(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Agrarian labour representatives
There were numerous disappearances amongst workers and small farmers both prior to the military coup on 24 March 1976, under the state of siege imposed in November 1974, and afterwards, particularly in the northern provinces of Tucumán and Jujuy and the border provinces of Chaco, Formosa, Corrientes and Misiones, in the two latter especially in connection with the Agrarian Leagues. There were many amongst the members of these Leagues who are now dead, in prison, or disappeared. We chose one testimony - although we realize that it does not demonstrate fully the extent of the persecution unleashed against agricultural workers in the area.
Norma Blanca Tomasella, a farmer, member of the Agrarian Leagues of Corrientes, has been 'disappeared' since the month of February 1978, in Buenos Aires, when her family lost touch with her altogether. Señora Tornasella had to leave her home in
Goya, where she lived, in order to avoid being arrested by plainclothes agents who were looking for her in May 1977. She left Corrientes due to the persecution being suffered by members of the Agrarian Leagues. Her brother was already being held at the disposition of the National Executive and other members of the League had met the same fate, in addition to the abduction and disappearance of Antonio Olivos.
About a fortnight after she left, Señora Tomasella's home was raided by agents from the Federal and Provincial Police and also from the Army. The last record of her whereabouts indicates that she was working as a domestic servant for a family in
Buenos Aires (file No. 832).
On visits made to the north of the country the Commission on Disappeared People contacted witnesses of illegal persecutions of workers in the area. A good example is the testimony Of Ernesto Reynaldo Saman (file No. 4841), arrested on 24 June 1976:
... while working in the supply department of the Ledesma company, he received orders from the head of his section to present himself immediately to the personnel office and without the corresponding authorization to leave the factory. On his way to the personnel office he was arrested by two people dressed in plain clothes, whose names he is unable to provide as they didn't identify themselves...
Next he describes the transfer to Police Station No. 24 of Ingenio Ledesma, from where his captors immediately took him to his home, followed by uniformed police in a van. He describes the raid on his house and that of his mother-in-law and the theft of jewellery and cash from both homes, along with the blows and death threats he received.
Transferred to Jujuy, he describes his time at the Central Police Station.
He was standing looking out of the window when he was:
…surprised in this position by Deputy Inspector Damián Vilte, who pressed his revolver to his head and told him he would shoot him if he found him there again. He was also questioned by Inspector Ernesto Haig, who told him that he had to talk or he would lose out. He was constantly moved from one room to another until on the third day they took him to Deputy Inspector Damián Vilte's office where Captain Jones was. ... This Captain asked him lots of questions about the time he had been a student in Tucumán. He assumes that the object was to find out whether he had any links with extremist organizations.
Afterwards they photographed him and on the seventh day he was given a written statement that he would be set free due to lack of evidence. A few days after his release Saman was again arrested when he presented himself at Libertador General San Martín Police Station, where he had been summoned by the police. Again he was transferred to the headquarters of the Jujuy Police, where Deputy Inspector Damián Vilte and three others, two of them in plain clothes and the third a captain in the Army, put him into a Ford Falcon patrol car. He was taken blindfolded to a secret detention centre, where he had no. 56 pinned to his clothes.
Next he was taken into another room and pushed in among other people, still blindfolded and with his hands tied. He was told that from then on he had no identity other than the above-mentioned number: afterwards, whenever he had the chance to communicate with the prisoners around him, he tried to establish who they were ...
He managed to identify Walter Hugo Juárez; and also knows of the presence of Johnny Vargas, Juan Jarma, Raúl Bartoletti, Luis Alfaro Vasco, Oscar Alfaro Vasco, Juan Miguel Lodi, Carlos Brandán, Alfredo Cortés, Rufino Lizarraga, Humberto Campos, Alfredo Mérida, Mario Nuñez, Eduardo Cáceres, Jorge Ríos, Luis Escalante, Raúl Díaz, Casimiro Bache, Rubén Molina, Leandro Córdoba, Germán Córdoba, Miguel Angel Garnica, Domingo Horacio Garnica, Domingo Reales, Salvador Cruz, Román Riveros, Hilda Figueroa, Ana María Pérez, Delicia Alvarez and Eulogia de Garnica ...
