Witnesses claim that Paraguayan policeman Eusebio Torres cracked his whip and in a split second, ruptured the eye of psychiatrist Carlos Arestivo. He hung Margarita Báez by her hair and burned her breasts and vagina. They say that Carlos Casco and his brother Luis were electrocuted and strangled for hours in April 1976. The same happened to Casco’s wife Teresa, tortured by Torres when she was six months pregnant. The couple’s son was born in the prison where they were tortured.
Torres tortured Guillermina Kanonnikoff in front of her eight-month-old son, and shocked Constantino Coronel with an electric prod every afternoon for three months. These two victims shared with EL PAÍS their stories of torture by the former policeman, whose trial for crimes against humanity started on February 9.
It’s 8 a.m., and in another 30 minutes the victims will enter the Asunción Courthouse to testify against Torres. They’ve been waiting since 2011, when the legal process began after the Casco brothers filed charges. Torres is accused of being the primary interrogator during General Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship in Paraguay from 1954 to 1989. Torres faces around 20 charges, but his connections have provided him with impunity for his crimes thus far. In fact, his victims say that he receives a government pension.
“I really hope that this awful person, my neighbor Eusebio Torres, gets convicted. He tortured me back in March 1977 when he was with the Police Investigations Department and my son was just eight months old,” said Kanonnikoff. She holds a banner displaying the faces of some of the 400 people who disappeared during Stroessner’s regime.
Constantino Coronel, the founder of the Christian Agrarian Leagues in Paraguay, was grabbed and forced into a van in April 1976. He was taken to the Police Investigations Department in Asunción, which was headed by Police Chief Pastor Milciades Coronel. He remembers the police chief pushing hard on his chest, suffocating him. But before he could kill Coronel, a phone call interrupted. He was then handed over to Eusebio Torres, who asphyxiated and electrocuted him for three months. Coronel was released from prison in 1981 with the help of Amnesty International and fled the country.
“He [Coronel] was hit with nine gunshots. Now, he’s 92 years old and testifying today,” Kanonnikoff told the people gathered outside the Palace of Justice. The trial began on February 9, 47 years to the day after Agustín Goiburú, a fierce opponent of the dictatorship who once planned to assassinate Stroessner, was kidnapped and disappeared.
A long-awaited hint of justice
Constantino Coronel was the first to testify, and spoke in both Guaraní and Spanish. He did it while looking directly at a laptop where Torres was following the trial from the safety of his home. Around 30 other victims were there to support Coronel. They were his resilient cellmates — strong people with gray hair and sharp minds that the torturer couldn’t break.
“He should be dishonorably discharged from the police, return all the pension money, and apologize to the victims. That’s the justice we expect,” said Kanonnikoff.
Unlike Argentina, Paraguay has only tried nine people for crimes against humanity. Most of the perpetrators evaded justice by dying peacefully in homes and hospitals. It has been 35 years since Stroessner’s Colorado Party dictatorship ended in Paraguay, yet the same party remains in power today. Despite ongoing efforts by prosecutors, victims, families, defense and human rights lawyers, additional convictions have proven elusive.
“Most of them have avoided trials and used legal tactics, like constantly appealing court decisions, to delay the process,” said journalist and writer Antonio Pecci. He is another of Torres’ torture victims who testified in court.
“The Colorados and heirs of the dictatorship continue to control the justice system. I’m not saying all of it, but their money controls the majority,” said Arestivo, the psychiatrist who was blinded in one eye by Torres’ whip. Arestivo is one of the signatories of the Truth and Justice Commission’s final report. The commission systematically investigated the crimes committed by Stroessner’s government, and documented nearly 18,000 cases of detention and torture. All this happened in a country of less than two million people.
In 2014, former Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes publicly honored Torres and other police officers accused of torture. Cartes is the current president of the Colorado Party, and his protege Santiago Peña, is president of the country. Nonetheless, the torture victims hope for a conviction and sentence that will set an unequivocal example.
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