December 11, 2013
ESMA asado poses debate on memorials
Memorials to the crimes committed during the last dictatorship seem to be an open debate for Argentine society, which is currently going through trials to punish the perpetrators.
A week ago, the Association for Former Detained-Disappeared (AEDD) complained because members of HIJOS, an organization grouping children of forcibly disappeared parents, held a barbecue at the Navy Mechanics Academy (ESMA) former clandestine detention centre.
ESMA has been in the eye of the storm since the late president Néstor Kirchner in 2004 decided to turn it into a memorial but this is not the only place where different events are held. The Herald talked to human rights activists who run different memorials in Buenos Aires city and province and discussed how they “recovered” those places and what activities are held there.
During the 70s, Olimpo was not the abode of gods. In fact, it was a clandestine detention centre in the neighbourhood of Floresta, Buenos Aires City. It was part of a repressive circuit that included El Atlético and El Banco concentration camps. On August 18, 1978 prisoners held at El Banco were forced to roll up their mats and transferred to this Federal Police branch that was first used as a tram terminal.
Human rights organizations and residents started demanding that police leave the place since democracy returned to the country. In 1984, a demonstration was called by the Latin American Federation of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (FEDEFAM). Ten years later, while perpetrators could not be taken to court, residents and social organizations started signalling the place as a former concentration camp and rejecting the police’s presence. In 1996, a new demonstration was called to demand the police eviction. But it was after the crisis of 2001 that the people’s assembly Vecinos por la Memoria (Residents for Memory) focused on “recovering” the place.
After holding a meeting with then president Kirchner, who acknowledged the social struggle, authorities decided to order police officers to leave the place. The site was turned into a memorial in 2005, and since then the former Olimpo clandestine detention centre has been holding different activities.
“We believe that this must be a remembrance place but also a political site, paying attention to our present time but considering our missing comrades’ struggle,” survivor Isabel Cerruti told the Herald.
In remembrance of what happened there, a team led by Cerruti conducts several investigation projects to study how the concentration camp worked, to identify those prisoners who had been in captivity there and those who were responsible for those crimes. There is an audiovisual archive. They are currently working on a project to gather the “life stories” of forcibly disappeared people, not only those who had been imprisoned at Olimpo and it is open to those who want to create the file of their missing ones to be included in the exhibition.
“More than 300 people attend the different workshops and cultural activities we hold every day there. Those are activities whose aim is to promote rights,” María Mendizábal, who is a member of the team, told the Herald.
“We have to make these places sustainable. Residents should take the ownership of them. Society has already rested on the struggle carried out by human rights organizations and survivors,” Cerruti added. She also told the Herald that residents are demanding to maintain the former clandestine detention centre but they propose to create a park “full of life”” to surround it.
A clandestine detention centre functioned within the Alejandro Posadas Hospital, one of the most populated in El Palomar, Greater Buenos Aires. Paradoxically, a place to provide health to the population ended up as a place where death was administered. The house where from 1971 to 1976 the director of the health centre used to live was transformed into a place where workers and residents were tortured and illegally imprisoned.
Posadas Hospital was a very particular case during the last Argentine dictatorship. In March, 1976, it was occupied by the military and dozens of its workers were illegally detained but after days they were legalized. Others were dismissed and banned from working in the public health system. Months later, the military trustee created a security guard, a death squad that would abduct people inside and outside the hospital and which was named by workers as “the SWAT group” in reference to a popular TV series.
By November, 1976, the clandestine detention centre had become packed with prisoners. During the first months of 1977, the Air Force, which was responsible for the repression in the western section of Greater Buenos Aires, dismantled the centre.
When democracy arrived, the clandestine detention centre El Chalet was visited by the National Commission on the Forced Disappearance of Persons (Conadep) and provided evidence in the trial against the Junta members. In 1985, authorities decided to create there a primary school where the children of the hospital’s employees studied, though the relatives of the disappeared workers did not agree.
In 1999, the former clandestine detention centre turned into a nursing school, which continued functioning there though in 2005 the place was designated a memorial.
“The problem in the hospital was the available space. Due to the disappeared workers’ commitment to public health, we considered that we had to let them study there. For us, children of disappeared parents, it is very difficult to work in that place,” Zulema Chester told the Herald. Zulema’s father, Jacobo, was abducted from his home and taken to that camp. He was killed but his wife and his daughter could never recover his body.
In 2009, a room called “Los compañeros” (the comrades) was opened and the Human Rights Commission, then led by social worker Cristina Pflüger, moved there. In March and November, they organize rallies and debates to pay tribute to their missing next of kin.
“Sometimes our rallies have a festive tone, we listen to music, we sing,” retired nurse and survivor from that concentration camp Gla- dis Cuervo told the Herald in reference to the debate opened about what to do with the former clandestine detention centres.
POZO DE BANFIELD
The Police Investigations Brigade of Bánfield, Greater Buenos Aires, was a clandestine detention centre from November, 1974, before the last military coup, and 1978. It was used as a base of the so-called Cóndor Plan, a joint repressive strategy organized by the Southern Cone dictatorship and it also functioned as a clandestine maternity, where prisoners were taken to give birth.
Though the first survivor to testify in the trial against the Junta members in 1985, Adriana Calvo, referred to this centre, provincial police remained there until 2006, when the Buenos Aires province Executive decided to move away the police station from there. Since the eighties, neighbours and social and human rights organizations demonstrated outside the clandestine detention centre to demand those changes.
Gathered at the “Chau Pozo” organization, on September 16, 2006, they arrived at the former Pozo de Bánfield to celebrate that police officers were no longer in that iconic place of the repression, where thirty years before the students kidnapped in the so-called “Night of the Pencils” had been imprisoned.
But nothing has been decided since then. Years ago, they agreed to establish a consensus board, including the provincial Human Rights Secretariat, Chau Pozo, the AEDD and another human rights organization that had to be suggested by the Secretariat.
“During these years, authorities wanted to whitewash the walls with our graffiti. We say that we need a comprehensive memory: to remember the state terror but also our struggle to oust policemen from the former Pozo de Bánfield,” Sergio Smietniansky, Chau Pozo leader, explained to the Herald.
Smietniansky said that they have already filed a bill to debate what to do with the former clandestine detention centre. “While trials are being conducted, the place should remain as evidence; then as an evidence of the genocide perpetrated in the country,” he added.