La Nueva Provincia owner to testify on dictatorship
Human rights organizations celebrated yesterday in Bahía Blanca, the city in the southern end of Buenos Aires province which was badly hit by repression during the last dictatorship, when they learned that Vicente Massot, the owner of the conservative daily La Nueva Provincia, was summoned to appear in court as a suspect for crimes allegedly committed during the last military dictatorship.
If he is charged, it would mark the first time an Argentine court would begin to examine the social role played by media in legitimizing state terrorism during the dictatorship years.
“There isn’t another precedent in the country,” Federal prosecutor Miguel Ángel Palazzani told the Herald.
For many, La Nueva Provincia was state terrorism’s tip of the iceberg during the dictatorship that ruled the country between 1976 and 1983 but also during democracy. Some believe that those times have changed and that Massot is closer to being held accountable for his role during those years. He is accused of killing two printshop workers and for helping the military regime cover up and justify the abductions and forced disappearances.
On March 18, the owner of La Nueva Provincia, a newspaper that forms part of the Association of Argentine Press Entities (ADEPA), will have to appear before Judge Álvaro Sebastián Coleffi, who could order Massot’s detention.
Massot is not just charged with the homicides but the prosecutor’s indictment alleges his media group played a key role in legitimizing the genocide that the military dictatorship carried out.
“The Massots — through their newspaper and their radio and TV station — ordered, helped, instigated, covered up and committed materially and symbolically the genocide, something they still do nowadays,” wrote the prosecutors.
Last year, when Federal prosecutors Palazzani and José Nebbia indicted Massot, he appeared before Judge Santiago Ulpiano Martínez, who refused to question him. Judge Martínez considered that there was no evidence “to affirm that the media was part of the criminal plan implemented by the Armed Forces.” That decision was appealed by the prosecutors, who were backed by the Federal Appeals Court. Judge Martínez had to drop the case because he had already delivered his opinion.
“The hearing will start with Massot’s statement but as soon as the judge or we, the prosecutors, ask a question, it will be turned into a defendant’s statement,” Palazzani yesterday explained to the Herald.
The trial that finished in 2012 for the crimes committed in the area involving the Fifth Army Corp in Bahía Blanca led to an investigation into the role played by La Nueva Provincia during the military regime.
Last year, prosecutors accused Massot of the death of the two printshop workers. Enrique Heinrich and Miguel Ángel Loyola were also trade unionists. Both of them were abducted on June 30, 1976. Their bodies with signs of torture appeared on the embankment of Route 33, 17 kilometres from Bahía Blanca.
They had been heading a labour conflict with the company owned by Massot. Their names were included in a list of “personnel who had to be thinned out.”
At that time, an editorial acknowledged: “La Nueva Provincia, as well as the nation, is at war.” Somehow, those words were considered as a death sentence for Loyola and Heinrich.
“Not only that,” Palazzani told this newspaper, “we have evidence that Massot was in charge of the negotiations with the union and that he met both workers before they were kidnapped.”
For Palazzani and Nebbia, there are three other sides to be considered in order to understand the importance of La Nueva Provincia during the dark years of the dictatorship.
“The media played a role in the criminal plan in the region. They had inevitably to play that role because they held a monopolistic position,” Palazzani highlighted.
Like many other newspapers, La Nueva Provincia printed stories on alleged clashes between the left-wing armed organizations and the repressive forces when in fact they had information that the victims had been executed by the dictatorship’s death squads, the prosecutors believe.
Although analyzing the role of the media in the dictatorship is new for Argentina, there is a precedent from the Nuremberg trials, where Julius Streicher — the editor of Der Stürmer — was sentenced to death for serving as a mean of propaganda for the Nazi regime. Decades afterwards, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced Hassa Ngeze — the owner of the daily Kangura — for contributing to the genocidal process.@lucianabertoia