Argentine journalist to go to court for allegedly helping military dictatorship cover up human rights abuses

By Travis Knoll

Agustín Juan Bottinelli, former news editor of magazine Para Ti, will go to court for allegedly collaborating with the Argentine dictatorship to clean its image. According to progressive Argentine paper El Tiempo Argentino, the case could set a new precedent for judging human rights abuses and complicity.

The case revolves around a 1979 article in which Bottinelli interviewed former Navy School (ESMA in Spanish) prisoner and torture victim Thelma Doroty Jara de Cabezas, who accuses the journalist of collaborating with military officials to hide the junta’s systematic plan of repression and disappearances. According to Jara de Cabezas, Para Ti knew that she was ESMA's prisoner and released the interview without mentioning it.

Jara de Cabezas also said Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, one of the navy officials running the detention center, pressured her to participate in the interview, news site Perfil reported. Jara de Cabezas was allegedly escorted out of the detention center to get dressed and taken to a hair dresser before meeting with Bottinelli at the coffee shop where she gave her interview.

"As part of the barbarism of the ESMA, the groups that operated there, in complicity with journalists and journalism companies, planned the simulation of journalistic reports so that detainees, under threats, would declare in favor of the military and against their own relatives," Jara de Cabezas said according to Télam.

The Para Ti interview described itself as the “never before told story” of how international organizations and subversive groups used relatives of missing persons to push their own agendas behind a human rights discourse. The interview was published amidst a campaign to elevate the Argentine junta’s standing in the international community amidst the outcry of international human rights organizations after the 1978 World Cup hosted in Buenos Aires.

A federal court ruled that Bottinelli can be tried under to the new Civil Code, ending a drawn out legal battle that started in 1984 with a lawsuit against Aníbal Vigil, then director of Para Ti's parent company, Atlantida. The suit resumed in May 2008.

In 2011, Cavallo, along with 11 others, were given life sentences for crimes against humanity in one of the many “mega-cases” against military officials charged with human rights violations.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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