(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Main secret detention centres within the jurisdiction
of the Buenos Aires provincial police headquarters
A series of secret detention centres operated in Area 113, which were under the jurisdiction of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police Headquarters, commanded by the then Colonel Ramón Camps, and the Central Detective Squad, run by Miguel Etchecolatz. (File Nos. 683, 2818, 2820, 2821, 2822, 2846, 2852, 2857, 3944, 4635,4839,7169.)
The following camps were included, spread over a fairly wide geographical area.
COT 1 Martínez: Avda. Libertador No. 14,237/43, in Martínez.
Pozo de Quilmes: Calles Allison Bell and Garibaldi, Quilmes.
Pozo de Bánfield: on the corner of Calles Vernet and Siciliano, Bánfield.
Puesto Vasco: Don Bosco, Quilmes.
Arana, Calle 137 on the corner with Calle 640, La Plata.
La Cacha: former radio transmitting station of Radio Provincia.
Police Station No. 5: on the corner of Calles 24 and 63, La Plata.
La Plata Detective Squad: No. 930, Calle 55.
Nonetheless, it was not simply a matter of a completely closed system. Those same centres, whenever necessary, ended up by also being linked for operational reasons with others under the control of the CRI (Centre for Intelligence Gathering), monitored by the 3rd Infantry Regiment of La Tablada, as in the case of certain police stations in the western zone of Buenos Aires.
The COT 1 Martinez contained some distinctive features in terms of particular functions such as its accommodation of numerous well-known personalities, like the journalists Rafael Perrotta and Jacobo Timerman, and political leaders and former senators under the constitutional government deposed on 24 March 1976: for example Ramón Miralles, Juan Gramano, Juan Ramón Nazar, Alberto Liberman, Héctor Ballent, etc.
Other particular characteristics of this centre included the refusal to conceal what was taking place there from the surrounding neighbourhood, the intention behind this being that of spreading terror in the vicinity. On the occasion of the in situ confirmation of events undertaken by the Commission on Disappeared People on 20 January 1984, and in the presence of two former prisoners, a local person maintained:
I have lived here with my family since 1973. When we came this adjacent building was empty. At the end of 1976 they began to make modifications. They built an enormous dividing wall there, erected a barbed wire surround, and put gratings in the windows. There was the constant sound of people coming and going. At night the searchlights were beamed in all directions. Firing could be heard from morning to night, as though they were practising shooting or trying out weapons. Heartrending cries could also be heard, leading one to assume that the prisoners there were undergoing torture. Large boxes and coffins were often brought out of the building, as well as mutilated remains in polythene bags. We lived under constant stress, as though we ourselves were also prisoners; we couldn't invite anyone over, such was the extent of the terror gripping us, and for nights on end we found it impossible to sleep.
The connection between this secret detention centre and others is borne out by the presence of the same staff at more than one of them. Such is the case of Inspector Valentín Milton Pretti, 'Saracho', named in file Nos. 635, 1277, 3988, referring to the Pozo de Quilmes: also of Deputy Inspector Amílcar Tarela, 'Trimarco', mentioned on account of his activities at the Pozo de Bánfield (file No. 3757); and Doctor Jorge Antonio Bergez of the La Plata City Detective Squad (file Nos. 1277, 683, 3 944).
As far as the prisoners were concerned, some of whom were the subject of blackmail, they were frequently taken from one centre to the next, a fact which emerges from numerous testimonies of people who, free today, affirm that they ran the gauntlet of several secret detention centres on the same circuit.
After seizing me in my home in Buenos Aires city, they took me to the Police Headquarters in Buenos Aires province where Camps and Etchecolatz interrogated me. From there I was taken to the Campo de Mayo and made to sign a confession. Then they dumped me in Puesto Vasco, where I was tortured, thence to be handed on again to the Central Police Department, where after twenty-five days I was able to get in touch with my family. From there they took me to COT I Martínez to be tortured all over again, then back again to the Central Department of the Federal Police and then finally to be officially registered at the Magdalena Prison. Jacobo Timerman, file No. 4635.)
Both the former Provincial Police Chief Ramón J. Camps and the Police Superintendent Miguel Etchecolatz are also mentioned by other witnesses. (Julio Alberto Emmed, file No. 683, Carlos Alberto Hours, file No. 7169, Héctor Maria Ballent, file No. 1277, Ramón Miralles, file No. 3757, Eduardo Schaposnik, file No. 3769, Juan Amadeo Gramano, file No. 4206.)
Although Puesto Vasco was a centre running at reduced capacity in terms of the number of prisoners, it was frequently visited by prominent military and police chiefs, a fact suggesting that the intelligence gathering that took place there had especial importance.
