Tag Archives: justice

The Health Sector: César Duarte’s Goldmine, By Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)

News magazine Proceso first published this article on January 2, 2015. This article is about former Governor César Duarte of Chihuahua. Duarte is one of eight former governors in Mexico who are wanted for corruption, among other charges. Unlike the other seven governors, Duarte is still on the run and has not been arrested.

Good investigative journalism about corruption in Mexico exists but is sometimes hard to come by. The simplicity with which Mayorga tells a complex story — one that weaves together confidential and anonymous sources along with freedom of information requests and corresponding contracts and other documents —  about corruption in Mexico is one of the reasons this article deserves translation. The fact that Duarte has so far escaped justice demonstrates Mayorga’s article is still timely, still relevant. The power of Mayorga’s investigative journalism reminds us why she is one of Mexico’s threatened journalists. 

Mayorga’s article has been translated in anticipation of her receiving the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Press Freedom Award this November. The Mexican Journalism Translation Project will translate more work by Patricia Mayorga into English in the coming weeks and months so that readers who do not readily speak Spanish can familiarize themselves with the work of this brave Mexican journalist. At least 11 journalists have been murdered in Mexico in 2017. – PT

César Duarte, Former Governor of Chihuahua

The Health Sector: César Duarte’s Goldmine
By Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)

Complaints and accusations are piling up against the governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte Jáquez. Charges have been filed against Duarte at the federal Attorney General’s office for embezzlement, corruption, overstepping his powers as governor, and misappropriating funds: he transferred state resources to a bank where he holds shares. Duarte now faces  conflict of interest charges for giving state business to certain companies that supply Chihuahua’s health sector and to which he has ties.

CHIHUAHUA, Chih. (Proceso). – In 2011 — and two months after being sworn in as governor — César Horacio Duarte Jáquez of Chihuahua entered into an arrangement with Ymmarsa Pharmaceutica, S.A. de C.V. and Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K. Thanks to him these companies became the state health sector’s top suppliers. Duarte showered them directly with million-peso contracts – in spite of complaints against them for selling overpriced drugs. Duarte’s registered tax address for his not-for-profit and his business is also the same address used by these medical supply companies.

Duarte shares the tax address at 8725 Periferico de la Juventud in the Lomas Universidad neighborhood in Chihuahua with Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K (Farmacias Economik). Duarte’s business, Union Ganadera División del Norte and his not-for-profit Que el Cielo Bendiga a Chihuahua are also domiciled at this address. The not-for-profit was only just registered with Mexico’s Institute for Industrial Property.

Ymmarsa Pharmaceutica’s directors work out of the governor’s business office, even though the company’s address is 11368 Rudyard Kipling Street in the Chihuahua Industrial Complex (“Complejo Industrial Chihuahua”). The directors put the governor’s business office address on their business cards.

A scandal already surrounds Duarte for transferring state resources to the Progreso de Chihuahua Bank, where he is also a shareholder. Attorney Jaime García Chávez and the PAN-ista legislator Rocio Reza Gallegos have filed complaints against Duarte for embezzlement, corruption, misappropriating funds and overstepping his powers. Forty senators and thousands of citizens who have established an anti-Duarte movement back García Chávez and Reza Gallegos. They filed their complaints at the federal Attorney General’s Office.

The pharmaceutical companies present a different sort of case, this time about conflict of interest and favoritism to businesses. Between 2011 and 2013 the health sector spent almost 3 billion pesos (about USD$161million) purchasing drugs, according to the Transparency and Access to Information Law (“Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información”).

Eduardo Almeida Navarro owns both Ymmarsa Farmacias Economik and Administración y Comercialización de Franquicias Internacional, S de RL de CV. Almeida Navarro belongs to the PRI, Duarte’s party, and he backed Duarte’s election campaign. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 more than half of the state budget for purchasing medicines and medical supplies went to Almeida Navarro’s pharmacies. The 2014 expenditures are not yet public.

