Miguel Etchecolatz dies, the repressor responsible for La Noche de los Lápices in Argentina

Miguel Etchecolatz leaves the courtroom after being sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping, murder and torture at La Cacha detention center, on October 24, 2014.REUTERS

Her last name is so scary in Argentina that her daughter Mariana had to change her name in order to lead a normal life. Miguel Etchecolatz, one of the cruelest repressors of the Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983) He died at the age of 93 while serving a life sentence in a common prison for a series of crimes he never repented of. On the contrary, he was proud. Etchecolatz maintained until the end, despite his age, that defiant look that terrified the victims.

During the dictatorship he was the right hand of General Ramón Camps, the person responsible for the repression in the Buenos Aires province, one of the hardest. He directed up to 21 illegal detention camps. He was convicted of at least 91 crimes, including deaths, disappearances, torture and theft of babies.

He was the organizer of the so-called Night of the Pencils, one of the cruelest episodes of those years, in which 10 adolescents were arrested in La Plata, the capital of the province, to nip in the bud a mobilization in schools in favor of student ticket, a cheap transport ticket to go to school. Half of the detainees died after terrible torture in different centers. Their bodies were never found. His epic was immortalized in a shocking film built with the story of the survivors.

Echecolatz is not a character from the past. His presence has been constant in all the controversies about the trials against humanity. The possibility that he would be released from prison mobilized Argentine society on several occasions. He “scoffed at the court. He never regretted anything, for Argentina he is like the Nazi Adolf Eichmann [secuestrado en Argentina y juzgado en Israel], he says that the mission of a soldier is to obey”, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told EL PAÍS in 2016, when they were going to grant him house arrest but the government stopped him due to pressure from society. Two weeks ago, a court of second instance granted him the benefit in one of his life sentences, but Etchecolatz remained in jail for another nine.

The cruel history of the repressor is well known even by the youngest, who never experienced the dictatorship but have kept the memory of the victims alive. But nobody knew that he was also an abusive father until his daughter, in an overwhelming report published in May 2017 in the magazine amphibian, decided to tell the horror of having a parent like this at home: “We knew the monster since we were kids, it’s not that he was a sweet dad and then he turned. We live many years knowing the horror. That is why we were also victims. I repudiate it. Nothing relates my being to this genocide. He is an infamous being, not a madman, someone who cares more about his convictions than others, someone who thinks without cracks, an unscrupulous evil narcissist. Before it hurt me to hear his name, but now I am whole, liberated, ”he wrote.

Other children of repressors defend their parents, mobilize to achieve their release. Mariana does the opposite. She was at the massive demonstration against a Supreme Court ruling that allowed genocides like her father to take advantage of a prison benefit that reduces sentences by almost half. The mobilization was of such caliber that Congress changed the law so that this benefit can never be applied to them.

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Etchecolatz is for Argentines the quintessence of evil. Not just in the seventies. Despite his imprisonment, he maintained enormous power in the sewers of the state that allowed him to inspire a sinister operation in full democracy and with the Kirchners in power. In 2006, the repressor was under house arrest but returned to prison after a historic trial that set a precedent for convictions “for crimes against humanity committed in the context of genocide.” The key witness was Julio López, a survivor of his torture. López disappeared shortly after that trial, in full democracy, which was a great scandal. 16 years later nothing is known of his whereabouts. In another trial, Etchecolatz showed the press a piece of paper with López’s handwritten name, a way of claiming his proud authorship. This Saturday, López’s son, Rubén López, regretted that Etchecolatz had left “without saying where the disappeared are” from the dictatorship.

The journey of this repressor summarizes well the path followed by Argentina in the battle to judge and condemn crimes against humanity, an issue in which it is a world leader. Etchecolatz went through the same contradictory phases that the country had in this matter. With the arrival of democracy and the exemplary process at the Juntas sponsored by Raúl Alfonsión (1983-1989), this policeman was convicted in 1986 and imprisoned. But in 1990, with the pardons and the final period and due obedience laws promoted by Carlos Menem (1989-1999), he was released like all the others, including Jorge Rafael Videla. During those years the genocides walked calmly down the street. The victims there began to organize the so-called escraches to protest his release.

The arrival of the Kirchners to power meant a radical change. They eliminated the laws and the pardons, and Echecolatz was tried again, although he managed to receive house arrest. In 2006, he was definitively sentenced and had to return to a common prison, like the other 118 genocides who are still in prison. There are another 579 under house arrest.

The trials continue, every week there is a new one. Argentina is one of the few countries in the world that sees its repressors die in prison. Jorge Videla died in 2013 in the bathroom of the Marcos Paz prison. Other repressors maintain the support of his family. In this case, not even Etchecolatz’s daughter will mourn her death.

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Miguel Etchecolatz dies, the repressor responsible for La Noche de los Lápices in Argentina