(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
A common feature in all the official explanations is desertion
The most consistent reply relatives received on making inquiries about their sons who disappeared while doing military service, was that they had deserted. This meant that every time a request was made concerning their whereabouts, the report of the military authorities limited itself to saying that the soldier had been taken off the active service list: 1) because he had left the place where he was on duty to carry out a mission and had not returned; 2) for having gone on leave and not presented himself in time at the place where he was on duty; 3) because he had fled.
In different military circles summary trials were heard for 'desertion', a formality that was no more than a cover-up for what really happened.
Guillermo Osvaldo Aguilar (file No. 4041) said:
My son did his military service as a quartermaster in the Service Corps of the 1st Marine Battalion based in Buenos Aires province. In September 1976 I received his last letter from the unit where he was doing military service, saying that he would soon be leaving and returning home. After a considerable length of time had passed, and lacking news from him, we wrote to the Military Unit, but the letters were returned with the information that he was taken off the active service list on 29 September 1976. This was later confirmed by my wife who travelled expressly to the Unit to corroborate what had happened to our son. However, according to soldiers who did military service with him, both of them from Córdoba, my son was not discharged when they were ...
Guillermo Anibal Aguilar, like most young people of his age who did military service, maintained an assiduous correspondence with his parents. How could they think that once discharged he would not communicate with them, would not send the slightest news of his whereabouts, would not write a word to a friend or to his brothers? How is it possible to imagine that after legal action was taken against him for desertion, neither he nor any of the other presumed 'deserters' came forward to carry out the necessary formalities to recover their personal papers held by the authorities?
In other cases the explanation given to the parents was that the soldier had 'fled', taking with him all his clothes and personal belongings. When this Commission asked the Minister of Defence for information on the alleged desertion of the conscript Enrique Ríos, who in October 1976 was in the 101st Army Service Corps of Junin, Buenos Aires province, it was given authenticated photocopies of the service carried out by the conscript.
According to these, on 30 October at about 7.30 p.m., while the conscript Enrique Ríos was on duty serving rations to the troops of the unit, he fled the garrison. However, according to a deposition made by the relatives to this Commission (file No. 2202) the last time that the family saw him was on 20 October of that same year. They had been in regular communication with the boy so that when they did not receive any news at the end of October and in early November, his father, Hilario Ríos, and his brother, Juan Raul, went to the unit where he was doing his service. There the military authorities under whose command he had been, told the father that Enrique was on a list as a 'deserter' and that 'for his own good and that of the family they should not come again'. Up until now nothing has been heard of Enrique, yet, from what is known about his personality and his short life, he was very attached to his family, disciplined, and a hard worker. This was also the opinion of his superiors, who stated in their report that both morally and in his outward behaviour he was a good person.
'They are transferring me to Colonia Sarmiento, Chubut. I am well. José Luis.' This short telegram made the parents of José Rodriguez Dieguez anxious, as a few days earlier they had received a letter from him which said: 'They told me that I had proved that I was a very good soldier, that I had cooperated a great deal in the Company, but that I was "marked" for being left-wing and for reasons of security this transfer had been requested from headquarters.'
José Luis Rodriguez Dieguez (file No. 2295) joined the Army on 16 March 1976 and disappeared while he was carrrying out 'a mission for the service' on 19 October of the same year. His story is one of the most moving because of the correspondence he kept up with his parents and sisters, in which he described the daily life in the 21st Regiment, Company A in Las Lajas, Neuquén, until the moment when the order came for his transfer to the 25th Regiment in Sarmiento, Chubut, on the orders of the Army Headquarters:
Travelling on his own for five days my son reached his new unit on 17 October 1976. On the l9th, forty-eight hours after presenting himself to the 25th Regiment he disappeared. According to the information that I personally discovered in that regiment, and which was given to me by the commander of the above-mentioned 25th Regiment, B Company, in Sarmiento, Chubut: on the day of his disappearance my son had gone on a service mission on the orders of a sergeant and accompanied by another soldier in a van. Not far from the garrison the van broke down. The sergeant told him to go back to ask for help. He set off for the garrison and during this walk, near the military unit, he disappeared. After a few days it was announced that he had deserted, and it was this that made me have my doubts. This was not only because we knew José Luis but for the following two reasons: on 1 August while he was in Las Lajas, Neuquén, he was sent on a mission alone to Buenos Aires to make certain purchases and orders for the 21st Regiment, a task that he carried out satisfactorily and for which he was given a diploma in recognition, The second reason is that during his trip from Las Lajas to Sarmiento, Chubut, in each place that he had to wait for a change in transport, he took advantage of his time to write to us, and he never mentioned such an idea, and if he had wanted to desert he had all the opportunities for doing so on such a long trip. He could have done so before presenting himself to the authorities of the unit where he was transferred to, an area that he knew nothing about at all.
In all the cases judges who intervened with petitions of habeas corpus for the soldiers never received any information about the circumstances of the desertions.
In some cases the kidnap took place immediately after the soldier was discharged from active service, but while he was still under military jurisdiction, that is either in the army garrison he had served in or in an army vehicle that was driving him home.
