The painful story of the Ramírez brothers: sexual violence as torture

From Pulso Noticias together with La Retaguardia we are carrying out the joint coverage of the “Trial Home of Belén”. Two sons and a daughter of a woman shot at the time of her kidnapping in 1977 were taken for 7 years to the juvenile institution, where they suffered all kinds of torture and sexual abuse. His father was able to retrieve them years later; they went to Sweden and testified from there. (For La Retaguardia and Pulse News)

✍️ Writing: Tamara Alfaro Moreno
💻 Edition: Fernando Tebele/Maria Eugenia Otero
📷 Cover photo: La Retaguardia/Pulso Noticias broadcast screenshots

Carlos Alberto makes attempts to narrate, he moves in his chair, he settles down, his voice cuts off, he touches the back of his neck again and again. This last movement becomes important after hearing what he has to say about the events that changed his life forever. One night in March 1977, the family, made up of his mother, brother and sister, are abruptly awakened by the deafening noise of gunshots. A group of uniformed and armed men attacked the house where they lived. The bullets went through the walls making holes that allowed to see out of the house. One of them hit Carlos’s neck, which began to bleed. A scar remains from that moment that, when touched, may take him back to that night, which brings back “bad memories, nightmares”, but also leads him to the last time he saw his mother, Vicenta Orrego. He becomes a child again when, touching his neck, he recounts how he desperately looks for his little dog, almost like a chihuahua, which due to the noise of the shots hides behind the refrigerator, and whom he tries to get out of there, unlucky. He must leave him because of the cries of her mother, who asked him to go with her to help them get out of that hell through the window. Vicenta tells them to walk to the neighbors’ house. This is how they manage to save their lives. Carlos says that he walks in the middle of the dark street, with his barely 6 years old and his little brother from 2 to upa, to the house of the neighbors who gave him shelter for a short time. He recounts, trying to be precise, as precise as possible, with the eyes and experiences of a 6-year-old child.

At the beginning, the court had asked people accused of crimes against humanity to turn off their cameras; It is the right of the victims not to testify in front of those who denounce. At the same time, the accused persons have the right to listen in order to defend themselves. That’s why they turned off their cameras but continued in virtuality. In the face-to-face room, the accused Nora Pellicer is not focused on so that the witness can testify about her without seeing her.

Before that, the President of ToF 1 of La Plata, José Michilini, informed Carlos Alberto Ramírez about the title of this trial: “Homicide and others.” Among these “others”, there are crimes not mentioned as such but that are associated, at least for the victim; one in particular is “Crimes against sexual integrity” that during the civic-military coup were used as a specific method of torture, especially against women, although not only against them. This can be seen in all the historical testimonials of the survivors and in the book “Putas y Guerrilleras”, by Miriam Lewin and Olga Wornat, perhaps the most widely traveled work among several that addressed the issue. Clearly these crimes are aggravated in this case because the victims were three children aged 6, 4 and 2, who suffered in their bodies all the appropriation cruelty of the genocide.

Carlos Alberto Ramírez testified on March 25 and his younger brother, Alejandro Mariano Ramírez, on April 1. They both did it virtually from Sweden, where they have been exiled since Carlos was just 12 years old, his sister María, 10, and Alejandro, 8; They left with his father, who will testify later, recounting how he found his sons and daughter from the jail where he was a political prisoner of the dictatorship. In these crude testimonials, the difficulty of putting words to the horror of what has been suffered becomes evident, always; but even more so when those who experience it are two boys aged 6 and 2 and a 4-year-old girl. It is possible that they operate, on the one hand, the identification of certain experiences that, because they are linked to death, would naturally be unknown to them just because they were infants. And on the other, survival linked to the obligation of exile in a country where the language is so different; the meaning of the words used in this adulthood may not be enough to define the suffering of that childhood. What does not change in Spanish or Swedish is pain.

Alejandro Mariano, the younger brother

A week later, in his testimony, Alejandro Mariano Ramírez makes clear reference to the damage suffered in those years of torment: “I used to poop when I went to school, they challenged me, I didn’t have space to read or study at the Home; no one from the Hogar helped me with the subjects; They cut my tongue there (pointing to the frenulum), they made me cut because I didn’t speak, I was traumatized, and I couldn’t speak for many years.” Near the end of his testimony, he points out that he was able to speak once he found himself sheltered in another country, with the help of his father and of mental health professionals who accompanied him in that unveiling process.

