Human rights lawyer Hipólito Solari YrigoyenSunday, May 18, 2014
‘The Triple A was born under the protection of General Perón’
Profession: Lawyer, politician, human rights leader
Political party: Radical Party (UCR)
Alma mater: University of Buenos Aires
Past positions: Senator, President of the UCR national party committee
Family Background: Great grand nephew of UCR founder Leandro Alem and nephew of first UCR President Hipólito Yrigoyen
Dr. Hipólito Solari Yrigoyen is a man intimately tied to the Radical party (UCR), having been one of the founders of the Movement for Renewal and Change that was led by Raúl Alfonsín, challenging the more conservative wing of the party. He was twice elected senator but rose to prominence due to his work in human rights, defending political prisoners in the 1970s—work that put his life directly at risk. Solari Yrigoyen faced three assassination attempts, was imprisoned, tortured and exiled. He holds the dubious distinction of having been the first person to face an assassination attempt by the rightwing paramilitary group Triple A on November 21, 1973. Solari Yrigoyen spoke to the Herald last week at a café on Santa Fe avenue about the human rights movement and what he sees for the future of the Radical Party.
What is your opinion about the human rights trials taking place in the country?
They’re good. The worst enemy of human rights is impunity. Those accused of committing crimes against humanity must be brought to trial. If they are crimes against humanity, there are no statute of limitations because they are crimes committed by the State.
So, would the Triple A (The Anti-Communist Argentine Alliance) not classify since it was a paramilitary group?
No, its chief was a government minister (José López Rega), who created an organization linked to the government when General (Juan Domingo) Perón was in power. Its first assassination attempt was in November, 21, 1973—I was the first victim. And Perón died in July, 1 1974. The Triple A was born under the protection of General Perón. It’s naive to think that López Rega started it by himself. The Triple A was a rightwing organization but it was fundamentally Peronist. Many Peronists will cover this up and say it began after Perón died. But no, it began in Peron’s era.
Is there less information about the Triple A because it wasn’t a registered organization like the military?
The truth is that since the Triple A operated during the Peronist period, some Peronists don’t want to talk about it. That’s the truth. But Isabel Perón ordered the Independence Operation and named a murderer like Acdel Vilas as its chief of the operations. He didn’t take any prisoners—he killed more than 500 people.
When your life was under threat in the 1970s, why didn’t you just leave the country?
Neither an assassination attempt nor a threat would change my political beliefs. I did what my conscience told me.
Why did you put yourself at risk for political prisoners even though they did not have an affiliation to your party?
They asked for my help. They were victims of an authoritarian system and they needed an attorney. I followed two basic approaches. I never asked for freedom for those who had been formally charged, but rather made sure their imprisonment conditions were humane and that they would have a fair trial. But I demanded freedom for those who were incarcerated but had not been charged.
And it was because of this work that the military tried to assassinate you?
Yeah, I think those activities bothered them, otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered to try to kill me.
What do you think of leaders of human rights organizations or government leaders who were connected to urban guerillas?
If they regret what they did and asked for forgiveness, I think it’s OK. But if, they vindicate their actions and still believe in violence, those views are incompatible with a democracy.
What do you say to those who insist Raul Alfonsín’s government was cowardly for enacting the Full Stop law and law of Due Obedience that brought an end to dictatorship-era trials?
It’s ridiculous. Alfonsín was the man who tried the military and sent them to jail. Alfonsín set an example.
Do you fear that after this government’s mandate ends, the next administration could turn back the progress in human rights trials?
No, that would be like a military coup.
Some say the trials amount to revenge...
No, then there wouldn’t be justice. And those who have been charged now have the guarantee of a public trial.
As a supporter of the trials, do you criticize anything about the government’s human rights policy?
When the government talks about human rights problems of the past, it does a good job. But its freedom of expression policy has failed. If you criticize the government, then it will put you on a blacklist.
Do you have an example of that?
Yes, there are many examples. The government views its adversaries as enemies rather than respecting their opinions.
What do you think of the controversial UCR advertisement that criticized the government’s human rights policies, with a particular focus on Army chief César Milani?
I agree 100 percent with the ad. Milani was a repressor and he can’t deny it.
How do you view the Radical Party now?
It’s doing well in Congress. It’s the first opposition party obviously and it’s fulfilling the duties that come with that role. You can’t confuse the political party with the personal projects—the UCR is political party not a personal project.
What do you think of the recent alliance with UNEN and the Broad Front?
I think it’s a good idea to try to join forces with groups that have similar goals.
But couldn’t the diverse set of politicians and ideologies within the alliance lead to conflicts?
We need to wait, I don’t know. For now there haven’t been any conflicts. It’s a mistake to think that the solution to a bad Peronist government is another Peronist government. We want a full democracy.
What does that mean?
There are two steps. The first is that the legitimacy of a democracy is granted by an election. And the second is to govern democratically because an election is not a blank cheque.
Like this government?
Yes, like this government. It thinks that it can do whatever it wants after winning.
Some have proposed an alliance between the PRO and the UCR...
I’ve already answered that: an alliance must be between parties with similar objectives. We respect PRO but it’s not a party that shares our objectives.