Caroline Williams ’25 – Blog Post #3

I spent my final weeks in La Plata working with the Programa Salud Mental and the Programa de intervenciones complejas y colectivas (PICC). On my first day working with the Salud Mental team, I met with my direct supervisor, Melina. She is phenomenal.

In the previous weeks, I had mentioned that I wanted to work with the Salud Mental team, but as they are a very new aspect of the CPM, I did not know if that would be possible. However, in the final weeks, I had the opportunity to work with the Salud Mental team, and I could not be more pleased with my experience. The individuals encompassing this team -as true with all of the people I met within the CPM- were incredibly welcoming. Their kindness and patience helped me adjust to the often-heavy topics we covered.

In preparation for an interview, I researched a man diagnosed with schizophrenia. I read his information from past interviews and tribunal proceedings in Savit. His mother was significantly involved in his case and routinely visited the CPM to see how her son’s case was progressing. This man’s case exemplified faults within mental health care, especially how it compares to law. Victims are not receiving adequate treatment, and unless their families are heavily involved -outside of the CPM- there are no safeguards to enforce the Right to Mental Health Protection (law 26.657) and Patient Rights in their Relationships with Health Professionals and Institutions (law 26.529).

In this image, the courtyard inside the medium-security neuropsychiatric hospital that I visited can be seen. While it is well-maintained and beautiful, the hidden context is quite disturbing. This area is tended by those in the hospital who work as the gardeners of this area; however, no one who is being treated in the hospital is allowed usage of this space. The benches in the background have likely never been used. Some of the men in the neuropsychiatric hospital are allowed usage of another courtyard, which I saw in passing that is a concrete slab enclosed by a barbed wire fence.

The Salud Mental team is documenting how each case evolves, which is crucial in implementing change. By having longevity in their data recorded through Savit, the CPM can use this to institute necessary changes.

Two mental health team members and I visited Neuropsychiatric Hospital Unidad 34 to conduct interviews. This hospital was medium-security; inside, it looked and functioned like a prison. Upon arrival, the subdirector brought us into his office to discuss the hospital and our reason for being there. He said that this facility has no sobrepoblación (overpopulation). Everything I observed in the subdirector’s office, the hospital exterior, and the courtyard was well-kept and clean. This neuropsychiatric hospital is only for men, and the staff varies in gender. Inside the neuropsychiatric hospital was a waiting vestibule with numerous paintings and sculptures. While waiting for admittance into the interview room, my supervisors pointed out that the art and the courtyard were not accessible to those within the neuropsychiatric hospital.

The interview room was old and dirty; it did not have a sufficient door to ensure privacy. Similar to the interview room in the women’s annex in UP N૦ 8, the door to the interview room did not shut. Additionally, the window on the door had no glass, meaning the officers who sat just feet away were privy to every word.

During the visit, we could only interview one of the victims, as the man diagnosed with schizophrenia was with his therapist and was not present. The man we interviewed expressed his need for a specific diet as he had a colostomy (stomach bag) that sometimes made it challenging to eat solid foods. He wanted access to a liquid diet when necessary. Unfortunately, the staff were not cooperative with his needs as he had not yet been physically diagnosed with requiring this specific diet. Additionally, he mentioned that his room is very humid and experiences a range of extreme temperatures; this is concerning as it can create problems in sleep cycles, leading to mental health problems in the future. Therefore, the Salud Mental team keeps a detailed log of this man in Savit, as this case can alter, and he may require their aid.

Following the interview, I read the post-informe written by one of my colleagues on the Mental Health Team. I added information about the victim’s need for a liquid diet and how the team needed to maintain a close watch on that in the future; this will remain in Savit as formal documentation about this victim’s history. Since the Mental Health team was so new and made up of a small group, I could garner a lot of information and work directly with my supervisors, which was invaluable to me. I mentioned to my supervisor, Mercedes, that working with this team should be necessary for future internship cohorts as it offered a very engaging opportunity to see first-hand how mental health law functions in a different country.

My time with the PICC team (Programa de intervenciones complejas y colectivas) was short; however, very interesting. I read four ongoing case studies of victims and how they are being impacted by Argentina’s penal system. Of these cases, I recall one quite clearly. When an incarcerated woman went to the hospital to have her child, she was forced to leave her child behind since the child had a heart defect while she returned to prison. Another incarcerated woman was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer; she is in a lot of pain and has a nonexistent quality of life. PICC is working to get her released from prison to serve the rest of her life and prison sentence in her home.

The day after this, my cohort visited former Police Station N૦ 1 in Pergamino. This site of memory is for the seven men who died during a protest in which they lit a piece of their prison mattress on fire. Unfortunately, the bed was flammable, and the police officers did nothing to help and delayed calling for aid. All of the men in the cell died.

Following this visit marked the conclusion of my internship. It was bittersweet as I immensely enjoyed working at the CPM. During my time in Argentina, my Spanish fluency grew exponentially. I am very grateful to every member of the CPM who was so gracious and patient as I learned new vocabulary words and colloquialisms. Leaving my homestay was a tough goodbye; it felt like leaving my family behind. I adore them, and I am incredibly grateful for all they did for me during my stay and to William & Mary for allowing me to pursue this unparalleled opportunity.

Adiós Argentina, hasta la próxima.

This image portrays the asymmetrical government building, Casa Rosada, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The image of the church, El Ateneo, and Two Dancers in Yellow and Pink by Edgar Degas (exhibited in the National Museum of Fine Arts Buenos Aires) were all seen during a tour of Buenos Aires that the CPM took my cohort on.