Since Duarte became governor the state’s expenditure on pharmaceuticals has increased by 32 percent or 301.9million pesos, about US$16 million. Yet state health centers noticeably lack stocks of drugs and medical supplies. The state auditor (“Auditor Superior del Estado,” acronym in Spanish: ASE) has reported that warehouses lack appropriate stock controls.

Audits indicate that businesses linked to Duarte fail to fulfill requirements, or other suppliers file complaints against them showing that their medicines are priced significantly higher than their competitors. And yet still their bids win government tenders.

One group of citizens – supported by doctors who suspected conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds – requested an investigation by the federal Ministry for Public Performance (“Secretaría de la Función Pública”). The Ministry turned down their request, arguing that the correct agency is the state comptroller. But former PRI legislator Liz Aguilera García runs the state comptroller’s office. Aguilera García is close to Duarte and may run as a candidate for Mexico’s federal Congress.

On November 28, 2014, these citizens – and with Proceso already aware of their complaint – filed another before federal auditors. Its received a status of “study and analyze.” In this document citizen petitioners accuse the government of colluding with officials from the health sector and violating the Law of Acquisitions, Leases, Service Contracts and Public Works and the Law of Responsibility for Chihuahua’s State Public Servants.

More Money, Less Stock
The alliance between these pharmacy companies meant that the Chihuahua’s Ministry of Health increased its medicine budget. From 2011 to 2013 the budget surged by about 190 million pesos (around USD$10million).

A summary of the budget document obtained under the Transparency Law makes it apparent that State Health Services spent about 3 billion pesos just on buying drugs and medical supplies. Chihuahua’s Institute of Health (acronym in Spanish, ICHISAL) also manages the federal health program Seguro Popular and it spent around 600 million pesos on similar items for the state pension system, around 1.5million pesos (US$80,000).

However, in one of the most used hospitals for people with Seguro Popular, there have been significant shortages in drugs and medical supplies since 2013. The last available report states that between 2013 and July 2014 no month went by when stock exceeded 90 percent. Instead, for those nineteen months average stock rates were around 58 percent. In previous administration, even with a smaller budget, public officials say the average stocking level hovered around 80 percent.

Some experts cannot believe the increased spending on medicine. “This situation needs to be compared against population increase (…). The previous administration barely covered eight percent of the state’s population. But the current administration covers 45 percent of Chihuahua’s population. The point is that they haven’t taken into account that half of the people in Chihuahua have access to federal health insurance through IMSS [meaning they don’t need duplicated coverage from Seguro Popular],” says an official speaking on condition of anonymity because he is close to Chihuahua’s health minister Pedro Hernández Florez.

There’s a difference of opinion over what is going on: “Maybe they are buying at too great a cost, making poor purchasing choices, or overcompensating after they look at the lack of supply in the hospitals, perhaps both of these things are happening. Buying poorly comes from defective analysis of statistical reports about illnesses. Or, that the reports have not been given appropriate consideration. The favored supplier is given priority and they sell through an intermediary seeking maximum profit, expending minimum effort. The drug might be about to exceed its expiration date or maybe it is not used that frequently.

So, he says, auditors find it difficult to uncover poor practices because they are not doctors trained in administration. He says that when Hernández Flores took up the position the situation worsened.

Another high-level collaborator from the Ministry of Health said on condition of anonymity that the state health sector had taken on these supplies though intermediaries instead of contracting out supply separately and directly with their makers, something that would result in big savings. “Basing drug supply on intermediaries goes against cost saving and opens the door to corruption,” he told Proceso.

Shady Businesses
Ymmarsa and Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K are apparently one and the same. Their partners are the same, they work out of the same offices and they buy medicine and medical supplies from different laboratories at low cast and in bulk. But when these businesses began to supply the state in 2011 they were not prepared to sell to its public health sector, nor that of other states where they have contracts.

