February 4, 2013

Scandal about future queen's father clouds ascension to Dutch throne

Jorge Zorreguieta, 85, is suspected in 'forced disappearances' during an Argentinian dictatorship.

By MICHAEL WARREN, The Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Prince Willem-Alexander's ascension to the Dutch throne in April promises to be a shining moment on the world stage for his wife, Maxima, and her home country of Argentina. But there will be a glaring absence at the ceremony.

Princess Maxima, Crown Prince Willem Alexander
click image to enlarge

Princess Maxima and Crown Prince Willem Alexander wave to well wishers from the balcony of Royal Palace Noordeinde in The Hague, Netherlands, last Sept. 18. The couple will ascend to the Dutch thrones in April, but Maxima’s father will not be present.

2012 File Photo/The Associated Press

Jorge Zorreguieta, Maria del Carmen Cerruti
click image to enlarge

Jorge Zorreguieta, left, father of Argentinean-born Princess Maxima Zorreguieta of the Netherlands, and his wife, Maria del Carmen Cerruti, attend the inauguration of the Rural Exhibition, an annual agricultural and livestock show, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1979. Lawyers in both the Netherlands and Argentina are trying to determine if Zorreguieta had any personal responsibility for forced disappearances during Argentina's "dirty war," when as many as 30,000 leftists, union members and other "subversives" were killed.

1979 File Photo/The Associated Press

Queen Beatrix's announcement last week that she'll step aside and let her son become king raised new questions about the future queen's father, Jorge Zorreguieta, one of the longest-serving civilian ministers in Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Maxima's parents already missed out on their daughter's 2002 wedding to avoid offending Dutch sensibilities about human rights violations by the South American junta. Anticipating more unpleasant questions, Maxima told the prime minister that her parents won't attend her swearing-in as queen, either.

VIOLENT ERA STILL AN OPEN WOUND

Zorreguieta is 85 now, and Argentina has been a democracy for nearly 40 years, but the country's violent history remains an open wound.

Lawyers in both countries are trying to determine whether Zorreguieta had any personal responsibility for forced disappearances at a time when Argentina's top business executives supported the junta's "dirty war" against leftists, union members and other so-called "subversives," killing as many as 30,000 people.

In The Hague on Thursday, lawyers for a group of victims formally asked prosecutors to reopen a case against Zorreguieta. In Buenos Aires, an investigative judge is working to determine whether allegations raised by Zorreguieta's former employees merit the filing of criminal human rights charges.

Maxima grew up in Buenos Aires and had a successful career in banking before meeting the prince. She's now the most popular member of the royal family, a charming mother of three whose personal touch has won over the Dutch. Argentines have followed her story closely, fascinated to see one of their own reach such heights.

Yet her father's past has overshadowed the news.

Zorreguieta led the Rural Society, a bastion of Argentina's landowning elite, before the 1976 military coup, and later ran the junta's Agriculture Ministry, where several employees were killed and hundreds were forced to resign for supposed leftist tendencies. Known as more of a technocrat, Zorreguieta limited most of his public statements to cattle production and other statistics.

In his only comments about the dictatorship since then, he has denied knowing anything about crimes against humanity.

Still, Zorreguieta had a close working relationship for many years with Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz, who ran Argentina's economy for dictator Jorge Videla. That background caused such unease in the Netherlands before his daughter's 2002 marriage that the Dutch Parliament ordered historian Michiel Baud to prepare a secret report on what skeletons might emerge from his closet.

Baud's conclusions, which Argentines later published as a book titled "The Father of the Bride," provided just enough reassurances to allow the wedding to go forward, while making clear that Zorreguieta still has much to answer for.

In an Associated Press interview, Baud said the concerns he raised back then remain just as worrisome.

"I didn't find any proof that he was directly connected to human rights violations, but it was clear that in his position as director of the 'Societal Rural,' he was part of the group of people that at least stimulated the coup, and it's significant that he stayed with the dictatorship for the whole five years, until Videla himself left the government," Baud said.

"It was inconceivable that he did not know about what was happening in Argentina. That was my strongest conclusion," said Baud, who met with Zorreguieta in 2001, and included his written denials in the report he presented to parliament.

Before her wedding, Princess Maxima had said she accepted her father's decision not to attend. "I regret that he did his best in a bad regime," she said in a media interview. "He had the best intentions."

(Continued on page 2)

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