Today we visited ESMA which stands for Espacio de Memoria y Derechos Humanos. It means Space of Memory and Human Rights. Our visit here was to further educate, and make us more aware about what cruelties, tortures, and injustices that were suffered by those disappeared in the Dirty War of 1976 in Buenos Aires. This place was once a Naval academy, which did a lot of good for many people who came here to learn skills like mechanics, to take with them and be able to work. In 1976, this place became a “clandestine center”. Around 5000 people are known to have been brought here, and suffered beyond severe torture, isolation, and pain; there were only 200 survivors.
This “clandestine center” was not so secret. Although bars surround these facilities, it is easy to see in and out. This place is located on a main street, not hidden from the public at all. It is known that the abducted were brought in through the front gate. Though people knew something was obviously going on here, they were either too afraid to speak, or some thought “they must have done something bad.”
The people that were abducted and taken to this place, were unaware of where they were. But in 1978, Argentina held the World Cup at the stadium River Plate which is very close by. Survivors of this concentration camp, can remember hearing the yells and screams of people excited to be at the World Cup. Though they were not very far away, the distance was vast. No one at the stadium could imagine someone down the block was being tortured, having electrocuted rods in there anus, no one knew down the block someone was being “transferred”. No one would ever know of what these people were enduring while they enjoyed themselves and watched a soccer game. But Argentina’s government was in on it.
A check point which was restricted area. The line on the floor was made by a chain being dragged and stepped on by a big truck, in which the abducted were brought in.
We were not allowed to take pictures once inside the building where the people were held, and tortured. The buildings were completely empty, paint chipping off, cracks in the infrastructure. When the IACHR were called to check this so called “clandestine center” parts of the building were altered to not be able to be recognized as the same place where people testified having been. A staircase was removed which went straight down to the basement where the prisoners were taken in. The Navy further destroyed evidence of it ever being the torture and terror center it was when they finally unoccupied the centers in 2007. We went to the basement where people were tortured, and some made to fake identifications and important documents. Once tortured they would be taken to the third floor called the “capucha” meaning hooded, the people tortured would be hooded and taken to the third floor of this building, where they were unallowed to speak. They sat in this cold room, completely concrete, in shackles and not allowed to go to the bathroom. This is where some survivors described as “feeling disconnected from the world”. If one died inside ESMA, their bodies were burned. Others were “transferred” which meant they’d be drugged and taken to the near airport and flown above the ocean and dropped, these came to be known as flight deaths.
You may ask why this place is kept alive. While it was just one of hundreds all around Argentina. It’s empty, but these facilities keep in memory what must never happen again which is a country against its own civilians. This place may not be a beautiful place to have visited, but it is something that opens my heart in a different way, and will forever be engraved in my memories. Walking through the halls, I kept thinking that if I had lived in this time period, I’d hope to have been a rebel against the government, which clearly had no good inside. I’d hope to not be a part of the people who stayed in silence, while knowing injustice occurred.
“A people with memory, is democracy for always.”
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