(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Main secret detention centres within the jurisdiction
of the Buenos Aires provincial police headquarters
Mar del Plata secret detention centres
As In many other parts of the country, the work of the Commission on Disappeared People's local committee involved persistent and detailed work to establish the existence of six secret detention centres. Their geographical position was verified thanks to the depositions of a large number of people detained there between 1976 and 1978. All the individual sites were investigated by the National Commission and were found to be:
School of Marine NCOS;
- Military Naval Base;
- Military Air Base:
- Central Fire Station;
- The Batán Police Post.
Once again, close co-ordination between the three Armed Forces was established, as was their connection with other regions of repression. The evidence offered by Marta García de Candeloro (file No. 7305), a psychologist, is helpful. She was arrested with her husband, a lawyer, on 7 June 1977 in the town of Neuquén. After spending a week held in the Federal Police Station there in isolation but with the knowledge of their relatives who had travelled there from Mar del Plata, the couple were transferred to Mar del Plata, following a short stay in the secret detention centre in Bahía Blanca called 'La Escuelita'.
According to the public declarations of the 6th Neuquén Squad Police Chief to the Human Rights Organization of that town, he was aware of Dr Candeloro's transfer and even of Marta García de Candeloro, who, on the last day of her imprisonment at Neuquén, heard how one of the guards called GADA 601, 'relating that now they had the suspect and asking what to do with his wife ...' However, all information relating to the prisoners was denied by this military unit, as by all other branches of the Security Forces contacted by the relatives.
The prisoners were secretly isolated in the Mar del Plata Air Base, where they were taken blindfolded. The sort of proceedings used against the Candeloro couple was no different to that used in the detention of others in that region.
The aeroplane took us to Mar del Plata, to what we later learnt was the air base. On arriving we heard a considerable commotion. On coming down the steps from the aeroplane, one of the men said to another: 'Look how the conscripts are staring!' They put me into the boot of a car and drove over rough ground for a short distance. They frogmarched me out of the car, and I could hear a hubbub of people who seemed to be coming out to receive us (my husband and me). I descended twenty or thirty steps, there was the sound of large metal doors slamming, I gathered the place was underground. It was vast; voices echoed and there was the noise of aeroplanes taxi-ing above ground, or close at hand. The noise was enough to drive you mad. ... One of the men asked me: 'Oh, so you're a psychologist? A whore, like all shrinks. Here you'll learn what's good for you,' and he set about punching me in the stomach. ... Hell began there. I was in the secret detention centre called the Cueva, installed under the Mar del Plata Air Base, formerly an old radar station, though no longer in use. It was run by a council representing the three Armed Forces. Apart from during interrogations, inspections and the preparation of operations or transfers, the place was under the control of men who kept guard from 7 or 8 a.m. until the same time the following morning. It seemed that of the two with greatest overall responsibility one belonged to the Air Force and the other to the Army.
The last time I heard my husband's voice was on 28 June. They always took him off first (to the torture chamber) and then me. This time they did the opposite. In the middle of my interrogation they brought in my husband, telling him that if he wouldn't talk, they would kill me. They began to apply the electric shocks to me so that he could hear my cries, and he called out to me: 'My love, I love you, I never dreamt they would bring you in to this.' These words enraged them. The last phrase was cut short as they were applying the electric prod to him. They untied me and threw me into my cell.
They were driven wild by him, his interrogation was unending. All at once there was a single piercing, heart-rending shriek. It still resounds in my ears. I will never be able to forget it. It was his last cry; and then suddenly there was silence. My husband died on 28 June, a victim of their tortures (file No. 7305).
All the same, even after Marta Candeloro's release, the relatives continued their efforts to discover the disappeared lawyer's end. At the end of 1979 his wife learnt of a communiqué issued by the Army in response to a writ of habeas corpus filed during
1977, containing the information that Dr Candeloro had been shot and killed in an attempt to escape during a transfer, on precisely that date of 28 June 1977. The communiqué had been retained in judge Hoff's office.
Unfortunately, such an indifferent attitude on the part of the Mar del Plata judicial authorities was in no way unusual. However, many lawyers in the local legal jurisdiction preferred not to forget or show no interest as a way of avoiding their responsibilities. They carried out what was required of them, both in relation to Dr Candeloro and to other prestigious lawyers imprisoned at the end of June - such as Drs Arestin, Centeno, Alais and Fresneda, whose fate can be deduced from the same testimony:
That night of fear and horror, which I shared with Mercedes, was called the 'night of the ties' by our oppressors, on the grounds that nearly all the prisoners admitted were lawyers. ... There was a lot of noise and music played at full volume, at times the g roans and cries of the torture victims drowned out the music. … When the torturers left, I had the sensation that all that remained was a death ward. Dr Centeno moaned continually. On one occasion they took me out of my cell to give him some water …He was collapsed on the floor. I could hardly lift my blindfold enough to see out. He asked me to get his handcuffs off. I didn't offer him a drink from the aluminium jug they had given me. I had already learnt that much. With one hand I gingerly lifted his head a bit, wetted my shirt and moistened his lips a little. I am not certain if it was actually the following day, but several hours had gone by, when the interrogators returned, saying, 'Bring in Centeno.' They repeated the tortures with him in that condition. We thought (Mercedes my cellmate, and I) that he could not possibly survive, And so it proved.
They killed him. They dragged his body out and must have left it propped against our door. We heard its thud against the wood.
After a while, Marta Candeloro was moved to the No. 4 Mar del Plata Police Station, where she was set free some months later. Together with other witnesses, she took part in the inspection of that site, which still existed without modifications. By contrast, the reconstructions carried out at both the Naval and Air Bases are substantial but, contrary to the expectations of those in command, this did not prevent their recognition by some of those who gave evidence to the Commission. They were. able to affirm during our inspection of La Cueva that the underground area of the secret detention centre was on the point of being completely altered.
Something similar occurred at the secret detention centre installations in the Marine NCOs School, one of whose students, Oscar Horacio Pérez, revealed to the Commission on Disappeared People (file No. 6756):
He thought it might have been in July or August of 1978, he could observe a white ambulance from where he was on guard duty at El Faro. It was backed up against some buildings situated just opposite the explosives store and concealed by a sand dune. From this position he saw a stretcher and a large white bag being taken out of the afore-mentioned building, both of which were placed inside the ambulance. ... Faced with this situation, he communicated with the guard headquarters, who told him to stop looking and return to his post. If he did not do so, he would be punished. He also wished to explain ... that in 1979, towards the end of February, he went to the above-mentioned place and together with a number of cadets was ordered to destroy the buildings. He was able to observe that they were tiny, badly built cells,
For his part, a former trainee corporal who testified in the proceedings undertaken by the Commission, affirmed:
guardpost where he had been on duty many times was located on the beach but now no longer exists, apart from some corrugated iron still left in the sand. That to his left was El Polvorín ... it was common knowledge among the staff that the enclosure on the right and down a flight of stairs, was utilized as a torture room. It had been covered with fibreglass. ... The deponent was under express orders to guard the prisoners-, they never arrived at night, only by day, when they were brought in wearing hoods. At one time he saw in passing a group of six or seven people without hoods and of both sexes, under armed guard. on another occasion he saw a young woman dragged by her hair in the direction of El Polvorín. along the track which at that time was a dirt one, and this took place in the summer of 1978. (Statement of 27 June 1984.).