Two brothers, Juan Hiram and Jorge Márquez Rodríguez opened Economik Pharmacies as a family business in Durango in 2004. In 2011 they created Ymmarsa Pharmaceutica so they could supply the public sector. Juan Hiram took the business on and invited Jesús Miguel Robles Villareal to be his partner.

“They had drugs stored on the floor or exposed to the light, even though they are meant to be in a controlled environment. They operated like that for a year until the State Commission for the Prevention of Risks to Health (acronym in Spanish: COESPRIS) put a stop to it,” asserts one of the company’s administrative employees speaking under condition of anonymity. State auditors confirmed this situation in their 2012 audit.

One administrative employee interviewed in the offices located at Periférico de la Juventud says it is the location where they deal with the contracts as they see fit: “A week before announcement of a request for proposals they prepared everything they would need to compete. That’s what they stuck to because they were the ones who set the contracts’ terms. The government sent them contracts and they dealt with them however they wanted.”

Ymmarsa took control over the pharmacy franchises belonging to Economik in 2011. These had sprung up as a family business in Durango. They opened 7 stores there. They started out in Chihuahua in 2011. Today there are nine branches in Chihuahua City, Parral, Ciudad Juárez and Cuauhtémoc.

When somebody asks for Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K at 8725 Periférico de la Juventud the inquiry first goes to Jesús Miguel Robles Villareal, one of the Ymmarsa partners. This person—who handed over a business card for Médicas K at the same address as the governor’s business, even though the company is registered at 11368 Rudyark Kipling Street—said an agreement existed over the registered tax address.

When asked for an interview with one of the people in charge of Médicas K Robles Villareal suggested contacting its legal representative. The lawyer failed to respond to the request. People consulted by Proceso and familiar with the company confirm that it’s the same but is using a different name (Ymmarsa and Médicas K).

Robles Villareal denies any relationship with Unión Ganadera División del Norte, established by Duarte in 2005. “We even had problems with them over parking, but we don’t have anything to do with them,” he asserts then adding, “they pay the rent.”

Ymmarsa – which supplies both the pension systems for the state of Chihuahua and the city of Chihuahua – stands accused of inflating prices by 300 percent and still winning contracts. There are complaints from Chihuahua, Tabasco and Durango; Nuevo León rescinded a contract on June 27, 2014.

The state auditor found that for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 the state Ministry of Health poorly distributed drugs, and did not have control over warehouses or when supplies expired, something that implicated Médicas K . Even so the State Congress unanimously approved the Médicas K account.

The state’s health services directly have handed over at least 500 million pesos (about US$26 million) to Médicas K since 2012. This year alone it received 321.1million pesos (about US$17 million) for drugs and medical supplies for Seguro Popular. That’s what contract D250517 indicates under direct tender 282/2012.

In 2013 while Médicas K received 183.5 million pesos (US$9.8 million) because it supplies the Ministry of Health, other suppliers received only between 106,000 (US$5,600) and 600,000 pesos (US$32,000) and only one other supplier received as much as 68 million pesos (US$3.6 million), according to freedom of information request 087242014.

In 2012 the state auditor commented to Chihuahua’s Health Services for awarding this company contracts D20517 and D20518 worth 417.5 million pesos (US$23 million) without putting them first out to tender. The state’s Health Services awarded the contracts even though the company, Médicas K, did not have the required health license.

Ymmarsa also has its own history. In 2012, Marketing Medicinal and others suppliers complained publicly that the state pension scheme awarded this Durango-based company a contract for 345 million pesos (US$18 million), even though they inflated their prices. Of the 881 drugs and medical supplies the pension agencies needed, Marketing Medicinal provided 738 of them, meaning that it controlled more than 80 percent of the drugs and other items supplied under contract LP002012.

