ROME — A Rome court on Tuesday convicted eight former South American political and military leaders in the disappearance and deaths of 23 people of Italian origin during the crackdown on leftists and intellectuals by the region's military dictatorships.
Another 19 people were absolved in the Italian prosecution of "Operation Condor," the secret alliance of South American dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s in which military leaders
Among those convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison were former Bolivian President Luis García Meza Tejada, former Peruvian President Francisco Morales Bermudez, two retired Chilean army officials and a Uruguayan politician.
Prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo said once all appeals are exhausted, Italy would seek to have any sentences served in the elderly defendants' home countries, where some already are jailed or under house arrest.
Capaldo said he was only partially pleased with the verdicts, given the many people who were absolved.
Amnesty International's Patrizia Sacco, who followed the trial, declined to comment pending the judges' written verdict, but acknowledged, "It is very difficult to bring to trial people accused of crimes committed a long time ago."
Georgina Cabrera, a Chilean who said she was an opposition activist during the military regime of President Augusto Pinochet, wept at the ruling and called it "a slap to humanity."
"In our countries, we did not have justice and we were expecting to get it here," Cabrera said. "But this verdict is painful."
The daughter of Morales Bermudez criticized the verdict, saying Peru's former president asked to be investigated over the allegations and went before his country's Supreme Court, which ruled 5-1 that the Peruvian government wasn't involved in Operation Condor.
"My father is clam, but we (the family) are concerned given his age" of 95 years, Remigio Morales Bermudez said. "How unfair is it not?"
An Italian government adviser who attended the final hearing, Maria Elena Boschi, noted the presence of an official Uruguayan delegation.
"For the Italian government, it was fundamental to have justice," Boschi said before the verdict. "This (trial) has a historic importance: for the first time we have connected tragic events that happened in different parts of the world."
Operation Condor was launched in November 1975 by Chile's Pinochet, who ousted Marxist President Salvador Allende in a 1973 coup. Allende's niece, the novelist Isabel Allende, testified during the Italian trial, the ANSA news agency reported.
This version has been corrected to show the first name of the Italian prosecutor is Giancarlo.