Posts Tagged ‘desaparecida’

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Meredith: ESMA and “disappearances”

May 29, 2010

How to begin this post? I have no idea. How do you start to describe a visit to what has been called the Auschwitz of Argentina? A place where 5,000 people were tortured and out of that 5,000, only 200 survived. Do the math.

ESMA, La Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada, is the Navy Mechanics School. During the military dictatorship, it was one of the largest clandestine torture centers. When you read about ESMA on the internet, the main picture you see is this but it’s important to know that this was not where prisoners, the so-called subversives, were kept. Rather, they were kept in a more sinister location—the officers house. If you leave the main building, and continue on, you will reach a former control tower that restricted access to the Officers’ House. A chain was connected to the control tower, a tangible barrier representing the cruelty behind what felt like a point of no return. Many of the survivor testimonies attest to going over a bump shortly before being dragged out of a car and into ESMA.

This does not mean that what was happening in the officers’ house was secret. As the guide explained, 40-60% of all naval cadets dealt with and/or oversaw the prisoners there. By restricting access and creating the need for “special clearance” to reach the officers’ house, a pact of silence centered around connivance and complicity was created. Everyone was involved, everyone dirtied their hands. To speak out would be to implicate everyone and this alone has created the incentive to never divulge what happened at ESMA. You can see this pact is strong and still in place today: all of the information known about ESMA comes from survivor testimonies.

This is about ESMA, and it is about so much more, as all productions are. In some ways, the dirty war was a performance, a mixture of visibility and invisibility, appearance and disappearance. The system of “disapperances” devised by the military junta was used to spread terror, to paralyze, to silence, to cause the atomization of society. The Argentine military was innovative in their methods. Some disappearances happened in the dead of night. Some happened on a desolate street. Below is an excerpt from the testimony of Alicia Partnoy, a desaparecida and author of La Escuelita (The Little School),

“On January 12, 1977, I was in my house with my daughter Ruth (who was about a year and a half at the time) when I heard the insistent ring of the door bell. It was the middle of the day. I walked the thirty metrs down the hallway that separated my room from the front door. When I arrived, someone was banging forcefully on the door. I asked, who is it? And they responded: The Military; meanwhile, they continued to knock. In that moment, I remembered the thousands of murders, disappearances, and tortures that the military had been doing for at least over a year. Only then I tried to run and escape from the hallway, jumping over the back wall. Then they stopped me near one of the neighbors walls. My daughter, who had followed me through the hallway to the door, began to cry. I could not see her nor did I know what they had down with her until five months after. I didn’t even know if a bullet had killed her. Five soldiers forcefully put me in the truck. Besides my daughter’s claims, I only remember the hateful look from the operation leader. There were at least three military vehicles in the block, forcing the neighbors to remain inside. The delegation continued to the place where my husband worked, about fifteen blocks from our home. There, they detained him, taking us both…”

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