The complaints from other suppliers offer more examples. Ymmarsa bid 1,503 pesos for each of the 700 boxes of Bicalutamida (to treat prostate cancer) even though distributor México Hospitalaria bid 500 pesos for the same drug. For Fenitoína (an anti-epileptic) Ymmarsa bid 394 pesos per box even though Laboratorio Pisa bid 14 pesos. Ymmarsa won the bid for Prozac, an anti-depressant, at 398 pesos per box when the year before it cost 7.50 pesos.

The other suppliers complain that fraud costs the state at least 100 million pesos (US$5.4 million). These companies allege that Ymmarsa was not even asked for a letter to show that it does not have a history of failing to fulfill contracts, as contract requirements state. But Ymmarsa cannot show this type of letter because the company was created in 2011 and it has never supplied public health agencies.

For Chihuahua City’s municipal pension scheme 67% of the drugs are overpriced.

In 2012, Marcelo González Tachiquín, current education minister and who served as director of the pension system, confirmed that he had fired the person in charge of purchasing, Edgar Hermes Sandoval Tarín. However, Sandolva Tarín did not leave the agency until August 2014.

And Prosalud, Too
The third favored provider is Administración y Comercialización de Franquicias Internacional—known as Prosalud. It belongs to Grupo ALSA. Eduardo Almeida Navarro owns the holding company. He donated to Duarte’s gubernatorial campaign. The businessman owns a Cessna 402 plane with license number N3403. In June 2014 he was nominated as the PRI’s president in the city.

Grupo ALSA is made up of seven firms. Three supply the state government and Chihuahua’s city government: Construcciones Corporativas Inmobiliarias, SA de CV, Comercializadora Corporativa Internacional, SA de CV, and Administración y Comercialización de Franquicias Internacional, S de RL de CV.

These companies are in charge of installing public lighting, renovating buildings, selling machinery, constructing and remodeling schools, and selling pharmaceuticals.

Prosalud provides drugs and medical supplies to Chihuahua’s government. In 2012 the State of Chihuahua paid it 180 million pesos (US$9.6 million). The company’s website indicates that its holding company was created in 2003 and in 2011 it reactivated itself to open the pharmacy Prosalud. It supplies at least nine pharmacies, along with public health providers in Chihuahua: IMSS, ICHISAL, and, of course, the pension agencies.

Investigative reporter Patricia Mayorga is a prize-winning Mexican journalist from Chihuahua. She works with Proceso, Mexico’s premier investigative news magazine. After the murder of her friend and colleague Miroslava Breach in March 2017 in Ciudad Chihuahua, she went into exile and is currently in hiding. The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor her with its Press Freedom Award this November.

Translator Patrick Timmons is human rights investigator and lawyer, and a journalist. His articles have appeared in the Texas Observer, CounterPunch, NACLA, Foreign Policy in Focus, and Horizontal.mx. In September he provided freelance coverage of the Mexico City earthquake for ITN’s News at Ten, ITV London’s Good Morning Britain, and The Daily Telegraph. Timmons collaborates with the Freedom of Expression Project at the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego. He is participating in #agendadeperiodistas, a new group formed by journalists to protect journalists. He lives in Mexico City.

 

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Real Stories of Mexico’s Missing — Searching for His Sister: Carlitos Looks Among Human Remains in Mexico, by Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Real Stories of Mexico’s Disappeared: Carlitos and the Search Among Human Remains for His Missing Sister

By Javier Valdez Cárdenas, Correspondent (La Jornada)

JVC_Missing

Around 60 search party members from 11 states in Mexico look for missing or disappeared people in the towns of El Quelite in Mazatlán and Sataya in Navolato. Photograph by Javier Valdez. Published in La Jornada.

Culiacán, February 8, 2017—Carlitos says that he loves his sister and that he is not going to leave her unprotected. At his tender age he already feels guilty for something he did not do, for having failed to take care of and protect Zoé Zuleika. She has been missing for a year.

