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!

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.