As a collegiate rower at William & Mary, I searched high and low for a rowing club in La Plata, Argentina. Unfortunately, it was not until the last week when my teammate came to Argentina in the semester cohort that we were able to find one. Most interestingly, the club was in the shape of a boat.

Inside the Pergamino former police station, a site of memory to memorialize the seven men who died here due to state negligence. As you can see, the ceiling and outside the building are covered in soot from the deadly fire.

Outside, there were beautifully vibrant murals in the Pasaje de la Memoria that represented the history of Argentina

In my last week I got a haircut (at Alaska Peluquería) -the ultimate test in Spanish fluency. I absolutely love it!

My host family and I in front of the obelisk in Buenos Aires!

Caroline Williams ’25 – Blog Post #2

Visiting Pozo de Quilmes, a previous clandestine detention center, at the start of my second week in Argentina also marked the beginning of my internship with the Mecanismo.

Following an onboarding process in which I gained an overview of Argentina’s penal institutions, I began my work with the Programa Recepción de denuncias. Within this program, I worked with the team responsible for being the primary point of contact for individuals or family members calling on their behalf who were experiencing human rights violations while incarcerated. I quickly learned that “torture” is highly nuanced, and various situations can qualify as human rights abuses that, for me, have always existed beneath one umbrella word: torture. It is critical, however, to document all human rights violations so that when the presiding judge receives their case, they will be presented with substantial evidence and documentation, hopefully affecting a change.

Here is one of my supervisors, Melina, and me at the start of my internship with the Mecanismo unit. She was instrumental in my gaining a good grasp of Argentina’s penal institutions and answered any questions I had about the coming process.

Concerningly, aislamiento (solitary confinement) was among the most frequent human rights violations I saw while recording information into a computer program called Savit. Additional violations included unsafe or precarious electrical connections within cells and shared spaces leading to high electrocution risks; and little to no access to medical treatment. In some instances, anesthesia was withheld as a manner of torture.

This site of memory previously functioned as a clandestine detention facility. Located in an unassuming house, this facility was where numerous desaparecidos (disappeared individuals) were housed during the dictatorship. The atrocities committed here were exceptionally grave and included living in dirty conditions, being exposed to extreme weather, and having no medical care. Of the women held here, some were pregnant, and their children are among the disappeared. Following the dictatorship, Quilmes functioned as a detention center until 2016. The image is the opening of a cell; the ceiling above offers no protection from the elements. Written on the colored strips of ribbon are phrases of memory.

After working with the Programa Recepción de denuncias, it was time to move into the next stage of my internship: Programa Inspección de lugares de encierro. I read various Informes (reports) within this team and a writ of Habeas Corpus. Before visiting Unidad Penitenciaria N॰8 -a prison annex for women- I created a Pre-Informe, which included an overview of the prison’s past human rights violations and information about the women to be interviewed.

This image was taken inside Casa Mariani-Teruggi, a memory site that did not function as a clandestine detention center. There was not a space inside the house that was not touched in some way by State terrorism; through the wall, the victims of this attack are memorialized by photographs. The two large pictures are of Diana and Daniel, the parents of Clara Anahí, who is now amongst the desaparecidos. Daniel’s mother, Chicha Mariani, fought to find her granddaughter until her death in 2018.

When I first entered UP N॰8, I was met with a religious statuette. Outside of the Cathedral de La Plata, I had not seen many religious symbols or paraphernalia in the city; however, there were cross symbols in the doorways throughout the prison. I wanted to explore whether this was a common occurrence in other prisons or an exclusive circumstance. Upon further discussions with my host family, I learned that these religious symbols are not for those detained, but rather for those who work there -as they only exist within the entrance of the prison. Among those detained, Evangelism is more common than Catholicism; and is practiced more often in male prisons. A popular saint is Gauchito Gil who is present in many of the prisons; while he is not recognized by any church, he is a saint amongst people.

This image shows the entrance to UP women’s annex 8. Can you see the hidden doorway?

While waiting for my supervisor, Juan Introzzi -the Director of the Programa Inspecciónes, I watched as a police truck pulled up to the main entrance, and four SPB officers exited the vehicle and escorted a woman, in handcuffs, through the door. This scene was the first time in my life that I had watched someone in handcuffs escorted into prison.

I did not see a female doctor during my entire time in prison -over four hours. I did, however, see numerous male doctors, which struck me as odd since the prison’s only occupants are women.

Outside of the three women interviewed, I also met with a few women in the center for students. In this section of the annex, women can work towards achieving a degree through the local university while having access to at least four computers and numerous learning materials. For a moment, it was as if we were not in jail and these women were fellow students until we were interrupted by an SPB agent slamming open the door. Unfortunately, this interruption was not a one-off. While the interviews were being conducted, the shadow of an SPB officer could be seen -during the entire duration of the discussions- beneath the door. This door was completely insufficient for privacy. It was broken and not entirely flush with the floor and connected the interview room to the SPB agents’ breakroom. At one moment, a cup fell on the floor and rolled under the door. While the SPB agent vocally apologized, they reached under the door to retrieve the missing kitchenware, further disrupting the interview. Sadly, this incident did not startle the women being interviewed, as one of the women said, “Pasa todo el tiempo” (“It happens all the time”).

The next day, I wrote a Post-Informe detailing the interviews with the women and my interactions with the prison in general. Next week, I will begin the latter portion of my internship and begin work with the Programa Salud mental.

