(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Main secret detention centres within the jurisdiction
of the Buenos Aires provincial police headquarters
This secret centre was in La Tablada, Buenos Aires province, near the intersection of the ring road and the Ricchieri motorway, on a piece of open land belonging to the Federal Prison Service. It comprised three buildings, one of which had a basement, and an adjoining swimming pool. The nickname adopted by those working there was the 'Vesuvius Company'; the 'Task Force' was provided with credentials affirming their employment at the said company. Its existence as a detention centre for unofficial prisoners went back as far as 1975, although at that time it was nicknamed 'la Ponderosa' (file No. 7170.)
In 1976 it was operating under the control of the 1st Army Corps, whose commander was General Guillermo Suárez Mason (file Nos. 2529, 3048, 3382, 3524, 4124, 4151, 6769, 7077 and 7170), directly under the mandate of the Intelligence Gathering Centre (CRI) operating out of the hospital attached to the 3rd La Tablada Regiment, whose commander was the then Colonel Federico Minicucci (file Nos. 98, 1310, 2262 and 7169).
The evidence of Elena Alfaro (file No. 3048) explains the operating principles of this secret detention centre, coinciding with other released prisoners in descriptions such as the following:
General Suárez Mason periodically visited the camp. On the day I was released I was interrogated by him as to whether my family knew of my pregnancy, and about what plans I had for my life when I got out. Major Durán Saenz [as borne out by file Nos. 3048,
3382 and 7170], with overall responsibility for the camp, lived on site between Mondays and Fridays, and spent the weekends at his house in Azul. The man in charge of the guards was Assistant Prison Officer Hirschfeld (as corroborated by file Nos. 3048 and 7170].
Thus security was within the responsibility of the Federal Prison Service, six assistant officers in all, who kept guard in the cuchas (the sort of 'kennels' where the prisoners were kept). These men were of fundamental importance in sustaining the atmosphere of terror that reigned in the camp. It was on them that the prisoners depended in order to eat, go to the toilet and wash.
Elena Alfaro continues:
In June 1977 a group of army infantry officers from the 6th Infantry Regiment of Mercedes took control of the camp. All the members of the Special Task Forces under the command of Suárez Mason were promoted at the end of 1977 as a reward for services rendered. Task Forces belonging to other sections used the camp's facilities on a number of different occasions, as in the instance of my and my husband's kidnapping. He, Luis Fabri, was executed by Task Force 4 of the Córdoba Air Force.
The prevailing reign of terror, the lack of reference points, the loss of identity on being designated simply by a number, the uncertainty and the constant ill-treatment, created mental torture. We were often threatened with having to witness the torture of our relatives, and sometimes this actually took place. In my case, I was made to watch as they tortured my husband. Another prisoner, Irma Beatriz Márquez, was forced to watch the torture of her twelve-year-old son, Pablo.
In accordance with evidence presented to this Commission, thirty-four of those secretly held in El Vesubio, in September 1978 were separated into groups. The prisoners, blindfolded and with their hands tied behind them, were left in locked cars near the military units. A few minutes later every one was 'discovered' by military personnel, who took the prisoners to different regiments or police stations dispersed throughout Buenos Aires province.
Thus 'officially recognized' they were placed at the disposal of the Military Tribunal, presided over by Colonel Bazilis, who declared himself unable to judge the cases, and forwarded them to the Federal justice Department. In a very short time, the Federal Court under Dr Rivarola, assisted by de Curutchet and Guanziroll, released the defendants. In mid-1979 these victims were set free from each of the prisons in which they were being held. Some of their denunciations describing the dramatic experiences they had been put through still survive in the judicial records. Even today the courts are still considering the proceedings initiated by some of the prisoners detained at El Vesubio (file Nos. 5232, 5233, 5234 and 5235).
The buildings that housed the 'sick bay', the 'headquarters', the 'kennels' and the 'operating theatre' (bearing the inscription 'If you know something, sing. If not, suffer'), no longer exist. They were demolished in the face of an imminent visit by the Commission on Human Rights of the OAS. However, at the end of 1983, judge Dr Ruiz Paz, and in 1984 the Commission on the Disappeared, accompanied by witnesses, found amongst the rubble the characteristic tiles described by former inmates, and also the remains of the concrete 'kennels'. They were also able to make out the layout of each of the buildings (file No. 3048).