There were also cases of soldiers disappearing in the street just as they were starting their annual leave. These operations had been planned right down to the last detail. Sometimes armed groups went to the house of the future victim, or suspicious looking cars circled round and were noticed by neighbours.
'Well, Father, only ten days more.' This was the happy announcement that was sent by letter to the father of Miguel Angel Hoyo (file No. 2278) from Ushuaia Naval Base.
Answer this letter if you think it will reach me before 2 August 1977. In any case I will send you a telegram when I know when we are leaving and at what time I will be in Buenos Aires. Tomorrow we are having a party to celebrate the departure of all the young conscripts in my division.
And this was the last happy night enjoyed by Miguel Angel, who is 'disappeared' since 3 August 1977. He took the plane that flew to Ezeiza with his friends, and then, according to the testimony of his mother, Lucinda Estela Guarda de Hoyo (file No. 2278):
Two people came on board who were dressed in civilian clothes. They separated him from the other conscripts, and in Rio Gallegos two more people came and guarded him. This is what his colleagues said. The only fact we are sure of is that Corporal Pérez came with the conscripts who had been discharged from active service.
Miguel Angel Hoyo began his military service on 30 May 1976. He went home on leave on two occasions. On 29 June 1977 a group of armed men went to his parents' house in the Marabo neighbourhood, General Rodríguez, Buenos Aires province. They tried to find out the latest news they had of Miguel Angel. His disappearance took place thirty-three days later.
The parents of conscript Luis Pablo Steimberg have this to say about the circumstances of their son's disappearance (file No. 1666):
Our son, Luis Pablo Steimberg, a soldier from the 1955 intake, was doing his military service with the Headquarters Company of the National Military College when he was kidnapped on 10 August 1976 at about 8.30 p.m. at the corner of Calles Rams and Brown de Morón. He was on his annual leave and he left home to see a film in Buenos Aires with another conscript, Mario Molfino, from the same Military College.
The corner in question is just two blocks away from the Steimbergs' house and it was there that two armed men got out of a white pick-up truck and forced him to get in, driving off at breakneck speed. Some hours before, neighbours had noticed the presence of an orange Peugeot, numberplate C-015600, with four people inside. All this information was collected personally, and neighbours found a wallet with the personal identification of Luis Pablo in the place where the incident took place.
Denouncing the disappearance of her husband (file No. 1001) Laura Kogan had the following to say:
Mv husband, Luis Daniel Garcia, was kidnapped at 1 a.m. on 2 August 1976. We were woken by the noise of loud knocking on the door of the flat. On opening the door six people entered in a rush, two wearing army combat uniforms. They identified themselves as members of the National Military College where my husband was doing military service.
In the military record on Gerardo José Campora (file No. 299) it says: 'Unit: 1st Maintenance Group. Enrolled in San Nicolás, Military District of Junin.' The date given for when he started military service was 26 January 1977, and the date of 7 May 1977 is given as the day when he was discharged for desertion. Campora is said to have given a favourable impression during his service. In the four months in which he served in El Palomar, the base of the 1st Maintenance Group, as an NCO on week duty for the Company, he went to see his family just once.
His mother, Alicia Montaldo de Campora, says:
Our son came home on leave on 29 April 1977. He was at home until 1 May 1977. On 8 May a companion was sent to our house by First Lt. Del Moral to flnd out if he was still there and if he would present himself to the military authority.
When this happened we went to the garrison, and the officer mentioned above told us that on 1 May our son had come to the garrison and he had changed into uniform. Then he was given an order to go and look for a nurse in the regiment, and while carrying this order out he 'deserted'. The officer let us know that our son was in fatigues, without money or documents.
The only brief reply that the authorities gave the family in this, as in most cases, was the following:
I inform you that the soldier Gerardo José Campora (C. 1958, M.1.12.029.036 - D.M. Junin D/E San Nicolás) was discharged from active service on 7 May 1977, for having deserted from the unit where he was stationed in his capacity as a conscript of the 1st Maintenance Group, which is dependent on this command, and is now an outlaw.
The flagrant contradiction with the facts is conspicuous. How is it possible that a soldier who wants to desert does not do so when he is on leave, but waits until he returns to take up his activities again before fleeing?
In this case there are other pieces of evidence which prove what Campora's real destiny was. A co-pupil at secondary school, Pablo Leonardo Martínez, was detained in the town of San Nicolás on 4 May 1977 by people who did not identify themselves, and was taken to a house that he did not recognize, but thinks was situated opposite the Plastiversal factory. This house was used as a place for tortures, Martínez says:
Blindfolded and tied, I was put into a room where I found a group of people who were in the same situation as myself. From the type of agitated breathing that was familiar to me I deduced that the person beside me was Gerardo José Camparo, my friend and companion in primary and secondary school. Afterwards we were taken to the 3rd Unit of the Provincial Prison Service, that's to say, San Nicolás Prison. On reaching the room with the cells they took the laces out of our shoes and asked us our names, apparently to note them down. For this reason, in spite of being blindfolded and not able to see him, I was certain that the person who accompanied me on this journey was Gerardo José Campora.
In all the cases the reports given to the judiciary by the authorities contacted simply stated that the victim in question was not detained on the orders of the National Executive or on anyone's authority, with the result that the writs of habeas corpus were