In my free time these past two weeks, my host family held an asado with the other William & Mary human rights interns and took me to a Santiago Motorizado concert! I visited the top of the Cathedral La Plata and the museum below. Fati and Lucho have been invaluable to me in terms of their aid in adapting to the culture and learning the nuances of Argentine Spanish. I am delighted to be immersed in this family and my day-to-day life here in Argentina; I am not looking forward to leaving.

Here I am at the top of the Cathedral La Plata. There were two stops on the elevator, and in this picture, I believed I was at the top only to step onto the elevator expecting to go down and going up once more! This was an incredible view, and in the courtyard was an enormous handkerchief symbolizing the grandmothers of La Plata who searched tirelessly for their disappeared family members. Additionally, our guide told us that the four statues in the courtyard below all represent a season. It just so happened that on the day this image was taken, La Plata was experiencing a “mini summer,” with a temperature of almost 80 degrees; most other days, it has been quite cold as it is winter here. Below the Cathedral is an art museum. I have included one piece of work by Felipe Gimenez called “En cada barrio hay muchos barrios” (“In each neighborhood, there are many neighborhoods”).

Of everything I have experienced in La Plata thus far, I have some key takeaways: undergraduate school is free here, as is healthcare -including abortions and birth control. There are exceptions to this, as living in the city where one’s university is can cost a considerable amount of money -especially if you are from a town far from the nearest university. Healthcare functions much in the same way, as even if healthcare may be free or available at a reduced rate, accessibility varies tremendously. La Plata has a fair amount of hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics; however, this may be nonexistent in a small town. There is still much that I need to learn here; I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to do so over the next few weeks.

Adiós for now!

Charlotte Visconsi ’25

Monday, August 21, 2023

Adios, for now…It’s hard to find words to describe the magic and the marvelousness that was my 6 weeks in La Plata, Argentina.

For me, it was a time filled with happiness, joy, curiosity and real deep emotional connections.

Put simply, I have fallen head over heels in love with Argentina: the culture, the people, the history, and the dulce de leche. Even now, as I reminisce in writing about my days there, I am drinking a nice hot mate.

It has been about a week after my return to the Unites States, and it is now abundantly clear that the mark Argentina has made on me isn’t going away – though the Argentine snacks I brought back certainly are.

Here is what I’m bringing home with me:

  1. The pure joy and happiness that radiates through the streets, the plazas, and the social gatherings of Argentina.
  • The greeting beso – and perhaps more generally the warm, enthusiastic, and open attitude applied equally to meeting new people or old friends.
  • The Dulce de Leche. Obviously.
  • Cuarteto: Especially Rodrigo, whose soulful voice brings me right back to La Plata every time I hear it.
  • The mate and the simple joy of sharing a hot drink with friends.
  • The deep and beautiful friendship I made with my host mother/sister/friend Valentina.
  • And most importantly, the fierce and passionate commitment to public memory and social rights.

I am bringing back so many memories, so many revelations about living a happier life, but also a newfound understanding of how history affects our contemporary social rights and political issues. Before I arrived in Argentina, I knew very little of the country’s complex political and social history. I didn’t understand the severity of la dictadura. I’d never been taught the atrocities that have spanned the country’s history, with and without the protection of a fragile democracy. I didn’t even know about the thousands of families left incomplete and broken in the aftermath of so much economic, political, and social chaos in the 20th century.

It was only in researching and writing the story of Clarisa Adriana García Delorenzini de Cassino’s life, that I fully understood this complex chapter of history. Clarisa’s life, Clarisa’s story, Clarisa’s disappearance, all of which I discovered in La Plata, came together to teach me the sordid history of her homeland. It was, perhaps, the interviews that I conducted with Clarisa’s family and friends that most significantly opened my eyes to the story of la dictadura in Argentina. I first spoke to Viviana Balbi, a college roommate and friend of Clarisa. And then a few days later, I interviewed Julio (and his wife Myriam) and Clarisita García, Clarisa’s younger brother and niece respectively. These interviews were unlike any project I’ve ever conducted: intensely emotional, touching, and very illuminating. Through these testimonies, Clarisa García was brought to life before my eyes, and I am eternally grateful to the four wonderful people who opened themselves up to me. Their vulnerability and their commitment to remembering Clarisa made my project – and the personal intellectual growth that I gained from it – possible.

In the end, after six weeks of in-depth research, interviews, site visits, and a little bit of arts and crafts, I finally completed a biography of Clarisa Adriana García Delorenzini de Cassino. Filled with photographs, quotes from Clarisa’s close friends and family, and a comprehensive look into her personality and life, the project is something that I am immensely proud of. The reason? Because it’s a product that matters. It isn’t just a piece of writing that proves a thesis, or an assignment completed and forgotten. This biography is a
gift — at least according to my intentions for it. A gift to Clarisa’s family, friends, community,
and really to Clarisa herself. It’s also a history lesson. A lesson for the visitors who will pass
through Pergamino’s Comisaría 1a, where the physical biography will be kept. It’s a microhistory that illuminates a dark and scary part of the country’s past, while also
highlighting the importance of democracy and activism today. This biography that I’ve
written is also a part of me now. Clarisa, and her story, will always have a place in my heart
and mind. She will exist there as a reminder to me, a hopeful historian in the making, of why
the subject of history matters. And how to do it justice.

Below is an excerpt from the last page of the biography both in the original Spanish and translated by me into English. I feel that it sums up neatly (if that’s possible) what this internship experience has taught me and is also the section of which I am most proud:

Recordamos a Clarisa “con amor, porque así fue…siempre recibió lo que dió.” Recordamos a “Clarisa alegre, Clarisa cantando [y] Clarisa llena de vida.” Recordamos a Clarisa como “una persona que impactó, con su corta vida, impactó la sociedad e impactó y marcó a determinada gente.” Recordamos a una Clarisa profundamente querida. Y de esta manera, el odio pierde.