'I was interviewed by General Camps,' affirmed Dr Gustavo Caraballo, a lawer aged forty (file No. 4206), 'who personally ordered that I should be subjected to illegal tortures in that centre.'
The secret detention centre referred to by Dr Caraballo and which can be recognized in the photographs taken during the inspection by the Commission on Disappeared People, is the sub-police station of Don Bosco, which operated within the secret circuit under the name Puesto Vasco.
Two centres with a particular characteristic operated within the same circuit: they were not only assigned tasks of repression within the operational zone of the 1st Army Corps, but also others directed against Uruguayan citizens resident in Argentina, as a consequence of a pact of repressive cooperation arranged between groups in both countries. Officers of OCOA (the Coordinating Organization of Anti-subversive Operations in Uruguay) participated in these activities - as much on the level of organizing as of the distribution of the 'spoils of war' - and many of their officers had already participated with their counterparts in the Argentine Federal Police in the Orletti secret detention centre, and are mentioned by prisoners in the pozos of Quilmes and Bánfield.
At dawn on 21 April 1978 twenty-five heavily-armed men in civilian clothes burst into my home at Lands West. My wife and I were hooded, handcuffed and then put into a truck. We knew, from all manner of indications, that we were in the basement of the Detective Bureau known as the Pozo de Quilmes. There we were interrogated concerning our activities in Uruguay - where we come from - and in Argentina. We came across numerous Uruguayans in that camp, some in very bad shape as a result of being tortured. Five days later they released us, with the prior agreement that we would hand over a substantial sum of money. The extortion, the kidnap and the interrogation were all directed by an individual who called himself 'Saracho'. We were taken to our house, where we had to hand over a considerable amount of money, which we'd received by way of compensation for an accident suffered by my mother-in-law only a few days previously. (Beatriz Bermúdez, file No. 3634.)
Another Uruguayan, Washington Rodríguez (file No. 4985) affirmed that as of the beginning of April 1978 he was detained along with twenty-two compatriots in the centre, and they told him that they had been held in the Pozo de Bánfield where they were tortured by OCOA officers. The gist of those interrogations together with the types of torture proved that the same people were at work in Quilmes.
An inspection of the Pozo de Quilmes, currently partly occupied by the Provincial Police Women's Brigade, was undertaken by the Commission on 18 May 1984, together with some ten witnesses who located precisely those places in which they had been imprisoned, all the more easily in cases where the guards had allowed them to lower their blindfolds.
María Kubik de Marcoff indicated the place where she saw her daughter for the last time, who at that moment had managed to whisper to her:
'They told me that if I didn't talk, they'd take you and grandfather away.'
Rubén Schell recalled:
'The cells weren't painted inside like now, they were simply grey cement. I'd scratched some graffiti in mine that is still there. And I also recognize other graffiti that are now on the walls.'
Alfred Maly also managed to discover that by scratching the fresh paintwork on the walls on his cell he could discover the marks he had made during his captivity.
All the witnesses recognized the entrance through which one reached the centre from the garage, Even though nowadays the doorway has been modifled, the tracks the door ran on have not been completely obliterated. Although concealed with a cement partition, a spiral staircase connecting with the garage still exists, together with the admissions room, 'operating theatre' and the rest of the installations.
A month earlier, on 18 April 1984, the Commission completed an investigation of the present-day Murder Squad at Bánfield, verifying that the former secret centre called the Pozo de Bánfield once operated there. One of the functions performed by the Pozo de Bánfield was that of housing prisoners in their last months of pregnancy, then separating the newly-born from their mothers and disposing of them.
As to the Detective Squad, what was known in the guards' jargon as la casita (the little house) not only functioned as a temporary admissions, torture and detention centre for a large number of the disappeared, but also served as part of a 'pilot experiment' for prisoners who stayed there for a year under a special regime' in return for the collaboration they could lend the programme of repression in the 113th Zone. However, all the indications are that this experiment, limited to seven people, ended in disaster, and that the apparent fate of the chosen group in no way finally differed from the suffering of the vast majority of the disappeared, whose lives remained definitively in their captors' hands.
The experiment was initiated in the city of La Plata, a few months after the seizure of seven university students and young graduates (file Nos. 2582, 2818, 2820 and 2835.) Their relatives were informed by Inspector Nogara of their detention in the Detective Squad headquarters (file Nos. 2818, 2821, 2822, 2852 and 2853), and were even authorized to pay them visits, though always subject to instructions to maintain secrecy. After a year, when the experiment was near to completion, the respective parents were asked to pay over a sum of money, in order that on being secretly released the prisoners could be smuggled abroad, One parent was even taken to a notary for the authorization to send his young son abroad in his own car.
