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Cavallo in Spain to stand trial

Official in Argentina's 'dirty war' accused of crimes against humanity

Virginia Krasninsky, holding poster, is on hand as Ricardo Cavallo arrives at Mexico City International Airport for extradition to Spain.
Virginia Krasninsky, holding poster, is on hand as Ricardo Cavallo arrives at Mexico City International Airport for extradition to Spain.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Ricardo Miguel Cavallo has arrived in Madrid where he is to stand trial for crimes against humanity under Argentina's military government during the 1970s and 1980s, a court official said.

Wearing a bulletproof vest and handcuffs, the former Argentine military official was placed on a Spanish Air Force plane in Mexico City Saturday afternoon for his extradition to Spain.

Cavallo is the first of dozens officials of the former military junta sought by Spain to be extradited from any Latin American country, a court official in Madrid told CNN.

The former Argentine military official is to be prosecuted for atrocities committed against Spaniards during Argentina's military rule.

Cavallo was arrested in Cancun, Mexico, almost three years ago and had fought extradition in Mexican courts.

He would be the first of dozens from the former military junta sought by Spain to be extradited from any Latin American country, a court official in Madrid told CNN.

The group Human Rights Watch said Spain is applying the principle of "universal jurisdiction" in international law, which makes atrocities committed in one country subject to criminal prosecution by courts in another country.

Cavallo will not appear at the National Court until questions regarding his legal representation have been resolved, the court official in Madrid said.

The official said the 51-year-old, who is married with children, faces several charges of human rights abuses, each of which could result in a sentence of 20 to 30 years in prison.

Cavallo was taken to the airport in Mexico City in a caravan of four federal police vehicles. As he got out of one of the vehicles, about a dozen relatives of Argentines who had "disappeared" in the nation's "dirty war" yelled "Assassin!" at him. He was taken to a nearby hangar.

The Spanish court official, who requested anonymity, said that a Spanish court's order seeking the extradition of 48 other officials from the former junta was rejected by Argentina. But investigations were opened into 18 others, some of whom have been indicted or jailed, the official said.

Ricardo Cavallo arrives in handcuffs with Mexican federal police at Mexico City International Airport for extradition to Spain Saturday.
Ricardo Cavallo arrives in handcuffs with Mexican federal police at Mexico City International Airport for extradition to Spain Saturday.

The official said Mexico has "complied with the norms that needed to be complied with, regarding judicial cooperation between nations and the application of international justice."

'Victory for international justice'

The decision by Mexico's Supreme Court this month to uphold his extradition "will reinforce the principle of 'universal jurisdiction' in international law," Human Rights Watch said.

"This case represents a real victory for international justice," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the group's Americas Division. "Mexico will become the first Latin American country to extradite someone for gross human rights violations under the principle of universal jurisdiction."

The human rights group, citing a November 1999 indictment issued by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, described Cavallo as a Navy lieutenant working in the Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires during the military regime.

Between January 1977 and October 1978, Cavallo belonged to the operations sector of Working Group 3.3.2, a group involved in kidnapping and torturing persons perceived as leftist by the military, the group said.

The Argentine truth commission's 1984 report named 8,961 people who "disappeared" under the military rule.

Although some high-level officials were criminally prosecuted in Argentina in the 1980s for these abuses, the country's amnesty laws protected most of the military. Those who were convicted were pardoned by then-President Carlos Menem in 1989 and 1990.

The Mexican Supreme Court authorized Cavallo's extradition on charges of genocide and terrorism, but not on charges of torture, Human Rights Watch said. A lower court ruled that, under Mexican law, the statute of limitations for a torture prosecution would have expired.

"In a region where far too many human rights violators have escaped justice, Mexico is setting an important example that other countries should emulate," Vivanco said.

Spain's magistrate Garzón has for years led the investigation into former officers of the Argentine and Chilean dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s.

The best known was an arrest warrant against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was taken into custody while he was in London for back surgery in October 1998.

That led to a legal battle which ended in 2000, when Pinochet was sent back to Chile after his lawyers persuaded a court that their client was unfit to stand trial.

Spain holds one Argentine already

Spain has jailed just one person in relation to the "dirty war" waged by right-wing Latin American regimes against citizens they perceived as leftist.

He is Adolfo Scilingo, who traveled to Spain from Argentina ostensibly to cooperate with officials, who then jailed him on suspicion of human rights abuses.

Scilingo had told Time magazine in 1995 that he helped "disappear" suspected leftists by throwing them from planes into the ocean. "They were unconscious. We stripped them, and when the flight commander gave the order, we opened the door and threw them out, naked, one by one," the magazine reported. "That is the story, and nobody can deny it."

Spain's actions have created tension with Argentina and Chile, whose representatives note that Spain itself did not investigate alleged abuses that occurred under the rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, whose 36-year rule ended in 1975.


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