Torture, Democracy and Memory in Argentina

Published on Counterpunch, by Cecilia Gonzalez, Feb 7-9, 2014. (Cecilia González is a foreign correspondent for NOTIMEX based in Argentina. Her book, “Narcosur: la sombra del narcotráfico mexicano en la Argentina was published by Marea in 2013. This prize-winning article first appeared in Spanish under the title, Sin confites de navidad.
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons).

Carlos Loza didn’t celebrate Christmas in 1976 with a sugarplum … //

… By the middle of 2013, Argentina had concluded 104 trials for crimes against humanity. Among eleven still ongoing trials, there is one known as ESMA III, a case that involves the largest number of victims (789), torturers (68), and witnesses (930). The first ESMA trial, ESMA I, began in 2007 but was suspended because of the cyanide poisoning of the only person accused, prefect Héctor Febres. By contrast, the second ESMA trial, ESMA II, finished in 2011 with life sentences against twelve torturers, thanks to the testimony of 160 witnesses (Carlos among them). Another four were found guilty and sentenced to prison for 18 to 24 years, with acquittals for two more.

This sixty-year-old man – who always carries a folder or notebook under his arm – testified in the third ESMA trial. Focused, he told the story yet one more time. A story about kidnap and torture that he doesn’t think of as just his own, but of belonging to society.

“Around the 23 December 1976 we managed to figure out what the day was,” he recalled at court – because I knew the dates of the final football championship. When I heard someone say that Boca had one, that’s when I knew what day it was.”

Days in the ESMA revolved around the darkness of the torture chambers, the guards’ unending shouts and threats, the pain from the handcuffs on the wrists and the shackles around the ankles. Resting was impossible. The prisoners sucked on bread because they had been so badly beaten up they could not chew food. For Carlos and his compañeros sleep came from exhaustion, but uncertainty never left them. Sometimes they spoke, when they were transferred to the “Capuchita” where there were fewer prisoners. If the guards caught them whispering among themselves or with other prisoners, they would hit them. In captivity Carlos came to know Hernán Abriata, a member of the Peronist Youth in the Faculty of Architecture. “I am a prisoner like you all, as you’ll find out,” said the young, still disappeared man. He was trying to console them: they wore hoods of a different color to his, a sign they weren’t going to be killed.

“We spoke to each other to find out our names, who we were. There was a tacit agreement: whoever gets out of here has to tell the story. We promised each other because you had to see how it was to not become terrified. That’s what the killers wanted. There’s a place where they can’t win, and it’s called the mind, so you shouldn’t infect others with fear. Not everybody managed it. Some left the ESMA terrified. They even forgot their own names. They quit working, stopped being activists. But we felt we had to tell what we’d seen because it concerned our dignity.”

The kidnapped lived through things that would give them nightmares for the rest of their lives. Carlos once heard a prisoner say, “Nothing’s going to happen to you because you’re pregnant.” Today the port unionist is still investigating who that woman might have been.

From his interrogators he learned of a young priest with a bright future. The priest was told he should collaborate because his father was dying and his family tremendously missed him. That he could go free if he revealed what he knew, giving up his compañeros’ names. Many years later Carlos managed to find out that the priest was Pablo María Gazzarri whose disappearance forms part of the ESMA case.

On 6 January 1977 a guard called Carlos and his compañeros by number. He told them they were going to be set free. He removed their shackles, handcuffs, and hoods. Carlos and Rodolfo were put together in a grey Falcon. Héctor and Oscar went separately, in two other vehicles. The workers from Buenos Aires thought they were being freed but they also feared a trick to kill them. They left them in different parts of Buenos Aires, after telling them they had ended up in ESMA for collaborating with the Montoneros.

Carlos withdrew from activism for a few months. He was afraid. But bit-by-bit he began to meet up with his compañeros from the port. In 1979 they were already calling for strikes and a return to politics. That’s what resistance was like until 1983, when Argentines resurrected their democracy … //

… (full long text).


ESMA trials:
on International Center for Transitional Justice;
on BBCnews, Nov 28, 2012;
on Google Images-search;

Argentina’s ‘Angel of Death’ jailed for crimes against humanity, on The Guardian, by Uki Goni, Oct 27, 2011;

OBITUARY PETE SEEGER, The sound of the small “c”, on Socialist, by Alexander Billet, Feb 3, 2014;

Switzerland votes a narrow ‘yes’ to cap EU immigration, on Russia Today RT, Feb 10, 2014;
(see electionista on Twitter: Swiss vote on immigration quotas and immigrant pop. in each canton, by ( in french) Martin Grandjean), Feb 9, 2014;

Website – America on the Couch: Dreams and Nightmares of Democracy, a book in progress, by Alan James Strachan with Janet Coster. This is a story about politics, religion and the human soul. It is a story about the mythic, largely unconscious beliefs of the American people, and the inescapable shadow side of those beliefs …;

Do We Learn Anything from History? on The Contrary Perspective, by wjastore, Feb 7, 2014; (/Homepage: The Contrary Perspective, provocative views on politics, society and the state of humanity; /About: This blog explores just what is wrong with the world today from the perspective of several people, including a World War II veteran, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, and others with no affiliation to the military. What connects us is our view that the United States is heading in the wrong direction on many different fronts …);

Video – US/Kids For Cash: Inside One of the Nation’s Most Shocking Juvenile Justice Scandals, 58.56 min, on Democravcy Now, by Amy Goodman, Feb 4, 2014.

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