(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
The effects on children
Many pregnant women were kidnapped, and in captivity they endured all kinds of suffering. Some were released and managed to have their babies either at home or in hospitals. However, both the mothers and their children suffered the sequels of their descent into hell. These after-effects were difficult to overcome even with clinical and psychological treatment, and enormous efforts had to be made by the mother and child for them to adjust back to family and social life.
In the following accounts we have left out the surnames of those who were the victims. A reading of the cases makes it obvious why.
Gladys de H. (file No. 4178) was seized in 1979, held in a secret detention centre, and tortured in spite of being six months pregnant. Of all types of torture, she suffered the worst imaginable. She was raped, given electric shocks, systematically beaten and, as soon as she had slightly recovered, she was again given the same treatment. The marks of this remain indelible in both her body and her mind.
I cannot sleep. Everything repeats itself over and over again. Everything from the screams of my companions at their misfortune to my own screams.
After being freed for three months, her son Dario H. was born without complications, However, as a result of the torture that his mother endured during pregnancy, the child soon showed the symptoms of a neuro-physiological imbalance, known clinically as bilateral hypoacusia. From the moment that Señora H. came to the Commission to make a deposition, she was attended by specialists. Once they had diagnosed her case they presented her to the Cosme Argerich Hospital. The child was admitted and underwent a series of psychological and physical tests to obtain a correct diagnosis of his situation. There was also a consultation with Dr Coquet's Psychopathological Unit in the hospital. The family also received treatment in the Psychopathological Unit at Mental Health Centre No. 2, where the assumed diagnosis was that the child was suffering from the after-effects of war. Only recently was it possible for the specialists to give a definite prognosis on the evolution of the case, after both the mother and the child had undergone psychotherapy to enable them to be successfully rehabilitated and socially adjusted. Meanwhile, the doctors in the Medical Centre of Clinical Investigations came to the conclusion that the child's pathological state was the result of electric shock treatment given to the mother at the time of pregnancy, which had left bruises that had a critical effect as the foetus passed through different stages of growth. It is worth noting, however, that after having recourse to a state institution like the Commission (which provided the mother and her child with a reference point for obtaining specialized medical facilities, and above all helped them to integrate socially and become free from the isolation that they had been left in by their situation) both the mother and the child's condition improved noticeably, both in their relations towards each other and with the rest of society.
Children who have witnessed the arrest of their parents in their own home - which occurred in several cases - and the violent entry of armed groups, have suffered a traumatic experience, and this has naturally had a very serious effect on their personality.
Sometimes the children have not managed to survive, as was the case of the child Marcelo Barbagallo, who, in April 1976, was forcibly separated from his parents, who were arrested at home with his sister Elena Isabel aged nineteen, and his cousin Nora Chelpa aged twenty-two and pregnant. During the incident Marcelo was treated roughly by those who were carrying out the search, and they stayed in the house for two hours, stealing all kinds of objects: the radio, bed linen, the television, money and so on, and always in the presence of the child.
After this the young boy was taken care of by his seventy-year-old grandmother. She tells how her grandson used to spend hours at the window waiting for his parents' return. After their abduction, Marcelo Barbagallo started to sleep in the same bed as his grandmother. He never heard anything more about his parents and other relatives.
One morning in October 1982 his grandmother found him dead. The cause of death given was a 'heart attack'. He was just twelve years old.
Each time that a child suffered torture directly, or witnessed the torture of his parents, he entered into a realm of horror, the consequences of which were unpredictable. Such was the following case, which ended in the suicide of a very young child.
Alicia B. Morales de Galamba (file No. 5187) presents us with this moving account:
We lived in Mendoza with my children, Paula Natalia and Mauriclo, aged one and a half years and two months respectively. A friend, María Luisa Sánchez de Vargas lived with us, together with her two children, Josefina, aged five, and Soledad, aged one and a half. On 12 June 1976 at 11 p.m. María Luisa and I were in the kitchen when we heard knocking, and a troop of people burst in. Before we had time to think what was going on, or become aware of the situation, they beat us and blindfolded us. The din and the sound of voices woke the children up, and they began to cry desperately. The men turned the house upside down, breaking anything that was in their way, asking me again and again about my husband. Every so often they clicked the safety catches of their guns, as if they were about to shoot. The terror was palpable and we could not breathe. It was a terror that grew alongside the shouts of the children, which became more and more frenzied. María Luisa and I took them in our arms in an attempt to calm them down. About twenty or thirty minutes had passed when they forced us out of the house and made us all get into a car, perhaps a Ford Falcon, and took us to a place that we later learnt was the D2, that's to say the Police Headquarters in Mendoza. They put us in an empty room, and for several hours they kept Mauricio, my son aged two months, I felt that the world was falling to pieces, I did not want to live. I did not even cry. Lying on the floor, I rolled myself up into a ball like a foetus. After many hours they returned