Clarisa es una de 30.000 personas desaparecidas. Pero para su familia, sus amigos, sus maestros y sus compañeros Clarisa era un rayo de sol, una fuente de alegría y una parte irremplazable en sus vidas. Para ellos su vida es más que la tragedia que la terminó. Su vida era alegría. Música. Amor. Cariño. Existen 30.000 Clarisas. Existen 30.000 familias
dejadas incompletas. Existen 30.000 vidas hermosas que tenemos que recordar por su belleza además de su sufrimiento. Con esta, la historia de la vida profunda y hermosa de Clarisa García Cassino, nos acercamos a este sueño

Clarisa es una de 30.000 personas desaparecidas. Pero para su familia, sus amigos, sus maestros y sus compañeros Clarisa era un rayo de sol, una fuente de alegría y una parte irremplazable en sus vidas. Para ellos su vida es más que la tragedia que la terminó. Su vida era alegría. Música. Amor. Cariño. Existen 30.000 Clarisas. Existen 30.000 familias
dejadas incompletas. Existen 30.000 vidas hermosas que tenemos que recordar por su belleza además de su sufrimiento. Con esta, la historia de la vida profunda y hermosa de Clarisa García Cassino, nos acercamos a este sueño.

We remember Clarisa “with love, because that’s how it was…she always got what she gave.” We remember “Clarisa happy, Clarisa singing [and] Clarisa full of life.” We remember Clairsa as “a person that mattered, with her short life, she impacted her community and impacted and marked the lives of many specific people.” We remember a Clarisa deeply loved. And in this way, hatred loses.

Clarisa is one of 30,000 disappeared people. But for her family, her friends, her teachers, and her classmates Clarisa was a ray of sunshine, a source of happiness, and an irreplicable part of their lives. For them her life is more than the tragedy that ended it. Her life was happiness. Music. Love. Kindness. There are 30,000 Clarisas. There are 30,000 families left incomplete. There are 30,000 beautiful lives that we must remember for their beauty along with their suffering. That’s the ultimate goal; and with this, the story of the deep and beautiful life of Clarisa García Cassino, we come closer to it.

Thank you to all those who have followed along with this life-altering journey of mine. I hope my writing has at least partially expressed the pure beauty and magic that is Argentina – as well as the vital importance of my beloved major, history. I can’t wait to share a mate with you soon.

Un abrazo re fuerte, Charlotte

Mathieu Changeux ’25: Week 2

My friends in La Plata in front of the Catedral in Plaza Moreno… candid photo!

Someone should have reminded me that being French was going to solicit funny responses from the country of World Cup champions I was visiting soon after the exhilarating tournament, because immediately as I entered Argentina I knew this was a country of passion.

My plane, coming from Houston, had many Argentine people in it, and next to me, I was already able to speak in Spanish—albeit with an accent very different from my own Andaluz—with an elderly couple from Mar del Plata next to me, a man behind me from Corrientes, and a woman from Córdoba. They gave me their Whatsapps, and as the plane descended into Buenos Aires, I felt calm and comfortable looking ahead to my first time in South America.

This passion continued as I visited the CPM. Apart from a warm welcome, my start with the local torture prevention mechanism teams made me learn more about Argentina’s economic and social intersections through law and first-hand prison visits than I ever could have read in a book. One of these foremost experiences in my first two weeks was our group visit to the Pozo de Quilmes site of memory, a police station with dictatorship-era torture abuses still in use until, you heard it, 2017.

What struck me about La Plata when I got there was how temperate the July day was—seventy-ish degrees, beautiful skies, gentle warm sun on my skin. My roommate for a couple weeks, Alex, and my host mom, Silvi, said that this would not last but that winters were relatively mild compared to my often-snowy New Jersey. However, as I entered the cells of the former clandestine detention center (CCD in Argentina), I imagined the people—labeled “subversives” in the prominently-displayed mass surveillance documents in the former DIPPBA headquarters at the CPM—eking out their existence in the extreme cold and heat, exposed to the weather’s mercy but not able to even wear different clothes than the ones in which they were kidnapped.

But even then, in the cold, deep depths of human misery, signs of solidarity emanating from human spirit really endured. This is not even an embellishment on a blog post, but my true feelings about the victims of torture during democratic and dictatorship times a like. Walls were filled with messages about love, about loved ones, and about when prisoners could see their partners, their kids, their families, and their friends again. They were just humans, like us, taken on a street while walking to school or doing some other human activity, put into a truck or inconspicuous car, and thrown into one of 800 camps to await their future fate at the hands of a militarized government that thought it was fighting the Third World War.

In between my work for the CPM and the nerding out on human rights in Argentina and the world, the boliche experience, hanging out with my friends, and getting Gimnasia bucket hats while attending a game against Estudiantes crystallized this passion even further. There is nothing more gratifying than a society where enthusiasm radiates across all levels of society. Whether it be the cult of personality of Madonna to my host mom’s family’s long discussions of Peron and Evita, there is just a hype culture in Argentina that knows no boundaries. Even though this can lead to more riot police presence in soccer games due to fighting breaking out, I believe that Argentina expresses its human spirit more than any place I have ever been in, and this explosion of passion has welcomed me and my French loser self to the scene. Ever since the dictatorship, it seems, people have been eager to express themselves and break with the past from eclectic architecture to music and art. As I enter my next few weeks in La Plata, I am bubbling with new ideas and excitement for the friends I have made and the history I am learning.

