Colonel Pedro Antonio Mato Narbondo earned the nickname “El Burro” from his colleagues in the Uruguayan Army for the brutal way in which he conducted his interrogations. Agent of the dictatorship in the 1970s, trained at the School of the Americas in Panama, which taught torture methods to Latin American military personnelNarbondo has just been sentenced to life in prison in Italy for participating in “an impressive series of exceptionally serious crimes” that involved illegal kidnappings, torture, murder and disappearance of political opponents of the regime in Uruguay. “El Burro” is one of the 14 soldiers from the Southern Cone who have been definitively sentenced for the crimes of Operation Condor, a secret military intelligence collaboration with South American dictatorships that involved, among other things, training in torture methods.
The process took place in Italy because several of the victims of criminals against humanity had Italian citizenship. Of the 11 Uruguayans convicted by the Rome Court of Cassation in early July, only Narbondo is not in prison. About to turn 80 in September, the retired colonel leads a quiet life in a middle-class neighborhood of Santana do Livramento, in Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, which borders the Uruguayan city of Rivera. It was at the door of his house that he spoke exclusively with Morning. Until today, no journalist from Argentina or Uruguay had managed to interview him.RELATED
“I was a military man, I followed orders and we lived in an era of guerrillas (Latin American revolutionary movements) in the countries. The Tupamaros in Uruguay, VAR Palmares in Brazil, the same in Argentina, Chile … so whatever I say in my defense, As a military man, it will be of no use. It is in the political sphere where these issues must be resolved, “he said. When asked if he committed the crimes for which he was convicted, he changed the subject: “It was a period, and that was all in the past.” He refused to be photographed.
Narbondo lives less than two kilometers from the imaginary line that separates Brazil from Uruguay, where he is considered a fugitive from justice, after a judge summoned him to testify in a case in which he is being investigated for the death under torture of a worker in 1972. He never showed up and that’s why there is a international arrest warrant issued by Interpol at the request of your country of origin.
Narbondo’s international arrest warrant is limited because he has been considered Brazilian since 2003, when he went to a Livramento registry office to choose the nationality of his mother, born in the municipality of Rio Grande do Sul. With this, Narbondo is protected by Article 5 of the Constitution of Brazil, which guarantees that “no Brazilian will be extradited“to answer for crimes in other countries.
“He is a free citizen in Brazil and he has rights and duties like any other,” said his lawyer, Julio Martin Favero, from Rio Grande do Sul, known to the military for facilitating the regularization of real estate sales documents on the Brazilian side. “Narbondo was a military man at a time when there was practically a civil war. No one is an angel, but you can’t believe everything attributed to them. I am dealing with the consequences and within the law. And do not ask me if I am ashamed to defend a citizen, whom they call genocidal and I do not know what else, “defended the lawyer.
Mato Narbondo was convicted in Italy for participating in the death and disappearance of four citizens of that country: Bernardo Arnone, Gerardo Gatti, Juan Pablo Recagno Ibarburu and María Emilia Islas Gatti de Zaffaroni. “Bernardo left the house at 7 in the morning and never came back. Now, 45 years later, I can say that justice has been served,” said Mihura, Bernardo’s widow, at the end of the final hearing of the process that sentenced the torturers, in Rome, on July 9.
“It is a historic sentence. We gave the victims memory and justice. It is an act against barbarism,” declared the lawyer for the Court of Cassation, Pietro Gaeta.
Bernardo Arnone, Gatti, Ibarburu and Zaffaroni were arrested in Buenos Aires and transferred to the dreaded clandestine center (the name given to the places where the military hid and tortured people) in the capital called Orletti Automotive, as revealed by the testimonies of torture survivors who met the disappeared in the corridors of the mechanical workshop.
Nicknamed “El Jardín” by the repressors, the clandestine prison was the main base of Operation Condor in the country. It is estimated that more than 300 people were arrested there.
The brothers passed through this same place Julien Grisonas, who were children (one and four years old) when they were kidnapped with their parents in Argentina by the Uruguayan intelligence service. This was one of the cases investigated by the Uruguayan justice in which Narbondo’s name appears related to crimes committed in the context of Operation Condor, but it ended up being acquitted due to lack of evidence. The children went through various clandestine detention and torture centers until they were abandoned in Chile, where a family adopted them. Years later, they recovered their identities, but their parents are still missing.
In Italy’s first-degree sentence, Judge Evelina Canale recalled that “the existence of the Condor Plan has been proven by many documentary sources, including the CIA (the US intelligence agency).” “Operation Condor is a collaboration agreement to carry out a specific project to eliminate political opponents,” confirmed Judge Agatella Giuffrida.
Uruguay is now beginning to investigate the colonel’s participation in the senator’s murders Zelmar Michelini -father of the journalist of the French agency AFP who has the same name- and of the former president of the Chamber of Deputies Hector Gutierrez Ruiz, also kidnapped in the Argentine capital, and transferred to the clandestine center Automotores Orletti.
In the 1980s, there was an attempt to elucidate the case, and a nurse who allegedly medicated Narbondo after a bout of depression revealed that had confessed to the crime at the time, even showing a tribute from the Armed Forces for the feat. In 2011, Uruguay condemned former dictator Juan María Bordaberry and his then chancellor, Juan Carlos Blanco, to 30 years in prison for his participation in this episode and nine other crimes, including forced disappearances and political murder.
In Livramento, Colonel Narbondo leads a quiet life, maintains healthy habits, walks and takes care of himself at meals. He travels to visit his son, an engineer, who lives in Bento Gonçalves, when he takes the opportunity to enjoy the wines and cheeses produced in the city of Serra Gaucha.
Receive a good retirement. The value is around 80 thousand Uruguayan pesos, about 177,000 Argentine pesos -about 1,554 euros -. To guarantee the pension, every year you need to prove that you are alive, but you do not risk setting foot on the other side of the street that divides the cities and the two countries, because you could be arrested. Lawyer Martín Favero says that a Uruguayan doctor signs a certificate for his client and the colonel’s wife presents it in Rivera. But the Uruguayan weekly Brecha revealed that he has already crossed the border more than once for the procedure and that, in 2019, he was personally at the Uruguayan Consulate in Livramento, which should have detained the fugitive and did not. Consulted for this report, Consul Elisa Peres declined to comment on the matter.
The colonel’s face is known in Uruguay, where the press reproduced photos of him with relatives on beaches in northeastern Brazil, in 2014, published on his wife’s Facebook page. But in the street where they live and in the surroundings, most of the neighbors say they do not know the torturer neighbor. “I have lived here for more than ten years and I must have seen him two or three times in front of my house, I really don’t remember him, but we never spoke, he seems to be very reserved,” says a resident who asked not to be identified.
Mayor Ana Luiza Tarouco also did not know Colonel Narbondo’s story, according to her press office. Not even the city’s most experienced journalist and political columnist for the daily A Plateia, the city’s main newspaper, Edis Elgarte, knew where the colonel currently resided. Nor was he aware of his recent conviction in Rome: “We had not heard from him for years,” he admits.
If it depends on the Uruguayan justice, the colonel may have to face another process, but in Brazil. This is because, given the impossibility of extradition guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution, the Public Ministry of Uruguay decided to invoke a agreement between the Mercosur states that would force Brazil to assume the sentence against the colonel in a national court. In its article 11, the law determines that “the State Party that denies the extradition [por la fuerza constitucional] it will promote the trial of the person, keeping the other State Party informed of the progress of the process, and it must also send, after the sentence, a copy of the verdict. “
“If Italy requests the extradition of Narbondo, the same will happen as with Uruguay: Brazil argues that it cannot extradite its citizens. For this reason, one or two months ago Uruguay formally requested the Brazilian justice to comply with the Mercosur agreement and prosecute Mato Narbondo for the crimes for which he is responsible here, ”reported a Uruguayan justice source who preferred not to be identified.
There is no deadline established in the legislation to respond to the request and, for now, Brazil is silent. Despite the expectation, the president of the Movement for Justice and Human Rights, the Brazilian Jair Krischke, points out that, unlike what happens in Uruguay, Brazilian jurisprudence does not recognize the imprescriptibility of crimes against humanity. that could help Narbondo get free once more. Krischke was a key figure in the case brought by the Italian Prosecutor’s Office and in the fight for justice for the crimes committed during the dictatorship in Italy.
If it goes ahead, the end of Narbondo could be similar to that of Néstor Tróccoli, also condemned in the trial for the Plan Condor in Rome. He had fled Uruguay in 2007 and since then, due to Italian citizenship, he had lived freely in Battipaglia, a small town in southern Italy. Troccoli was arrested on the morning of July 10, the day after the sentence of the court of cassation, and transferred to the Salerno penitentiary, where he is serving his sentence.