With the door closed to prosecution, lawyer Mendez Carreras and other human rights advocates have filed petitions in federal court demanding that the armed services produce information on persons who disappeared in their custody. "Relatives have a right, for humanitarian reasons, to know the truth about the destiny of the missing," the lawyer said in an interview in Buenos Aires.
Little Uruguay is one Latin American country that appears to have put the amnesty controversy to rest. In a 1989 plebiscite, Uruguayan voters rejected a proposition to repeal a general amnesty for military and police officers accused of human rights violations during the country's 1973-1985 dictatorship. The pro-amnesty vote was a resounding 58% to 42%.
Scores of Uruguayan officers were accused of kidnaping, torture and murder in the military regime's fight against Tupamaro urban guerrillas. Before the amnesty law was passed, defiant military officers had vowed not to stand trial. Faced with a threat of a military-civilian confrontation, Congress approved the amnesty in 1986 after a long siege of angry debate.
Giant Brazil's former military government, which systematically tortured suspected subversives in the 1960s and 1970s, decreed an amnesty in 1979. As in other Latin American countries, known violators of human rights remained in the military ranks.
One accused torturer, army Col. Armando Avolio Jr., was given the prestigious post of military attache with the Brazilian Embassy in London last year, but President Fernando Henrique Cardoso removed him in June after the posting caused a political flap.
The episode illustrates a troubling anomaly in the armed forces of Brazil and some other Latin American countries. Since amnesties have saved many officers from sanctions for human rights violations, military leaders won't acknowledge that they have done anything wrong, and they continue to be promoted and even rewarded.
"These are situations that will be repeated as long as the armed forces do not have the courage to face the truth of their past," wrote columnist Roberto Pompeu de Toledo in a recent issue of Brazil's Veja newsmagazine.
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Timeline of Terror
Campaigns against alleged subversives lasted for years in three South American nations.