Caroline Williams ’25 – Blog Post #1

Week 1

Coming into this internship, I wanted to gain experience in a field I am passionate about while being immersed in the culture of another country. Thus far, my time in Argentina has blown these expectations out of the water.

Following a whirlwind of two full days of travel, my first week has consisted of learning about the complex history behind the Provincial Commission for Memory (CPM) and how the building where I work is both a site of memory and a space for memory. This concept “of” and “for” memory permeates the entire city of La Plata, the capital of the Buenos Aires Province. No matter where I walk, I am presented with memories from the prior dictatorship in a tangible way. On the sidewalk, white tiles mark the Desaparecidos – individuals taken between 1976 and 1983 during the past dictatorship. An important distinction I learned this week is that the disappeared people are not presumed dead; instead, they are considered alive until proven otherwise. However, the most poignant and omnipresent symbol throughout the city is the white handkerchief; memorialized in various art forms, it symbolizes the mothers and grandmothers who tirelessly searched for their missing children. Originally the handkerchief was constructed from a diaper; it later evolved into the white handkerchief known today. This symbol of courage and perseverance in the face of tremendous anguish and adversity is commemorated across the city and will never be forgotten. In the coming weeks, I hope to visit Buenos Aires to gain a first-hand account of Plaza de Mayo, where the women first began their protest.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have the homestay family that I do. Fatima and Luciano are both lawyers at the CPM within the Mecanismo Unit -otherwise known as the Local Committee Against Torture. Fati works within the Investigations Unit, which monitors the prisons in the Buenos Aires Province and advocates for those incarcerated that are experiencing forms of torture. Lucho works within the Police Violence unit, which is responsible for monitoring instances of police brutality and advocating for its victims. Before receiving his law degree, Lucho was a chef -suffice to say, I am eating very well.

What excited me most about this internship -speaking Spanish in a professional capacity- was also a source of anxiety prior to beginning my work. As someone who has learned the Spanish language solely in an academic setting, I really wanted to gain outside experience. This internship offered both a professional and personal capacity for growth not only within the language, but in the field I aspire to enter. I am double majoring in Sociology and Hispanic Studies and plan to attend law school after graduation; for this reason, I was interested in working within the Mecanismo. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention the internship choice that was a very close second, and had I been in the semester-long program, I definitely would have done also: Jóvenes y Memoria. This section of the CPM focuses on including the next generation in the preservation of memory. I loved the idea of helping young people navigate the creation of their chosen memory project whilst learning their account of the past dictatorship, formed gradually from the influences of parents, grandparents, and their surroundings. For me, inspiring passion in the next generation is second only to ensuring that no human, regardless of circumstance, feels voiceless.

So far, my time in Argentina has been nothing short of remarkable. I cannot wait to see what is to come.

The pañuelo (handkerchief) is a symbol deeply embedded in Argentine history and the symbolism is intrinsically linked within La Plata.

Other pañuelos around La Plata. These were found in Plaza San Martín; the 30,000 represents those who were disappeared during the dictatorship.

On a nightwalk with my host family we found María Claudia Falcone and María Clara Ciocchini who were disappeared on the night of September 16th, 1976. This night was known as the Night of the Pencils because it was when young visionary Argentine students were disappeared.

Giselle Figueroa ’23 – Blog Post 3

My last two weeks in Argentina were spent with the committee against torture. During weeks 5 and 6, I visited four prisons in the Florencio Varela and Lomas de Zamora complexes with the Unidad Temática de Intervenciones Complejas (Complex Interventions Unit of the Committee Against Torture). This specific unit of the CPM focuses on complex cases relating to extreme isolation, health issues, and mental health issues.

On week 5, when I visited the Florencio Varela complexes, there was one common aspect to all of the inmates we interviewed—they had all had a lack of substantial medical assistance within the prison system. The first male we interviewed on our trip to Varela claimed he had swallowed a razor blade in order to receive his prescribed medicine. During our interview, he seemed to be in distress about his lack of medicine. “I’m not asking for my medicine because I’m an addict, I am asking for it because I need it to survive,” he stated. He showed us self-inflicted cuts on his arms. This case shows just how inadequate the medical systems are within the Buenos Aires prisons. Inmates feel the need to go to extremes to get the medical attention they need, going as far as putting their lives at risk. A few days later, I overheard one of the leaders of the UTIC team speaking to this same inmate on the phone. The inmate was once again threatening to self-harm, the UTIC member tried to calm him down and reassure him that they were trying their best to present his habeas corpus. The patience with which the UTIC member managed this situation was admirable and showed the close connection that the team has with each of their cases.

Another example of the prison system’s inadequate medical system is that related to the process of setting up appointments for inmates. Another inmate from Varela claimed that SPB officers, the correctional officers, had scheduled an appointment for him to get x-rays for his leg; however, they failed to mention to him that he had a appointment. He was in a morning bible study class when they called him to get on the bus for his appointment. He claimed that he quickly ran to his room to get some things he needed, taking no more that 5 minutes. When he met with the SPB officers to leave for his appointment, they had him sign a paper stating that he had willingly decided not to attend said appointment. He signed the papers because the officers gave him an attitude—he said their demeanor made him think that if he refused to sign, they would beat him. Thus, he missed his appointment and had to continue dealing with sharp pain in his leg. This case demonstrates SPB’s general carelessness regarding the wellbeing of the inmates. They purposely allowed this inmate to miss his appointment and showed that they do not care that an inmate had to deal with extreme discomfort as a result of their negligence.

