Argentine coup leader Emilio Eduardo Massera dies at 85
Massera, a former admiral and member of the military junta that toppled President Isabel Peron in 1976, died at the Navy Hospital, a receptionist confirmed. Massera died of a heart attack, according to local television channels. Since suffering a stroke in 2002, he was considered too ill and senile to be prosecuted for stealing the babies of jailed dissidents and other crimes against humanity committed during Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Massera, junta President Jorge Videla and other coup leaders took power at a time when Argentina was marked by leftist guerrilla violence and counterattacks by military forces and death squads. Many considered Massera to be the brains behind the junta's "Dirty War" campaign against political opponents, which resulted in nearly 13,000 deaths and disappearances according to official records. Human rights groups put the toll closer to 30,000.
Following Argentina's return to democracy, Massera was condemned in 1985 to life in prison for three killings, the torture of 12 people and the illegal confinement of 69 others, but President Carlos Menem granted him and other coup leaders amnesty in what he called a gesture of reconciliation.
In 2002, the amnesties that kept Massera and Videla from facing new trials were overturned, but Massera's stroke spared him from the multiple trials Videla and other surviving dictatorship figures now face.
-- Associated Press
Photo: Emilio Massera in 1975. Credit: Associated Press