Paraguay: New ‘Archives of Terror’ Unearthed

  (IPS) – The discovery Friday of new archives from the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner is expected to shed new light on the regime that ruled Paraguay from 1954 to 1989.

Identity cards and folders full of photographs and information on former political prisoners were found in the basement of a building in downtown Asunción that belonged to the Interior Ministry.

The discovery was made possible by a tip-off from a former military cadet who served in the Interior Ministry under Stroessner.

Local human rights activist Martín Almada, who uncovered the so-called "Archives of Terror" in 1992, said the man who provided the information used to take meals to political prisoners held in the basement, which was used as a torture chamber by then interior minister Sabino Augusto Montanaro, a key member of Stroessner’s inner circle who is now living in Honduras, where he was granted political asylum.

The building now serves as the venue for meetings by Paraguay’s Council of Governors.

The first to enter the basement were Almada and the governor of the southern department (province) of Misiones, Víctor Pereira, who reported the discovery of the archives to the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

The basement is dark, and there is water on the floor and mildew on the walls. By smashing a hole in the wall, the investigators found another lightless room where files containing the names and records of political prisoners were discovered in a pile of garbage.

According to Almada, winner of the 2002 Right Livelihood Award — also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize — Paraguayan, Argentine, Brazilian, Uruguayan and Chilean political prisoners were tortured in the basement, victims of Operation Condor, a coordinated plan among the military governments that ruled those countries in the 1970s and 1980s that was aimed at tracking down, capturing, torturing and eliminating left-wing opponents.

"I call on the government, through the Foreign Ministry, to secure the extradition of Montanaro so that he can be brought to justice in Paraguay," said Almada.

A Paraguayan court has already requested Montanaro’s extradition.

Newspapers from that era were also found in the basement.

After the news of the discovery was announced, many victims of the dictatorship, politicians and human rights advocates flocked to the building and began to file through the basement.

To protect the records, prosecutor Fátima Britos, accompanied by a forensic specialist and other experts, restricted access to the basement.

Forensic anthropologist Eduardo Cañete with the Office of the Public Prosecutor said the evidence is fragile because the documents are in bad condition.

The records were immediately dubbed the "Archives of Terror II".

The first Archives of Terror, the most important collection of records from the Stroessner regime, were found in December 1992, in a police station in the Asunción suburb of Lambaré.

The room full of official records that Almada basically stumbled upon by accident in 1992 — more than 700,000 documents in which 23,000 names and 300 acronyms of organisations that were targeted by the regime have been identified so far — has provided evidence that has played a critical role in lawsuits on forced disappearance, of Paraguayans as well as foreign political prisoners.

The Archives of Terror have served as the basis for more than two dozen books, studies and papers.

Stroessner was overthrown by a February 1989 military coup led by his son’s father-in-law, General Andrés Rodríguez. He died in Brazil in 2006, at the age of 93.

The Truth and Justice Commission report, presented in August, puts the number of direct and indirect victims of the dictatorship at 128,076, including victims of forced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, detention, torture, rape and political exile.

Of that total, 19,682 were political prisoners, 18,772 were tortured, 59 were the victims of extrajudicial execution, and 337 were "disappeared."

As he left the building, a visibly moved Almada, who is himself a former political prisoner, said "this is a historic moment, which happens to have occurred just ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," which was adopted in December 1948.

The torture survivors who had gathered at the building called again for justice and said such atrocities should never again be allowed to occur.