On week 6, I visited the last prison of the trip at UP 40 in Lomas de Zamora. This prison was co-ed, separated between male and female complexes. Here, I visited a woman who had been in solitary confinement (SAC) over a year. She claimed the last time she was in the general population area of a prison was in November 2020 in the Magdalena complex. She had remained in SAC partially due to constant transfers from prison to prison. Her cell had one small window that allowed little light to shine through, a concrete latrine covered by a piece of cardboard to avoid smells and bugs, and a blanket covering a large opening on the bottom part of the metal cell door to prevent rats from coming into the cell. She claimed that she was only allowed one hour outside of her cell to shower, use the patio, and clean. The CPM considers the use of SAC as a human right violation, and the UTIC team arranged to present this woman’s case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights because of her prolonged period in SAC.

Working with UTIC the last few weeks at the CPM allowed me to see just how much the team cares about each of their cases and the people they are filing motions for. They have a more personal connection with the inmates because of the complexity of their cases, and they take the time to listen to the needs of the inmates and suggest the best course of action. Their work goes beyond the in-person interviews because they have contact with many of their cases daily as the inmates keep them updated with changes to their lives. Overall, this experience further emphasized the importance of choosing a career that you are passionate about. Every day, I looked forward to going into the office because I knew that the work I was doing, even if it was something simple like translating or uploading documents to a server, was contributing to improving the lives of others.

The outside of UP 23, one of the many prisons in the Florencio Varela complex. We visited three out of the four units in the Florencio Varela area. These prisons are all close to one another.
The outside of the prison’s hospital unit outside of UP 23. This healthcare system serves inmates that need quick hospital work such as x-rays.
The inside of UP 40. The inside of the complex is split into the men’s region (left) and the women’s region (right).
The inside of a SAC cell in UP 40. The cardboard is used to prevent smells from the latrine and to keep out insects. The average SAC cell measures about 3 by 3 meters—they are built to hold one person, but, because of overpopulation in the prison system, in some cases may hold up to 4 or 5 people.
Laina, Giselle, Malena, Astrid, and Emmy in the William & Mary aula at the CPM on our last workday of the trip.

Laina Lamont ’24 – Entry #3 – Week Six

I did not expect to feel culture shock when I returned to the United States. In many ways it felt like we were in Argentina forever. I had finally adjusted to my daily routine and to the pace of life in La Plata. In other ways it felt like we had just arrived. There were still moments when I felt like such an outsider, particularly as I still stumbled over words in Spanish on my last day at the Comision. Still, it is crazy to think about how much I have changed in just six weeks.

My last week absolutely flew by. I finally went to visit the vibrant neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires. Every restaurant had live music and a couple performing the tango. I hope that I will have the chance to come back to Argentina one day to see a Boca Juniors game. I finally bought my own mate while in Buenos Aires. My host mom helped me cure it. It blows my mind that we don’t drink yerba mate in the United States and that many people have never even heard of it. It is funny how different cultural norms can be around the world and how much my own habits have changed. I am really excited to introduce my friends and family to mate.

When Daniel and I went into Buenos Aires again on Thursday we saw the weekly protest that the Madres de Plaza de Mayo hold in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada. While there were only a dozen or so people marching, it was still so powerful to hear the names of the disappeared read as the group made laps around the Plaza. One Mother, who had to be at least 90, was pushed in a wheelchair. After they finished reading the names, the group congregated on one side of the Plaza as the Madre spoke.

On our last day at the Comision, we put together the physical version of the biographies we have been working on over the past six weeks. At first I was a little uncomfortable with decorating a booklet that talks about how someone was imprisoned and tortured. On the surface, it felt a little insensitive. Malena and the other people at the Comision did not feel that was the case. Instead, they saw these booklets as an artistic and engaging way to honor someone’s life. I had never thought about memory work in that way before.

We all cried when we said our last goodbye to Malena. I did not expect to feel as emotional as I did as we walked out of the doors of the Comision for the last time. I was especially emotional when we said goodbye to our host mom, Roxana. Astrid and I cooked “breakfast for dinner” for Roxana and her two sons, Camilo and Fermin, on our last night. They had never had pancakes before. My host mom carefully wrote down the recipe in her journal as I cooked. Camilo and Fermin spoke some broken English, which mostly consisted of references to movies and TV shows.

I accidentally said “gracias” to the cashier at the Charlotte airport. It took me a second to realize my mistake. I was floored that using Spanish had become like second-nature to me in just six weeks. That was when it hit me just how far my language skills have come since I first arrived in La Plata. I remember the panic I felt in my first few weeks when someone would ask me a question. Even something as simple as ordering food felt so uncomfortable. It is mind blowing that now, in the airport in the United States, I did it without even thinking.

I am so incredibly grateful to William & Mary, Professor Tandeciarz, Malena, Diego, the Reves Center, Charles Center, Government Department, Global Research Institute, Hispanic Studies Program, Public Policy Program, my host mom Roxana, and everyone we met in La Plata for giving me this incredible opportunity. I know that I will carry the experiences I had in Argentina with me for the rest of my life.

La Boca is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, even though it is by far the most touristy!
Me, Astrid, and our host mom, Roxana.
One of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo.
One of the biographies I worked on was for a young man named Hugo Roberto Serenelli. Here is a photo of me with the final product.
Me, Giselle, Malena, Astrid, and Emmy on our last day at the Comision.

