A large wall in the Chilean Human Rights Museum is covered with photographs of people who suffered persecution. The Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture collected more than 30,000 statements from victims. In 2004 it presented a 700-page report in which it meticulously analyzed the crimes of the Pinochet regime. The appendix contains the names of 28,000 victims, including 102 children. The report, according to which nearly all prisoners were tortured, is the most comprehensive appraisal of political persecution in Chile.
Credit: Ciberprofe / CC BY 3.0
The silver cross stands alone on the road leading to the Calama airport. Here, in the dry desert earth, the bodies of 26 men executed by the Chilean military on October 19, 1973, were buried. When their families learned of this, the human remains disappeared. In a report published by the Amnesty International human rights organization, a victim’s sister describes her brother’s arrest.
I am the eldest daughter of a typical Chilean family. I was 13 years-old when José Gregorio – fourth child and first boy -- came into our lives. We were very happy to have him because he was like a doll to play with and we used to dress him up so he looked even prettier.
Looking for new horizons, my father and I came to live in Calama in northern Chile in August 1959. I was ready to take up a job. The rest of the family followed us there. That was the beginning of our life in Calama. My father and I were working to keep the family. My brothers were growing up. The two eldest got married, all had children, until 11 September 1973, a date which changed our lives.
José Gregorio, known as Pepe to us and friends, was studying in secondary school and was living with me from Monday to Friday as my home was closer to the school. Then, 11 September arrived. I remember that when we were sent back home from our offices my biggest concern was my brother because I could see students walking from neighboring Chuquicamata. Everything looked quiet and I was hoping that he would be at home because there was curfew from 4pm. That was my only concern. We became concerned because of the news from Santiago, the capital, and from other cities.
One night, on 24 September 1973, a group of carabineros arrived at my house, with my father. I shall never forget my father’s expression when he said that they came for Pepe. I was in my room and my husband and Pepe were watching TV in the sitting room. What I found there was my house full of police, Pepe standing against the wall with my husband and carabineros searching Pepe’s room. They ripped the mattress apart and checked everything taking with them some things, nothing particularly special. They also took my brother saying that we could ask for him the following day in the police station.
The anguish I felt then is still with me. Later on I learned that my brother had been a candidate for the General Centre of Students at the Lyceum and that he was a member of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left.
Pepe was also accused of planning to blow up the police station with dynamite. They did not find any dynamite, neither in my father’s house nor in mine. We did not know anything about his whereabouts for a few days. On 29 September Pepe was found in Calama jail. He was there until 19 October 1973, that date on which, as we have learned, he was murdered in the hills of Topater.
Losing him has been very painful to all of us. My parents died without knowing his final resting place or whether any of the remains already found belonged to my brother. First we had to fight to find the bodies, then the Forensic Institute was in charge of the investigation of the fragmented remains found in an unmarked grave. Allegedly, Pepe was there.
We, Calama women, have requested a new forensic test of the fragmented remains we have in the Memorial at Calama Cemetery and of the bags that were sent to the Forensic Institute, which have now been sent abroad to be examined to be sure that they are our relatives.
After the Dictatorship. Instruments of Transitional Justice in Former Authoritarian Systems – An International Comparison
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A mural in the José Domingo Cañas Memorial in Santiago de Chile documents the torture carried out during the military dictatorship. The Chilean secret police DINA ran one of its own interrogation centers here. The prisoners were brutally beaten, nearly suffocated with plastic bags or abused with electrical shocks. One victim, who was held in barracks in Valdivia in 1984, described to the Commission on Political Imprisonment what he experienced there.
“One of the agents was veiled and in a threatening tone demanded for the last time that I collaborate. When I continued to refuse, another agent ordered my clothes to be removed and said that he was going to “operate” on me. There must have been two people there who violently undressed me, they only left my socks on. I was forcibly brought to a stretcher [...]. They bound my feet separately at the end of the stretcher. The same thing happened with my arms and hands. Then they attached various instruments to the most sensitive parts of my body (genitalia, nipples, stomach, thighs and legs) that I couldn’t see because my eyes were covered and so I didn’t know what they were. This equipment was fastened to my body with adhesive tape [...]. When one of them signaled that everything was ready, I suddenly felt a sharp pain throughout my entire body that made me see stars. At the same time I felt that I had urinated and shat in my pants. When I started to scream loudly a few agents immediately entered the room and one yelled: ‘Stuff the bastard’s mouth.’ An agent came quickly with a wool towel that he stuck in my mouth and held there. They administered new electric shocks and demanded that I name the names and addresses of people that I supposedly knew. I continued to refuse. Then they ordered me to name just one name and that it would be over then. [...]. With effort, I let them know that I had nothing to do with what they were accusing me of. Then the officer who was questioning me threatened to increase the electric shocks. [...]. Sometimes I thought I was going to die because I was no longer able to bear the physical and psychological pain. [...].”
Source: Informe de la Comisión nacional sobre prisión política y tortura, p. 236 (private translation)