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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 14:24 GMT
Paraguay's archive of terror
Alfredo Stroessner
Documents chronicle the workings of Stroessner's agents
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By Mike Ceaser in Paraguay

The nightmare of Ana de Mancuello's life began on 25 November 1974.

That was the day plainclothes police officers invaded her Asuncion home and took away her husband Mario and her 20-year-old son Hugo.

Unknown to her, her oldest son Jose, 22, an engineering student in Argentina, was also in an Asuncion prison with his pregnant wife and infant daughter, the three having been arrested days before.

"[The police] told me they were guerrillas," recalls Mrs Mancuello, now 70. "It was nothing but an invention of the police."

After nine months of abuse, Hugo and his father were released, the father's health broken forever. But Ana de Mancuello would never see Jose. again.

Alfredo Stroessner
Stroessner's rule ended in 1989
For the following 15 years of the military rule of Alfredo Stroessner, who fell from power in 1989, the Mancuellos suffered continued abuses and had no recourse for justice.

However in 1992, under democracy, the Mancuellos were among the first to bring a human rights suit against Alfredo Stroessner's police officials.

But the men whom the Mancuellos and others accused of torture had a simple defence: they denied ever having met their alleged victims.

'Archives of terror'

However, when later that same year thousands of documents chronicling the workings of Alfredo Stroessner's secret police were discovered in an Asuncion police station, the defendants' case collapsed.

They were confronted with transcripts of the prisoners' interrogations, signed by the defendants.

"Everything was there," Mrs Mancuello says. "The names of the torturers, which hours they were tortured, who was there."

During the past decade, those thousands of documents have become known as the "Archives of Terror".

The materials, now collected and organised in their own room on the eighth floor of Asuncion's Palace of Justice, have served as resources for thousands of victims, their relatives, human rights activists and academics researching the repression of opponents real and imagined in South America's military regimes.

The documents, bound into red and grey volumes, include reports from police informers, interrogations of arrestees and, most sinisterly, records of transfers of arrestees to police forces of friendly neighbouring regimes such as Argentina and Chile.

Those last possess perhaps the greatest historical significance, since they represent proof of Operation Condor, the infamous co-operative of South American regimes to repress, torture and kill opponents.

Paper trail of abuse

The archives are still growing.

This year, a group of human rights activists, led by original archives discoverer Martin Almada, have been visiting more police stations, confiscating sack loads of brittle and yellowing papers.

The newly discovered documents have already revealed that even after Alfred Stroessner was ousted, his surveillance mechanism continued monitoring suspected opponents - including politicians, journalists and even an archbishop.

Mr Almada, 64, himself a victim of imprisonment, torture and exile during the Stroessner years, discovered the original archives in December 1992.

[The documents] are a mountain of ignominy, of lies, which Stroessner used for 40 years to blackmail the Paraguayan people

Martin Almada

Among the documents were tape recordings of his torture sessions. He compares the discovery of the original documents to "storming the Bastille".

"[The documents] are a mountain of ignominy, of lies, which Stroessner used for 40 years to blackmail the Paraguayan people," he says.

Finding the 'disappeared'

Archives co-director Rosa Palao says the documents have helped fill in many details about the sufferings and fates of the regime's victims, but she believes that still more materials are waiting to be found.

"We hope to find the pieces which are missing in order to put together this history," she said. "Not only for Paraguay, but for the whole southern part of South America."

Some of the documents seized recently were found in police commissary three - the one in which Jose Mancuello was tortured and ultimately "disappeared".

His mother is hoping that among the old papers will be discovered the answer to the final question which continues haunting her.

"I want to know where they threw Jose's body before I die," she says, leafing through a collection of press clippings about the case. "I am old and sick."

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Paraguay
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