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Argentine dictator Videla's burial protested

Wednesday - 5/22/2013, 5:57pm  ET

Banners with names of some of 22 townspeople who disappeared during the Argentine dictatorship hang from an entrance to the municipal cemetery in Mercedes, Argentina Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Residents of Mercedes, the hometown of the Argentine dictator Jorge Videla, are upset at the prospect that he may be buried there. Authorities said Wednesday that his family has yet to arrange his burial in the municipal cemetery in Mercedes, where the Videlas have two family crypts. But even the prospect of receiving his remains is upsetting people in this town, where they've put up banners outside the cemetery's two entrances honoring the 22 townspeople who were kidnapped by the dictatorship's death squads and never seen again. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

DAMIAN PACHTER
Associated Press

MERCEDES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentines in the hometown of former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla are upset at the prospect that he may be buried there.

Videla died Friday at age 87 while serving life in prison for crimes against humanity, committed under his leadership during the bloodiest years of the 1976-1983 junta. The Videlas have two family crypts in the municipal cemetery in Mercedes, and the family lawyer said his remains woul likely be placed there.

The prospect upset people in this town more than an hour west of Argentina's capital, where many were determined to repudiate the junta that officially killed more than 13,000 citizens nationwide. They put up banners outside the cemetery's two entrances honoring the 22 townspeople who were "disappeared" by the dictatorship's death squads. A protest in the main plaza was planned for Wednesday night.

"It's not right that they bring him here, having killed so many people and others whom he made disappear. Even if he didn't personally kill them, they disappeared under his orders," complained Alejandro Gonzalez, a 40-year-old cemetery worker. "Would you accept that someone who made your family disappear comes to live with you?"

"We all feel this way," said his 52-year-old brother Miguel. "As parents, we tell our children, when we see Videla's image on television, who he was. It bothers me that he could be buried here."

"We can't do anything at all" to prevent Videla's burial in the Mercedes cemetery, said the town's human rights secretary, Marcelo Melo. "But we cannot act in the same way as the military dictatorship, which has not permitted the families of the disappeared to have a place to go cry or mourn for their loved ones."

The cemetery also holds the remains of a number of townspeople whose bodies were found after they were killed by the dictatorship, including three of the five Pallotine churchmen who were shot in 1976 in their Buenos Aires parish house by federal forces in what became known as the "Saint Patrick's Massacre." Those killings sent a message that not even Catholic priests were safe in Videla's Argentina if they were seen to be challenging the government.

Videla and his wife had seven children, including former army Col. Rafael Patricio Videla, who was forcibly retired in 2006 after walking out on an Army Day speech when President Nestor Kirchner criticized his father as an "assassin."

Rafael Patricio Videla used Facebook Wednesday to thank well-wishers who called his father a martyr and "the Fatherland's last great hero." ''It's comforting to know that there are so many people who know how things were and acknowledge the truth," he wrote.

The family has made no public comments about plans for his burial. The family's lawyer, Adolfo Casabal Elia, told the C5N channel that "the idea is to bury him in Mercedes because Videla was born there, but it's not decided yet."

Cemetery workers said the Videlas are free to put the remains in a family tomb without having to advise authorities beforehand, and that because the other family crypt is full, the dictator's remains would likely be put in his sister's crypt. Someone left two carnations, purple and red, there on Wednesday.

The deaths of Videla's contemporaries in the southern cone of South America created similar controversies. After Chile's Gen. Augusto Pinochet died in 2006, his family avoided protests by cremating him and placing the urn inside the chapel of a private family estate outside Santiago. Paraguay's Gen. Alfredo Stroessner also died in 2006, while in exile in Brazil. The Stroessners tried later to repatriate his remains, but the idea generated such protests in Asuncion that the idea was abandoned.

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Associated Press writer Michael Warren contributed to this report.


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