Carlitos – that’s what we’ll call him – is barely eight years old and he searches for missing people: a searcher of human remains who carries a small staff and pickaxe. His grey and black striped sweater keeps him from the morning chill. He is Mexico’s youngest searcher of the disappeared.

When you ask him what he is going to say to his sister when he sees her again, the boy answers: That I love her; that I am going to protect her. Around the Navolato community of San Pedro, in the deciduous forest, the little one looks among whoever’s human remains, but really he’s searching for his sister.

With blows from his staff and still more from his pickaxe he looks for Zoe like someone who knows he will find her. His lively, black eyes light up like fireflies and he smiles when he thinks about her.

The last time he saw her, he remembers, was a year ago in his father’s truck, in Soledad, a town in San Luis Potosí.

He says that when he finds her he is going to protect her, including from his father whom he suspects took her. Carolina Gómez Rocha, 40, is mother to both children. She comes from San Luis Potosí, and she searches for missing people, even though she realizes it is unlikely she will find Zoé in the state of Sinaloa.

I do these searches to strengthen the families who are here searching, not to find my daughter. I know that she is alive. I am her mother and my heart tells me so. I am here to support the cause. It has been an immense experience, and yes it does help me, it strengthens me, she says. She’s a few yards from the Culiacán River, between the sand sifters and the cornfields.

She has four children: 8, 18, 20, and Zoé, 6. The youngest worry her and give her hope. The day Zoé disappeared Carolina’s family had gone to a party. They went at the insistence of her father in law.

The girl, who was already tired, fell asleep in her father’s truck. A few minutes after midnight they decided to leave but the young girl was not there anymore.

Safety Belt

Carolina and even Carlitos suspect his father. He does not ask about the girl. He has not joined in the searches or gone to the authorities even after they filed the criminal complaint. Her husband’s family acts just the same: indifferent. That’s why they don’t dismiss the idea that they have Zoé or know where she is.

Less than a kilometer from where the search party is looking, the prosecutor set up a roadblock. Two women police officers approach, ask questions in a friendly way, and allow or deny entry. Few get close. Further on, where they are conducting the search, there are four federal police patrol cars. They have dogs with them, dogs trained to search for human remains, and experts with their kit.

About thirty members of the Third National Search Party have come together to excavate and ask questions. This search will last two weeks. A Catholic priest is participating, as are many young women and several members of the Marabunta organization. Most of them wear white shirts with black text: Where are they?

According to statistics from the state prosecutor, around 2,200 people disappeared in Sinaloa during the last six years, the period when Mario López Valdez was governor. His term ended last December.

Some searchers look near the heavy machinery. Others go to another site in the truck belonging to the prosecutor’s forensic team. Still others seek shade under the poplars.

They laugh. They poke risqué fun at the young priest, circling in on each other. Even during the search there is time for fun yet memories still weigh heavy.

They are more than 60 searchers from 11 states. Right now they are looking for human remains in two graves: in El Quelite in Mazatlán, and in Sataya, Navolato. They have managed to unearth one body. It still has not been identified.

Some yards away, in an overgrown corner, Lucas, the police dog, digs again and again. So much so that it looks like he’s playing. The agents say he lifts his ears and his tail goes straight and he goes stiff when he finds human remains. He doesn’t do any of that today.

There’s Carlitos. With his staff and his pickaxe. Sometimes he wants to leave and attaches himself to his mother’s skirt. The two bob through the mess of dry branches, big leaves and uneven earth. It looks like they are crossing a swamp but they emerge clean.

After his sister disappeared, the boy went through a bad time at school. He enjoys math: but his grades went from 9s and 10s to 6s and 7s.

He carries himself aggressively. He locks himself in his room. He throws himself on his bed and cries, all the while clutching a photo of Zoé. He speaks to her. He cries over her. That’s why he goes to therapy. He falls down and het gets up. Here he raises his staff and plunges it into the ground.

– When you speak with your sister, what will you tell her?

