Automotores Orletti


Automotores Orletti was a clandestine torture, detention and extermination centre that operated between 11th May and 3rd November 1976 in Argentina.

The premises were situated at No. 3519/21 Venancio Flores Street, on the corner of Emilio Lamarca Street, in the Floresta neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.

The property was rented and maintained by the agents of the Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (State Intelligence Secretariat, SIDE). It was the operational base of a task force that worked in coordination and collaboration with the 601 Intelligence Battalion (Batallón de Inteligencia 601) of Argentina’s First Army Corps.

Between March and May 1976, these task forces established their first operational base at No.357 Bacacay Street, a stone’s throw away from Orletti. The task forces began to carry out activities with the same logic of transnational repression that was later developed at Orletti through kidnappings, torture, assassinations and disappearances carried out by repressors from Argentina and other countries across the region. It was revealed that numerous people were imprisoned at these premises on Bacacay Street- including Uruguayan Members of Parliament and children, thanks to the declassification of intelligence documents carried out by the US government in 2019.

The repressive operations of Automotores Orletti took place on the two floors of the building, which used to be a car workshop. On the ground floor, there was a large reception room that functioned as an old, concrete-floored workshop where, according to survivors’ testimonies, they piled up hijacked cars and car parts. In the centre of this room, there was a large tank of water with a pulley wheel that was used for torture. From this space, a flight of wooden stairs led to the top floor where there was an interrogation room and a torture room. This space also housed a kitchen and other bedrooms in which weapons were deposited. There was also an office for the Uruguayan and Chilean repressors and areas where several prisoners, such as Gerardo Gatti, were detained.

Entry onto the premises was restricted to vehicles. All the survivors can remember the sound of the large metal shutter opening. The task forces used a special code to enter the building: “open sesame!”.

The repressors referred to the place with the alias “el taller” (the garage), “el jardín” (the garden), “la cueva de la vía” (the railway cave) and “la cueva de Flores” (Flores’ cave).

Over 300 people were imprisoned in this site, the majority of whom were assassinated and disappeared. Of the few survivors, around 20 were Uruguayan nationals. Among them, there were small children who were captured alongside their parents and secretly taken to Uruguay in the framework of the operations that are still being investigated by the judiciaries of both countries.

At Automotores Orletti, victims of various different nationalities were held and disappeared. The victims were mainly Uruguayans, Chileans and Bolivians, although there were also some Paraguayans and Brazilians. These operations were carried out with the joint participation of officers from the repressive forces of the victims’ home countries, alongside Argentine repressors. Automotores Orletti, therefore, was a place that played a central role in the repressive coordination of Operation Condor.

One of the objectives of the operations was centred around the interest in obtaining money from the political organisations to which the captured individuals belonged. The trials revealed that the operations were intended to weaken or dismantle the activities of subversive groups. It is important to highlight that a large amount of the money that was found- alongside the personal items that were taken from the detainees- was negotiated and distributed among the members of the task forces.

The victims of Orletti included two members of the Cuban diplomatic service, Jesús Cejas Arias and Crescencio Galañena Hernández, who had arrived in Buenos Aires in 1975. The pair were captured and disappeared at Automotores Orletti. Members of the Chilean Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (Directorate of National Intelligence, DINA) travelled especially to interrogate them. Their remains were found and identified in 2012 and 2013 inside metal barrels filled with cement. The remains of around eight of the disappeared people who had passed through Automotores Orletti ended up in metal barrels  thrown  in the San Fernando Canal, located on the banks of the River Plate.

On 3rd November 1976, a pair of militants from the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación (Armed Forces of Liberation), who had been captured along with their families, managed to escape. The detainees managed to break loose, despite their injuries from the torture they had suffered. When the guards were looking the other way, they managed to get hold of one of the repressors’ arms. They ran stark naked from the top floor down the stairs and onto the street, managing to cross the street just before a train came. This brief moment while the train was passing allowed them to save themselves. Their escape led to the immediate closing of the clandestine centre. The name “Automotores Orletti” came about because of their escape: while the two militants were frantically running away from the garage, they saw a shabby old sign that said at the top “Automotores S.A.” and underneath “Cortell, Cortell, Cortell”. The name “Automotores Orletti” came about because of the detainees who misread the sign during their escape.

During the 1990s, the place became a garage again. After numerous demands from social organisations, survivors and neighbours, the building was taken over and declared a public place managed by the “Instituto espacio para la memoria” (“Institute for Space for Memory”). The state legislature of Buenos Aires declared the garage a place of public utility in 2006. Later, on 10th October 2014, Decree 1762/201 was passed by the Argentine national government, which declared Automotores Orletti a historic site.

Today, the former clandestine detention centre is a space that is dedicated to education and memory. Now, the memory site supports the investigation into state terror and the fight for memory, truth and justice in Latin America.

The crimes against humanity committed in this place and their perpetrators were investigated in various court proceedings in Argentina; the most important of which were the five trials  called “Automotores Orletti”, the Argentine Condor Trial, and the case known as the “Systematic Baby-Stealing Plan” (“Plan Sistemático de apropriación de bebes”).

"El taller", "El jardín", "La cueva de la vía" o "La cueva de Flores"
Venancio Flores 3519/21, esquina Emilio Lamarca
Institutional responsibility
Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE)
Batallón de Inteligencia 601
Operating period
11 de mayo y el 3 de noviembre de 1976
Current situation
Sitio de memoria
Place ID
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