About 40,000 Argentines rallied outside President Carlos Saul Menem’s office Sunday and angrily denounced his pardon of key figures in the military dictatorship during the “dirty war” on leftists in the 1970s.
“We’re here to tell him that we haven’t forgotten what happened--and we won’t forget,” said protester Daniel Sossa. He said his aunt was arrested during the 1976-83 dictatorship and never heard from again.
Menem, himself jailed without charge during the period, told reporters: “They can have all the marches they want. . . . That doesn’t bother me. I believe it was best for my country. Period.”
Recent polls showed that up to 80% of Argentines opposed the pardons. “This is the saddest day in Argentine history,” said former President Raul Alfonsin, leader of the main opposition party, the Radical Civic Union.
On Saturday, Menem freed Mario Firmenich, 42-year-old co-founder of the Montonero terrorist movement; former Presidents Jorge R. Videla, 65, and Roberto E. Viola, 66, who ruled the country from the 1976 coup until 1982; and nine other officials.
Videla, who had spent more than five years in prison, attended Mass at a chapel near his apartment Sunday and handed reporters a short statement that said in part: “I ask God to extinguish forever the hatred among Argentines with the goal that we all may reconcile ourselves in peace, union and liberty.”
Viola, Videla and six other senior officers were pardoned for crimes including torture, illegal detention and murder. Former Finance Minister Jose Martinez de Hoz and two former civilian officials, all of whom had been jailed on other charges, were included in the pardon.
At least 8,960 alleged leftists disappeared and were presumed executed during the “dirty war.”