The (not) Home

Both narrated that they were temporarily transferred to an institution attended by nuns in which, according to what they say, “they could be brothers.” In this regard, Alejandro refers: “We couldn’t make contact with anyone, we couldn’t play with anyone (…) I couldn’t show my feelings, I couldn’t show anything about myself, I couldn’t hug.” They were taken one rainy night, in a green car to the “Home of Bethlehem” where they will remain until the year 83 in which his father manages to rescue them, after being released, from exile and as a result of a long search. Later, his legal surname was modified with the consent of a juvenile court in Lomas de Zamora, in charge of Judge Marta Delia Pons. They were appropriated by a family with the surname Maciel, who prevented them from linking to each other as brothers.

From this stay, both relate psychological torments such as insults, the transmission of false facts about their mother (who was a prostitute who had left with another man), or their father (who was a bad father, who drank alcohol, who was dangerous ). In both cases they said that they had been abandoned or that they would be dead “thrown in some filthy creek.” Regarding the impact of this violence, Carlos remembers: “When they tell you things repeatedly, when you’re a boy, you believe it’s true.” Alejandro adds that “once you are so young and learn to lie, you don’t know what is true”. Later on, he crudely refers to some consequences: he still has trouble learning to bond with his brother and sister or have friends; forgetting certain parts of his childhood history; the erasure of one’s own identity for the supplanting of a new one; difficulties in school and speech; the abrupt cut of the entire social and family network known to them and the obligation to maintain the “secret”; the inability to talk to other people. All signs of psychological impact.

the club

Alejandro brings physical violence from his memories, which he synthesizes in the habitual use of the “intimidation club”. And finally, he details the sexual abuse they suffered after the physical violence against him, as a consequence of crying for his parents and asking about them. Carlos says about this point: “It was a way of ordering us to control ourselves and not to rebel against them… These are things that cannot be erased from the head. How does one tell a son or a daughter these things? I can tell the story of what happened in March, but the abuses? It is like swallowing a stone; it’s like competing with someone, with a monster that you can’t catch up with”, he affirms with his voice broken by the anguish of reviving it in the testimonial action. Alejandro points out in this regard: “I cannot forget the abuses, just as I am Swedish now, I cannot forget”. Dr. Eva Giberti says about the sexual exploitation of boys and girls: “By disaggregating the first attack from the subsequent ones and associating that first attack with initiation, a new space is created in the analysis of the subject. The first attack finds a victim who does not know what is going to happen to him or what is happening to him; that is, he advances against a creature whose emotional and physical balance responds to his personal history so far. After the first attack, that creature will be another that senses and knows what is going to happen to it, it is another subject, vulnerability through, it has entered the territory with which the attacker (or attackers) counts as a zone of installed power, insurmountable for the girl or boy. She will not be able to easily emerge from that zone.”

We mention sexual violence as sexual exploitation in this note because what the victims manage to say in the testimonials is that it was several men who sexually subjected Alejandro, Carlos and María, and the rest of the boys and girls residing in the “Hogar Casa of Bethlehem.” Carlos frames these victimizing events on festive dates such as Children’s Day, religious or national holidays, in which the abusers arrived with pizzas. Alejandro, in his impressive testimony, recounts: “They hid their encounters, they never let us walk in the afternoon (in relation to walking through the corridors of the “House of Bethlehem”). In those meetings there were the fat one, the skinny one and soldiers who came to abuse the children. When they had their meetings we couldn’t go to the bathroom, I fell out of bed scared by the screams.

Despite all the trauma they experienced, they managed to give their important testimony with clear details. They showed their physical and psychological scars directly linked to the events reported (dissociation, encopresis, adaptation, to name a few examples) that are detectable only by witnessing the trial that we invite you to see. They were able to speak, with their times, with their words. They realized that everything is stored in memory. They expressed the importance of the therapeutic treatments they received in Sweden. Thanks to each participating professional, they were able to testify, to rebuild their desire to live, to get out of this hell, to recover their history, their ties, to inhabit this world without violence and ask for justice.

They provided data on the institutional network made up of the Church, the Sagrada Familia school they attended, the Lomas de Zamora Juvenile Court in charge of the deceased judge Marta Delia Pons, Clinics or Sanatoriums where they were treated, which collaborated in the submission of this group of boys and girls. Carlos transmits that his greatest interest is to “achieve justice and reparation for the damage caused.” Vicenta Orrego, the mother of the victims, has been missing since March 15, 1977, for her, for the 30,000, memory, truth and justice. Both close their testimonies showing family photos. They know that they cannot erase that time of horror from their lives, as they would like. However, through those images of childhood, with smiling mom, dad, brothers and sisters, we are crudely confronted with that family life that the genocide interrupted. Justice will not be able to erase the traces of Calvary, but it will be able to repair some cracks, even though it is arriving so late.

On Monday, April 11, was the declaration of Mary Esther. A statement as tough as its resilient strength. You can watch our broadcast from that day, below.

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The painful story of the Ramírez brothers: sexual violence as torture