Cavallo Behind Bars was created by Shula Erenberg, Laura Imperiale, and Maria Ines Roque, in order to speak out against impunity for crimes against humanity. It focuses on the violent repression of opposition to a military dictatorship in Argentina, in which 30,000 people were “disappeared” between 1976 and 1983. About 5,000 passed through the Escuela Mecanic de la Armada (ESMA), where they were tortured and most were killed. Through testimonies from government officials, lawyers, and journalists, the film tells the story of how one of the heads of the operation at the ESMA, Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, was identified and brought to trial.
Cavallo was living in Mexico and had established a powerful automobile registration business that was revealed to be corrupt. Reporters for a newspaper, La Reforma, identified an early photograph of Cavallo and traced it to the man responsible for the torture and deaths of thousands of people at the ESMA. Cavallo denied all of the allegations and claimed that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Cavallo could not be tried in Argentina, because the government had passed the Obediencia Debida and Punto Final laws, which exonerated all people associated with the repression. However, because Cavallo was living in Mexico and had ties to Spain, people in Argentina organized and protested to have him tried in Mexico for crimes against humanity. Finally, Cavallo was tried, and he was sentenced to 17,000 years in prison. Yet thousands of people who were associated with the disappearances remain free and unpunished, and victims of the kidnappings must live with the possibility of running into them on the streets of Buenos Aires every day. The film’s aim is to aid in the fight to bring those associated with the repression to justice.
The film serves as powerful documentation of the horrors that people experienced during the repression. It features accounts from people who survived being “disappeared,” who describe the experience of being handcuffed, beaten, and shepherded from site to site with hoods over their heads. In addition to providing background for the historical events related to the identification and capture of Ricardo Cavallo, it also serves as evidence of the horrific atrocities that occurred so that they will not be forgotten or repeated.