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Part I
The Repression

Nunca Más (Never Again) - Report of Conadep  - 1984


Navy Mechanics School (ESMA)


In Buenos Aires, with Avenida del Libertador to the west, Calles Comodoro Rivadavia and Leopoldo Lugones to the east and Calle Santiago Calzadilla to the south. On the north side it borders the Raggio industrial college.


The officers' mess was the building allocated to Task Force 3.3.2. It was three storeys high, with a cellar and huge attic. Prisoners were housed in there, as well as on the third floor.

The cellar had a large central corridor supported by concrete pillars. Between these columns were partitions. leading to a large green iron door, with an armed guard.
The partitions were easy to dismantle. Before the entrance to the cellar itself one went through an armoury where there was emergency electrical equipment and several lockers with weapons. There was an armed guard there who would receive orders to open the door over an intercom, Stairs led down to the cellar. They could be seen on entering the Dorado (Gold Room), where operations were planned, and were part of the stairs which interconnected the whole building. There were two flights. Newly arrived prisoners would be brought here as the first stage in extracting information.

At the back of the cellar were torture rooms Nos. 12, 13 and 14. To the right of the green door were the infirmary and the guards' dormitory, and next to these, the bathroom.

Following along from the infirmary was the photographic laboratory. For ventilation there were small vents 20 centimetres above ground level, giving on to the yard.
This arrangement was modified in October 1977. The second version lasted until December 1978, when it was again modified in preparation for the visit of the Commission on Human Rights of the OAS. On the ground floor were offices where the intelligence service operated, and the planning of operations was carried out in the Dorado. It also contained the officers' dining-room, conference room and meeting room. Officers' dormitories, to which prisoners had no access, were on the first and second floors. The right-hand wing of the attic under the grey-slated roof of the building was taken up by the Capucha. This was an L-shaped enclosure, with interspaced grey-painted iron beams which formed the skeleton of the roof. It had no windows, only vents giving on to tiny cells called 'cabins'. It was built of concrete partitions closed with chipboard panels 2 metres high and a door with a peep-hole. Between the top of the wood and the ceiling there was a metal mesh. On the right-hand side 60 or 70 centimetres in front of the cells, there were hardboard partitions in each space where the prisoner would lie on a mattress.

There was no natural light; two very noisy air extractors were used. The floor, of smooth concrete, was continually being painted, Stairs led up to the Capucha, and on the last landing by the entrance door there was an armed guard at a table with a book in which he would write down all movements and control the opening of the door.

The toilets were located between the Capucha and storeroom, which took up the northern half of the attic. There were also three bedrooms there, one of these allocated to pregnant women prisoners.

The storeroom was for loot taken from the homes of abducted prisoners. There, until the end of 1977, there was a huge amount of furniture, goods, clothes, etc. In one part of the storeroom, the north-easternmost part of the attic, they built what was known as the 'fishtank' at the end of 1977: this was a series of tiny offices, joined by a central corridor to which one gained access via a door controlled by a guard with a register of entrances and exits. Some of the prisoners would spend part of the day here. The newspaper file and library were transferred here from the cellar. Closed-circuit television allowed all movements to be monitored from the ground-floor offices.

From the attic there was access by means of a staircase in front of the entrance to a second attic called Capuchita. This was where the water tank supplying the whole of the floor of the officers' club had originally been situated. There were two torture rooms and an area where prisoners were held in similar conditions to the Capucha. It consisted of fifteen to twenty partitions separating the prisoners from each other. Living conditions were worse than in the Capucha.

This place was used by members of the Naval Intelligence Service for torturing and keeping their abducted prisoners separate from those of the Navy Mechanics School.
Capuchita would be lent to the Air Force, the Army and the Naval Intelligence Service (SIN) for them to take their prisoners to. The floor was red and there were permanently closed vents.

In 1977 two rooms were made available for interrogation sessions. The Capuchita was also used by the task force as an annexe when the Capucha was full.

The Navy Mechanics School was not just a secret detention centre where torture was used, but also the operational hub of a complex organization which may have tried to hide the crimes it committed by exterminating its victims. It was an important centre where a wide range of secret criminal operations were planned and organized. Although its activities were undertaken by a special unit, they were not independent of the hierarchy but depended on the Navy’s normal command structure.

On 9 March 1984, this Commission carried out an inspection and survey of its premises with the aim of confirming whether this was where the secret detention centre referred to by witnesses had operated. The proceedings were led by Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú, Dr Eduardo Rabossi and member of parliament Santiago López: six witnesses took part as well as staff from the Commission.

The route was left to the witnesses, with Alejandro Hugo López and Carlos Muñoz taking part at the beginning. Led by the Director of the School, the tour of inspection had just started when the witnesses pointed out that the wrong route had been taken and proposed a different direction, which led to a section signposted as a ’restricted area’. Here they recognized the Dorado room where all the operations were planned and which, unlike today, was then completely unoccupied, awaiting the arrival of prisoners. Afterwards they followed the route which they must have taken during their captivity to the basement where interrogations and torture took place and documentation was dealt with.

Later on they recognized the Capucha, where the witness Muñoz identified the actual place of his confinement, as did López. They described other places in advance, such as a narrow concrete staircase and a water tank, the ’storeroom’ (where property taken from prisoners’ homes was kept) and the ’fishtank’ (where, as we shall see, the prisoners carried out various tasks).

Task Force 3.3.2
Structure of the Task Force
The activity of the secret centre
The 'Rehabilitation Process'
'Mini Staff' and 'Staff'
The abduction of families in Santa Cruz Church
The transfer
Register of kidnap victims and records office
Forgery of documents
Navy Centre in Paris
Courses in Fighting Subversion



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