Luciano Benjamín Menéndez, the former general and commander of the Third Army Corps who was handed a record 14 life sentences for atrocities committed during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983), died on Tuesday. He was 90 years old.
Menéndez, an infamous and unrepentant figure, was accused of committing more than 800 crimes against humanity during the dark days of the dictatorship, including torture and murder at clandestine detention centres in Córdoba.
The former leader of the Córdoba-based, 15,000-strong Third Army Corps was hospitalised in Córdoba’s military hospital on February 7, where he had been in a critical condition due to complications from a liver condition.
The Córdoba-based newspaper La Voz del Interior described Menéndez as “the master of life and death” in the region. He ruled the province with an iron hand, helping to decide who would be tortured and killed. He was currently serving his sentences under house arrest, with another trial against him in the works. He would have been 91 years old on June 19.
The Full Stop Law – which granted dictatorship-era criminals relief from investigations into their crimes – initially meant Menéndez did not face prosecution for his actions, although he was eventually imprisoned for various crimes against humanity.
However, in 1990, he was officially pardoned by former president Carlos Menem, days before a further decision and sentence would have been handed down. In 2005, the Justice Department declared the pardon, along with others affecting repressors, unconstitutional and he was charged with crimes against humanity.
Menéndez, nicknamed “the jackal” and “the hyena,” holds the dubious honour of being the Argentine general with the most life sentences in the country’s history.
In a key 2006 trial, he was found guilty of 282 disappearances of people at the La PerlaLa Ribera concentration camp in Córdoba, along with 52 homicides, 260 kidnappings, and 656 cases of torture.
During his defence, before being read his sentence for this case, the ex-general expressed: “We hold the dubious honour of being the first country in the history of the world that judges their victorious soldiers who fought against the Marxist guerrillas and defeated them on the orders and on behalf of their compatriots.”
He remained unrepentant for his crimes, declaring in one trial that “there was no clandestine repression.” Under his logic, the victims of his crimes against humanity were criminals themselves.
His hatred laid no bounds on his behaviour – in an emblematic photo taken by DyN, Menéndez was caught with a knife in his hand while he sprang at a group of protesters in 1984. Among the military he was a known hardliner, principally alongside the former Navy commander-in-chief Emilio Eduardo Massera.
Additionally, the repressor spurred a coup within the military coup. Menéndez revolted on September 28, 1979, in the north of Cordoba but, against the strength of Jorge Rafael Videla’s forces, ended up surrendering and was jailed for 90 days in the cell at a base camp in Curuzú Cuatiá, Corrientes, Página/12 reported.
A steadfast proponent that Argentina enter into war with Chile over the Beagle Channel Conflict, Menéndez was known for uttering the phrase: “If we let the chilotes attack us, we’ll run them to Easter Island, the toast at the end of the year will be held in the palace of La Moneda and after that we’ll piss the champagne into the Pacific.”
Menéndez also disappeared books in 1976 when he orchestrated a burning of books as massive as it was strict. The purpose, as the repressor himself put it, was to impede “the continued betrayal of our children” and “destroy by fire” the “pernicious documentation that affects intellect and our ways of Christianity.” Among the many books reduced to ashes were those of Julio Cortá- zar, Pablo Neruda and Gabriel García Márquez.
Menéndez was born into a military family in 1927 in San Martìn (the Greater Buenos Aires district housing Campo de Mayo, the chief Army base) – his uncle General Benjamín Menéndez, who also lived to be 90, headed the 1951 coup attempt against the Juan Domingo Perón presidency. A precocious cadet, he graduated from military academy at the age of 18 and was a cavalry general at 45.
A widower since 2012, he fathered seven children, five of whom are still alive.