Persecuted in Argentina, kidnapped in Paraguay: their story shows the horrors of Operation Condor

Five Argentines and Uruguayans forcibly disappeared in Asunción illustrate how South America’s dictatorships collaborated to ruthlessly persecute dissidents

— by Judith Morales Del Barco and Martina Jaureguy

This story was co-produced with the Operation Condor ( project, coordinated by Dr. Francesca Lessa and Rodrigo Barbano with support from University of Oxford and University College London.

Dora Marta Landi was 22 when she disappeared in 1977. She and her partner, Alejandro Logoluso, were members of Argentina’s Peronist Youth movement. Politically persecuted by the country’s brutal dictatorship, they decided to escape to Brazil to request political asylum in Europe. But first, they needed to get fake passports in Paraguay. 

That decision would prove fatal.

During the 1970s, dictatorships ravaged countries across South America. In Argentina, the Military Junta implemented a systematic plan of political persecution, kidnapping, torture and murder. This was also happening in Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. They had a common goal: to eliminate subversion. To do this, they had to go beyond the borders of their own countries. So, they agreed to implement Plan Condor.

Landi and Logoluso’s story, together with another Argentine and two Uruguayans, is one of the clearest examples of this collaboration. These victims were “The Asunción Five”.

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The couple knew that a man called José Luis Nell could get them false documents. Nell was a 67-year-old Peronist who, while not politically active, decided to help victims of political persecution after the death of his son, an important guerrilla leader also named José Luis. In early 1977, he settled in Asunción. There, he welcomed militants, gave them forged passports and made arrangements for them to request asylum in Europe from Brazil.

But he couldn’t do everything alone. He worked with his Uruguayan friend Gustavo Inzaurralde, a co-founder of the Partido por la Victoria del Pueblo (PVP), a Marxist-socialist and anti-capitalist group for political exiles, which exists today as a political party.

Inzaurralde traveled to meet Nell in Asunción because he too was seeking exile. But first, he wanted to ensure he could help his fellow militants do the same. Among them was Nelson Santana, another Uruguayan also in the PVP.

Everything seemed to be in order. But on March 29, 1977, Nell, Inzaurralde, Santana, Landi and Logoluso were detained by the Paraguayan police at the boarding house where they were taking refuge. A Paraguayan civil registry employee who had helped them forge the documents had reported them after a disagreement over the money.

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The group was taken to the clandestine center that operated in the Investigations Department of the Paraguayan police. They were tortured and interrogated there for weeks, not only by Paraguayan forces but also by Argentine and Uruguayan officers who traveled there especially for that purpose. The violence was increasing because the regimes of Argentina and Paraguay were about to meet: a few weeks later, Jorge Rafael Videla would travel to visit Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner.

Landi’s family searched for her everywhere and got a different story every time: that she wasn’t in detention, that she was actually being held in Buenos Aires, and that they would get her back in exchange for US$10,000. None of this happened.

Kidnapped in Paraguay

On May 16, the five were forced to board an Argentine Navy airplane to Buenos Aires. The aircraft had been bought for the use of Argentine Navy Commander-in-Chief and Junta member, Emilio Eduardo Massera, who had flown in it just the day before.

The detention, torture and transfer of the group are documented in Paraguay’s “Archives of Terror.” But survivors have also offered detailed descriptions of their time in Asunción. Argentine prisoner Lidia Cabrera, who was Landi’s cellmate, heard from Paraguayan officers that the Argentines were not going to reach their destination.

Cabrera described to the Buenos Aires Herald how she was kidnapped in Argentina, handcuffed, and transported illegally with other detainees to the Paraguayan capital. In the detention center, the guiding principle was solidarity between detainees, she said.

In Paraguay’s sweltering temperatures and high humidity, their food was moldy and riddled with worms. Hygiene was administered by hosing people down in groups, with their clothes on. If anyone needed a change of clothes, the cellmates would look for ways to get it. If they found leftover food in a tolerable state, or if a doctor said that someone needed to eat more vitamins, everything was shared.

Before the Asunción Five were put on a plane bound for Argentina, Cabrera managed to overhear a conversation between the repressors in the local Guaraní language. “Videla is not going to forgive them. He’s probably going to throw them off the plane,” the officers said.

Cabrera believes that is what happened. “[Landi] never showed up, at all. Neither alive nor dead.”

All five remain disappeared to this day. The plane was found at an airport in Uruguay in 2022, where it has sat abandoned since 2008 after a Uruguayan company bought it.

What was Operation Condor?

In 1975, authorities from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay signed the official launch of Operation Condor. “This was a transnational criminal network set to more effectively coordinate the persecution of political exiles beyond borders,” says Francesca Lessa, author of Los juicios del Cóndor and a professor of International American Relations at University College London.

That way, they formed a system of highly sophisticated and institutionalized repressive coordination that extended across all of South America. The victims were persecuted and tortured. Some, like Cabrera, were removed from their countries of origin.

While organized violence in these countries peaked between 1976 and 1978, these unions between regimes began informally in the 1960s.

The goal was to eliminate guerrillas and communists. However, the vast majority of people who were disappeared and murdered during Operation Condor were peaceful political activists and even individuals with no political affiliation.

The existence of Operation Condor became known because those who took part and executed orders documented every step. These detailed records later became the evidence that would help investigators discover and understand it.

However, the whereabouts of the Asunción Five, like tens of thousands of missing people in the region, are secrets that the surviving torturers seem determined to take to the grave. Decades later, their families are still searching.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald