By Claudia Ahumada
Ese infierno is based on the experiences of five women who survived “La Escuela de Suboficiales de Mecánica de la Armada” (ESMA) Munú Actis, Cristina Aldini, Liliana Gardella, Miriam Lewin, and Elisa Tokar. ESMA is a clandestine detention center located in Buenos Aires where those who opposed the dictatorship were interrogated, tortured, and eventually killed. ESMA is divided in several sections known as “capucha” “la pecera” and “el sótano” which was the last station before being trasladado (transferred). Everyone who was detained eventually learned that being transferred meant death.
Miriam described her captivity this way: “tenía una luz sobre la cara, estaba sin ropa, tenia, los ojos vendados, las manos atadas y había no menos de diez personas gritándome. ‘Hija de puta!’, me decían tienes que colaborar’. En un momento uno de los tipos me levanto el antifaz y otro se bajo los pantalones. Yo estaba desnuda y atada. Me acerco el pene, mientras los demás me amenazaban: ‘Te vamos a pasar uno por uno, hija de puta’. La verdad es que yo hubiera preferido una violación, la hubiese sentido como algo más humano y comprensible que la tortura.”
Some of the torture methods described consisted of birthday celebrations, Independence day celebrations, “El día de los Reyes”, attending the World Cup, and by taking them to the outside world to dance and have fun for awhile, but then bringing them back to what they described as hell. It sometimes seemed as if the guards and torturers had human feelings because they would do “kind things”, like passing messages along or holding the hand of a woman as she is being tortured so she wouldn’t feel alone. These women also spoke of their lack of trust in people and continued suffering long after the dictatorship had ended. Some had an extremely difficult time hearing a baby cry, going to the dentist, giving birth, or even going to sleep because of the nightmares that were to come. Officers at ESMA also took new born babies away from their mothers, to later put them into the arms of families with military ties or were loyal to the regime. There were, however, rare and special occasions in which the new born babies were actually given to the families of the abducted mothers. These mothers were kept in a special section of ESMA and they had a specific room for deliveries as well. After giving birth they usually had fifteen to twenty days with their babies before they were taken away. The fate of these mothers was death. They were injected with Sodium Pentothal, a powerful form of anesthesia, and thrown into the River Plate. Their personal testimonies are extremely significant because they are the crude unbelievable reality of what they experienced; without them, we would not be able to realize the magnitude of violence committed during the dictatorship. This also serves as evidence for trials that sadly continue to this day in the search for justice.