Marcos Paz, Buenos Aires, Friday, July 12th, 2013
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Having reached and passed the midyear point, I believe it’s about time for another update. This ESMA trial which commenced last November slowly drags on, three sessions a week -Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays- which we can follow from Marcos Paz by videoconference.
After the individual statements of each one of the accused, this stage of the trial began in March with the witness testimonies. This includes witnesses for the prosecution as well as for the defense, taken from a list of more than 850. The average amount of testimonies per day is quite low, approximately 2 or 3 per session. Therefore after the first four months this has resulted in the testimonies of about 125 witnesses, most of them witnesses for the prosecution. However, there have also been some cases of witnesses that have not shown up (20), still others have been “given up” either by the prosecution or the defense (12), and those who have passed away (2).
It is important to point out that none of the witnesses for the prosecution has ever mentioned me or made any reference to my person. Most of these witnesses are relatives of persons who were detained at the ESMA. Others are so-called “survivors” who, after being imprisoned for a certain period of time (ranging from just a few hours or days, to months or even several years) were then released from the ESMA. I continue to be surprised by how large this group is. Many detainees were released because they were not terrorists, or without any explanation at all. Others were at a later stage escorted home and then picked up again on a regular basis. After a certain time they did this on their own, returning to the ESMA as if it were a job. And still some others received a safe-conduct to leave the country and even received airplane tickets to do so. The infamous “death flights” have been mentioned only in passing, as one of the methods supposedly used to eliminate some prisoners, without giving any details of them at all.
Of course I find these gruesome testimonies totally deplorable. It only increases my will to prove that I had absolutely nothing to do with such atrocities. In fact, it is totally unacceptable that a judge such as Torres and a prosecutor such as Taiano, were allowed to accuse me of crimes without a shred of evidence! On the contrary, all the evidence proved that I was not involved. And then the Appeals Court after first nullifying my indictment in 2010, one year later washed their hands sending me to trial with almost 70 others that can take several years to be completed, just to clear their “doubts”. The question is, will the new (trial) prosecutors Friele and Souza Reilly still try to build a case against me based on nothing? They have the burden of presenting proof that doesn´t exist (simply because I did not participate). And another question: when will this trial end? Initially it was estimated to take 24 months, meaning November of 2014. At the present rate however, it seems more likely to continue until the end of 2015 or into 2016!
Most Dutch press reporters who were present in Buenos Aires to cover my testimony on February 18th were surprised by the absence of the Argentine media. Actually there were two: the official government news agency Télam and the newspaper Página 12, who follow these trials regularly. No one here was particularly interested in my case, especially since the local media just seek sensationalism and prefer not to listen to someone like me stating my innocence. The freakish reaction of the human rights group HIJOS complaining of the presence of the Dutch Ambassador Mr. Hein de Vries just shows their disregard for the human rights of others and their (intentional) ignorance of the presumption of innocence. Regardless of the trial proceedings they have already condemned me and therefore in their minds the Ambassador is supporting a “mass murderer”. Precisely this is an example of why it is so important to have the presence of impartial authorities to guarantee a fair trial. Besides this incident there were no other reactions in the press of Argentina, contrary to what was reported in the Netherlands, where the complaint from HIJOS was blown out of proportion.
There is yet no news regarding the testimonies of the Dutch witnesses involved in my case. We expect them to be summoned to testify here in Buenos Aires sometime next year. Then they should have to explain to the judges of the Tribunal how and why they started a “witch hunt” against me in 2006 based on hearsay.
I have been asked to give my view of the so-called “rotation” system of naval officers in the tasks of the ESMA. It is necessary to put things in actual context. In 1976 the Argentine Navy had more than 2000 (two thousand) officers on active duty counting all the different specialties. From what I have learned here, about 30 officers (1,5%) were active at the ESMA in the task group against terrorism, dedicated mostly to fighting against the clandestine paramilitary group Montoneros. During the most active period –years 1976 and 1977- the permanent staff was temporarily reinforced with a few more officers from different units of the Navy routinely for short periods or rotations of 3 months. How many is hard to establish, but over the years an estimated 30 officers.
Consequently a total of about 60 officers had duties regarding antiterrorism at the ESMA, which was only 3% of the total amount of naval officers on active duty at the time. Keep in mind that the ESMA was mainly an institute of teaching, training and education of all the petty officers of the Navy with many other officers assigned to those tasks.
From the total of 2000 officers of the Navy, a little over 200 (two hundred) – representing 10%- were naval aviators. In that same proportion some aviators may have been sent to the ESMA as part of the operative task group, not as pilots. The ESMA had no aircraft, airport facilities or runway. The nearest ones were the transport squadrons of Lockheed Electra and of Douglas DC-3 based at Ezeiza (main airport of Buenos Aires) which had their own naval pilots assigned on a permanent basis. So these pilot crews did not rotate, since the pilots of different aircraft are not interchangeable. They need special training and capacitation specific to each aircraft type. Typically, if you were sent to a transport squadron you would stay there for at least two (but mostly for several) years.
I don’t think there was a pact to “share the blood” of the actions at the ESMA as some -such as Scilingo- have dramatized. (By the way, many mistakenly think Scilingo was a pilot, which is incorrect.) It is necessary to emphasize that the actions carried out at the ESMA were secret and covert operations, even within the Navy. And I still don’t know for certain if any “death flights” ever took place. What I know for sure is that none of the naval aviators of the attack squadrons I integrated: Aermacchi in 1976-1977, and Skyhawk from 1977 to 1980, were ever sent to the ESMA, either as permanent staff or on rotation.
I am mentioning only the estimated officer figures. Also petty officers, corporals and sailors are suspected of having been involved. This is reflected in the amount of persons accused. This ESMA trial is called ESMA “Unified” and started with 69 accused, but 2 have died (Montes and Perez Froio), leaving 67 remaining. Of these, 20 are petty officers, and a few are from other forces such as Army, Police, National Guard and Coast Guard, who apparently also rotated through the ESMA . Several other officers are accused of being responsible because they were high ranking officers at the time (admirals). The irony is that all of those included in this last group are at home due to their advanced age (in their eighties).
Very soon, the 22nd of September will mark the fourth anniversary of my unfair arrest in Spain. Sadly these years of my life will be lost forever even if –as I expect- I am acquitted at the end of this nightmare. I try to avoid becoming bitter and angry. This terrible experience has shaken my faith in the fairness of the world, including all justice systems. I am especially very disappointed in how the Dutch justice handled my case, avoiding it completely and leaving me defenseless.
Finally I want to assure you I am still in good health and spirits. And trying to pass the relatively short and mild winter of Buenos Aires. On October 15th I will officially reach the three years of “pre-trial detention” as computed by the Argentine authorities (since unfortunately they don’t take into account my prison time in Spain). That is the maximum allowed by law without a sentence, and for sure we will request once again my provisional freedom.
I really appreciate all the help, advice and continuing support from all my friends and ex-colleagues. Of course I am grateful to my dear family who has risen to these difficult circumstances, showing me love and strength. It allows me to have faith that in the end justice will prevail. And it helps me trust and believe in the goodness of people.
Once again I wish to express my gratitude to all the persons who have made the Foundation FJJP and this Website possible. I will not get tired of stating how important it is to have your backing –both moral and financial- until I regain my freedom and return to my family. Muchísimas gracias.
I quote Abraham Lincoln who said: “Let there be JUSTICE”.
My sincere greetings to all,
Julio Alberto Poch