April 14th, 2007

Feel free to skip this if you already know or don’t care about the place I referenced in my last post, known as “El Olimpo”. In essence, skip ahead if you’re not Elaine, who asked for more information. Possibly an email would better serve to clarify, but ehh, might be another one of you out there who cares to know, plus what would I post here otherwise?

Sign Marking Former CCD El Olimpo

So, some background. “El Olimpo” functioned as a “CCD” (Centro Clandestino de Detencion) for about half a year (August 1978 to January 1979). This was during the military dictatorship (la dictadura), at the height of the dirty war (guerra sucia). It is not the most infamous, nor the most long-running, nor the most deadly of the CCDs (and there were more than six hundred of these, though many were temporary in nature, without the specific building renovations that were undertaken at “El Olimpo” to more efficiently torture its occupants), but it happened to be two blocks from where I lived during those years. During its tenure of operation it held approximately 700 people, of which maybe 50 survived their detention. If you’ve heard the term “the disappeared” (los desaparecidos) this is one of the places they were disappeared to. Usually they were tortured for information using School of the Americas techniques for a period of days, weeks, or months, then killed.

View of bricked up windows at El Olimpo

I was a kid, then, but the building has always been etched in my memory, because I was always sure that there was something absolutely wrong about it. I was closer to truth than I would have understood. I regularly passed by it, buying many of my school supplies in a libreria across the street and once a week eating pastries from the bakery that stood (and still stands) catty corner from it. It is huge in the landscape of my childhood, though I never once heard a scream, never once saw a body, never saw the hooded prisoners coming or going. How can one feel except sick when one thinks that they walked the sidewalk next to a building inside which people were at that moment being beaten, raped and tortured? The walls are thick, the windows mortared over, but the geographic distance could have been no more than a few hundred meters.

Military man threatens Argentine civilian

It was never explained to me properly what was going on at the time. Would I have understood, anyway? I wasn’t much older than the girl I wrote about in my last entry. Most adults didn’t truly know what was going on themselves. Censorship was omnipresent. It was known that people disappeared. It was known that the police and the military were applying pressure on students, activists and intellectuals. It was known that many fled the country. It was known that any time you saw a soldier with his submachine gun he might shoot you. What did it all mean? How to piece it together? I don’t know. I’m still working on that one.

Useful references, all in Spanish, I’m afraid:

Once again, I apologize for my lack of proper accent marks. My blog software auto translates them into HTML encoded entities, which makes my RSS feed barf like a cat with a vicious hairball. Trust me, their absence bugs me more than it bugs you. I’m determined to fix this at some point, if I have to hack the blog software myself, but I’ve not the leisure to do that right this second. Anyway, if you know a quick an easy fix for me, I’m all ears.

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