(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Births in captivity
We must now mention the appalling conditions in which pregnant women lived and gave birth in prison. Witnesses' accounts of people who endured imprisonment in the secret detention centre of the Navy Mechanics School report:
... on our arrival at the Navy Mechanics School we saw many women laid out on the floor on cushions awaiting the birth of their children. Somee had been detained by the Air Force, the Federal Police, the Army in Córdoba, the Navy at Mar del Plata, others by the Navy Mechanics School itself (Testimonly of San Solarz de Osatinsky and Ana María Marti, file No. 4442).
According to these accounts, the pregnant women were attended by a doctor in the Navy Hospital, Dr. Jorge Magnacco, a gynaecologist, and a dermatologist, Dr. Martínez. They were assisted by a nurse attached to the Navy Mechanics School, and helped by other prisoners at the difficult moment of birth. (See the depositions presented to the judiciary by the National Commission on the Navy Mechanics School and on the Campo de Mayo Hospital.)
Once the child was born the mother was 'invited' to write a letter to her relatives where the child was allegedly going to be taken. The then Director of the School, navy Captain Rubén Jacinto Chamorro, personally accompanied visitors, generally senior navy officers, to the place where the pregnant women were being held, boasting that conditions established in the prison were as good as those in the Sarda (the best-known maternity hospital in Buenos Aires).
The witnesses' accounts continue:
... from the comments made we learnt that in the Navy Hospital there was a list of married couples in the Navy who could not have children of their own, and who were prepared to adopt one of the children of people who had disappeared. The man who drew up the list was a gynaecologist attached to the Navy Mechanics School.
The account of when María del Carmen Moyano gave birth to her child in the School is also revealing:
'…on feeling the first contractions I was taken to the cellar of the Navy Mechanics School, where I was attended by Drs Magnacco and Martínez.'
Because of her desperate cries, the doctors agreed to allow her prison companion Señora Solarz de Osatinsky to be brought there in chains. Unable to stand the noise of the chains when Señora Osatinsky walked round her, she begged that they be removed. The request was refused. In the midst of her cries and her desperation, a baby girl was born. The mother was immediately taken back to her room, which she shared with another prisoner, Ana de Castro. Witnesses saw María del Carmen Moyano for approximately eight more days, and exactly two days afterwards Ana de Castro gave birth to a boy. Both mothers were then transferred without their children by soldiers belonging to the 3rd Army Brigade. Shortly after the mothers had left, the children were taken away by an NCO known as 'Pedro Bolita'. (Testimony of Marti and Osatinsky.)
To this day there has been no news of either the mothers or the children.
In a harrowing statement by Adriana Calvo de Laborde, we learn what pregnant women endured at the critical time of giving birth in prison (file No. 2531).
In 1970 I graduated in physics at the National University of La Plata. From then until 1977 I worked in the Physics Department of the University as a teacher and researcher. In 1972 I married Miguel Angel Laborde, a doctor of chemistry, who was also a teacher and researcher in the science faculty.
On 4 February 1977 at about 10 a.m., eight to ten armed men entered the house. They were dressed like civilians and some wore peaked denim caps. They said they were policemen. They searched everywhere, and said I had to go with them. I was forced to take my identity card. My son was left with neighbours. I was seven months pregnant. On several occasions they asked me to repeat my name as if they were not sure that I was the person they were looking for. In the doorway of my house, in front of all the neighbours, they forced me into one of the cars and threw me on to the floor, blindfolding me and tying my hands behind my back. After driving around for a long time, we arrived at a place which I later learnt was the Detective Squad of La Plata (on Calle 55 between Calles 14 and 15). There they asked for my documents and I was told to sit on a chair. After a long time, someone saw that my hands were very swollen, and they took the handcuffs off and tied my hands in front. When night fell they took me, together with other women who were being held, to the place where the tortures were carried out (Arana). We sat in the hall and the names of all the latest arrivals were called out. it was there that I learnt that my husband was being held in the same place. I was held there for seven days. The procedure was more or less like this: at night the newly arrested arrived. Then the 'gang' arrived and the interrogations started, which lasted the whole night, and often until midday the next day. The prisoners who had not yet been interrogated stayed in the hall sitting on the floor, tied up and blindfolded and watched over continuously by civil guards.
