government is feeling tranquil because we did everything that had to be done to present proof and witnesses and support the families of the victims."

The trial involved hundreds of witnesses. Martin Almada, a Paraguayan who had given evidence said the outcome was "lamentable and incomprehensible".

According to Italian law, the conviction can be appealed against twice before the ruling becomes definitive and the sentences are served.

Should the sentences become definitive, Italy can ask for extradition but, considering the age of the accused, it is more likely that they would serve sentences at home.

Operation Condor was set up in 1975 in Santiago, the capital of Chile in a meeting chaired by the head of the Chilean chief of intelligence services, Manuel Contreras.

Key member countries of Operation Condor were Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia, with Peru and Ecuador occasionally participating.

Thousands of people were kidnapped, tortured, forcibly disappeared and murdered with people often snatched off the streets or taken from their homes.

Operations crossed international borders with governments helping each other as their security forces chased dissidents, leftists, union and peasant leaders, nuns and priests, intellectuals and students.