Luis Muiña has been sentenced to life in prison after a Buenos Aires City federal court found him guilty of the murder of a doctor who worked at the Posadas Hospital in western Buenos Aires Province during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983).
Muiña, 63, rose to fame last year after the Supreme Court issued a controversial ruling allowing human rights violators to benefit from the so-called ‘two for one’ rule, through which criminals were told time served in prison before conviction counted double on their final sentence. Amid public outcry, Congress quickly moved to quash that possibility.
On Friday, Federal Oral Court (TOF) No. 2 ruled that Muiña was one of the co-authors of the 1976 murder of Jorge Roitman, condemning the human rights violator to life in prison. However, the presiding judges dropped charges related to death of Jacobo Chester, an administrative worker at a medical centre, who was also killed that year.
On December 2, 1976, both Chester and Roitman were kidnapped from their homes by a group of guards from the Posadas hospital, where the duo worked. Muiña was part of a so-called “SWAT group” that helped set up “El Chalet,” a clandestine detention centre within the hospital, where workers and residents from the area were illegally held and tortured.
For years, the exact fate of the late medical professionals were unknown. Roitman’s body only surfaced appeared in November last year while works were being carried out outside a memorial at the site. The body was identified thanks to the efforts of the Argentina Forensic Anthropologic Team (EAAF).
One of Roitman’s daughters, Alejandra, has been in a plaintiff in the trial against Muiña, which started back in May. The doctor’s sister, Diana Roitman, was in court yesterday to hear the verdict be handed down to Muiña.
“This is an exemplary ruling. Argentino Ríos [who was also a defendant in the case] should also have been convicted, but he died during the trial. At least one of the members of the SWAT group will serve a sentence,” she told the Times. “Jorge appeared at the right moment, making this conviction possible.”
“Justice was done,” added Gladys Cuervo, a survivor of the torture camp that operated within the hospital’s walls. Cuervo, a retired nurse, has been a key witness in trials investigating crimes committed by the SWAT group, ever since the 1985 Trial of the Juntas.
Zulema Chester, whose father was also killed by Muiña’s group, celebrated the verdict: “We came here to put on trial this guy who benefitted from the two-for-one ruling of the Supreme Court. He was given life imprisonment and he will have to serve his time in jail. That’s positive.”
Jacobo Chester’s body was found in the River Plate on December 2, 1976. However, the authorities did not manage to get word to his wife and daughter until long after that. The family were never able to recover and bury the corpse. According to prosecutor Pablo Ouviña, Chester was the victim of a ‘death flight,’ extrajudicial killings in which drugged detainees were flown up in airplanes and thrown to their deaths into the sea.
Prosecutor María Ángeles Ramos, the head of the Attorney General’s Unit for Crimes Against Humanity, praised yesterday’s sentence but said she would have to analyse why judges did not convict Muiña of Chester’s death.
“It was evident seven years ago – when the first trial for crimes committed at the hospital was held – that Muiña was responsible for these deaths. Although it took a long time, it is positive to have achieved this life sentence,” she told the Times.
Muiña will serve his second sentence for crimes at humanity at the Campo de Mayo jail, the prison where the majority those convicted of such crimes during the last military dictatorship are held. The prison which was re-opened in 2016 by the Mauricio Macri administration.
It was Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas, in 2007, who ordered Muiña’s arrest and sent him to trial after the re-opening of cases investigating human rights violations during the era of state terror. Four years later, Muiña found himself sat in the dock alongside two military leaders, Reynaldo Benito Bignone and Hipólito Mariani, as he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the abduction and torture of five prisoners, including Chester and Roitman.
After having served two-thirds of his conviction, Muiña was released in 2016. On May 3, 2017, Supreme Court Justices Elena Highton de Nolasco, Carlos Rosenkrantz and Horacio Rosatti then issued a ruling saying that (discounting the first two years of the term), that every day he spent jailed without a conviction confirmed by an upper court should count double.
The ruling, which was immediately criticised by human rights organisations, sparked political turmoil. Lower courts were reluctant to follow the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence. A massive de mo centred on the Plaza de Mayo drew hundreds of thousands to the streets. Congress rushed to pass a bill that prevented the application of the ‘two for one’ principle for cases of crimes against humanity.
The court ended up dragging Muiña, previously not a well-known figure, into the public eye, giving momentum the second trial addressing crimes committed at the Posadas Hospital’s clandestine detention centre.