General Jorge Rafael Videla, the de facto president of Argentina during the most brutal phase of the military regime of 1976-81, died Friday of natural causes in his sleep while serving his sentence at a Marcos Paz prison. He was 88.
Videla was the face of the 1976-83 dictatorship in Argentina, in which 30,000 people are believed to have been killed.
Videla was president during the most brutal phase of the military regime, 1976-81.
The regime systematically repressed political opponents, setting up secret detention centres in which perceived critics were tortured and in most cases presumably killed.
Videla provided no concrete information about the fate of the many who disappeared under his rule.
He said a task force under the command of a general decided whether detainees were to be released, jailed or subjected to the so-called final disposal, which meant killing them and disposing of the bodies.
"These are two very military words that mean discarding something that is useless," he said in remarks published last year. "When, for example, you talk about clothes that are no longer in use or are no use because they are worn out, they go for final disposal. They no longer have a useful life."
Videla was born on August 2, 1925 in Mercedes, about 100 kilometres west of Buenos Aires. In 1976 he led a coup against Argentine president Maria Estela Martinez de Peron and the military Junta made him president. He stepped down in 1981 amid infighting.
He was condemned to life in prison in a historic trial of the juntas in 1985. He was later pardoned and released in 1990.
In 1998 he was again imprisoned for his role in the illegal appropriation of babies during the dictatorship. He served the first few years under house arrest. In 2008 he was sent to a military prison and in 2012 he was moved to a civilian jail.
Until his death, he had maintained he was a "political prisoner."
Under his rule political prisoners were tortured and thrown alive from planes in the Rio de la Plata. Babies born to detained women were taken and handed over to families that the regime believed were more suitable.
In 1978, Videla presided over ceremonies at the Argentina 1978 World Cup, which the hosts won.
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