Mass grave found at Argentine secret prison
During a seven-month search, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) on Tuesday, confirmed more than 10,000 charred human bone fragments were unearthed between February and September, in a pit at Pozo de Arana, a former La Plata,
Argentina secret government detention center. The Arana prison or police station was used to torture prisoners during the so-called Argentina “Dirty War,” and was one of 300 used to interrogate Argentine prisoners.
The war refers to the state-sponsored violence against Argentine citizenry from roughly 1976 to 1983 carried out primarily by Jorge Rafael Videla‘s military government. The exact chronology of the repression is still debated, as trade unionists were targeted for assassination as early as 1973. Isabel Martínez de Perón‘s “annihilation decrees” of 1975, during Operativo Independencia, have also been suggested as the origin of The Dirty War.
The official record reveals that up to 13,000 people disappeared, while 30,000 were killed during this time. Argentine security forces and death squads worked hand in hand with other South American dictatorships in the frame of Operation Condor. An Argentine court would later condemn the government’s crimes as crimes against humanity and “genocide“.
EAAFpresident and forensic scientist Luis Fondebrider said that “in 25 years of searching, this was the first time that human remains were found at a former detention cente; the magnitude of what the team has found where the Clandestine Center of Arana was located, merits that sometimes they show partial results.” He further noted that “the bodies had been burned inside graves along with tires, combustibles and other material; and the possibilities of identifying some of these remains is low because of the state they are in.”
Fondebrider concluded that “this scientifically confirms the testimonies of the detained, the hundreds of survivors who have said for years that authorities tortured, killed and burned the bodies of political opponents.”
The anthropological discovery further reveals that a wall with more than 200 bullet marks or holes and an “important quantity” of used ammunition shells on the ground nearby, were found adjacent the mass pit grave. As evidence of executions, they were marked with red paint by forensic scientists. The team, however, failed to determine how many bodies the fragments represented.
Maria Vedio, 47, legal chairwoman for the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights La Plata said that ” this is the first time there is proof that Arana wasn’t only a detention and torture center, but also a center of elimination.”
Sara Derotier de Cobacho, secretary of human rights for Buenos Aires said, “I ask the forgiveness of family members, because I can imagine what the mothers and all who are gathered here will feel, but what we are about to show is not to detail the genocide but so that we have proof for the trials that are to come; but let us not forget, that behind every clandestine center there were the names of the repressors. … so it is very important for all citizens to know those names; we are looking for the truth so we can attain justice and construct, from there, the memory of our 30,000 ‘desaparecidos’.”
Some of those responsible for the mass killings have been charged and meted life or death sentences. They include Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, a senior Argentine police officer, who worked in the Buenos Aires Provincial Police during the first years of the military dictatorship known as the National Reorganization Process.
He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006, on charges of homicide, kidnapping, and torture. The tribunal, besides handing the sentence, stated that Etchecolatz’s committed “crimes against humanity in the context of the genocide that took place in Argentina”. But the principal complainant, who was detained at Arana, has since disappeared.