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Bahía Blanca awaits Massot’s testimony

Vicente Massot leaves court last month.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff

The owner of La Nueva Provincia will be questioned about dictatorship-era crimes today

BAHÍA BLANCA — The city of Bahía Blanca, in the south of Buenos Aires province, will be shaken today by Vicente Massot’s appearance in court, where he will be questioned about crimes committed during the last dictatorship that ruled Argentina.

La Nueva Provincia, a newspaper founded in 1898, holds a monopolistic position not only in Bahía Blanca, the seat of the country’s main naval base, but also in the surrounding cities.

The location of Massot’s newsroom also shows how entrenched the newspaper is in this city of more than 300,000 inhabitants. Just opposite the Town Hall, the ancient newsroom stands next to the Cathedral. The elegant façade now holds a sign indicating that it is the venue of the Bahía Blanca Bar Association.

The current newsroom is located around the corner. That is where days ago prosecutors Miguel Ángel Palazzani and José Nebbia headed a raid to seize material from the years before the last military coup and from the years in which repression was intensified in Bahía Blanca. On the wall next to the newsroom’s entrance, a number of posters announcing today’s questioning have been placed by human rights organizations.

Who is Massot?

Vicente Massot is seen by many, including the National Commission on the Forced Disappearance of Persons (Conadep), as one of the clearest supporters of the dictatorship that left 30,000 forced disappeared people. Born in 1952 in the Philippines, Vicente Massot is the great-grandson of La Nueva Provincia’s founder, Enrique Julio.

In the 1950s, the newspaper was closed down by the Peronist government and its owners radicalized their opposition to Juan Domingo Perón’s administration. During the dictatorship which ruled the country between 1955 and 1958, Massot’s mother, Diana Julio de Massot, became the head of the daily.

In 1975, workers went on strike for three weeks. In that year, the Coast Guard issued a brief identifying printshop workers Enrique Heinrich and Miguel Loyola as workers who had to be “thinned out.” In 1976, both of them were abducted and their corpses appeared days later.

The prosecutors also have information that Massot was in charge of negotiations with the union leaders in 1975, information which was dismissed by the head of La Nueva Provincia, who said that he was in Buenos Aires completing his compulsory military service between 1976 and 1977 and only occasionally visited the newsroom.

Massot started his journalistic career in those years. In the early 70s, he became the first news editor of Cabildo, an ultra-Catholic and nationalist magazine with a warlike message.

“Cabildo was belligerent but none of us were part of a clandestine army which claimed to have the right to kill those who thought differently,” Massot told the conservative daily La Nación, in which he often publishes articles, a couple of years ago.

In the 80s, Massot was in touch with the so-called “carapintadas” military officers who defied democratically elected authorities. Massot admitted he had a close relationship with Aldo Rico, a retired officer who later became San Miguel mayor.

He was Carlos Menem’s deputy Defence minister and had to leave this post when the government suggested the promotion of two torturers who served at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA) clandestine detention centre. That scandal also led to former Navy officer Adolfo Scilingo’s confession about the so-called “death flights.” Repressor Scilingo wrote a book in which he mentioned the presence of Massot’s mother and brother in the Puerto Belgrano naval base to demand a more repressive strategy from the military regime. Both of them have passed away and it is only Vicente Massot who could provide any explanation of the role played by La Nueva Provincia.

Today

A day after the Federal Criminal Appeals Court rejected the prosecutor’s request to arrest Massot, the media businessman is expected to arrive this morning by 8am at the courthouse located on Alsina street.

Masssot will have to answer the questions of Palazzani and Nebbia before Judge Álvaro Coleffi. Last year, the prosecutors charged Massot with the homicide of the two printshop workers, with being part of a conspiracy with the military junta and with covering up 35 killings or forced disappearances.

Massot is a member of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI) but that organization confirmed to the Herald that they were not planning to issue any press statement on Massot’s situation, although at an event held by that institution he acknowledged having had a role in the 1970s. The Association of the Argentine Press Entities (ADEPA) expressed its opposition to the raid on La Nueva Provincia’s newsroom. The Moral Science Academy also supported Massot, as well as an organization which pledges its support to the so-called “Conquest of the Desert,” a military campaign carried out in the late 1870 that involved massacring the indigenous population.

@lucianabertoia

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