Jorge Rafaél Videla

Jorge Rafaél Videla Biography

Dictator, Murderer, General (1925–2013)
General Jorge Rafaél Videla's government was responsible for a campaign of suppression and human rights abuses that became known as Argentina's "dirty war."


Jorge Rafaél Videla was born on August 2, 1925, in Mercedes, Argentina. In 1976, he led a military junta that took control of the country. While Videla was president, from 1976 to 1981, his government conducted a "dirty war," during which thousands of people considered to be subversive threats were abducted, detained and murdered. He was 87 when he died in prison in Buenos Aires on May 17, 2013.

Early Life

Jorge Rafaél Videla Redondo was born on August 2, 1925, in Mercedes, Argentina. His father was an army colonel; Videla would also go on to join the army. At age 16, he entered the National Military College. He became a commissioned officer in 1944 and began a steadily progressing military career.

Seizing Power

In 1975, Argentina's leader, Isabel Perón, named Videla as the army's general commander. On March 24, 1976, Videla—assisted by General Orlando Ramón Agosti of the air force and Admiral Emilio Massera of the navy—ousted Perón. At the time, Argentina was besieged by attacks from guerrillas and death squads, so many welcomed Videla's move, hoping the three-man military junta would put an end to the violence. Business interests also felt that the economy, beset by inflation, might improve under Videla's rule.

After the coup, Videla—now president—began a "Process of National Reorganization" to remake the country. Courts were closed, political parties outlawed and labor unions banned. Instead of a legislature, a commission of nine military officers—answering to Videla—was set up. Military officials soon filled all important government positions.

The Dirty War

For Videla, another part of the reorganization process was defending the country against leftist groups. In addition to guerrilla fighters, he considered anyone whose thoughts or ideas could undermine the government to be a threat. This meant that union leaders, journalists, left-leaning politicians and intellectuals were among those targeted.

During Argentina's "dirty war," government opponents were brought to secret detention centers, sometimes after being kidnapped in the middle of the night. Once in custody, the prisoners' punishments included beatings, torture, rape and death. Pregnant women were often held until they gave birth, and then killed afterward. Instead of being passed to relatives, the babies were usually handed over to military couples, or couples with military connections, so that they could be raised in non-subversive households.

Videla deliberately chose to cloak these arrests and deaths in secrecy; those the government wanted to be rid of permanently were "disappeared." Some victims were buried in mass graves. Bodies were dropped from planes into the Atlantic Ocean or the River Plate. Although the official toll is lower, human rights organizations estimate that as many as 30,000 people were tortured and killed during the military dictatorship.

Punishment and Death in Prison

Videla left the army in 1978 but remained president until 1981. After his departure, a struggling economy, combined with Argentina's defeat in the Falklands War, weakened the dictatorship. Democracy returned to the country in 1983; Videla was arrested soon afterward, along with his cohorts. In 1985, he was sentenced to life in prison for human rights abuses that included kidnapping, torture and murder.

Videla's imprisonment lasted only until 1990, when President Carlos Menem pardoned him. However, in 1998, Videla was arrested for crimes that included the kidnapping of babies who had been born in detention. Then, in 2007, the pardon Videla had received was overturned. He went on trial once more in 2010 and received another life sentence. In 2012, he was sentenced to 50 years for kidnapping.

Although Videla took responsibility for the atrocities that occurred while he was in power, he always maintained that his actions had been necessary. Remorseless, he died in the Marcos Paz prison in Buenos Aires on May 17, 2013. He was 87 years old. Even with his death, the repercussions of Videla's horrific actions continue to affect Argentina.

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