Daniel Posthumus ’24 – Blog #3


The conclusion of my internship with the sitios team was a whirlwind. We largely focused on honing the biographies we had written about the victims of the military junta—for me, María Cristina Lanzillotti and Víctor Vázquez. Telling these stories can be a delicate task. As I wrote in my previous blog post, emphasizing the individuality of the victims while recognizing that these crimes were hardly personal in intent but instead were part of a deliberately-planned genocide that touched every sector of society.

Part of this balancing act is placing the victims’ stories in a larger context and highlighting how their persecution fit into what the junta was seeking to achieve through genocide and repression. María Cristina Lanzillotti’s story is part of the junta’s brutal persecution of university students in the political opposition. The junta planted propagandic stories in newspapers about María Cristina’s husband murdering an elected official.

María Cristina Lanzillotti

This false story is part of a larger pattern of propaganda the junta created to justify brutal tactics towards its opponents, such as members of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (PRT) and the Revolutionary Army of the Republic (ERP)—both of which included María Cristina and her husband among their ranks. Through this, the junta isolated its political opponents from the rest of society.

We encountered an excellent example of this isolation when we visited a memory site in La Plata in which the junta brutally murdered another family of political opponents, in a very public and gruesome display in an upper-middle class neighborhood. By falsely justifying its crimes, the junta demarcated a line between the “lawless” and the “lawful”—removing any stake those not persecuted felt in the fate of the persecuted. Thus, despite the plethora of neighbors who witnessed the brutal murder, they didn’t speak out because of fear and they felt they didn’t have a stake in the outcome. Understanding the junta’s strategy to create the conditions that enabled their human rights violations is critical for understanding how we can prevent human rights violations.

Víctor Vázquez

Víctor Vázquez’s story is part of a longer tradition in Argentina—the brutal repression of organized labor. Víctor devoted his entire life to the cause of labor, through his participation in the Communist Party of Argentina and the railroad union. He rose to amazing heights and ran in nationwide union elections. He was also arrested on nearly a dozen occasions, by the repressive forces of multiple military dictatorships that ruled the country. He had suffered persecution at the hands of many, revealing how the junta built upon on the tradition of the repression of previous military dictatorships.

Víctor’s story also revealed how different the repression of the junta was, in contrast to that of previous dictatorships. As Víctor’s granddaughter told me, Víctor’s disappearance was particularly brutal in that the family had no closure over the fate of their beloved. The 30 Thousand Disappeared faced a brutal fate as the junta embarked on an unprecedented campaign of genocide and disappearances. Víctor’s story also reveals how widespread the repression was, touching every single sector of society. It’s important to illustrate the variety of stories of the disappeared, to demonstrate the humanity that distinguishes one victim from another.

These instructions for storytelling and more mechanical help with our Spanish were crucial in the final week of the internship. One thing I loved about my internship was that I didn’t just learn a series of technical skills or learn a set of facts about human rights, but instead learned a whole host of ephemeral challenges associated with maintaining and protecting human rights. Collective memory is as important for preventing the re-occurrence of abuses as anything else, and collective memory isn’t an algorithm and doesn’t require a regression model to solve. Instead, it requires something more difficult, recognition of feeling. I was incredibly honored and happy to have this experience and learn what only such an in-depth and immersive experience could have instilled in me.

Laina Lomont ’24 – Week Four Blog Entry

One of the most powerful parts of studying abroad is learning about history where the events really happened. Our internship with CPM takes place in the former headquarters of DIPPBA (Intelligence Directorate of the Police of the Province of Buenos Aires). DIPPBA collected and reported information about “subversive” activity. Their archives, which are protected and studied by CPM, stand as a testament to the repression and institutional violence which occurred throughout the last military dictatorship. It has been both a fascinating and really difficult experience to read through these archives in the same building where they were created.

Many of the documents in the archives were created by a number of intelligence agencies to conceal the truth about their role in forced disappearances. One of the biographies I wrote was about a young political activist who was involved in the armed branch of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (PRT), Carlos Benjamin Santillan. While sitting in the DIPPBA archives, I read through the paper trail of information (or lack thereof) regarding his disappearance: from an official letter submitted to the Ministry of the Interior by his father asking about his whereabouts or body, to the inquiries sent from the Ministry to other government organizations, to the numerous responses that essentially said “we do not have any information.” I cannot help but think about how many people were involved in generating all of these official documents and how that makes the systematic, institutional side of state terrorism so powerful and terrifying.

La Plata was one of the cities hit hardest by the violence of the junta. Two weekends ago we went to visit the Mariani-Teruggi House, which was a secret Montonero (Peronist guerilla organization) base of operations before all of the members who lived there were assassinated. There is nothing you can learn in a classroom that quite prepares you for physically seeing the bullet holes in the walls from the day the house was attacked.

That weekend we also went to visit ex-ESMA in Buenos Aires, which is a site of memory at the former Navy School of Mechanics. The school, which was originally used for training young officers, doubled as a Clandestine Center of Detention, Torture and Extermination (CCD) beginning in 1976. Roughly 5,000 people were detained and disappeared at this site. We quickly stuck out as the only Americans in the tour group. As the guide spoke about the effect of Operation Condor throughout South America, including the US government’s role in training the Argentine military in torture techniques, she would look in our direction. Learning about the history of US interventions in a classroom does not even compare to the shame and anger I felt as an American at a site of such extraordinary violence.

