The mothers with the white headscarves became a worldwide symbol of the Argentine human rights movement. To this day, they meet every Thursday on the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires to silently draw attention to the fate of their missing children. What they and others experienced has been documented by human rights organizations in nearly 1,000 video interviews with victims and relatives and made accessible to researchers.
Bright sunlight shines into the former cell of the Rosario police station in the Santa Fe province. An illegal detention center was located here in the late 1970s. Relatives of the victims turned it into a memorial in 2002. Patricia Isasa describes how, in 1976, as an organizer of a student union in Santa Fe, she was abducted by security forces and held in a secret prison for two and a half years.
On the day of July 30, 1976, I was only 16 years old.
At 12:30 p.m., joined forces of the Argentine army, the Argentine federal police, the Santa Fe Provincial Police and civil personnel of the State Intelligence Services (S.I.D.E.) burst into my house, located at Moreno Street 27141, Apartment 3, in the city of Santa Fe.
Without a search warrant, and in a threatening manner, they arrested me and seized the home I shared with my parents. They searched the entire house. They stole personal belongings – such as my father’s tools, my mother’s clothes and private books (among other things), commonly known as “booty.” And they completed their search with a “Negative” result. I was thrown brutally into the army van, my hands cuffed behind my back…
We enter through the garage, they take me out of the car with punches, I walk about 20 meters, and they throw me into a disgusting cell, 6 m2 with a bench for a bed and seat. A heavy green armored door, with a tiny peephole. The walls are a yellowish color, and have creepy engravings. I remember one, that days later I understood in its totality: “My god, please don’t let them torture me more.”
Even without knowing where I was, I already knew why I was there.
The next night, the door to the cell opens. A uniformed officer, hood in hand, tells me in demands “Let’s go.” After putting the hood on me, he takes me to a room in the same station where they torture me.
Though I could not see them, I remember their voices, their words, their vices. They order me to take off my clothes, they attach my feet and my hands to a metal bed frame. Naked, hooded, only 16 years old, alone with an unknown commissioner and in the hands of a pathetic abuser, some of the worst hours of my life passed.
They suffocated me various times (what they call the “dry submarine”), throwing in insults and a few questions about my participation in the Student Center.
The pair and horror grew and grew, and they decided to shock me. The prods hurt, they burn deep inside the skin, they shocked me, they bent and stretched me, and they began to beat me. I wished they would stop quickly. I think I couldn’t take any more and me fainting was my escape from that witches’ sabbath.
Slowly I wake up when two or three people enter the room, they take me in two to the cell, open the heavy door and throw me in, beaten and torn.
I think I slept. When I awoke the next day, I knew I was no longer the same teenager, I knew my life had changed forever.
I promised myself that this atrocity must be made known and must be condemned, so that it may never be repeated.
Source: Website von Patricia Isasa
Oral history videos from the human rights archive Memoria Abierta
Documentary film about the Centro Popular de la Memoria in Rosario (Spanish)
City of Rosario overview of local memorials (Spanish)
Website of the Museum of Remembrance in Rosario (Spanish)
Documentary film about the first trial against military perpetrators in Rosario (Spanish)
After the Dictatorship. Instruments of Transitional Justice in Former Authoritarian Systems – An International Comparison
A project at the Department of Modern History at the University of Würzburg
Instagram: After the dictatorship
With financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
The Coronda prison, situated about 400 kilometers north of Buenos Aires, is almost 90 years old. During the military dictatorship, the prison near Santa Fe served as a center for “legal” imprisonment. One of the prisoners was the 22-year-old student Sergio Ferrari. Forty years later, he appeared as a witness in the trial against the prison commanders – a delayed gratification for which he and other prisoners had long fought.
During the military rule the prison in Coronda was the only one under the control of the National Gendarmerie. It was designed to hold nearly 1500 prisoners. The military held government officials, trade union leaders, lawyers, priests and militant communists and Peronists here. Many of them were tortured in two nearby police stations. They spent weeks there, handcuffed with a hood over their heads to prevent them from recognizing their tormentors.
Sergio Ferrari spent a total of 33 months in Coronda. He was released in 1978 following international protests. Together with his brother, who was also imprisoned, he was subsequently granted asylum in Switzerland. Forty years later, Ferrari flew to Argentina to testify as a witness in the trial against two of the prison commanders. In 2018, they were sentenced to 22 and 17-years’ imprisonment for the severe torture of 39 detainees and the death of two prisoners. But due to their poor health, the defendants were not sent to prison. They were allowed to serve the sentence in house arrest.
In an interview with the Swiss online magazine Journal B, Ferrari recalls his imprisonment and the struggle to punish those responsible.
“I was imprisoned at the age of 22, so I was still very young, but I already felt grown up. The multitude of images and memories from that time are still very present and vivid for me today. Of course, I don't remember everything, such as the names of all my fellow inmates from the same cell block.
When I came to Switzerland, I took two weeks to write down my memories in a detailed report for Amnesty International. This report helped me a lot to prepare for my testimony at the trial. However, I still remember the situation in prison, the sadness, the despair and the resistance very vividly. (...)
In Coronda, a brutal regime was in power that consistently tried to break the inmates down physically, psychologically, ideologically, spiritually and morally. About a month before I was released from prison, one of the directors, Commander Kushidonsi, told me: 'You will never get out of here. And if you do, you’ll be dead or crazy.'
It is also possible that a large massacre of the prisoners was planned, but in the end, it did not come to that. But the intention was very clear: to prevent us from ever returning to our lives or continuing our political militancy. We were all considered political enemies at the time and the aim was to destroy us.”
To read the interview with Sergio Ferrari click here (German).
Report of the Swiss daily newspaper Der Bund on the conviction of the commanders of the Coronda Prison (German)
Verdict of 7 June 2018 against two commanders of the Coronda Prison (Spanish)
Book by Gabriela Listberger: Zeitzeugen der argentinischen Militärdiktatur (Witnesses of the Argentine military dictatorship)
Video interviews from the ESMA Memorial on persecution in Argentina (Spanish)