Mass executions by firing squad
The 'pit' in Loma del ToritoSoon after the work of the Commission began, we started receiving a large number of depositions about the 'disappearances' of people in Cordoba. Their stories all converged on the La Perla secret detention centre. The most horrific violations of human rights were committed here. Mass executions were also carried out.
In their testimony the survivors speak of their fear of 'transfers', carried out regularly in a sinister Mercedes-Benz lorry which would return after a brief interval without its human cargo. They associated transfers with the repeated threats by their gaolers that they would be taken 'to the pit'. This awful reference was to the execution of many prisoners by firing squad on the edge of a pit, dug in advance to bury their bodies. The place was in the area known as the Loma del Torito, inside the La Perla camp, under the military jurisdiction of the base of the 4th Airborne Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron in Cordoba.
Testimony of Gustavo Adolfo Ernesto Contemponi and Patricia Astelara [File No. 4452]After being shot, the kidnap victims were thrown into a pit which had been dug in advance. With their hands and feet tied, gagged and blindfolded, they were sat on the edge of this and shot. Many prisoners heard accounts of this from soldiers. and sometimes we could even see people being taken away in this state. They were usually taken from La Perla at siesta time. The number and frequency of the transfers varied. People were taken from the block by a police guard, who would sometimes call out their numbers aloud, or sometimes go up to the condemned prisoner and say something in his ear before taking him away. We all heard the sound of the lorry, so when their mattresses were still empty a few hours later we knew for certain that they had been taken away in it. During 1976 and early 1977 nearly all kidnap victims were told that our fate was to be 'the pit' and threats about it were common. By spying through an office window two of us managed to see a group of condemned prisoners being loaded on to a lorry. They had been taken to the shed a few hours earlier, with their hands and feet securely tied, blindfolded and gagged, and later we saw how the interrogators and a lot of people in uniform tossed them into the back of the Mercedes-Benz lorry like so many sacks of potatoes. General Centeno and about five high-ranking officers were there, and followed the lorry in a Ford army van.
Testimony of Jose Julian Solanille [File No. 1568]After the March 1976 coup I went to work as an agricultural labourer in a place beside the La Perla camp called Loma del Torito. Around May that year I saw a pit measuring about 4 metres square and 2 metres deep. One Sunday I saw ten or fifteen cars arriving, including two white Ford Falcons. In one of these I noticed General Menendez, Commander of the 3rd Army Corps, whom I recognized because I had often seen him before. There were also two army lorries with army canvas covers over their backs, one with a white cross painted on it. A little later I went out into the fields driving my cattle and on the way I met a neighbour called Giuntolo, who worked a piece of land nearby. He told me that he wanted to find out whether the rumours he had heard were true, that there were ditches there where they buried people. I agreed to accompany him, lending him one of my horses and mounting another myself. As we approached the place where the ditch I have described was we saw, from about 100 metres away, that the vehicles I had seen approaching earlier were there. Then I warned my companion Giuntolo: 'Wait, something nasty may happen,' and we drew back. At that moment we heard loud gunfire. When we saw the cars near the ditch there was a large group of people on its edge who seemed to have their hands tied behind their backs and their eyes blindfolded or covered with glasses painted black. The next day I returned to the place and saw that the pit had been filled in, and there was a lot of earth left over. I would guess that the number of people shot on this occasion was over fifty.
Testimony of Carlos Beltrán [File No. 4213]I was a member of the Gendarmería from 1971 to 1980, when I was discharged. Around 1977 or 1978 I was told that I had been chosen to do security dutiesat prison unit No. 1 and the prisoner assesment centres known as La Perla, La Perla Chica, and La Ribera. ... The vehicles used to wait in the yard. Once outside the block, who had been made to come with the interogators were put in, their hands tied and blinfolded, and forced to lie on the floor. ... Then they set off. ... One or two hours after setting out, the vehicles would come back without the prisoners. Once I asked 'Gino' where they took the prisoners and he answered: "We take them to One-eighty"... Once the 'Captain' ordered me to accompany him into the block along with some other guards. There he ordered four prisoners to stand up and come with him: a young man called Castro; a tallish man about thirty-six years old, who I think sold ice-creams in Carlos Paz (his bicyle was left at La Perla); another man of twenty-eight; and a pregnant woman wearing a plastic apron and rubber boots (she was about twenty-five and in an advanced state of pregnancy). They were put into a lorry in which we also travelled, with a police guard and four NCOs, while in the cabin there was a sergeant acting as a driver and a young officer, maybe a first lieutenant, who was on the short side, rather fat, about thirty-six years old and had a moustache. The lorry set off followed by the Torino car usually driven by the 'Captain', who was accompanied by 'Gino'. The vehicles followed a dirt road through the wired fence around La Perla buildings. After driving about 3 kilometers they stopped on a country track between a field of sorghum and one sown with peanuts. Beyond these meadows there was nothing but wild vegetation (camalotes, tuscas, and bushes). We all got out of the vehicles and walked about 50 meters across the uncultivated stretch, which was covered in weeds. Then the 'Captain' ordered that the youngest prisoner's hands be untied and that he be given one of the spades brought by the NCOs. He told the victim to begin digging a hole. This ended up about 1.80 meters deep, 3 meters long and 1.20 meters wide. The other three prisoners were each guarded by two soldiers. I and another officer were next to the eldest of the four prisoners; I saw him pray very slowly and as he did so begin to cry. No one spoke, a deep silence reigned as the 'Captain' made the prisoner who was digging climb up to the end of the ditch and positioned the three others next to him in a row besides the ditch. On a signal from the 'Captain' - after he had told me 'They have to be sent to One-eighty' and I had replied that I woudn't do it - 'Gino', the four officers and the first lieutenant began firing at the prisoners. The policemen fired too. While the three men remained motionless after the shots, the woman, who had fallen, managed to stand up again, and walk a few steps away from the ditch. Seeing this, the 'Captain' took out his pistol and dispatched her with a bullet in the head. The four bodies were thrown into the ditch and doused in five liters of petrol. Then a torch was made from a stick and thrown into the ditch, producing a loud explosion. The fire lasted about 20 minutes, during which we began to notice a revolting smell, probably from the burning bodies and clothes. When they began filling in the pit, I approached and saw two of the bodies inside it, charred and shrunk to a size of 70 or 80 centimeters. Once the pit had been covered and the earth stamped down, they threw weeds and branches over it. I had a big row with the 'Captain' for not having obeyed his command, and he ordered me to step down from the post, since I was a useless coward and did not have what it took to make a soldier.
From the National Commission Report (Nunca Mas)
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