He was tortured by the Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay and later found the secret police files. Martín Almada has died at the age of 87.

A man sits in an armchair and reads.

Poetry was one of the refuges of the alternative Nobel Prize winner Martín Almada Photo: Nathalia Aguilar/imago

BUENOS AIRES taz | Martín Almada, the discoverer of the “Archives of Terror” of the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) in Paraguay, died on March 30 at the age of 87. As a journalist, educator and, above all, human rights activist, he received the Right Livelihood Award, the alternative Nobel Prize, in 2002.

On December 22, 1992, the lawyer, with the support of parliamentarians and prosecutors, broke into a police station not far from the capital, Asunción. They discovered several files with detailed records of those kidnapped, tortured and murdered during 35 years of dictatorship, a manual “How to keep tortured people alive” published by the School of the Americas in the United States, as well as numerous documents and letters.

The records also demonstrated the existence of “Operation Condor,” which used Paraguay as a base. “Operation Condor” was the code name for the secret cooperation between several military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s. With “Plan Condor”, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Bolivia coordinated the cross-border persecution of opponents of the regime.

Almada himself was kidnapped by the political police on November 26, 1974 and later, to his surprise, he was interrogated and tortured not only by Paraguayan soldiers, but also by Argentine, Brazilian and Bolivian soldiers. His wife, teacher Celestina Pérez, who was freed, did not survive the psychological terror. They forced her to listen to their torture and she died of a heart attack, Almada later reported.

Lately honored by your commitment.

After a campaign by Amnesty International, he was released in 1977, took refuge in the Panamanian embassy and was able to emigrate to Panama with his three children in February 1978. He later traveled to France, where he worked for UNESCO as a consultant for Latin America. After Stroessner's fall, he returned to Paraguay in 1989.

“We must continue our work, even if it is very dangerous to open the files and distribute their content,” Almada said in a tribute. In June 2023, the Paraguayan Senate declared the archives of “national interest for historical memory” and recognized Almada's “invaluable contributions to the restoration, protection and enhancement of the archives of terror.”

General Alfredo Stroessner seized power in a coup in 1954. According to the Truth and Justice Commission, at least 20,000 people were victims of human rights abuses during the 35 years of his rule. Stroessner died in Brazil in 2006. His body was buried in Brasilia.

In November 2012, Almada protested with others against the repatriation of the body. On the eve of the dictator's centenary, they marched in large numbers through the streets of the capital, Asunción. “Stroessner's supporters wanted to bring him back for this occasion, but our pressure prevented it,” Martín Almada said then.