June 20, 1997

Defying Menem, Argentine senate blocks a promotion

BUENOS AIRES - Argentine senators are defying President Carlos Menem by refusing to promote an army officer accused of running a clandestine detention and torture center in the ``Dirty War'' of the late 1970s.

Attempts to have Lt. Col. Carlos Villanueva promoted to the rank of colonel ``will not prosper,'' Sen. Omar Vaquir of the ruling Peronist Party said in comments published in local newspapers Friday. Vaquir is secretary of the Senate committee charged with approving promotions.

Official records estimate 10,000 people ``disappeared'' -- presumably abducted and killed -- in a campaign against suspected leftists while the military ruled from 1976-83. Human rights groups say 30,000 people disappeared.

According to the CONADEP commission, set up after the return of democracy to investigate human rights crimes of the ``Dirty War,'' Villanueva ran the infamous La Perla detention center in the city of Cordoba.

``At least two or three survivors of La Perla have made declarations on this matter'' and specifically mentioned Villanueva, the government's human rights secretary, Alicia Pierini, said this week.

But Menem told foreign correspondents Tuesday the officer ''did not participate in concentration camps'' and there was no reason not to promote him. The army's top brass has argued there are no charges against him.