Argentine Judge Orders Arrest of Peron

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 11, 2007; 10:37 PM

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- A judge Thursday ordered the arrest of former President Isabel Peron _ wife of Argentine strongman Juan Peron _ for questioning into alleged links to a right-wing death squad before she was ousted in a 1976 military coup.

Isabel Peron is sought in connection with three decrees she signed calling on the armed forces to crack down on "subversive elements," a judge's spokesman said.

Judge Raul Acosta also ordered her detained for questioning into the disappearance of leftist Hector Aldo Fagetti Gallego in early 1976, a turbulent period leading up to the Latin nation's "Dirty War" that came during a 1976-83 military dictatorship, the judge's spokesman said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to address the media.

There was no immediate reaction from Peron, who goes by the name Maria Estela Martinez de Peron and has lived in Spain since 1981. But her lawyer, Atilio Neira, told Argentine radio late Thursday that he was waiting to see the final resolution of the judge's arrest order. He said he had not yet contacted Isabel Peron.

Human rights activists lauded the judge's order.

Hebe de Bonafini, an activist of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, called the announcement "spectacular" and said she hoped it would bring to light a "part of our history that was dark, obscure and papered over."

Bonafini said the right-wing death squad killings, disappearances and other violence in the early 1970s preceding the military coup, marked a period "when the horror began."

Isabel Peron married Juan Peron years after the death of his first wife, the well-known Eva Peron. She was sworn in as president in 1974 after the death of her husband, the father of Argentina's ruling Peronist political party who was elected president three times. But she struggled to hold on to power as Argentina was wracked by violence from leftist guerrillas and counterreprisals by death squads.

A right-wing death squad called the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance, or Triple A, operated during the governments of both Perons.

The Triple A was accused of such prominent attacks as the 1974 slayings of Catholic priest Carlos Mugica and leftist Rodolfo Ortega Pena. During its three years of operation, activists say the group's terror activities including gunning down avowed communists, other leftists and sympathizers including trade unionists, students, a university rector, a prominent lawyer and others. Some victims were abducted off streets and never seen again while others were found dead of bullet wounds, or unidentified badly burned corpses, some with their hands hacked off.

These killings are considered the precursor to the "Dirty War" waged by the ensuing regime.

Although nearly 13,000 people are reported dead or missing from the 1976-83 junta era, human rights groups say the toll approaches 30,000 dissidents killed before civilian rule was restored in 1983.

Acosta, based near the western city of Mendoza, first revealed in November that he was examining the Isabel Peron era. That marked the first time that the wife of the late strongman Juan Peron has been mentioned by investigators in connection with the violence that pre-dated the junta era.

New human rights investigations have followed a 2005 decision by Argentina's Supreme Court in 2005 annulling a pair of 1980s amnesty laws that had sheltered scores of former police and military suspects from prosecution in cases dating to the era.

© 2007 The Associated Press