Operation Condor, 40 Years Later: a three-day event by the Latin American Centre and the Observatorio Luz Ibarburu

The Latin American Centre of the University of Oxford and the Observatorio Luz Ibarburu (OLI), together with Montevideo’s Municipal Government and the Human Rights Secretariat of the Central Trade Union PIT-CNT, held a three-day event in Montevideo (Uruguay) from June 22 to 24, 2016, within the framework of the project “Justice without Borders: Accountability for Transnational Crimes in South America,” funded by the ESRC’s Impact Acceleration Account of the University de Oxford, The Leverhulme Trust, The British Academy, and also supported by Open Society Foundations’ Human Rights Initiative.

The event was held the week before the 43rd anniversary of the dictatorial coup in Uruguay and commemorated the 40th anniversary of Operation Condor, of which Uruguay was a founding member. The transnational network of Operation Condor - set up by the regimes of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay – facilitated the persecution of political opponents beyond borders throughout South America, resulting in hundreds of illegal detentions, murders, and disappearances.

 On Wednesday, June 22, a press conference took place in the building of the Uruguayan Press Association to formally launch the event. The speakers were Dr. Francesca Lessa (LAC), Raúl Olivera (OLI Coordinator) and Dr. Pablo Ouviña (Condor Trial public prosecutor). That same afternoon, Dr. Lessa, Dr. Ouviña, Dr. Paulina Zamorano (Human Rights Programme, Chilean Ministry of Interior) and journalist Luiz Claudio Cunha were invited to Radio Uruguay on the afternoon show to discuss progresses and challenges in the prosecution of Condor crimes in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.

On Thursday, June 23, the conference “Operation Condor: 40 Years Later” was held in the Paraninfo of the University of the Republic. The conference was organized just one month after the historic Operation Condor trial in Buenos Aires ended. The key conference goals were to disseminate the verdict and discuss the status of investigations into Condor crimes across the Southern Cone and Brazil. The Opening Panel inaugurated the event with the words of Hugo Rodriguez, the representative sent by the University Chancellor’s Office, Dr. Francesca Lessa (LAC Oxford) and Raúl Olivera (OLI Coordinator).

The first panel focused on the Operation Condor trial in Buenos Aires and the speakers were: Lorena Balardini (University of Buenos Aires), who provided an overview of human rights trials in Argentina over the past decade; Jaime Nuguer (lawyer for the original lawsuit), who outlined the origins of the historic Condor prosecution in 1999; Martin Rico (lawyer from Argentina’s Ministry of Justice Human Rights Secretariat), who discussed the background and features of Operation Condor; and Pablo Ouviña (Prosecutor in the Argentine Operation Condor trial), who through the emblematic case of two Uruguayans and three Argentines detained in Paraguay in 1977, discussed the inner workings of Operation Condor. The moderator was Dr. Francesca Lessa, from Oxford.


The second panel tackled investigations on Operation Condor crimes in Uruguay. It began with criminal prosecutor Gilberto Rodriguez who discussed some of the challenges in human rights prosecutions in Uruguay. Subsequently, Mirtha Guianze, a former criminal prosecutor, outlined her work in two leading cases relating to Operation Condor, which led to two historic verdicts in 2009, in one case seeing a former military dictator sentenced for 37 murders. Judge Mariana Mota recounted her efforts as a criminal judge when she was tackling over 50 separate criminal proceedings relating to dictatorship crimes, several of them linked to Operation Condor. Pablo Chargoñia (Coordinator of the Legal Team of the Observatorio Luz Ibarburu) described current efforts by the legal team in litigating trials in Uruguay, including the recent filing of a new lawsuit regarding the disappearance of Uruguayan Hector Giordano in Buenos Aires in 1978. Lilian Celiberti, a Uruguayan survivor of an Operation Condor kidnapping in Brazil, narrated the enduring struggle against impunity in Uruguay. The panel was moderated by Leonardo Di Cesare, a lawyer from the OLI. 


The third panel focused on Operation Condor and Brazil. Jair Krischke, President of the NGO Movement for Justice and Human Rights, narrated endeavours undertaken to firstly locate and then extradite to Argentina former Uruguayan Army Coronel, Manuel Cordero, later sentenced for 11 cases of disappearances in Buenos Aires in the Condor trial. Journalist Luiz Claudio Cunha who saved Lilian Celiberti’s life in 1978 when he went to her house together with a photographer, recounted his attempts to ensure that Lilian and her family members would not be disappeared and that the individuals involved in the failed kidnapping would be identified. Finally, public prosecutor Ivan Claudio Marx discussed his work in trying to initiate criminal investigations in Brazil regarding Operation Condor atrocities committed there. 

On Friday, June 24, a closed-session workshop was held on the premises of Montevideo’s Municipal Government with the participation of human rights activists, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and members of national ministries, for a total of 36 participants. Taking as starting point the Operation Condor trial in Buenos Aires, but also prosecutions in Uruguay and Chile on the same subject, the discussion focused on the legal and factual challenges associated with investigating transnational crimes. After an introductory session, two separate groups worked for 1.5 hours to address debate and exchange experiences in relation to the Operation Condor trial and the investigation and prosecution of transnational crimes. Working in the two groups, led by the project consultant Lorena Balardini (PhD student at the University of Buenos Aires), Dr. Lessa, Raúl Olivera, and Maria Florencia Gonzalez (Chilean Ministry of Justice and Human Rights), the aim was to develop suggestions for concrete tools and strategies to implement at the national and regional levels to facilitate the investigation of Operation Condor crimes. Among the key recommendations discussed were the creation of a regional database to simplify the exchange of information and proofs among judges and prosecutors, as well as the creation of multidisciplinary research teams. These conclusions, together with those gathered in the 2015 event in Chile, will be then presented to regional organisations and justice ministries.


Press and Radio Links about the Event:

Radio Uruguay



La Diaria



Tele Doce




Sputnik GPS Internacional




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