Interview with Cuban investigator José Luis Méndez Méndez
Rosa Miriam Elizalde
THE Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAFF) recently confirmed to the press that the remains of Cuban diplomat Crescencio Nicomedes Galañena Hernández, kidnapped in Buenos Aires on August 9, 1976 by forces of the military dictatorship, had been found. The remains of Galañena and two other as yet unidentified persons were found on land close to San Fernando aerodrome, in the Buenos Aires suburbs.
In what circumstances were Galañena and Cejas kidnapped?
How was it confirmed that both of them were in Automotores Orletti?
An Argentine survivor called José Luis Bertazzo knew from two young Chilean prisoners in Orletti that the Cubans had been there. Manuel Contreras Sepúlvedo, a Chilean repressive agent, also confirmed that fact to me in a conversation on July 19, 2004 in Santiago de Chile, during which he commented that they had been interrogated by the terrorist of Cuban origin, Guillermo Novo Sampoll.
What links did the CIA have with this operation?
The agency declassified a secret document, which confirmed that the Chileans I mentioned to you had been in Orletti. An Argentine repressive agent confirmed to me in Paraguay that the CIA received the results of interrogations of Argentines, Uruguayans and Chileans taken to Orletti. Sixty five of them were disappeared.
You were personally involved in the search for the remains of the Cubans from 2004, as recorded in your books, and you were even excavating with Argentine authorities two kilometers from the site of the discovery. How did you come to reach San Fernando?
We followed up the San Fernando lead as the result of a comment in a book published by two U.S. journalists, stating that the bodies of the two Cubans had been placed in 55-gallon tanks and cemented into the San Fernando canal. In 2009 I took part in a search of this location with Argentine divers from the Naval Prefecture. The Argentine authorities actively took part in this search. We have been following up various leads since 2005, but were confident that the response was to be found in San Fernando, as has now been confirmed.
Who are the persons associated with the assassination now that Galañena’s remains have been found?
During 2010 and 2011 a number of agents of repression were tried in relation to the Automotores Orletti case, and a number of torturers were tried for 65 crimes against humanity, sentenced and had their sentences endorsed. Another case is currently underway for crimes committed in Automotores Orletti. The case of the Cubans was part of the trial and they were sentenced on that count as well.
Now that Galañena’s remains have been identified, what happens next?
After the rigorous identification process completed by Argentine forensic authorities and court proceedings, my understanding is that the government of Cuba will be informed and steps will begin for the repatriation of his remains.
Are there also possibilities of finding the remains of Cejas?
The search for Cejas continues, both historically and forensically, and we are hopeful that his remains will be found.