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Map of Clandestine Detention Centres
Transitory detention and clandestine detention centers
Campo de Mayo:
The day of reckoning
transmission through objects
The dictatorship on the big screen
A catalog of films
Working Towards a Museum
The Museum that we Envision The Road Towards a Museum Navy Mechanics School (ESMA)


The territory where the Navy Mechanics School is located was ceded by the Concejo Deliberante of the Municipality of Buenos Aires to the Ministry of the Marina by decree in the year 1924, under the condition that the site be used as a center for military instruction. The same decree established that, before changing the destiny of the site, it would have to be returned to the power of the city.

Various buildings occupied the territory: the Navy Mechanics School, the School of Naval War, and the Officials’ Casino.

During the last military dictatorship the Officials’ Casino was used as a clandestine detention centre by Task Force 3.3.2.

It is a three-story building. The detained were kept on the third floor, the basement, and in a large attic. There were also other dependencies, such as “el Pañol”, a place used as a deposit space for the items taken during the looting of the homes of the disappeared persons; “La Pecera” (The Fishtank), where small offices, the library and the archive operated; The “Capucha” or “Capuchita” (The Hood, or The Little Hood) were places used for torture and to house some of the detained.

When the military dictatorship ended in 1983, the building resumed its original function as an institute of military instruction.

In 1984 the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (Conadep) carried out an inspection of the location. Thanks to the testimony of some survivors, these spaces were identified and recognized and the sinister use of the territory, through which passed around 5,000 people that remain disappeared to this day, was proven.

The report Nunca Más says: “The ESMA was not only a clandestine detention center where torture was inflicted, it also functioned as the operative axis of a complex organization that even possibly intended to hide the crimes that it committed with the extermination of the victims.”

On January 6th, 1998, during his second presidency, Carlos Menem signed a decree that made possible the transfer of the installations of the ESMA to the Naval Base of Puerto Belgrano. This same decree destined the territory of the ESMA to be a green space of public use that would be a “symbol of national union”, after the demolition of the building.

This decree provoked the repudiation of Human Rights organizations and large sectors of civil society. Family members of desaparecidos of the ESMA appealed to the justice systems for legal protection calling for the suspension of the effects of Decree 8/98. On October 16th of the same year, the Federal Judge Ernesto Marinelli stood firm on the measure. Among his arguments he mentioned the obligation of the Argentine State to preserve the territory because it forms part of the country’s cultural heritage and because it serves as proof in the development of judicial cases. He reaffirmed that in virtue of its international obligations, the State is responsible for offering to society and the family members of the victims an answer regarding the destiny of the disappeared. In February of 2001, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the unconstitutionality of Menem’s decree.

In a parallel form, the City Government of Buenos Aires, then led by Fernando De la Rua, initiated a demand against the National Executive Power, demanding control over the territory occupied by the ESMA. The city demanded the revocation of the original cession of the territory to the Secretary of the Marina, in virtue of the clause that established educational activities as the only possible use of the installations. The Minister of Defense at that time, Jorge Domínguez, rejected the effort.

From that moment on people began to think about the possible uses for the ESMA. Legislators presented various projects. Some of them held the objective of safeguarding the building for the future, declaring it an “historic monument”.

Faced with the imminent obligation of returning the site, the military high command opted to maintain the original purpose for which they had been given the property. In December of 1999, the then Minister of Defense Ricardo López Murphy brought forward the idea of installing an “educative military pole” that would include the schools of war of the Army, Air Force, and Navy. During the year 2000, he made explicit his opposition to the conversion of places that functioned as clandestine detention centers into museums or places for the study and transmission of what took place during the State terrorism. His successor, Horacio Jaunarena, although he did not speak publicly about the use of the ESMA, reaffirmed the endorsement of the military leadership in its attempts to forget the past.

In June of 2000, during the administration of Aníbal Ibarra, the Legislature of the City of Buenos Aires approved unanimously the Law 392/2000. In Article One, the law called for the revocation of the cession to the then Ministry of the Marina in relation to the territory located at Avenida del Libertador 8151-8461. Article Two stipulated the installation of the “Museum of Memory” in the buildings where the Navy Mechanics School operated.

In December of 2002, the Legislature of the City of Buenos Aires approved the Law N°961 that created the Space for Memory Institute, whose purpose would be the “safeguard and the transmission of the memory and history of the events that took place during the State terrorism of the 70’s and the early 80’s through the recovery of the state of rights, as well as the antecedents, later stages, and consequences”. In Article Ten, this law says that the institute would have its definitive office on the territory of the ESMA. The law was regulated by the Decree N°835 and the human rights organizations designated their representatives in the year 2003. The representatives of the Legislature and of the Executive Power of the city have yet to be designated.

Through the management of President Kirchner the following things were agreed upon: the restitution of the territory the 31st of December of 2004 and the creation of a “Space for Memory and the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights” on the territory. For this purpose, Aníbal Ibarra and Néstor Kirchner signed an agreement in which they agreed to work together. The agreement still must be ratified by the city Legislature.
See the plans of the ESMA
Rally, March 24th, 2004
Sites of memory
in Latin America
El lugar de la JUSTICIA