– I will tell her I love her and I miss her and that I will protect her. That I can take care of her. That I won’t let my father leave her in his truck.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on May 15, 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this story in La Jornada on February 8, 2017. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction to Sinaloa by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator in the Americas, an investigative journalist, and historian. NACLA, the CPJ BlogThe Texas Observer, and CounterPunch have published his writing.

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No Sugarplums for Christmas: Torture, Democracy and Memory in Argentina (Cecilia González, Crónicas del Espacio Memoria & CounterPunch)

WEEKEND EDITION FEBRUARY 7-9, 2014 from CounterPunch


No Sugarplums for Christmas

Torture, Democracy and Memory in Argentina

by CECILIA GONZÁLEZ

Translator’s Note

This article about the ongoing trauma of Argentina’s dictatorship by Cecilia González won first prize in a contest organized by the former Navy Mechanical School (ESMA), Argentina, which is now the Space for Memory. The purpose of the competition is to contribute to the construction of material that promotes collective memory and the meaning of democracy within society. As González describes, Argentina is the only country in the world that, after some uncertain starts, has systematically tried crimes against humanity of a past regime.  – PT

Carlos Loza didn’t celebrate Christmas in 1976 with a sugarplum.

There was no roast, no cold veal, and no nougat. Not even a fruit salad for pudding. No possibility of celebrating a toast with wine, champagne, or cider. He only swallowed one sugarplum, something he’d hardly been able to hold in his shackled hand, and he couldn’t even see it because the hood covered his eyes. Carlos was being held in the Navy Mechanical School (ESMA), and there he spent the bitterest year’s end of his life.

For Carlos the lonely, tiny piece of candy revealed the depths – in all the word’s meanings – his tormentors could reduce him to at any moment. He was 23 years old and his family did not know what had happened to him. He lived with his mother in Villa Tesei. She spent the holidays searching for him, in desperation. His brother had been stationed in Campo de Mayo, performing his military service. The sugarplums the guards gave to all the prisoners seemed to be a sick joke: after that they did not know if they were going to kill them.

Carlos was taken to the Navy Mechanical School (ESMA) early in the morning on 17 December 1976. The day before, in the afternoon, a gang of youths had kidnaped him from the Communist Party branch offices in Barracas, together with some fellow port workers from Buenos Aires. They bound their hands, covered their heads, and piled them into an ambulance. On arriving at the extermination center, they were given identification numbers. Carlos Loza: 738; Héctor Guelfi: 739; Rodolfo Picheni: 740; and Oscar Repossi: 741. A basement torture session served as their welcome to ESMA. They lost track of time.

Today, almost 37 years after his kidnap, Carlos is a diligent witness to the hearings in the third court case about the crimes committed in Latin America’s most emblematic of clandestine prisons. Usually he sits in the public hearing room. He listens attentively to every testimony. He weaves together the victims’ stories. Above all else, he is part of the group making sure the guilty face justice.

“I have been able to know in greater detail the stories of the fallen compañeros of the ESMA,” says Carlos one morning with a proud smile that intensifies a heavenly, wide-eyed expression.

***

By the middle of 2013, Argentina had concluded 104 trials for crimes against humanity. Among eleven still ongoing trials, there is one known as ESMA III, a case that involves the largest number of victims (789), torturers (68), and witnesses (930). The first ESMA trial, ESMA I, began in 2007 but was suspended because of the cyanide poisoning of the only person accused, prefect Héctor Febres. By contrast, the second ESMA trial, ESMA II, finished in 2011 with life sentences against twelve torturers, thanks to the testimony of 160 witnesses (Carlos among them). Another four were found guilty and sentenced to prison for 18 to 24 years, with acquittals for two more.

This sixty-year-old man – who always carries a folder or notebook under his arm – testified in the third ESMA trial. Focused, he told the story yet one more time. A story about kidnap and torture that he doesn’t think of as just his own, but of belonging to society.

