When he was 15 years old, Luis Quijano’s father forced him to witness the horrors in La Perla, clandestine detention center in Córdoba, Argentina. Now an adult, Luis testified against his father in the La Perla-Ribera mega trial in the province of Córdoba for crimes committed during the dictatorship. The trial concluded today with 43 repressors charged with crimes against humanity.
Luis Alberto Quijano didn’t choose his life. From the burden of having the same name as his father, to being exposed to brutal military operations in La Perla when he was 15. He kept the family secret for 34 years.
“At the time, in that context I thought it was ok. I felt like a secret agent. But at the age of 15, a child doesn’t realize that he’s being manipulated by his father. I was not prepared yet to understand that my father was a thief, a torturer and a murderer.”
Luis had no choice: his father was Gendarmerie officer, Luis Alberto Quijano, second in command of the Intelligence Detachment 141 at La Perla.
This isn’t the story of Luis Quijano the repressor, accused of 158 kidnappings, torture, almost 100 homicides and the abduction of a 10 year old child. It’s the story of Luis Quijano’s son, a man who, over the years learned the magnitude of the terror he had lived as boy and ultimately testified against his own father in Federal Court.
It’s the story that reflects the immense power that a parent has over a child; and how that child can choose a path of redemption.
From the Gym to the Detachment
When my father started taking me to the Detachment I had been going to the provincial gym and became friends with a boy who did martial arts. They called him “Kent.” I told my father and a few days later he showed me a black and white photo card and asked me to identify my friend.
He said, “You’re an asshole, you made friends with an ERP! Watch, later they’ll kidnap you and I’ll have to save you.” So he forbid me to go back to the gym and a few days later he took me to the Detachment to work. He told me I was going to be a secret agent. I was 15, in that context I believed it was okay because it was what my father had taught me.
At the Detachment, they made me destroy documentation that belonged to the prisoners. Documents of all kinds: university degrees, handwritten notes, literature, certificates, propaganda, books, everything.
La Perla Visit I
“My father took me to La Perla four times, all in ’76. The first and fourth visits, he left me waiting in the car at the entrance.
The second time he made me get out and he took me to a shed where there were cars, furniture, televisions, refrigerators, anything you could imagine. All of it stolen. He gave me a package wrapped in a blanket and told me to take it to his car, and when I opened it I saw it was a giant lump of silver.
That day I went to the other side of the shed where they dropped off the stolen things and I started chatting with a gendarme who was standing guard. At one point he pointed to an open room and told me, “over there is where they torture the prisoners.”
I peeked in and saw a bed where they tortured people. It was like a military cot with metal springs. Later I learned that they hooked up a stripped negative cable to the metal and used another positive cable to touch the body of whomever was tied down. They would handcuff a person on the cot, drench them with water and apply 220 volts to their genitals.
There was such an appalling odor in there… like a dirty diaper. Years later, when my father was being held under house arrest, the same smell emanated from his room. I made the connection and realized that it’s the smell of a body in distress. I could never forget that smell. And I wondered, how is it possible someone could do so much damage to another human being?
La Perla Visit II
The third time my father brought me along to his work, he took me to the entrance of La Cuadra (the area where prisoners were handcuffed and blindfolded). He was talking to “Chubi” Lopez (Jose Lopez, a civilian prosecuted in the trial) and I took advantage of the opportunity and looked inside La Cuadra.
In the back I saw a row of mattresses with naked people lying face down, all were tied at the hands and feet. Closer to the entrance, there were other people sitting silently squatting on mattresses. My father saw that I was looking at the prisoners and said “What you looking at, asshole?” And I said, “Well, why did you bring me here?”
I had full knowledge that they killed those people. They threw them in a pit and military personnel shot them and buried them. I know because my father talked about it at home.
Next to La Cuadra there were some rooms they called offices. I know that “Palito” Romero beat someone badly there and killed him (according to survivors, civilian Jorge Romero, who was indicted in the La Perla-Ribera trial, beat student Raúl Mateo Molina to death).
The “Spoils of War”
My father brought home all kinds of stolen goods. But, at that age, I had no idea what was meant by “spoils of war,” as they called it. But later when I was in the military (I was in the Gendarmerie), I realized spoils of war would be a bayonet or maybe a military patch that you took from some enemy you had fought. But if you walk into a house and steal the refrigerator, the record-player, clothing, paintings, money… those aren’t spoils of war, it’s vandalism. That is theft.
