(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Secret detention centres in Tucumán Province
Tucumán province had the dubious honour of having founded the 'institution' of the secret detention centre as one of the basic tools of the repressive system set up in Argentina.
The Escuelita of Famaillá was the first of these places of torture and murder, whose existence the Commission on Disappeared People was able to prove. It was a small country school, which was being built in 1975. It could house thirty or forty prisoners. One of the testimonies collected (file No. 4636) states that:
The electric prod was made of a battery-operated field telephone, which generated electric current when you turned the handle. The voltage produced increased or decreased according to the speed with which it was turned.
The precariousness of the set-up, compared with the size which these detention centres later attained, shows that in 1975 the model for the clandestine side of the repressive system was still embryonic. From then on a rapid growth in the structure was undertaken, with the aim of improving the efficiency of the methods used and putting all the resources of the state at its disposal. After the experiment at the Escuelita of Famaillá at least ten more secret detention centres were set up in Tucumán: at the Central Police Headquarters, the Communications Headquarters, the Fire Station and the College of Physical Education, all in the Provincial capital; the Miguel de Azcuénaga munitions company, the remand home and the motel nearby; and Nueva Baviera, Lules and Fronterita in various parts of the province.
In other words, as in other parts of the country, the centres gradually changed from well-disguised small houses or cellars into large buildings, sometimes military bases adapted for the purpose, with all the features familiar from Nazi Germany: double barbed-wire fencing, guards with dogs, helicopter strips, look-out towers, etc. An example of this type of centre was the one set up at the Miguel de Azcuénaga Munitions Company.
These, however, were not the most common, as in Tucumán the Army was in an operations zone for anti-guerrilla activity and had to take great care to avoid any link being established between the clandestine groups working in the secret detention centres and the official face of the Armed Forces.
The prisoners who passed through these places mostly did so for short periods, before being transferred elsewhere. There. is good reason to believe that this transfer often meant death for the prisoners.
The prisoners were brought to the Escuelita in private cars, either in the boot, on the back seat, or lying on the floor. They were taken away in the same way and, as far as we know, when this happened most of them went to be executed. If a prisoner died they waited until nightfall, wrapped him in an army blanket, and put him in one of the private cars that set off in an unknown direction, (From the testimony of ex-policeman Antonio Cruz, file No. 4636.)
A red band was tied round the necks of those sentenced to death. Every night a lorry used to pick up the condemned to take them to the extermination camp, (From the testimony of Fermín Núñez, file No. 3185.)
I don't remember whether it was 16 May or June 1977 that the second-in-command of the 5th Communications Company, a branch of the 5th Infantry Brigade, told me to come back early because some prisoners had to be 'passed on'. It was the anniversary of the death of a soldier by the name of Toledo Pimental. When I returned at night he told me: 'Go home, it's all done already.' The next day, when I went back from my house to the Escuelita, they weren't there any more, nor were two other girl prisoners, so I am certain that they were all killed during that time. (From the testimony of First Corporal Juan Carlos Ortiz, file No. 1252.)
As part of an expansion of operations, the headquarters of the rural area was transferred in April 1976 from the Escuelita to the Nueva Baviera sugar mill secret detention centre, which became the main base for secret repression in the area until August 1977. Troops from all over the country operated there. There was a helicopter landing strip and transport for the troops. The camp held a large number of prisoners captured all over the province. Another secret detention centre operated at the old Lules sugar mill. This was a very old estate, considered a historic site, as General San Martín had been there. The reception point was in the old coal cellar; the torture room was on the first floor of the house,
In the rural area there were also at least temporary secret detention centres at the Montero Police Station, the Bella Vista sugar mill, and the Fronterita tenements, precarious buildings which had housed the local sugar mill workers. They, in fact, were victims of the repression, as arrests were carried out at the beginning of the working day, at the very entrance to the mill. The Commission on Disappeared People was able to verify depositions in the course of an inspection.
In the centre of the city of San Miguel de Tucumán the Central Police Headquarters, which already practised torture, was converted by some interior work into a secret detention centre. The police chief in Tucumán at the time was Lieutenant-Colonel Mario Albino Zimmermann (file Nos. 1252 and 440). His deputy commanders were Chief Inspector Roberto Heriberto Albornoz (file Nos. 2493, 3482, 3753, 5570, 5597, 5840 and 5846) and Inspectors José Bulacio (file Nos. 4892, 5570 and 5837) and David Ferro (file Nos. 440, 5425, 5570, 5837 and 6301).
The Army kept control over the place through a military supervisor. The man in charge of Security Area 321, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Arrechea of the 5th Brigade, used to visit the centre and attend torture sessions (file Nos. 440, 1446, 1744, 2493 and 5763),
The Communications Headquarters at 1000 Calle Laprida was also used to hold prisoners secretly. It was a transit point and place for 'softening up' recent kidnap victims. They were given no food or drink so as to prepare them for the application of the electric prod, and they also suffered other cruel punishments.
On the other side of the street there was another secret detention centre in the Fire Station, where prisoners were taken, hooded and numbered with a cardboard tag hanging from their necks, to await further transfers.
Another secret detention centre capable of holding 250 prisoners operated in the buildings of the National University of Tucumán's College of Physical Education. A bus was used to transport kidnap victims (Julio César Heredia, file No. 5838). The neighbours used to hear the victims' groans and cries and bursts of gunfire which signified either sham executions, or real ones.
On the outskirts of the city was the 'Motel' which was used as a secret detention centre even while still under construction. it is now called La Posta de los Arrieros. Here torture was carried out. The prisoners were housed in a row of five small chalets along a gravel path. The part intended as a coffee shop was used as a guard house. To the right there was a large water tank which served as a night-time look-out post.
Other centres operated for short periods: the remand home and the República de Peru school in the Palomar district. One block in the Villa Urquiza Prison was used for secret prisoners. They were kept in Section E. An ordinary prisoner serving his sentence at this prison says that he spoke to some of those now on the list of disappeared. (Juan Antonio Molina, file No.
The most important secret detention centre on the outskirts of San Miguel was the one set up in the Miguel de Azcuénaga Munitions Company under the 5th Infantry Brigade. Guard duties were carried out by members of the Gendarmería. During March and April 1976 a contingent of forty soldiers from Campo de Mayo 1st Mobile Group was sent there. One member of this group told the Commission on Disappeared People what life and death - were like at this extermination camp. Lieutenant Colonel Cafarena was one of those in charge (file No. 4636).
Once I saw a naked prisoner buried alive, with only his head left poking out of the hole. They stamped on the earth after wetting it so as to make it compact. This lasted for forty-eight hours. It caused very painful cramps and skin infections. I twice witnessed executions by firing squad in this camp. The first shot was fired by General Antonio Bussi. Next he made all the higher ranking officers take part. The site of the executions was some 300 or 400 metres up into the undergrowth from the munitions company. Security cordons were set up 20 and 100 metres from it. The shots were fired with calibre 9mm or 11-25mm pistols, always between 23.00 and 23.30 hours. Between fifteen and twenty people were murdered every fortnight. (From the testimony of Omar Eduardo Torres, file No. 6667.)