President Alberto Fernández had announced it in his speech before the Legislative Assembly last March, when he assured that the Executive would keep the policies of memory, truth and justice “at the top”. Half a year later, survivors and relatives of victims who passed through the clandestine detention, torture and extermination center “Vesuvius” celebrated the first step in what will be the Space for Memory that will work there after the authorities of the Central Market cede the use of the land where that concentration camp operated.
“It is like a dream come true for us, the end of a first stage of insistence and struggle”, said the survivor Silvia Saladin in dialogue with this newspaper. Saladino is a member of the Vesuvius and Bridge Commission12 which has supported for many years the claim for the preservation, signage and installation of a memory space where that clandestine center operated.
Through an agreement sealed with the Secretary of Human Rights of the Nation, Horacio Pietragalla Corti; the head of the Central Market Corporation of Buenos Aires, Nahuel Levaggi, enabled the use of the lands where El Vesuvius worked. The objective is to preserve the place where the three houses that made up the repressive structure worked and to build a memory space there. According to the project, which has already been laid out, the place will have a roof that protects the foundations of the three buildings, a circuit of walkways to walk through them without stepping on the ground, and a space that will function as a sum, offices, and restrooms.
“This is an iconic place. It is very important that we can visit it, that all citizens can visit it and remember our detained-disappeared comrades”, considered Pietragalla Corti after signing the agreement. The event was attended by the Undersecretary of Human Rights of Buenos Aires, Marías Moreno; the national director of Sites and Spaces of Memory, Lorena Battistiol; his provincial peer, Gustavo Moreno; federal judge Daniel Rafecas; the former national director of Sites of Memory, Judith Said; in addition to human rights organizations, survivors of “El Vesuvius”, and relatives of the victims.
That’s what the genocides of the First Army Corps and the Federal Penitentiary Service called it, repressive authorities of the place that remained active until the end of 1978. It is estimated that before the coup of March 24, 1976, the place already functioned as a scene of horror under the name of “The ponderosa”. Located in the town of Aldo Bonzi, Partido de La Matanza, west of Greater Buenos Aires, it was originally a “recreation space” for members of the SPF. In about five hectares there were three houses, a pool and a large wooded property. It is estimated that at least one and a half hectares was destined for kidnappings, torture and disappearances: the three houses, of which only the foundations remain; the pool and free property.
“In one there was the officialdom and there was a basement. Another was destined for the imprisonment and torture of kidnapped men and women. And in another were the ‘cuchas’, separated by sector of men and sector of women”, Saladino reconstructed in dialogue with this newspaper. Around October 1978, at the request of the visit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights –which would finally materialize in 1979–, the genocide decided to demolish the three buildings. “We were more or less about 70. They whitewashed half of us, the other half they disappeared, we don’t know what happened to them”, completed the survivor who was kidnapped in mid-July of that year by an Army mob and taken to Vesuvius.
Throughout the three trials against humanity that were carried out on the events of that clandestine center, and that culminated in the sentences of those responsible, it is estimated that at least 1,500 people were held captive and tortured there.. The place was recognized and located thanks to the complaint made by a survivor Paulino Guarido, in July 1978. During the first years of democracy, a group of people who had been kidnapped there and the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of La Matanza tried signal it, “place a plaque that said what had happened there, but a group of people guarding it did not allow it.” There were no more attempts during the following years, but the plan to preserve it continued on the horizon of survivors and relatives who came together in the Vesuvius and Bridge 12 Commission.
The fight for signaling and preservation
The hectare and a half that through testimonies is calculated was used as a clandestine center has a measure not to innovate on the part of the Federal Justice – the case is in charge of Judge Daniel Rafecas. The Commission obtained municipal permission to signpost it in 2014 and only in 2016 were the pillars of Memory, Truth and Justice placed that indicate it as a site of memory. However, the objective of survivors and relatives “it was always that this space of memory is not limited to the past, that it is a living and active site, that can be visited so that it calls for reflection for the present and futurethat it can be visited and that it be recognized what world we who were active in those years wanted: a just world”, detailed Saladino, who dedicated a special recognition to members of the Commission who died “before being able to see this dream come true”: Cristina Commanded, Jorge Watts and Ana María Di Salvo.
Things “were delayed” during the Cambiemos government. And they began to speed up later, when Levaggi took over the management of the Central Market. The Commission requested a meeting with him and they told him the history of those lands. “He did not know what they had been used for, he had always been very willing to work to specify the space for memory,” said the survivor. “It is the former detainees and relatives of victims who deserve and should govern and make use of this space,” the head dedicated in that sense after the effective transfer of the land.
While the procedures inside and outside the institution were resumed, the Central Market worked on the enhancement of sidewalks and gates of the property; the province of Buenos Aires, through the Undersecretary of Human Rights, trained its workers so that they could develop the maintenance of the property according to its preservation. Until finally the transfer of the land was signed.
“It is a big step. We work with the survivors and relatives on an architectural project that now has to be fine-tuned with the Ministry of Public Works”, informed this newspaper the Director of Sites and Spaces of Memory of the Nation, Lorena Battistiol Colayago. The next step is to refine the architectural project with the Ministry of Public Works, budget it, enable the bidding process and carry it out. “We hope to make a lot of progress in 2023,” said the director, who coordinates the construction of the Space for Memory in Campo de Mayo and renovation and preservation works in the Club Atlético clandestine centers, the Famaillá School in Tucumán, the Little School in Bahía Blanca , Infantry Regiment 9 of Corrientes, Olimpo, Orletti and Viceroy Cevallos.