Death Squad Fears Again Haunt Argentina

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A crucial witness in the trial of a notorious human rights abuser has been missing for nearly three weeks, and authorities and rights groups here say they fear he may have been abducted and killed in a new campaign to intimidate prosecutors, judges and witnesses in cases that have not yet gone to court.

The disappearance of Jorge Julio López, 77, a retired construction worker and former political prisoner, has awakened a host of old fears among Argentines. Some worry that it is a signal of a return of right-wing death squads that were thought to be extinct, precisely at the moment when the leaders of those groups are belatedly being summoned to justice.

“They are sending a message, that they can still threaten, kidnap and kill,” said Nilda Eloy of the Association of Former Detainees and the Disappeared, referring to former members of the police, security and military forces that were responsible for the forced disappearance of as many as 30,000 people. “There is a great deal of fear.”

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