BUENOS AIRES – Underneath a stark, flowerless tombstone that bears only the cryptic words “Ababo Yalan” at a cemetery on the outskirts of the Argentine capital lie the mortal remains of a former dictator.
The final resting place of Jorge Rafael Videla, ruler of Argentina from 1976-81, who came to power on the back of a military uprising, is underneath a grave stone that is unremarkable to anyone passing through the Pilar Memorial Cemetery, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires.
Videla, who had been a Lieutenant General in Argentina’s army, was found dead in the bathtub of his jail cell at Marcos Paz prison on May 17, 2013.
His family had wanted to bury him in a private pantheon in the city of Mercedes, where he was born, some 100 km west of the capital, but protests by residents and activists saw to it that he was never buried there.
“They opposed it (Videla’s burial) in Mercedes and didn’t allow him to come to the cemetery,” said Taty Almeida, a member of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo association of mothers of disappeared children during the military dictatorship.
“The family had to take him away,” she recalled.
A former lawyer for the family, Adolfo Casabal, said that faced with not being able to bury him in Mercedes, it was decided that his body would be taken to Pilar in secret.
“They managed to get a tomb in the Memorial (Cemetery), it was an intimate family burial,” Casabal said. “It was very complicated because there’s a question of revenge against the military.”
Videla was prosecuted for human rights abuses and crimes against humanity that took place under his dictatorship, including kidnappings, forced disappearance, as well as the widespread torture and extrajudicial murder of opponents and their families in illegal detention centers.
He was also convicted of the theft of many babies born during the captivity of their mothers at the detention camps and passing them on for unlawful adoption by associates of the regime
Back in 2015, a journalist for Argentine daily Clarin, Enrique de la Hoz, revealed in an article the exact location of Videla’s mortal remains: plot T1.15.68, under a tombstone inscribed with the words “Familia Olmos” (“Olmos Family”).
According to De la Hoz, the plot belonged to Florencio Olmos, a friend of the dictator who had close links to Videla’s family.
On the day of Videla’s death, Olmos and his wife had published an obituary in daily La Nacion.
Sources from the cemetery confirmed to EFE that the remains of both Videla and his son, Alejandro Eugenio, lie at the location revealed by De la Hoz, although since April 2016 the plot has belonged to his widow, Alicia Raquel Hartridge.
The Memorial Cemetery itself is a large park that is well-maintained. All the tombstones are rectangular and made out of granite, lying flat on the ground.
Most of them bear a cross on the left-hand side, the Spanish acronym “QEPD” for rest in peace (RIP) at the top and the name of the deceased person in the middle.
The edges of the tombstone marking Videla’s remains are obscured by grass, and the stone no longer bears the words “Familia Olmos,” but rather “Abayo Yalan,” all in capital letters.
Videla’s widow, Alicia Raquel Hartridge, 91, told EFE she no longer visited her late husband’s grave and did not know the exact location of where he is buried.
“I know he’s at Pilar, but I don’t know where,” she told EFE, her voice trembling at the other end of the telephone. “There was a problem with a newspaper and my children changed the tomb.”
They’re of the opinion that people don’t visit cemeteries anymore. I go to mass, I pray for him every night.”
She said she did not mind not knowing the exact location of her late husband’s final resting place. “It doesn’t matter to me, because if you go there all you’ll be able to see is a bit of grass. I don’t see anything. We had a vault and we couldn’t put (him) there. I was used to that, I’m not used to this.”
Hartridge said she did not know what the inscription on the tombstone meant and that she thought only her children knew its significance.
She said they had changed their father’s tomb and agreed not to give away the exact location.
However, the cemetery’s database contradicts that any move took place, its records show the dictator has remained in plot T1.15.68 since his burial on May 23, 2013.