"Torture Museum" message:

Human rights awareness should be high priority for Manzanillo citizens

by Susan Dearing

As you walk into the museum, the hidden sound system emits screams of agony and cries of suffering; whips cracking and music typical of a funeral dirge from the dark days of the Inquisition. Add to that eerie lighting, and graphic dioramas built to shock the senses, and you have Manzanillo's new Museum of Perversity. 

(There are many dioramas, but it would spoil and desensitize your experience if you were to see all of them in this article.)

Please click on photos to enlarge

The Judas Cradle, a terrible medieval torture where the victim would be placed on top of a pyramid-like seat. The victim's feet were tied to each other in a way that moving one leg would force the other to move as well-- increasing pain.

The triangular-shaped end of the Judas Cradle was inserted in the victim's anus or vagina. This torture could last, anywhere from a few hours to complete days.

"Instruments of Torture" have always held the interest of millions of visitors and the press, not only for the great visual impact, but also for its clear message against the violation of human rights. Such violations have given rise to a great amount of resistance throughout the centuries and in the most diverse cultural contexts, and unfortunately continue to be very topical today.

Gary Hirsch, owner of the "Museo de Perversidad" (Museum of Perversity) wants everyone to understand that the museum is meant as a wake-up call. As a practicing attorney for many years in Manzanillo, he has had to deal with serious human rights issues, especially rights of those accused of a criminal act. In order to bring human rights issues to the forefront here in Mexico, he feels that the public needs to see what it used to be like compared to what it is now.

Gary Hirsch, attorney and founder of the "Museo de Perversidad" practicing criminal law in Manzanillo, a human rights advocate

But "now" in Mexico isn't perfect, he states, but through the use of the museum, he hopes that people--all people--will get behind a movement to promote human rights in this country. For example, he tells a story about a person accused of theft. The police have the right to hold a suspect for 48 hours for "questioning," the object being to get him to "confess." During that time the suspect has no right to an attorney, and many times, if his family learns of his detainment and tries to contact a lawyer, the suspect will "disappear"--meaning the police, when contacted, deny they know where he is, or that he is  being held. This gives them time to extract a confession, which Hirsh says is often obtained by torture.

What is torture today? Certainly not the rack, or the "iron maiden," but Hirsch says putting a plastic bag over a suspect's head and cutting off his air is certainly right up there with waterboarding at Gitmo. He says that if the accused can hold out for the first 48 hours (that means not confessing after repeated suffocation torture), he can see an attorney and be legally represented, if he has the money. There is hardly ever a pro bono case in Mexico.

Plastic bag torture, used in countries throughout the world by the police. Hirsch says it is commonly used in Mexico.

Slave trade in Mexico
in the 1400s

Hirsch's commitment, which he would like to share with all who are interested in combating violence, torture, and capital punishment against living beings, is to show how throughout the centuries humans have been tortured, both in body and soul, in the name of the truth.

According to the International Council for Torture Victims:

"Although torture is prohibited in Mexican law, it continues to be a serious problem. In 2001, two designated members of the UN Committee against Torture found that the Mexican police 'commonly used torture and resorted to it on a systematic basis as a method of criminal investigation, readily available whenever required in order to advance the procedure'."

Water or hot oil torture
during the Inquisition

Whipping of slaves and those accused of crimes, part of the Mexican Inquisition.

Despite the prohibition of using confessions and information obtained under torture as evidence, the courts in Mexico frequently recognize statements and confessions obtained under torture. Confessions are the primary evidence in many criminal convictions and since torture generates confessions, torture hereby fulfils a significant function within the Mexican criminal justice system.

The other problem, Hirsch says, is that, here in Colima, there are no forensic labs like you see on the popular TV show, "CSI." There's no way to take fingerprints, study ballistics, DNA, no way to detect poison, or process evidence of a crime. Colima cops don't even have "Luminol"! So, unless the police actually catch the suspect with the goods, their only alternative is to coerce a confession.

Often, women were
stripped naked for crimes
such as witchcraft

Hirsch says that the museum's dramatic exhibits are meant to "shock people."

"I want to shake the people up, tell them, 'You have rights now,'" Hirsch says emphatically. "If people don't learn their rights and fight for them, it could go back to the way it was," he believes, and he also wants to deliver a message to the authorities to invest more money to solve this situation. "We need labs, we need our officials to be more educated, our police to be better trained," Hirsch continues. He has invested more than $180,000 USD in the "Museum of Perversity" to prove his point.

It took two years to reproduce the torture instruments, meticulously copied by local artisans. Then more than 60 mannequins were made of fiberglass by a local artist, and set up in dioramas throughout the museum. Wall plaques in Spanish explain what the visitor is seeing, so since our audience for this article is largely non-Spanish-speaking, the messages on the plaques will be explained in the following articles, as will the methods of torture, so the readers/museum visitors will be able to interpret what the exhibits are portraying.

There are several excellent articles on the Inquisition, which are listed below, so there is no need for this author to reiterate what has already been researched and written by learned scholars. You will find it very helpful to read these articles beforehand, and then, when you visit the museum, the dioramas will make more sense.

"The Inquisition in the New World" by Clara Steinberg-Spitz

"Mexican Inquisition History"

"How the Spanish Inquisition Worked" by Shanna Freeman

"Rare documents shed light on grisly Mexican Inquisition" by Leslie Katz

To learn about Medieval Torture Devices, click here. Excellent explanations of methods of torture with drawings of torture devices.

The Museo de Perversidad is located downtown Manzanillo behind the new 4-story parking building on Av. Juarez, #160, one block from the Presidencia Municipal (City Hall) across the street from Banamex. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Phone (314) 332-5599 (no English spoken). Visit the web site at www.manzanillomuseo.com. Admission is 50 pesos (about $4 USD).

Susan Dearing is the owner of www.gomanzanillo.com and has written 2 tourist and retirement guidebooks: "Manzanillo & the State of Colima: Facts, Tips & Day Trips" and "Barra de Navidad & Melaque: Facts, Tips & Day Trips."

Note: Hirsch says that although the suffocation technique is often used to extract a confession, foreigners (tourists and residents) are treated differently, and need not worry about being mistreated in the hands of the police. Cops are told to be lenient with foreigners, so unless a tourist commits an act of violence or is caught with drugs, the police will let most offenses slide. The main part of the populace affected by the routine police torture tactics is the poor and uneducated. (Of course, it is those same people who are usually thieves, and/or addicts, committing crimes to support a drug habit.) It should also be noted that most suspects caught by police do not come from this state, but from poorer states, such as Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Hidalgo and Michoacan. The majority of suspects that are arrested are guilty and have been caught with the "goods," as evidenced by articles on the police page in the local newspapers. Mexico is not the only country faced with accusations of human rights violations.

Reading material, Amnesty International.

Extended reading: Human Rights Watch.