On 4 August he was put into a van with several other people and transferred to the Police Headquarters, where they gave him a meagre meal after untying him and removing his blindfold. They put him in another van, together with twenty-two others, and transferred him to Villa Gorriti Prison. His family were informed and he started to get news from them as well as food.
His family was frequently summoned to the 20th Rural Infantry Regiment and were sometimes seen by Colonel Bulacios who, during one of the interviews, told his wife that he had already confessed and signed his confession as a guerrilla, showing her a piece of paper with the deponent's signature. He also told her that she should be in prison as well, and that her son - who was then six months old - also had to die, as did all those in guerrilla warfare.
He remembers that during his stay in the prison, the Bishop of Jujuy, Monsignor Medina, celebrated Mass and in his sermon told the prisoners that he knew what was going on but that it was all for the good of the country and that the Military were doing a good job, they should tell them everything they knew, for which he offered to take confession personally. The deponent reports the good offices on behalf of the prisoners of Father Labarca.
The following testimonies also provide clear evidence of the persecution of rural workers.
Pantaleón Romero, a farmer, father of eight, delegate for his area in the Agrarian Leagues of Corrientes and President of the Perugorría. Consumer Co-operative (file No. 827), was abducted from his home on 16 March 1977 by four armed men who, without identifying themselves, made him get into one of their vehicles. The kidnappers were looking for Romero's eldest son, Jorge Raúl Romero. To date, however, Pantaleón's situation and whereabouts are unknown.
Juan Antonio Olivos, a farmer, delegate of the Agrarian Leagues like the others mentioned, a member of the consortium managing a shared tractor in Las Palmitas, Corrientes, was abducted from work on 16 March 1977. Before his arrest, agents in plain clothes claiming to be police had raided his home, where his wife and two children were. To date there is no information on his whereabouts (file No. 826).
We should also mention the case of Eduardo Fernández (file No. 823), a mechanic, who disappeared on 5 August 1976 in Bella Vista, Corrientes. There is a record of his having been seen in the Detective Squad of Resistencia, Chaco province.
Abel Arce (file No. 829), a farmer in the vicinity of Goya, Corrientes province, disappeared on 19 May 1977 whilst doing his military service in the 121st Telecommunications Company of Goya. He was seen by many witnesses in Goya Racecourse, a secret detention and torture centre. His father is blind and his mother paralysed.
Throughout the country, workers' organizations suffered great losses amongst their members. Details of what happened in March 1975 have become known to this Commission. At that time, acting like real forces of occupation, official forces and people wearing Social Welfare armbands proceeded to arrest 300 people, who were placed at the disposition of the National Executive; they carried out twenty abductions followed by murder, the majority of the victims being union delegates and activists. One of the persons arrested was the metal-workers' leader, Alberto Piccinini, who spent several years in prison, having already been tried; his case had been dropped, and he had been placed at the disposition of the National Executive. This was their reply to the workers who had begun a struggle for the recovery of union activity,
After 24 March 1976 there was renewed repression and, once again, the targets were the workers linked to the sector led by the above trade unionist. This time the technique used was that of disappearance.
The Santa Fe Delegation of the Commission on Disappeared People twice went to the town of Villa Constitución and, in addition, carried out an official examination of an illegal detention centre which operated on the Premises of the Acindar company.
The town's inhabitants came forward spontaneously to give their statements, from which it transpired that the leader of the operations carried out in the town in January 1976 was Aníbal Gordon. More than ten people had been abducted and murdered.
In one of the testimonies it is reported that in 1975 (towards the end of the year) the Acindar company, which has about 5,000 workers, ordered them to get their Federal Police identity documents and also a new factory pass, for which they were photographed again. These photos were later used by security and/or military agents to carry out raids and abductions.
Martínez de Hoz, later to become Minister of the Economy, was not unaware of these events; at that time he was a director of Acindar, together with Acevedo. This case provides an eloquent example of the link between the policy of state security and economic power.
Overall, the forces of repression active in Villa Constitución were (in chronological order, since 1975): Provincial Police, Federal Police, parapolice forces - who were active throughout - and, from March 1976, the Armed Forces, sometimes together with police or parapolice forces.
The investigation into all this culminated with the inspection, carried out in 31 August 1984, of the secret detention centre which operated in the Acindar company.