(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
D. The sick and disabled
At the beginning of spring in Córdoba, on the morning of 21 September 1976, a group of people, dressed in civilian clothes and heavily armed, attacked a house at 3460 Calle Lagrange in the neighbourhood of Villa Belgrano. Despite the frequency of these attacks, in this case there was a difference. After entering the house through the roof, the intruders took away a married couple, Mónica Protti de Guillén (file No. 2252) and her husband Enrique Guillén (file No. 2253), who was crippled in one leg.
From every point of view a kidnapping implies that the victim is in an extremely vulnerable state. The impunity of the attackers, the disproportionate number of forces involved, the night time, the secrecy, the claim that they are people acting on the orders of some public authority, the tremendous degree of violence, all of this converts any minor 'pick-up' into a powerful force that is impossible to contain.
So what happens in the case of the disabled? Was there any difference in the treatment shown towards handicapped people?
The Guillén couple were seen in the secret detention centre of La Perla, horribly tortured. While their parents searched for them unceasingly, and started investigations in national and international, official and private organizations, the 'subterranean and secret world' gave no answer.
In despair, the parents got in touch with a retired army officer, who acted as an unofficial spokesman and told them that 'the children are well in La Perla', adding a short time after that 'they had already been judged and would soon be transferred'. Since then he has given no further details.
Almost simultaneously, there was another case, this time in Buenos Aires.
Three people, one of them disabled, were witnesses when people dressed in civilian clothes, in the neighbourhood of Belgrano, forced a sociology student, Claudia Inés Grumberg (file No. 233) into a Ford Falcon. Since the age of five she had suffered from a deforming type of arthritis in all her joints; as well as being unable to move her fingers, she limped badly after ten years of being unable to walk.
Two years later, the three witnesses, who included José Liborio Poblete, were themselves seized.
General Videla answered English journalists, about this case, saying:
In the case of this girl YOU are referring to, about which I don't know the details [he was referring to Claudia Inés Grumberg, detained for being a subversive] I understand that she is being detained in spite of being disabled. But I repeat what I said at the beginning: a terrorist is not just someone with a gun or bomb, but also someone who spreads ideas that are contrary to Western and Christian civilization. (Gente, 22 November 1977, Diario Popular, Clarín, La Opinión, Cronica and other national newspapers dated 18 December 1977.)
Claudia Inés Grumberg is still among the disappeared.
On the eve of her twentieth birthday, Rosa Ana Frigerio (file No. 6875) was taken out of her house at 4521 Calle Olavarría in Mar del Plata. On 25 August 1976 a group of people, carrying guns and dressed in civilian clothes, put the young girl on a stretcher and carried her away. At that moment, the victim had her entire body in plaster as her spinal column had been operated on.
After investigations carried out by the family it was learnt that she was being held in the naval base of Mar del Plata.
This was subsequently confirmed when a writ of habeas corpus was answered on 25 February 1977: the answer stated that Rosa Ana Frigerio was at the disposition of the National Executive, and was signed by the new head of the naval base, Captain Juan José Lombardo.
The same captain informed the parents of Rosa Ana on 31 March 1977, that their daughter had died in a shoot-out at 3 a.m. on 8 March. On this occasion the parents were given a handwritten piece of paper with the number of a coffin.
On 4 May 1984 an order was given for the preventive detention of the man who is today the Vice-Admiral Juan José Lombardo, to stand trial for the murder of Rosa Ana Frigerio, at the Federal Court under Dr Pedro Hooft.
In the city of Rosario, in September 1977, a married couple, María Esther Ravelo Vega (file No. 3223) and Emilio Etelvino Vega (file No. 4372) disappeared. Both of them were blind.
When she did not hear from her daughter, Señora Alejandra Fernández de Ravelo went to the house where she saw:
An army lorry being loaded up with the last things left in the house. I was warned by the neighbours not to go near as otherwise they might carry me off as well. They took all the furniture, everything in the house, clothes, a machine for making soda and a truck in which the soda was delivered (my son-in-law worked for the firm). They also stole the couple's Alsatian guide dog.
In spite of many inquiries nothing more was heard about the young couple.
On 27 October 1977 Señora Juana Sigaloff de Nuguer and her son Hernán Gerardo Nuguer (file No. 1716) left their house to go to their respective jobs in a Renault 6 that was specially adapted for a handicapped person, as Hernán Gerardo was paralysed from the waist down.
While they were starting the car another vehicle appeared with four people inside. Three got out. They were dressed in civilian clothes but had lace-up boots, and were carrying pistols. One of them had a machine gun.
Hernán then asked them to identify themselves, and they showed their credentials. (All of this was seen by a neighbour, Señor Calleja, who owned a shop and was in charge of the block of flats.) On seeing their credentials, Hernán Gerardo said that there was no identification of any kind which showed that they were members of a security force. Meanwhile, they opened the doors of his car, and when his mother asked where they were taking him, they replied, 'To the Police Department.' They put Hernán into a crearn-coloured Ford Falcon, whose number his mother noted down on a piece of paper (she learnt later that it did not belong to this car at all).
