Life Sentence For Videla, Architect Of Argentina's 'Dirty War'

Dictator convicted for 1970s murders, abuses, but not before giving his version of history


Argentina's former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, the architect of the notorious Dirty War of the late 1970s, was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday for murder and human rights abuses, bringing some long-awaited sense of justice to the victims. But in a decades-long legal battle, Videla's own courtroom testimony earlier this week may revive debate about one of Argentina's darkest chapters.

The 85-year-old former army general was convicted by a court in Córdoba for the shooting deaths of 31 political prisoners, after the March 1976 coup that he and other officers staged against the government of María Estela (Isabel) Martínez de Perón. He was also found guilty of the kidnapping and torture of five policemen and the brother of one of the officers, as reported the Bueno Aires daily La Nación. Videla was ordered to serve the rest of his life inside a civilian prison.

Radio Nacional de Argentina reported details of sentencing of other defendants: 22 other former military officials, who were also on trial with Videla, were given various sentences, including 83-year-old former General Luciano Benjamín Menéndez, who also got life. It was the sixth life sentence for Menéndez who has been convicted for other human rights crimes. Seven others were acquitted.

Outside the courthouse, the families of the murdered victims, and human rights activists, cheered when the three-judge panel handed down the verdicts. Many shouted "murderers' inside and outside the courtroom, reported another Buenos Aires daily Clarín.

"Today is a very special day. It has been a struggle of many years for a lot of people," 85-year-old Carmen Lorefice, who lost her son during the Dirty War, told the Spanish news agency EFE.

Videla was first brought to trial and convicted in 1985 but was freed five years later after then President Carlos Menem granted amnesty to him and other military rulers. In 2005, the Supreme Court declared the amnesty unconstitutional and opened the way for Videla to be retried. He has been charged with various counts but this was his first conviction since the top court's ruling five years ago.

The judges ruled that Videla was the mastermind behind the Dirty War, which lasted during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. On Tuesday, Videla, articulate and appearing in good health, delivered a lengthy statement telling the court that the current Peronist government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has promoted "a distorted view of reality."

"The enemies of yesterday are in power," he said, as quoted by La Nación. "Today they govern the country and pretend to be champions of human rights."

Videla said that it was former President Isabel Perón, who assumed office following her husband's death in July 1974, who signed a decree months before her government fell approving the military action against the Montoneros and the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) urban guerrilla groups that were terrorizing the country. "It was an internal war that was started by terrorist organizations against the republic. I refuse to call it a Dirty War, but prefer to call it instead a fair or even an unfair war," he said.

According to human rights organizations, some 30,000 people were murdered or forced to "disappear" during this period. Videla also said that the majority of Argentineans supported the military overthrow and subsequent actions, and alleged that then-leader of the opposition Radical Civic Union (URC) Party Ricardo Balbín asked him at meeting in early 1976 to launch the coup as soon as he could to "prevent the republic from suffering long agony."

Ricardo Alfonsín, a URC contender for his party's presidential nomination, strongly condemned Videla's comments. "Anyone who is capable of doing what he did is capable of lying and discrediting someone who is no longer here to defend himself," Alfonsín told La Nación. His father, the late former President Raúl Alfonsín of the URC, was the man who first brought Videla and other junta leaders to trial in 1985.

Martin Delfín


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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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