The last Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983) also left victims in the ranks of the Armed Forces and security forces. In the Police of the province of Buenos Aires, for example, there were at least 20 cases, including those who were kidnapped and survived, those who are still missing and those who appeared buried as NN. The latter is the case of non-commissioned officer Luis Francisco Ceccón. In 1978, three men in civilian clothes kidnapped him during the day on a corner of Pergamino, a city in northern Buenos Aires, and his family never saw him again. Some time later, in his labor file it would be written “Discharge due to unemployment, for having incurred in abandonment of service”. But this 31-year-old corporal, father of four children, had not fled. The real reason for his absence has been written in his file 44 years later: forced disappearance.
Except for his police status, Ceccón’s seventies resembled those of many militants of his generation. He lived in a very poor neighborhood of Pergamino; he participated in a Catholic group linked to the Movement of Priests of the Third World and the Option for the poor of the Catholic Church; and he formed a large family with a young woman from the province of Corrientes: Máxima Idalina Franco. In a photo from those years, the couple is holding hands in a park. In another, Ceccón smiles with his little son Silvio on his shoulders, next to a precarious house.
They had Ceccón under surveillance. His activity had become radicalized until Montoneros approached [organización armada peronista]. The police intelligence service suspected that he was an infiltrated militant. In April 1976, immediately after the coup, the military arrested him, interrogated him and released him. The end of him would come in 1978, with the new kidnapping in Pergamino, on May 16, and an interrogation in the La Plata Investigation Brigade two days later. That was the last trace of him.
Nancy Ceccón, her daughter, was then seven years old: “My mother (who died in 1993) was told that he had left because she didn’t care about us, or that the Montoneros had taken him away. He only received contempt, denial and humiliation. And with perversity, they demanded that he return the service weapon, or pay for it.” In addition to the weapons, the repressors withheld the salary of the victims. Ceccón’s children, ages 11, 9, 7 and 5, were left destitute, subject to help from neighbors and the church. Máxima had to leave them to work. “This conditioned our lives. It was very painful,” says Nancy.
Processing the story took her years: “I went looking for spaces to tell it without being judged. This was not something common: I had a hard time with the ‘he was a policeman’ part. Little by little I began to see myself as the daughter of the disappeared and joining human rights organizations,” says Nancy. “I had a beautiful dad, who had an impressive presence and played with me. In the intelligence files they accuse him of making militant graffiti and pamphlets. It is a pride that his murderers tell me what he was like: supportive. He also wrote, he was a craftsman and a builder”. His Pergamino neighborhood group was building houses for poor people with money raised in solidarity festivals.
In 2011, Ceccón’s body was identified. It was in the General Lavalle cemetery (on the coast of Buenos Aires). The reconstruction of the case indicates that he was thrown into the sea at the end of 1978, found on the beach and buried as NN; This prolonged his status as a disappeared person and his family anguish for three decades. The “death flights” were one of the forms of execution of captives -although not the most massive- used by the genocide. For example, the French nun Léonie Duquet and the mothers of Plaza de Mayo Esther Balestrino and Azucena Villaflor suffered the same fate after their kidnapping.
Last Thursday, the children of Ceccón received from the provincial government the file of their father adjusted to the truth. “I am very mobilized. It is a postponed and necessary rectification”, says Nancy. This reparation policy arises from the Ministry of Security, where there is a Historical Truth Commission. Its secretary is Alejandro Incháurregui, director of the Ministry’s Office of Missing Persons and historian of the Buenos Aires Police. “Symbolically, these gestures of the State are very relevant for the victims and their relatives. Much of the Peronist resistance [iniciada con el golpe a Juan Domingo Perón, en 1955] it was made up of policemen or soldiers, who were also detained, tortured and shot. So it was not clear whether the victims were police, military or civilians: they were Peronists. On the other hand, for the period of the dictatorship, the spokesmen of memory did not take into account the members of the security or armed forces who were victims of illegal repression, because they assimilated them to the repressors”, he explains.
Apart from Ceccón, six other files were corrected where the Police covered up crimes against humanity against their agents with formulas such as “abandonment of position”. Like Atilio Calotti, kidnapped at the age of 17, disappeared in the clandestine detention and torture centers Arana and Pozo de Quilmes, and later imprisoned in a legal prison. He had been involved in politics at school. His sister, her mother and her partner, also policemen, were thrown out after Atilio’s kidnapping for being “relatives of a subversive.” His files were also corrected.
Some police officers were forced under torture to sign “requests” for discharge dated prior to their arrest. Walter Docters was kidnapped in a NCO School, tortured and disappeared in the same circuit as Calotti, bleached in a prison, and released in 1983. Something similar suffered Eduardo Torres, an administrative policeman who had been politically active in the neighborhood; after this hell, he was only able to leave the country in 1979. The other provincial security force, the Penitentiary Service, had ten disappeared; almost all survived, and one of the repaired files was that of Juan Miguel Scattolini, known as a witness in trials for crimes against humanity (deceased in 2021).
Incháurregui, who after the dictatorship was one of the founders of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, adds: “Police officers and prison inmates were tortured by their peers, generally more viciously, because they belonged to the force.” And he recalls the brutal case of two brothers, militants of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP), murdered in La Plata: “One was hanged at the police station and the other, thrown from the third floor of the internal courtyard of the Police Headquarters. In both cases, suicide was alleged, in a clear message inside the rows. And the wife of one of them, also kidnapped, was hanged in the Pozo de Quilmes”.
Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS América newsletter and receive all the key information on current affairs in the region.