14 April 2007 by Published in: in my life 4 comments

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.


Sat 14th Apr 2007 at 10:17 pm

Thanks for sharing this.

I poked and found this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wik

What part of Argentina were you visiting?

Sun 15th Apr 2007 at 3:52 pm

Thank you. I had no idea (well, if I’d thought about it I’d have realized) you were there at that time. Were you and your family safe because they were missionaries, because you were (technically?) Americans, or for some other reason? Or were you, in fact, not safe? It scares me in retrospect.

Of course I’ve heard of los desaparecidos. At the former location of the Newseum (a journalism museum near DC, which has closed and is reopening in a much larger building *in* DC next year) there is an interactive sculpture recounting the stories of journalists who have died in the line of duty, and there’s one glass panel for each year, listing names and countries and dates. Then there’s a computer kiosk where you can enter the numbers or names and get pictures and more information. There are two or three panels for 1976 and 1977, filled with Argentinian names.

On the other end of the spectrum, but there’s also an entry about a guy who died in a helicopter crash racing from France back to Scotland to win a bet as to who could bring back the first Beaujolais that year.

Lastly, I use the same blog software you do, and I put accent characters in my entries sometimes and I don’t think they mess up in the RSS feed. I just type them in ecto, like é is option-e-e. Maybe it’s your reader? (I can’t recommend NetNewsWire highly enough.)

Sun 15th Apr 2007 at 3:58 pm

Here’s a link to a representative page. It’s just so striking to me, always has been, how these names jump out.


Tue 17th Apr 2007 at 7:56 pm

Wow. Those pictures of Sophia. Wow, not only is she not a baby anymore, but she’s like wearing a hoodie and a hat. The girl is old enough to have fashion sense. Wow.

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