This weekend I went to visit Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. I was immediately blown away by the clean streets and the slower, relaxed pace of life. While in Montevideo, we went on a walking tour of the Old City. I was so impressed with how easily the guide switched back and forth between Spanish and Portuguese (most of the tourists in Uruguay are Brazilian). While we were standing in the Plaza Independencia, the guide asked us to point out which buildings around us were old and which were new. It reminded me a little of the College of William & Mary, where history blends so fluidly with the present.

I cannot believe my time in Argentina is almost over. My Spanish skills have vastly improved and I have even begun to use some slang words. I have never felt more proud than the night my host mom told me how she was excited that I have been speaking more frequently, with more confidence, and about more complex topics. It always strikes me when simple activities, such as getting something to eat for lunch, feel natural. During my first week, I could only point at which empanada I would likeand it would take me a few minutes to remember which pesos to use. Now, I can chat with the server, ask questions about which items they recommend, and not have them immediately ask “where are you from?” I thought I knew a lot about Argentina going into this internship, but now I no longer feel like such an outsider.

There is so much street art throughout La Plata. I pass by this mural on my way to the Comision every day.
A photo of Carlos Benjamin Santillan from the DIPPBA archives.
The bullet holes in the walls of the Mariani-Teruggi house.
The exterior of ex-ESMA.
A photo of me standing with the famous Montevideo letters, with the city skyline in the background.

Emmy Giacoia ’22 – Blog Post 3

Week 5

On Tuesday, I visited Unidad Penitenciaria No. 28 (de Magdalena) with the general inspections team. The goal for the day was to visit the isolation cells in SAC (sector de aislamiento de convivencia), to see the conditions and interview each of the prisoners. It was difficult to walk through the prison and see men staring and clutching at the bars from inside their cells. At least those men could see outside, though. The prisoners we visited in SAC were kept in tiny, dark, damp cells. Bugs crawled on the walls and the floors, and the smell of sewage and sweat and mold was overwhelming. Several of the men I spoke with had not left their cell in over 2 months, not even to shower. One man was heating up a pot of hot water to “shower” with as we spoke to him. It was painful to see how resigned they were to this life, how they almost seemed okay with the fact that they hadn’t seen the sun in months. It is terrible that they are so used to it.

The Committee contains a second team that goes inside prisons to work directly with prisoners. Instead of conducting general inspections, the complex cases team visits prisons to work with specific prisoners whose cases need more attention than a few interviews. The vast majority of these prisoners have chronic health conditions that require regular medical attention, procedures, and medications, all of which are nearly impossible to obtain from within the prison. First, we attended the team’s weekly meeting, where all current cases are discussed and tasks are divided.

One of the prisoners being discussed was hospitalized for respiratory issues, and I chose to go with the team visiting her. Since I’m planning to go to medical school, I came to Argentina hoping to learn more about what hospitals and healthcare look like here, and I was able to learn a lot about common medical issues and lack of access to healthcare in prisons while working with the complex cases team. On Wednesday, we visited this prisoner at Mi Pueblo Hospital in Florencia Varela to ensure she was getting sufficient medical attention. We found her in a very overcrowded ward, with multiple patients curled up on stretchers in the hallway. Due to the possibility of tuberculosis, she was in an isolated room without windows, naked and covered only in a thin blanket. Her feet and one of her hands were handcuffed, so she was unable to move, and the glass in the door took away any semblance of privacy. She told us that she would rather be in the prison, since being in the hospital alone and unattended was torture in and of itself. Although her symptoms were improving, she was still ill, and she hadn’t received a formal diagnosis of tuberculosis or another respiratory disease. We reassured her that we would speak to her medical team about her prognosis. As we left, she asked us whether it was day or night.

Later that day, I visited several prisons in the Florencio Varela complex. We met with three trans women, all of whom had serious medical conditions that weren’t being adequately followed. I noticed that, besides the obvious lack of medical attention, these women seemed more satisfied with the living conditions in the prisons. Clearly, there are disparities between the prisons, even though the prisoners themselves have committed the same (alleged) crimes. I wonder if the prisoners know about these arbitrary differences, and if they do, how they cope with the knowledge that there are many prisoners that have it a lot better.  

Outside of UP 28 in Magdalena. The suffering inside of these walls is inconceivable.
The toilet and sink in a “buzón” (isolation cell) in the SAC unit of UP 28. The prisoners told us that the toilets often overflow, and there was indeed standing sewage on the ground surrounding the toilet.
The tiny table inside the buzón, with the only light the prisoners had available. There were exposed electrical connections everywhere, which posed a great risk to the prisoners.
The guard tower outside of a prison in the Florencio Varela complex

Week 6

Our last week in La Plata was much more relaxed. We spent most of our time examining the first and second versions of the Istanbul Protocol, which I discussed in the previous blog, and compiling a list of all the revisions. On Friday, we went to a different hospital, this time in Berazategui, to visit the prisoner we checked in on last week. I was relieved to see that she was clothed, in a room with a big window, with food that her friends had brought her. She was excited to show us that only one foot was handcuffed and neither of her hands. It’s a sad thing to celebrate, but I was glad that she was feeling better and receiving better treatment in this hospital. It was a happy ending to my work with the Committee, and I’m very thankful to the prisoners who gave us the privilege of hearing their stories and seeing their vulnerable moments.

I am not the same person I was when I came to Argentina. The changes I’ve seen in myself are too difficult to write about in a short blog post, but it’s sufficient to say that I learned much more about human rights and about myself than I would have thought possible in 6 weeks. I’m already counting the days until I can go back to La Plata.

The last visit to El Bosque in La Plata
My view, drinking mate in a plaza in Buenos Aires – I felt like a local.