An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Ernesto Guillermo Barreiro lived in Arlington. He lived in The Plains. This version has been corrected.
U.S. Holds Suspects In War Crimes
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Ernesto Guillermo Barreiro seemed to fit in well with his neighbors in Virginia's placid horse country. The quiet, genteel man from Argentina opened an art and antiques store after moving into a farmhouse last year in The Plains.
From the FB Art Gallery & Antiques store attached to his home to a craft shop called Pampa's Corner on nearby Main Street, Barreiro kept a low profile, selling imported leather goods and artwork with his wife.
That unassuming life imploded Sunday morning, when U.S. immigration agents bundled the retired Argentine army major into a van to face criminal charges of visa fraud and eventual deportation to his native country, where he is accused of serving as the chief interrogator at a clandestine torture facility known as La Perla during Argentina's Dirty War in the 1970s and 1980s.
Barreiro was among three former South American military officers suspected of war crimes whose arrests were announced yesterday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has renewed its efforts to crack down on alleged human rights violators living as fugitives in the United States.
The others arrested include Telmo Ricardo Hurtado, a former Peruvian army major who led an attack that killed 69 villagers, many of whom were tortured and raped, in the Peruvian Highlands village of Accomarca on Aug. 14, 1985, during the military's war against the Shining Path guerrilla movement. Hurtado was arrested Friday in Miami.
A fellow soldier now living in Gaithersburg, Juan Manuel Rivera-Rondon, was arrested in Baltimore and faces deportation to Peru, where U.S. officials said he and Hurtado will be turned over to local authorities to face charges for their alleged roles in the 1985 killings.
American officials and human rights advocates said the three were among the most important suspects seized since ICE activated a human rights unit early last year. Diplomatic challenges and the government's lagging efforts have caused the United States repeated embarrassment when notorious human rights abusers from around the globe turned up leading otherwise normal lives in the country.
"This is a very significant step taken by this agency," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division. "There are so many individuals like these ones who have managed to successfully find second homes in the U.S. . . . with no fear of any kind of potential prosecution or arrest or legal programs in the U.S., much less in their home countries."
In December, U.S. authorities indicted the son of former Liberian president Charles Taylor in connection with the alleged torture of an ally of his father's political opponents. Known as Chuckie Taylor but legally renamed Roy Belfast Jr., Taylor's son is being held without bail in a Florida jail.
In January, the United States indicted Luis Posada Carriles, 78, an anti-Castro Cuban exile being held by U.S. immigration officials who accuse him of immigration fraud. Posada, a former CIA operative with ties to the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, has been accused of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner in Venezuela. Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, convicted in absentia by a Haitian court for his role in a 1994 massacre, was arrested last year on charges of mortgage fraud in Queens after immigration authorities declined to deport him.
Barreiro's arrest came as a shock in The Plains, the rustic hamlet set in the rolling hills of Fauquier County where Barreiro and his wife, Ana Delia Magi de Barreiro, moved their shop last year. On a mild April afternoon, neighbors recalled the nicely dressed couple, whom real estate agent Keith Nelsen Stroud called "very quiet, very sweet, very refined," and their toy poodle, Lulu.
"I'm floored," said James Wiley, who holds the lease on Pampa's Corner and who wore a black Argentine leather belt he bought from the man he called Ernesto.