Two former Argentine dictators appeared in court Monday on charges of kidnapping hundreds of babies seized from political prisoners, minutes after birth. Ex rulers Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone alongside with six other former military officers are involved in the court case that is expected to last until the end of the year.
About 80 people are expected to testify on the systematic stealing plan ordered by the top leaders of Argentina's brutal military dictatorship from 1976-1983. Charges were read linked to 34 cases -- one of them concerning a woman who had two children in captivity, for a total of 35 stolen babies.
However authorities say that at least 400 babies were stolen during Argentina’s military dictatorship. Officials say the newborns were taken from jailed dissidents. The children were adopted by families friendly to the military government. To date, 102 people born to vanished dissidents have since recovered their true identities.
Women were interned at wards in the heart of torture centres, including the emblematic Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics (ESMA). The women were kept alive during their pregnancies, only to be summarily killed after giving birth, often dropped alive from military planes into the sea.
A hood was placed over their heads during childbirth so they could not see their babies, who were then handed to a military official or an officer's relative.
The population had to be 'normalized:' you were either the way you were supposed to be or you were eliminated, prosecutor Federico Delgado told the court.
You had to break family ties between the children and their parents, who were later executed, he added. It's one of the darkest chapters of Argentina's history.
Videla, 83, was sentenced to prison for life during a 1985 trial against the junta for crimes against humanity, only to receive amnesty five years later from ex-president Carlos Menem.
The amnesties were annulled during the 2003-2007 presidency of late former leader Nestor Kirchner paving the way for the latest trials.
Bignone, 83, was appointed president during the 1982 Falklands War against Britain. He handed the reins of power over to Social Democrat Raul Alfonsin when Argentina returned to democracy. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, also for crimes against humanity like kidnappings and torture.