Argentine Silvia Labayrú was 20 years old and five months pregnant when she was kidnapped and sent to the Higher School of Mechanics of the Navy (ESMA), the largest clandestine detention center of the Argentine dictatorship. In her first weeks there, she was hooded, threatened, beaten. She gave birth in captivity to a baby who was taken from her hands and shortly after the frigate captain Jorge Tiger Acosta told him that he should have sex with an officer as proof of his “recovery.” 45 years after having survived that hell, the Argentine Justice sentenced this Friday the man who raped her, the former intelligence officer Alberto González, to 20 years in prison. Acosta, González’s direct boss in the ESMA task force and instigator of this crime and others against two other prisoners, was sentenced to 24 years. The sentences against both repressors are added to others prior to life, which they serve in jail.
Labayrú, a resident of Spain since she went into exile there in 1978, received the verdict accompanied by her son and close friends at a Galician restaurant. “Although it may seem like a paradox, eating lobster with albariño at Estaca de Bares was an end in style for me, I wanted to be in a situation of maximum happiness,” he says by videoconference a couple of hours after hearing the reading of the ruling through your computer. He says it near the end of the interview. At first, when answering about his reaction to the sentence, he speaks first of joy and then corrects himself: “I don’t know if that is the word. I’m satisfied”. I had doubts – “because sometimes there is no correlation between social condemnation and Justice” -, but they have been left behind: “I think it is good that it is a strong condemnation.”
His blue eyes widen to underline that the greatest gratification is “that there has been a visibility that in the ESMA, as in other detention camps, women were systematically raped.” Remember that the journalist Miriam Lewin, who was also detained at the ESMA, already detailed in her book Whores and guerrillas that sexual violence was part of the “plan to destroy the prisoners.” “There were many women raped like me at the ESMA who, out of fear or for other reasons, did not report it. I am pleased with this ruling because it may allow other women to think that it is possible to report and be encouraged to do so if they know that they will be treated with respect for justice ”.
The complainants requested that the trial hearings be private due to the intimate nature of the events denounced and the pain involved in recounting them. However, Labayrú believes that after the conviction it is necessary to make it public “to account for the complicity of certain sectors of society” with the dictatorship.
“Gonzalez was not only satisfied with raping me. He wanted her to be his sex slave for his wife as well. He not only took me to hotels for hours but also to his house, where I was subjected to satisfy the sexual fantasies of the couple. This lady knew that I was abducted. The couple’s daughter was one or two years old and this happened five or six times. I was a slave to his desires and whims and it was so traumatic that I did not get to tell my closest people. It took me a long time to realize that I had also been raped by her, ”she reveals.
Labayrú speaks slowly, but with a firm voice. The complaint for sexual crimes that he made in 2014 against González and Acosta took six years to reach the trial that concluded on Friday, after ten months of hearings. In them she described by heart the scene where she was harassed: “I made a detailed description of the house because it took me with open eyes. The first time I was convinced that they were going to kill me because they had let me see the building ”.
“These gentlemen, in addition to annihilating militants who are no longer militants, used the State apparatus to rape, appropriate our children and property. They became a group of common criminals who raped, robbed and kidnapped and part of society encouraged them, knew them or turned a blind eye ”, he says.
When she was released in 1978, she was surrounded by a cloak of suspicion. “In a field where about 4,800 people have been thrown into the sea and 200 survived, there was a prejudice towards us and a statement: ‘You will have done something'”. That image began to change with the trials, when more and more cases of what was a systematic plan of repression came to light, but he recognizes that even today there is an indelible residue: “The survivor is always an uncomfortable, annoying, suspicious person , because we know things about the human condition that it is better not to know, we know what happens to the soul in a situation of extreme terror ”. For Labayrú, the memory of horror “is a lonely memory, because it is difficult to share these experiences with other people.”
Overcoming the torments he suffered took many years of therapy and the help of friends and family. In her case, as she told the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, in her recent visit to the former ESMA, she was also helped by “having come out of hell to reach the Madrid of the Transition”. “It was the best restorative therapy I could have. I arrived at the right time at the right place ”, he highlights. He stayed to live there and rebuilt his life, but he has never stopped giving testimony of the terror regime that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983. Justice has just confirmed that rapes and other sexual crimes were committed in that great torture center. Labayrú trusts that now more victims will dare to speak.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.