The last time she saw her son was when he was disappearing in this car, followed by another similar one acting as escort.
People who were severely restricted in their ability to move were not treated with any special consideration. Such was the case of Juan Di Bennardo (file No. 4500) a metal worker, aged twenty-six, who was knocked down by a car in the street and interned in an intensive care unit of Alvear Hospital on 23 April 1978. He was due to be operated on on 15 May 1978. Three days before, at night, people dressed in white uniforms came into the room, carrying guns. They ordered the patients in Room 14 of the Emergency Unit to stay in their beds and to cover their heads with the sheets. They then put Juan on a stretcher and took him from the hospital in an ambulance. His mother received a telephone call from a prisoner who had been released who said that 'he had been detained in a hospital in La Plata' and that 'during captivity he had met Juan Di Bennardo', without giving details on the place. She went on receiving phone calls, in one of which she was told that Juan was in the El Olimpo secret detention centre. She never heard anything more of him.
In El Olimpo there was a disabled man, Gilberto Renguel Ponce (file No. 5254). He was kidnapped while waiting for a train in Cuidadela Station at 4 p.m. on 7 December 1978. Ten people, who included - we learnt later - those with the nicknames 'Paco', 'Turco Julián' and 'Colores' threw him on to some scales on the station platform, beat him, tied him up and took him to a car parked on the other side of Rivadavia Avenue.
After a time they made me speak to Getrudis, the wife of José Poblete (see page 287), who told me to talk as we had all been made prisoners. As I had nothing to say, the torturers began to whip me. Later I heard one of them giving an order that I should be taken to 'the machine'. Then they pulled me by the hair to another room and threw me on to a hard surface which could have been a sheet of steel. There they tied me up and began to apply the electric prod to different parts of my body: to my chest, mouth, tongue, testicles and anus. They were asking me where I kept the weapons, and they threatened to kill my son and my wife, who was pregnant.
Before he could recover, the torturer known as 'Turco
Julián' (Julián the Turk) lifted him up and put him on a chair with a piece of paper so that he could write down everything he knew.
I wrote down the names of friends I knew and who were not involved in any subversive activity, as the Christians for Liberation group was Peronist and dedicated to telling people about that political creed, and to helping and working for handicapped people. The torturers told me that we were being exploited by international Zionism, and that the Jews had deceived us.
Gilberto Renguel Ponce was freed on 21 December 1978, with an order to ring the number 58-4778 every day.
On the same day as Gilberto Ponce disappeared, at 6.30 p.m. while walking down Calle Cangallo in the direction of Pasteur, Mónica Brull de Guillén (file No. 5452), who was blind, and who lived with her husband and her small son, felt her arm being seized and a male voice saying in her ear, 'Come, I'll help you cross the road.' She replied that she did not wish to do so, at which point the man, with someone else said, 'Cross, the game's up ...,
She was made to get into a car and after a journey lasting twenty minutes one of the men, who identified himself as 'Clavel' asked her about her activities. She replied that since 1973 she had participated in a group of handicapped people whose aim was to carry out social and community work with people in the same condition, whom she had met in the National Rehabilitation Institute, at 900 Calle Echeverria.
In the secret detention centre - none other than El Olimpo Julián the Turk' asked her if she had a list of handicapped people in her house, and she said yes. Then they asked what her rank was in the organization, and Mónica denied that she had a rank.
Then 'Julián' said that he would take me to the 'machine', and two thugs appeared who took me to a room and began to beat me as I refused to get undressed. One tore off my blouse and threw me on to a metal table where they tied my hands and feet. I told them that I was two months pregnant, and 'Julián the Turk' replied, 'if so-and-so can endure the machine being six months pregnant, you can stand it, and be raped too'. Then the torturers became more and more incensed with me, for two reasons: because I belonged to a Jewish family, and because I did not cry, which exasperated them.
During a prolonged torture session, in which she was asked where Juan Agustín Guillén, her husband was (file No. 5339):
I ended by giving the address of my house. They said if I was lying they would kill my son. They asked me about the layout of the house, and if Juan would offer any resistance, if he had a gun. I told them that there was little chance that he would resist them as, like me, my husband was handicapped. When they took my husband they also took my small son.
On Saturday 9 December, the man known as 'Soler', pretending that he was 'Captain Echeverría' took the baby to Mónica's mother and told her that her daughter and son-in-law were detained but that 'it was not a police matter, as they were being held by legal forces because they were subversives'. She was also advised not to make any denunciation.
On 21 December 1978 Mónica Brull de Guillén and her husband Juan Agustín Gulllén were set free. As a result of the blows, punishment and ill-treatment she had received, Mónica had a miscarriage. She later learnt from her husband that the baby that she had been carrying had a withered arm.