I was interrogated that same night, 4 February, but as I was one of the last to arrive they decided to continue it the next day. Already in that half-hour I realized that the person who was asking me questions had not the slightest idea why I was there.
I spent the whole of the next day sitting on the floor of the hall, and at night I was taken to a cell which measured approximately 2 by 1. 5 metres. Half of it was taken up by a bed made of cement, and there were four women in it.
We were totally forbidden to talk and the guards used to look in every ten or fifteen minutes through a peep-hole. All the time one could hear the screams of other prisoners being interrogated.
When the 'gang' left, the guards began to amuse themselves, torturing some of the prisoners, with the sole purpose of making them utter obscenities.
When the 'gang' returned there was panic everywhere, even among the guards. But in spite of the fact that our regime was not endurable, let alone humane, it was privileged compared with that of the men, who were quite literally thrown on the ground, in filthy conditions, suffering from fleas and infections. There were as many as thirty of them, some injured, some naked, totally unable to move, hardly talking because they were afraid of being punished, and eating half as often as we did.
On 12 March Inés Ortega de Fossati, another prisoner, began to have labour pains. We shouted to the 'corporal of the guard' (that was how we had to address him). Hours passed without any reply. As I was the only woman present with any experience, I helped her as best I could, It was her first-born, and she was seventeen or eighteen years old. Finally, after twelve hours, she was taken to the prison kitchen and put on a dirty table, blindfolded, and in front of all the guards, she had her child, assisted by a so-called doctor who did nothing except shout at her while the others laughed. She had a son called Leonardo. She was left with him for four or five days in a cell, and after that they took her baby away, saying that the Colonel wished to took at him. Apparently someone filled up a form with details of the child ...
On 15 April I began to go into labour. After three or four hours of being on the floor with contractions that were coming faster and faster, and thanks to the shouts of the other women, I was taken away in an army patrol car with two men in front and one woman behind (the woman was called 'Lucrecia' and she used to take part in the torture sessions).
We drove in the direction of Buenos Aires, but my child wouldn't wait and at the crossroads of Alpargatas, opposite the Abbott Laboratory, the woman shrieked that they should stop the car on the verge, and there Teresa was born. Thanks to the forces of nature, the birth was normal. The only assistance I received was when 'Lucrecia' tied the umbilical cord which was still linking me with the child as there was nothing to cut it with. No more than five minutes later we drove on, supposedly in the direction of a hospital, ! was still blindfolded and my child was on the seat. After many twists and turns we arrived at what I later learnt was the building of the Detective Squad of Bánfield (the Pozo de Bánfield). There I saw the same doctor who had assisted Inés Ortega de Fossatti. He cut the umbilical cord in the car and took me up two or three floors to a place where they removed the placenta. He made me undress in front of an officer on duty. I had to wash the bed, the floor and my dress, and clear away the placenta. Then, finally, they left me to wash my baby, while they continued their insults and threats. On entering the building they took off my blindfold saying, 'It's not necessary now,' so that for the rest of the time I could see their faces.
In Bánfield the rules were much stricter than at the La Plata No. 5 Police Station. We left our cells to eat only once every two days. In each cell there were three or more women, and for a lavatory there was a bottle of bleach with the top cut off. I managed to arrange for Patricia Huchansky de Simón to be put into the same cell as me and my baby, and she helped me a great deal in the first few days when I was racked with post-natal pains. She told me that a few days earlier she had been present when María Elofsa Castellini had a child. Even though they shouted for help the only thing they were allowed to do was to go out into the passage at two o'clock, where they were given a kitchen knife. There on the floor a beautiful baby girl was born which was taken away a few hours later.