“Around the 23 December 1976 we managed to figure out what the day was,” he recalled at court – because I knew the dates of the final football championship. When I heard someone say that Boca had one, that’s when I knew what day it was.”

Days in the ESMA revolved around the darkness of the torture chambers, the guards’ unending shouts and threats, the pain from the handcuffs on the wrists and the shackles around the ankles. Resting was impossible. The prisoners sucked on bread because they had been so badly beaten up they could not chew food. For Carlos and his compañeros sleep came from exhaustion, but uncertainty never left them. Sometimes they spoke, when they were transferred to the “Capuchita” where there were fewer prisoners. If the guards caught them whispering among themselves or with other prisoners, they would hit them. In captivity Carlos came to know Hernán Abriata, a member of the Peronist Youth in the Faculty of Architecture. “I am a prisoner like you all, as you’ll find out,” said the young, still disappeared man. He was trying to console them: they wore hoods of a different color to his, a sign they weren’t going to be killed.

“We spoke to each other to find out our names, who we were. There was a tacit agreement: whoever gets out of here has to tell the story. We promised each other because you had to see how it was to not become terrified. That’s what the killers wanted. There’s a place where they can’t win, and it’s called the mind, so you shouldn’t infect others with fear. Not everybody managed it. Some left the ESMA terrified. They even forgot their own names. They quit working, stopped being activists. But we felt we had to tell what we’d seen because it concerned our dignity.”

The kidnapped lived through things that would give them nightmares for the rest of their lives. Carlos once heard a prisoner say, “Nothing’s going to happen to you because you’re pregnant.” Today the port unionist is still investigating who that woman might have been.

From his interrogators he learned of a young priest with a bright future. The priest was told he should collaborate because his father was dying and his family tremendously missed him. That he could go free if he revealed what he knew, giving up his compañeros’ names. Many years later Carlos managed to find out that the priest was Pablo María Gazzarri whose disappearance forms part of the ESMA case.

On 6 January 1977 a guard called Carlos and his compañeros by number. He told them they were going to be set free. He removed their shackles, handcuffs, and hoods. Carlos and Rodolfo were put together in a grey Falcon. Héctor and Oscar went separately, in two other vehicles. The workers from Buenos Aires thought they were being freed but they also feared a trick to kill them. They left them in different parts of Buenos Aires, after telling them they had ended up in ESMA for collaborating with the Montoneros.

Carlos withdrew from activism for a few months. He was afraid. But bit-by-bit he began to meet up with his compañeros from the port. In 1979 they were already calling for strikes and a return to politics. That’s what resistance was like until 1983, when Argentines resurrected their democracy.

***

Democracy brought with it faltering first steps to bring the torturers to justice. Judgments came down against the governing juntas, followed by pardons and decades of impunity. The stalemate continued until 2003 when Congress and the Supreme Court struck down the End Point and Due Obedience Laws, meaning that the judicial processes could restart, now en masse, against many more accomplices, not just against those at the top of the chain of command. Ever since then, Argentina has been the only country in the world to systematically try crimes against humanity.

For each trial to end with a guilty verdict, survivors’ testimony proves crucial. It’s never easy for any of the survivors, even those who are experienced human rights activists. It’s not easy to testify in the presence of torturers and murderers.

“Their sitting in front of us is a new torture. It makes you feel uncomfortable, threatened,” Carlos adds.

When the unionist appeared at hearings for the second ESMA trial, Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, a former marine and director of the clandestine prison, sat just a few steps away. Cavallo was engrossed in his computer screen, bearing the evasive attitude he maintained at every hearing. At the third ESMA trial, Carlos spoke in front of Juan Carlos Rolón, but he only realized it later after he had accused him of being a rapist, an allegation that would weigh against the former lieutenant more than torturer or murderer.

The trials afford relief, an easing for the witnesses.