I always wondered how my father, the chief officer of a security force, could participate in such vandalism. I don’t understand it. I was also an officer in the Gendarmerie and never occurred to me to enter a house and steal everything.
I do not understand how my father did that. Once he told me that I was a criminal, and I replied “And you, who steals cars off the street? You’re not a criminal?” He exploded in a fit of rage, he hit me and yelled, “the day you cross that line, on that day I’ll find you and I’ll kill you myself. No need for someone else to do it!” That was my father. I have no good memories of him.
When I testified in the trial, I showed a photograph from back then where I was wearing a jacket and a wool turtleneck my father had taken from La Perla. We were not poor, but he brought home clothes just the same. At the time, the defense accused me of being a co-conspirator in those crimes, and I said no problem, they could accuse me of whatever they wanted. I was already there testifying in court anyway.
Now that I’m older I feel remorseful. I had children, once you have children you realize the value of a life. You evolve and understand that killing is wrong. I even went so far as to say, “Fine, suppose you executed people during the dictatorship, but why disappear the bodies? Why did you steal children?”
My father was about to bring home a girl whose mother they had killed. It was like a pet: almost like a dog, only it was a little girl. Those thoughts kept going through my head: They were tortured, but why were they killed? They could have just put them in jail. I guess they decided to kill them, but why disappear the bodies? Didn’t those people have families to claim their remains? To disappear the body is an odious final act to do to a human being.
My father told me that when democracy returned they brought in machines to remove the remains, they ground them up and dumped them, I don’t know where. “They’re never going to find anything,” my father said. But of course something always remains.
Just to clarify, I have nothing against the Armed Forces. In fact, I was a member of the gendarmerie. All I did was tell the truth about 20 criminals, including my father.
The complaint against my father developed while talking to my father when he was under house arrest, I reproached him for making me live through such atrocities. At one point he said “I don’t know, I didn’t kill anyone.”
I felt repulsed inside, I wondered what all that jingoism was for and all of that “Western and Christian sentiment” that they claimed to be defending. Then I shouted, “How can you say that to me? I’ve seen you kill people! You committed very serious crimes, you made me participate in those crimes as a child.” And he said, “Well, go denounce me then.”
And so I did. In 2010 I filed the first complaint. I finally realized he was a criminal.
No one can tell me I’m biased, I testified against my own father.
Luis Alberto Quijano died in May 2015 while under house arrest. He was charged with 416 offenses: 158 counts of aggravated unlawful deprivation of liberty, 154 counts of torture, 98 counts aggravated homicide, 5 counts of torture resulting in death and the abduction of a child under 10 years of age.
The Megacausa Verdicts
The word “megacausa” refers to the scope of this judgement. After four years of hearings including over 581 witnesses, the historic La Perla-Ribera mega trial for crimes committed against 716 victims between March 1975 and December 1978 has finally ended. 43 repressors were found guilty of crimes against humanity: 28 received life sentences, 9 sentences between 2-14 years and 6 acquittals. 11 died during the trial.
All were members of the armed forces during the dictatorship, including ex-military, ex-police and some civilian personnel.
“La Perla was a death factory conceived by an inhuman mind,” Piero De Monti spoke to the silent chamber. De Monti was kidnapped along with his pregnant wife in June 1976, both were taken to La Perla.
Today’s ruling marks a historic milestone for the human rights organizations who worked for years to get justice for the victims. Claudio Orosz, attorney for H.I.J.O.S. said, “The trial was more than 3 years, but 39 years of research.”
In March 2007, the national government turned over the land on which La Perla was located in order to establish a memorial which is now managed by human rights organizations.
The interview with Luis Quijano originally appeared August 23, 2016 in Día a Día by Alejo Gómez and is translated here with permission. Other sources and photos are from archives and documents found in CADHU – Argentine Commission of Human Rights (PDF), Megacausa “La Perla” report (PDF) of the Comisión Provincial de la Memoria, El Diario del Juicio via H.I.J.O.S. Córdoba and final notes from Cosecha Roja, La Perla: el megajuicio del horror llega a su fin by Agostina Parisi.