Father Christian Von Wernich mediated during these transactions (file Nos. 683, 1277, 2810, 2818, 2821, 2822, 2852, 3944 and 6893). As chaplain to the Provincial Police, he assiduously visited the students and baptized the son of one prisoner in the centre, before handing him over to his grandparents. These students are still disappeared, and it is assumed they were killed in a mock battle with their captors, who had plotted their staged exits out of the country.
Other camps on the same circuit operated in the Lisandro Olmos region, near La Plata city, in the former transmission station belonging to Radio Provincia. It was known as El Casco, also as La Cacha, referring to a television character, 'The Cachavacha Witch', who made people disappear. It is a three-storey building which could house some fifty prisoners.
On 20 July 1984 members of the Commission on Disappeared People, accompanied by various witnesses, inspected the site. They were able to confirm that the main building had been demolished, but the interrogation room is still standing. Nelva Méndez de Falcone (file No. 3201) and Ana Maria Caracoche (file No. 6392), on digging into a heap of earth visible from several metres, discovered bowls stamped with the insignia of the 7th Regiment, on which they had been served their food, together with some porcelain copper wire bobbins they had seen while being held in La Cacha. They also recognized some iron-mesh structures which were used as 'stalls' to prevent the prisoners communicating with each other.
About 100 metres further on it was possible to verify the existence of two holes approximately 5 metres by 3 metres wide and 1.2 metres deep, in the exact position where the building's foundations had been. There they also found a whitish tiled floor with red patterns, which had led to the bathroom and the kitchen; and finally a sign with the lettering 'Restricted Area'.
Other evidence deposited with the Commission on Disappeared People established that the operation of the secret detention centre was the responsibility of officers in the various security forces operating in the 113th Zone, i.e. the Army, Navy, Prison Service and State Intelligence Service, as well, of course, as the Buenos Aires Provincial Police.
There was a continuous transfer of prisoners to other centres; the official registrations were provided through the police stations in La Plata, yet on occasions the prisoners were deported considerably further afield, in police stations in Avellaneda , Lanús or the western part of the city.
The 113th Zone's circuit closed with the Pozo de Arana.
When I arrived there, I thought I had reached the entrance to hell. The guards pushed me around from one to another as though playing ping-pong: I could hear the heart-rending cries of the torture victims and I constantly saw people passing en route to being tortured. (Pedro Augusto Goin, file No. 2846.)
During the process of recognition effected by the Commission on 24 February 1984, the witnesses were able to locate precisely the physical layout close to the railway lines, along with every last detail of the building, now occupied by the Arana police outpost, a dependency of Police Station No. 5 of La Plata. This connection also existed while it functioned as a secret detention centre, as emerges from several testimonies:
We knew that Dr Fanjul Mahía was kept hidden in the La Plata Detective Squad; from there he was taken to the Police Station No. 5 where he remained for several months. Later on he was seen in Arana, then in the Detective Bureau, and again in Arana, where all trace of him was lost. (File No. 2680.)
The siting of the camp in an area where no other buildings existed made it an obvious place in which to carry out executions. There are testimonies affirming the frequent noise of firing, and one surviving prisoner who was able to return there showed bullet-holes in some of the walls.
I was kidnapped at 1 a.m. at my parents' house by military personnel under the command of Captain Bermúdez. They took me to Arana, for interrogation and torture. A large number of people passed through there, especially at night. You often overheard the guards remarking 'This one's got his ticket.' (Néstor Busso, file No. 2095.)
It was as a result of evidence offered by two members of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police that it has been possible to reconstruct the method used to dispose of the remains of the prisoners assassinated in that camp.
They were buried in a ditch at the back of the building, always at night. The bodies were stored there prior to being burned, and the distinctive smell of burning human flesh was disguised by simultaneously lighting bonfires of rubber tyres. (File No. 1028.)
Juan Carlos Urquiza, who worked as a driver at the Verdún Police Station, testified to the Commission that even if one couldn't consider the Pozo de Arana as exclusively a concentration camp leading to the 'final solution', he possessed information (thanks to his position as driver to one of the commanders of the circuit) confirming that frequent executions took place there, in addition to all 'those deatils that took place during the torture sessions:
The mass grave they called la capacha was repeated in other camps I visited. They were all rectangular pits 2 metres long by 70 centimetres deep. They put the corpses there, sprinkled them with petrol and burnt them, (File No. 719.)
Sheraton (or The Funnel)
Campo de Mayo
Secret detention centres at Las Flores, Monte Pelone, Olavarría
Mar del Plata secret detention centres.