(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
The family as hostage
It was common practice during the repression to seize one or more members of the family of the person sought, to obtain information on their whereabouts by threats and violence, or with the aim of provoking him/her to come forward and surrender. Thus siblings, mothers, fathers and even grandparents were illegally arrested, violently treated, and at times made to disappear in the search for one member of the family who was under suspicion.
The account of Francisco José Elena (file No. 4212) is particularly eloquent in this respect. On 22 November 1976 he was waiting on the platform of Córdoba railway station with two people with whom he had arranged to do some work in his capacity as a tile layer. When they were going towards the exit they were arrested by men dressed in military uniform and taken by truck to the secret detention centre, La Ribera.
When they asked me how many people were in my family and I gave the name of my eldest daughter, Rosario, they said, 'So she's your daughter? Is she married?' to which I replied, 'Yes, to Roberto Nájera.' My interrogator said, 'So he's your son-in-law? You are not going to leave this place until we have caught them.' I then asked to speak to my interrogator, who asked me what I wanted, and I said I wanted to know when they were going to free me. He said when they caught my son-in-law and my daughter, so then I told him that they were a family separate from mine, responsible for their own acts, that I could not interfere in any way, and that in any case, they were trade union leaders, not guerrillas or subversives, and that my arrest was not justified. Then he told me to be patient, that they would soon catch them and that then they would release me, to which I replied, 'You mean if you don't catch them I will never be able to leave here?' He answered: 'That depends on them,' and turning his back, he left.
The illegal arrest of Señor Elena lasted almost a month, during which time he was threatened, maltreated and made to witness the excesses of repression.
The case of the Candelas (file No. 5003) reached unthinkable limits in the use of violence on a family group.
On the night of 24 March 1976, eight armed men entered the Candelas' home. They said they were looking for Adela Esther Candela de Lanzilotti and her husband Osvaldo Daniel Lanzilotti. As they did not find them, they took away Adela's parents by force: María Angélica Albornoz de Candela, aged fifty-three, and Enrique Jorge Candela, a retired air force officer, aged forty-nine, who were the owners of the house. On learning that the Lanzilotti couple were spending the night at Adela's grandmother's house they went there and threatened to kill her son and her daughter-in-law if she didn't hand over her grand-daughter. Meanwhile, the Lanzilotti couple fled and the armed men withdrew from the house. There has been no information on the Candelas since then.
Another case, moving because of the feelings aroused, involved the Kreplak family (file No. 1661). On 9 July 1977, several men dressed in civilian clothes, and armed, raided the Kreplak house, looking for Gabriel Eduardo Kreplak, who was not there. After turning the house upside down, they seized Señor Kreplak and his son Ernesto Carlos, taking them to a place that they think was the Campo de Mayo. The deposition signed by Gabriel continues:
That day my father was interrogated and subjected to electric shock treatment in front of my brother Ernesto Carlos. All the questions were aimed at finding out where I was, something my father was completely unaware of. When they realised this, his interrogators began asking about the whereabouts of my brother José Ariel, who was then, by chance, sleeping in the house of my grandmother, Sara Lis de Kreplak, situated in Villa Devoto, Buenos Aires province. This was what my father told his kidnappers. That same day at 11.30 a.m., seven civilians, armed with machine guns, broke into my grandmother's house, and in front of her took José Ariel away at gunpoint. They put him in the back of a truck covered with a green tarpaulin ... that afternoon my father and my youngest brother were released when they had caught José Ariel.
For some time the Kreplak family received orders for young Gabriel to present himself. Then all communication was cut and nothing more was heard of José Ariel.
The contempt that the perpetrators of the repressive violence felt for family privacy and emotional ties is evident in the case of the Casabona family:
It was 5 p.m. on 7 March 1977. 1 was at my desk finishing some work for the ENET School No. 1 of Quilmes, where I was the Director. My wife was in the kitchen preparing tea, and my eldest son was in his room on the first floor busy with his music. Unexpectedly I saw some individuals carrying rifles jumping over the fence from the garden of our next-door neighbour: I spotted them through the curtain of the window in front of my desk. As I got up and opened the door to find out what was going on, I was pushed aside without more ado by a sinister-looking man. After being tied up I was forced to go down on my knees and put my hands on my neck. In this position I was repeatedly asked who Carlos Casabona was. While this was going on I heard other people moving about the house, and it occurred to me to shout out to them not to harm my wife. The question, who was Carlos Casabona, was repeated over and over, accompanied each time by a blow on my neck with a gun. I am called Carlos just like my younger son, and I realized that the person they were looking for was my son. Both my wife and I, at gunpoint, went up to the first floor where my elder son was. There I remember one person who kept us in total captivity, pointing his gun at us all the time and uttering threats. Meanwhile his companions were ransacking the house, emptying the wardrobes and throwing all their contents on to the floor - clothes, books and various objects - taking out the screws of electrical equipment and digging up the earth in the garden at the back of the house. In a word, turning everything upside down and creating total disorder. When my son Carlos arrived home from the Engineering Faculty of La Plata, where he was a student, (he had gone to find out the dates of some written exams), and according to whom it was 5.30 p.m., he was surprised to see the whole house open. On coming indoors he was surrounded and forced to lie face down on the floor of the sitting room. As he had recently done military service he noticed from this position that the only military attire that the sinister attackers of our house were wearing were laced boots, as the rest of their clothes were varied and consisted of woollen hats, jackets, shirts and jumpers tucked into ordinary trousers; there was nothing that was at all military or police-like about them.
The search ended when two of the individuals went into the room next door, where my wife and my eldest son were. It was my son Carlos's bedroom. There they proceeded to throw all his personal belongings into the miudle of the roorn, until I heard them shout, 'Here it isl' Afterwards we learnt that the object was a diary which, by coincidence, had been sent back from Rio Gallegos where my son had done his military service. In it Carlos had written his Diary of a Soldier. From the place where we were all being held captive, my wife could see a van reversing into our garden and my son Carlos being forced to enter it, his head covered and his hands tied behind his back. They drove off at once, but not before giving us the warning that if we moved at all in the next flve minutes we would be killed ... my son reappeared four days later at my house after a horrific experience in which he almost lost his life. He was kept blindfolded and his hands were tied, until a short distance from my house.
In broad outline, this was the story of those ignominious events which violated the dignity of my family and took place for reasons, which even today, I am ignorant of. There ensued mental and physical problems in the health of my wife, now deceased, which aggravated the ailment that was the cause of her death. As for me, a proven professional and an excellent director of an important state educational establishment, the incident had such an emotional impact on me that it provoked a deterioration in a heart condition which I still suffer from, in addition to doing me emotional harm from which I will never recover. Finally, there is the damage done to my son, whose mental health was seriously affected, causing him to break off his university career. (Juan Carlos Casabona, file No. 2787).