Mauriclo, and slowly but surely I recovered. For two days the four children stayed with us, Josefina and Paula could not stand being cooped up. They cried and beat at the door, begging to be released. At one moment one of the warders took Josefina out of the room alone. It was a new torment. We did not know what they were going to do to her. When they returned with her, after two hours, Josefina said she had been taken to a bus terminal to 'recognize' people. A short time after, they took all four children away and gave them to their respective grandparents. Then they separated María Luisa and me, though we both stayed in the D2 building. One day one of the prison warders told me they were going to bring María Luisa back to my cell. I was happy at the thought of seeing her again, though I feared for her. María Luisa had become a different person, the pain had aged her. She told me in tears that thanks to some prostitutes she had managed to see her husband, José Vargas, in the first few days after being separated from me. He was also being held in the prison. Now he is on the list of the disappeared. At this meeting, José told his wife that their daughter Josefina had been present during one of the torture sessions. They had made her witness her father's sufferings so that he would talk. I calculated that this happened between 12 and 14 June when they took Josefina from the cell. But the story of María Luisa does not end there. What I heard later was so terrible that even today I feel as I did then, that of all the crises a person can live through there can be none worse than this. A few days before, she told me, they had taken her to her parents' house in San Juan. 'I really believed that it was to give pleasure to my old parents, to show them that I was alive and to allow me to renew contact with the children. But no, they took me to a funeral. And do you know whose funeral it was? It was that of my eldest child, my Josefina.' When María Luisa asked her father, Dr Sánchez Sarmiento, a lawyer in the federal courts, how such a thing had happened, he said that a few days after the child came home, she opened the drawer of a cupboard, took out a gun belonging to her grandfather, and shot herself.
The deposition of Juan Enrique Velázquez Rosario (flle No. 2628):
As I refused to reply they began to beat my wife with a strap, and to kick and pull the hair of my children Celia Lucia, aged thirteen, Juan Fabián, aged eight, Verónica Daniela aged three, and Silvina who was only twenty days old. They pushed the children from side to side and asked them if friends went to the house. After beating my wife, they took the youngest child and held her upside down by the feet and hit her, saying to the mother, 'If you don't talk we will kill her. The children were crying and it was extremely frigh tening. The mother shouted and implored them not to hurt the child. Then they decided to do the submarino torture on my wife in front of the children, while at the same time they took me into another room.
Since then I have heard nothing of my wife, Elba Lucía Gándara de Castromán, who was born on 12 October 1943 in Mercedes, Uruguay, and was the mother of our four children: Celia Luc"ia, Juan Fabián, Verónica Daniela and Silvina ...
Elena Alfaro (file No. 3048) said in her testimony that, among the prisoners in El Vesubio secret detention centre were Jorge Antonio Capellano, his wife Irma Beatriz Márquez and her son
Capellano was transferred first. Pablito was tortured in front of his mother and afferwards (according to the comments in the camp) he was taken to a reformatory. Irma Beatriz was transferred two months after her son. Pablito was tortured with the excuse that his mother had not handed over the documents on her house which the repressive groups wanted to trade ...
Elsa Norma Manfil (file No. 7018) declared before the Commission:
On 26 October 1976 at 6 a.m. they used machine guns on my brother's flat, on the third floor of Calles Posadas and Lucena de Villa Dominico, Buenos Aires province. Everyone was sleeping at that time: my brother, Carlos Laudelino Manfil and his four Younger children, Carlos Alberto, Ariel Cristian, Silvia Graciela, and Karina Manfil. The neighbours said that first the intruders beat on the door and as there was a delay in opening it they shot at it with machine guns. They said that afterwards they went on shooting inside the house, and as a consequence killed my brother, his wife Angélica, and their son aged eight. We learnt that Karina had been wounded in the leg after they took her to the Finocchietto Hospital in Sarandi. She was guarded by a Policeman. That same day at 7 p.m., on learning what had happened from neighbours, I went to the building and tried to find out more. There were several people standing in the doorway of the flat, heavily armed and wearing military uniforms. When they saw me they pointed their guns at me and told me to go on upstairs and not to stop. Then, immediately afterwards, they asked my name. I said I was a neighbour, that I knew the family that lived there, and wanted to know what had happened. Two days later Angélica's mother received a summons to go to the morgue in the Avellanada cemetery to identify the corpses. It was she, my brother's mother-in-law, who took charge of Karina, collecting her from the hospital she had been admitted to. She also looked after the children Silvia Graciela and Ariel, who was then only six months old.
Silvio Octavio Viotti (file No. 5473) tells of the effect that seeing blows and tortures inflicted on a young girl while she was in prison had on her:
On 5 December 1977 members of the Army detained me, dragging me out of the farmhouse on my property, situated in Villa Gran Parque, Guiñazú, Córdoba. Without any questioning I was taken straight to a detention centre, which I later learnt was La Ribera. I remained there for two months and twenty-eight days as a disappeared prisoner. When I was in the cell on 19 December they brought in a woman aged twenty-one and her younger sister, aged eleven. I could see them perfectly when they passed along the passage as at that time I was not blindfolded. That night was frightful. Until morning I could hear the girls being interrogated and beaten. I can still hear the small girl's cries of pain.