28 April, when the same officer who had made me wash the floor was on guard, I received an order from La Plata that I was to be freed. It was obvious that this 'gentleman' was not accustomed to freeing people, because he became very nervous.
He said I should not believe everything I had seen and heard because this was aimed at putting a bit of fear into people. That same night I was dropped off four blocks away from my parents' house, with my baby in my arms: I was in a nightdress and slippers, without any identification and the two of us were covered in fleas. At practically the same time my husband was released from La Plata.
Another case in which we discovered a heroic sense of solidarity and duty alongside horror, was that of Silvia Mabel Isabella Valenzi (file No. 3741) who, according to various witnesses, was last seen in the Pozo de Quilmes in January 1977 when she was five months pregnant. Later, on 1 April, she was taken by her captors to Quilmes Municipal Hospital where, at 3.15 p.m. on 2 April, she gave birth to a daughter of 1.9 kilos, called Rosa. The hospital had registered both the mother's attendance and the birth.
Dr J.M.B. (his identity and professional dossier are in the care of the Judiciary). who was at that time in charge of the Obstetrics Department of the Isidoro Iriarte Hospital in Quilmes, and who voluntarily gave the Commission information, remembered how on that date he received:
…a woman who was about seven and a half months pregnant, and in an advanced stage of labour. She was brought to the hospital by men wearing the uniforms of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police. They did not identify themselves, but staff at the hospital recognized them and I presume they belonged to the 1st Police Division of the area. Among them was a police doctor, who identified himself as Dr. Bergez, and whom I knew. During the time that the prisoner was in the hospital the police stayed by her side and did not allow any conversation to take place between her, the obstetricians and the doctor. Only at the moment of giving birth were they allowed to exchange a few words.
Immediately after the birth she was returned to police guard and kept in the hospital until morning. Then she was taken away in a van without number plates, lying down in the back. Dr. Bergez also participated at this stage, accompanying her as she left. Her baby stayed behind in the incubator room and died as a result of premature birth two or three days later. I learnt this from the clinical paediatric records, which were looked after by Dr Pérez Casal at the time.
Dr J.M.B. also declared that in the case of births, information on date, parenthood and identity were normally noted down in the Births Register, and this was done on this occasion.
Later, when I was trying to discover more details about the case - because I realized that investigations were going on about what had happened to the child on the day of its birth - I asked for the Births Register. It had the information on that particular case, but I noticed that the name of the mother had been crudely rubbed out. In its place had been written the initials N.N. (identity unknown), although the name of Isabella Valenzi could still be seen.
Dr J.M.B. noted:
This attempt to erase the name had not been done In the Paediatric Register which always accompanied the Births Register, and it was still possible to see the dates of the child's birth under the name Valenzi there.
Copies of the Birth Register and of the Paediatric Register of the Isidoro, Iriarte Hospital of Quilmes were handed over to the Commission on Disappeared People on 14 May 1984, fully confirming the above.
The young mother, in spite of being under constant guard, managed to shout out her name and that of her family in the hope that they might be heard by someone who would thus learn of her plight.
As we mentioned, it was in this context that solidarity and generosity became apparent in the reaction of the midwife, María Luisa Martínez de González, and of the nurse, Genoveva Fratassi. The midwife told Señora Ema Salas de Ciabeglia that she would write to the mother of Silvia Mabel Isabella Valenzi giving her information about the birth of the child, and what had taken place at the hospital. The nurse also showed an attitude of respect for human life, and inquired about the situation of Señora Valenzi. As a result, a few days later the relatives came to the hospital and then went to the police station. The police denied that Señora Valenzi was being detained there. Of course, as soon as the alarm was given in the hospital, she had been transferred.
The midwife was kidnapped on 7 April 1977, and the nurse, who belonged to the hospital's union, was seized on the 14th. Both have been on the disappeared list since then, and according to testimonies they were held in the secret detention centre of El Vesubio.