December 14, 2017

Daniel Rafecas, Federal Judge

Sunday, June 8, 2014

‘There is no way for next gov’t to stop trials’

Daniel Rafecas
Daniel Rafecas
Daniel Rafecas
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff

Born: August 5, 1967
Position: Federal judge since 2004
Education: Law (UBA), Doctorate (UBA)
Currently reading: Pol Pot’s regime by Ben Kiernan, Cuentas Pendientes by Horacio Verbitsky and Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky.
Newspapers: Clarín, La Nación, Página/12

by luciana bertoia

herald staff


The third floor of the courthouse located on Comodoro Py Avenue is packed with people coming and going. Judge Daniel Rafecas is waiting for the Herald in his office, which is full of books and family pictures. Among those are some books of his authorship, including Historia de la solución final, published in 2011. He granted the interview making it clear that he would not discuss the issues surrounding his 2012 removal from the case investigating Vice-President Amado Boudou and the ex-Ciccone mint company. Rafecas sits down and enthusiastically says: “OK, Let’s talk about human rights.”

Is it possible to compare the Nazi genocide and the repression unleashed by the last Argentine dictatorship?

I started studying the Shoah before I became a federal judge and those studies were useful to frame the legal investigations relating to the last dictatorship. Argentine repressors were inspired by their Nazi counterparts. Within the First Army Corps, for example, there was clearly a particular rage against Jewish detainees.


The military and police organizations that were involved in the repression underwent training that was marked by fascist, nationalist and even National Socialist ideas that had an anti-Semitic focus. Being a Jew in a clandestine detention centre became yet another reason to be tortured and also a reason to be included in what repressors called “transfers” (exterminations).

Was this situation more evident in a particular detention centre?

Yes, in the so-called El Vesubio. Two of every 10 detainees there were Jewish.

Was this reflective of a particular anti-Semitic sentiment of the time?

I often think about when the repressors were trained. It was not in the 1970s. It was during prior decades and that makes us think of an authoritarian culture, which has been present in Argentine society at least since the first military coup in 1930.

Have there been changes in the way the security forces are trained?

Since 1983, the country has not suffered interruptions in its democracy. A democratic culture has been moving forward but there are still certain places where an authoritarian culture persists.

There are practices such as the espionage carried out by the Navy when trials against the perpetrators of crimes during the dictatorship were in progress that you had to investigate...

Exactly. But we should not forget that in these 30 years of democracy systematic torture cases take place in certain provincial penitentiary systems, including in Buenos Aires province. You can still breathe the same dictatorial air there.


Because a detainee is seen as a non-person, who leaves his rights behind when he enters the penitentiary. That is what explains the outrageous state of prisons, which have been abandoned by the state.

But don’t you think there is a social responsibility that goes beyond that of the state?

Yes, that’s the crux of the issue. We, as a society, and particularly the middle classes, cannot just look to the state. This is a society that lived in an authoritarian country for a long time in the 20th century. A society doesn’t automatically change after a democratic election. Cultural reforms take a long time.

Can what happened during the last dictatorship be defined as a genocide?

Not from a judicial point of view. As a judge I am forced to apply the 1948 Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which excludes political groups from the definition of genocide. In Argentina, those who suffered persecution did so because of their political ideas.

How can you explain the aim of the repression then?

Perpetrators explain that they wanted to place Argentina inside the Western and Catholic world, which was opposed to atheist Communism. For them, political, economic and religious reasons were part of the same package. It’s also true that there was an economic elite that instigated the coup and also benefited with an extraordinary restructuring of wealth that began in 1976.

In these 10 years since the dictatorship-era cases were reopened, is there any questioning of a repressor that particularly stands out to you?

Yes, having (late dictator Jorge Rafael) Videla face to face. I thought that I was going to be prepared for that moment but it was shocking to have the head of the dictatorship take responsibility for all the repressive machinery. Then, there was the case of an important intelligence agent who offered to cooperate with the courts if we gave him something in exchange. I thought about it, I talked to some other people and in a second meeting I told him that I was not going to give him anything. He refused to testify.

Why did you make that decision?

In this country we have reached a general consensus behind the idea of judging and punishing those responsible. Searching for the truth is secondary.

Is there a particularly pending issue in the investigations for crimes committed during the last dictatorship?

We were able to reconstruct how abductions took place, how the death squads were formed and even how things worked inside the clandestine detention centres but we have not been able to discover how those “transfers” took place. And we don’t know that because nobody survived a “transfer.” All the information we have was provided by survivors.

In the political world, some say that trials for crimes against humanity will end next year when the government changes...

I haven’t heard that.

I have. What do you think?

I took office in 2004 and many had doubts. I didn’t. These proceedings have been strengthened. I do not have the feeling that trials are about to end, even though there is a general goal to accelerate sentences before the next government takes office. The Supreme Court and human rights organizations say the trials are here to stay.

Don’t you believe there is a possibility that this era could end?

There is no way to stop the trials. As long as perpetrators are alive, the Argentine state can and must judge them for their crimes.

Although you do not want to comment on the allegations unleashed by Vice-President Amado Boudou for your probe on the Ciccone case I was wondering how you reacted to the support from human rights groups during the ongoing investigation by the Magistrates Council?

The best strength a judge can have, in terms of independence from all powers, is the support from society. When I heard about their support, my mood changed. I’ll always express my gratitude to them.

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