“They help us mend,” recognizes Carlos, “but in a contradictory way. Justice has come very late and what’s happened cannot be repaired. When they issue rulings, you celebrate, but you also think that it would be better if the murdered or disappeared compañero could be by your side. It’s a pain that nobody can heal.”

The ever-present pain prevents many survivors from even getting close to the Navy Mechanical School (ESMA).

Carlos was one of those. After his kidnapping, he always avoided walking down those streets, especially if it was night. Things changed on 24 March 2004 when Nestor Kirchner offered the state’s apology in front of thousands of people, ordering that the clandestine prison should be turned into a Space for Memory. On that day Carlos braved entering the place where he had been kidnapped and tortured, together with his friends. Overcome by tension, by the memories, but supported by his wife and their two children, he walked about Capucha and Capuchita. He observed a change in the color of a window, the stairs, and the back of the water tank where he spoke to Hernán Abriata, the disappeared man who gave him hope during his captivity. He baptized his only son in honor of Hernán.

Carlos’s tour around ESMA was sufficient. He will never go back. It was too heavy on his spirit. It had been terrifying remembering that in this place neither justice, nor God. Nothing existed there, only the remains of a human being, civilization in retreat.

“It provokes deep thought. The concentration camp diminishes a human being, so one values little things like being able to move your hands around your body. A lot of pain comes with the retreat to primordial times: fighting for food, the loss of dignity, behaving like an animal.”

Carlos recognizes that part of Argentina’s society does not understand the importance of trials for crimes against humanity. There are those who insist that this is past history. Yet all the while the victims, their family members, human rights organizations and other groups have constructed a historical narrative that explains those crimes from the perspective of those who were involved.

That’s why Carlos attends most of three-times a week hearings held in Comodoro Py. He takes note of the testimonies. He looks over the witness lists. He puts together lines of investigation. He discovers the names and numbers of victims whose files can be joined to future processes. He describes operations, dates of kidnappings and names. He uncovers photos of the disappeared. He criticizes the defense witnesses. He proposes measures to speed up the trials, like grouping cases into one procedure, analyzing events according to chronology, to line them up with dates of captivity in the ESMA. Patiently he waits for the judgment to be handed down, by the latest at the end of 2014.

***

Carlos can tell many stories about the twenty-one days he spent in the Navy Mechanical School. But there’s one that scarred him.

One prisoner was delirious. He wouldn’t eat, and he took off his hood, so they hit him. He asked to see his father. “First officer, Montonero, doctor,” he shouted to identify himself. A guard kicked him until he killed him. He covered his corpse with a blanket, leaving it for hours beside Carlos and his friends. Five years ago Carlos got to know a woman named Alejandra Mendé who told him about the disappearance of her bother, Jorge. When they started to piece things together, they discovered that he was the same man that he and his friend had seen die. There hadn’t been many doctors who were first officers in the Montoneros.

Rodolfo Picheni, the port worker freed in the same Falcon as Carlos, never overcame his kidnapping and torture, nor of being an impotent witness to Mendé’s murder. Depression pursued him and worsened every time a new anniversary of his kidnapping came around. On 5 December 2012 a little after the third ESMA hearings began he hanged himself. “Now I am going to be number 30,0001. I’ll be taking care of them,” he wrote in a note.

Since 1976, end of the year celebrations have always been particularly nostalgic for Carlos. But his friend’s suicide last year saddened him. He didn’t let it overcome him. He celebrated Christmas and the New Year with his family, as is his custom. He dined. He toasted. He laughed.

He did all those things. But he’s never tasted a sugarplum again.

Cecilia González is a foreign correspondent for NOTIMEX based in Argentina. Her book, “Narcosur: la sombra del narcotráfico mexicano en la Argentina,” was published by Marea in 2013. This prize-winning article first appeared in Spanish under the title, “Sin confites de navidad,” available at: http://www.espaciomemoria.ar/noticia.php?not_ID=378&barra=noticias&titulo=noticia.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter@patricktimmons.

 

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