Penal de Emboscada


Emboscada Prison was a torture and detention centre in Paraguay, which operated from 6th September 1976 until September 1979.

The prison is located a few miles away from an old village founded during the XVIII century, called “Emboscada”, north of the capital city of Asunción. The fortress was eventually turned into the Emboscada Prison and the building work was finished towards the mid-1930s. This is where the Bolivian war prisoners were held during the 1932-1935 Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia. After the war, the Church took over the management of the prison, which became a juvenile detention centre.

Around September 1976, the centre was renovated due to the rising international pressure against the overcrowding of political prisoners in other prisons in Paraguay. From then onwards, prisoners -who were mainly social and political militants- were transferred to Emboscada from different police stations across Asunción, from the Headquarters of the Capital Police’s Central Department and from the Police’s Investigations Department.

Emboscada prison consisted of a field surrounded by high stone walls with windows covered in bars and a watchtower at each corner. At the front of the fort, there were two openings in the wall where guards armed with heavy machine guns surveilled the entrance.

According to the report by the Truth and Justice Commission (Comisión de Verdad y Justicia, CVJ) on the 1954-1989 Paraguayan dictatorship, around 1,000 men, women, adolescents and children were held in this prison’s facilities. Many of the children were very young and others were born there while their mothers were imprisoned there. The CVJ itself classifies this detention centre as a ‘concentration camp’. Among the prisoners, there were people linked to the Organización Primero de Marzo (First of March Organisation, OPM), as well as members of communist militant groups, from the Ligas Agrarias Cristianas (Christian Agrarian Leagues, LAC), and members of other leftist groups.

Alongside Paraguayan prisoners, Emboscada was an important detention centre for Operation Condor in Paraguay. Foreign citizens were detained in the prison, alongside Paraguayan nationals who had been captured abroad. The investigations into Operation Condor have identified that 14 victims of the cross-border repressive operation passed through this prison. The Argentine student Oscar Luis Rojas was among the foreign nationals who were imprisoned at Emboscada. Oscar was disappeared after having been removed from the prison in order to, supposedly, be returned to his country. Another foreign national detained at Emboscada was Argentine national Amilcar Latino Santucho, the brother of the leader of the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores - Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (Workers’ Revolutionary Party- People’s Revolutionary Army, PRT-ERP), Mario Roberto Santucho.

The Paraguayan dictator, Alfredo Stroessner himself was one of the masterminds behind the prison. Notably, he appointed Colonel José Félix Grau, who was renowned for torturing members of the peasant movement. On a weekly basis, he selected which detainees would be taken to the offices of the Police Investigations Department to be tortured before being returned to Emboscada prison one or two weeks later.

Gladys Meilinger de Sannemann, a Paraguayan doctor, was detained at Emboscada prison after having been captured at her clinic in Misiones, Argentina, and transferred to Paraguay as part of a joint Paraguayan-Argentine operation. According to Gladys, the conditions where prisoners were held were inhumane. The location of the prison meant that there were mosquitos and drinking water and food were scarce. As a result, the prison’s population suffered from serious cases of diarrhea, nausea, typhoid, pyodermitis, scabies, and other medical conditions. Due to the poor conditions and the torture that they suffered, the detainees decided to carry out a prolonged hunger strike, leading to the closure of the facilities to political prisoners in September 1979.

After the dictatorship, Emboscada continued to be used as a prison for adults and minors. The overcrowded conditions and mistreatment of prisoners are a recurring issue in the prison, which has been condemned by international organisations and Paraguayan associations for the prevention of torture. The Emboscada National Prison continues to operate in the very same place as during the dictatorship.

Type of place
Localidad de Emboscada
Institutional responsibility
Departamento de Investigaciones de la Policía
Operating period
1976 - 1979
Current situation
Related victims