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Terror in Chile II: The Amnesty Report

Amnesty International, an apolitical world organization dedicated to protecting nonviolent “prisoners of conscience” and basic rights for people in all countries, receives reports almost daily of kidnapings, closed trials, arranged deaths, summary executions, expulsions, barbaric torture, and government by intimidation throughout Chile.

AI’s sources are numerous. They include leaders of the American clergy who have worked in Chile or visited there since the coup as well as members of a women’s group, of a trade union, and of several university faculties who have gone to Chile on fact-finding missions; also the United Nations and its High Commissioner for Refugees, who have set up sanctuaries there; commissions of both French and American jurists; and Amnesty’s own three-man mission to Santiago. The junta rejected Amnesty International’s January report as “biased and superficial” and “full of imaginary concepts about torture.” But AI has compiled confirming evidence for all its charges.

Reports of torture have come from many eyewitnesses, for example the wife of an Argentine lecturer held in Estadio Chile. (This is the larger of the two sports arenas which have been turned into detention centers in Santiago; at one time it held as many as 5,000 people.) She was stripped twice, and abused, searched by soldiers for “dynamite in her vagina” while she listened to the cries of her husband being beaten nearby. At one point she saw him in a room, naked and hung by his arms and legs, being given shocks with an electric goad. Several witnesses to the death of folksinger Victor Jara have testified to what happened to him in the same stadium: his captors gave him a guitar and commanded him to play while they broke, then cut off, his fingers; when he began to sing, they beat and then shot him. “As an example,” one report states, they left his body “strung up in the foyer of the stadium.”

Friends of Paulina Altamirano, wife of the leader of Allende’s Socialist party—who was “the most wanted man in Chile” until he escaped to Cuba—report that she was forced to listen to faked tapes that led her to believe that she was hearing her children screaming.

The sophistication and systematic use of such methods of repression and revenge is the most depressing aspect of the current regime. A few weeks ago I was shown a crumpled piece of blue paper with minute writing edge to edge, smuggled out of the Santiago stadium. Its author is a very young man. I quote from it here:

In case this anguished message arrives soon in the hands of anyone in my family, I am going to tell what they did with us since Friday the week of January 18, 1974, when civil personnel in the presence of Sr. Guillermo Alvarez K., delegate from CORFO, “invited” four of us to take part in an interrogation which would last “two hours.” We tranquilly got into vehicles, cream and blue…. They proceeded to put adhesive tape over our eyes and there we understood that it was a kidnaping…. In a closed truck, blind-folded and tied, we traveled two or three hours…. I heard the noise of weapons which chilled me to my soul. I said goodbye to myself with my eyes full of tears for all my loved ones. I thought they were going to shoot us because they put us against wooden beams with our hands up and our legs spread behind. I didn’t know what to think. My God, but why do they do this?

…Monday they took us in a small truck,…we went down a stairway,…hooded, our hands tied behind. They made us undress, tied us again, put us in small cells…and the inferno of terror began.

The first one they took to the torture table did not emit screams, they were howls. My body trembled with horror, one could feel the blows and hear the voice of the torturer, “Who painted it? Who went?”…I spent many hours there listening to the tortures….

My turn came. They tied me to a table…. They passed cables over my naked body. They wet me and began to apply currents to all parts of my body and the interrogator did not ask me, he assured me, “You did this thing.” I denied the monstrosities and the blows began to my abdomen, ribs, chest, testicles, etc. I don’t know for how long they massacred me, but with the blows in my chest, my throat and bronchial tubes filled up and it was drowning me. I was dying. They were laughing but assured me they were not kidding and threw acid on my toes. They stuck me with needles. I was numb. They took me down. I could breathe.

They took us back to the camp. There no one slept because of our moans. The prisoners cried with us.

They took us another day and it was worse. They did things that cannot be told,…threats of death if we didn’t sign what the interrogator wanted. “No one knows about you,” he said, and he tortured us. He was making fun of us. We were no longer men. We were shadows….

Eight days later we were transferred from Tejas Verdes, the place of our capture, to the Estadio Chile where we are isolated from the rest for being dangerous…. We signed the criminal declaration because we wanted to live and prove our total innocence….

Why do they do this to us?… At the company all the workers that day saw the vehicles. Are they guilty by chance?…

This is our ordeal. Why, my God, why? We trusted in justice.

—Estadio Chile, Feb. 14, 1974

The real purpose of the torture seems to be not so much to extract confessions as to induce conformity by terror, dehumanization, and the destruction of the will by prolonged pain. Much has been learned from the regime in Brazil, and, more specifically, from the Brazilian officers who were invited to Chile to give courses in interrogation to the armed forces and police. Amnesty has received reports of torture from the following prisons and detention camps:

—Quiriquina Island, where 500 prisoners on meager rations have been building their own jail.

—Chacabuco, the mine in the northern desert of Antofagasta (temperatures 110 by day, 32 by night), where approximately 1,600 middle-level officials and professional men and the relatives of ministers are being held. Among them is the musician Angel Parra, son of the singer Violetta and nephew of the poet Nicanor Parra. (In spite of conditions of hunger and maltreatment a remarkable mass by Angel Parra was said to have been performed there at Christmas.)

—Three “detention ships,” including the Lebu, docked off Valparaíso, where, according to Amnesty’s sources, men are dropped into the dark hold and all but abandoned.

—The women’s prison, called Casa de Mujeres el Buen Pastor, in Santiago. Here electricity applied to the gums produces hysteria; applied to the uterus of a pregnant woman, it produces brain lesions and abortions. Young girls are sent here pregnant from other torture camps, with their hair pulled out and their nipples and genitals badly burned.

—Tejas Verde, 250 kilometers south of Santiago, where paramilitary organizations have taken their victims.

—The concentration camp at Cerro Chena, where teenagers are subjected to sexual assaults, shock treatment, the burning of extremities.

—The Antarctic Dawson Island camp, not far from Tierra del Fuego.

In September, thirty-six members of Allende’s government were taken to Dawson Island from Santiago after being interrogated. Nineteen had turned themselves into the police as a radio announcement requested them to do, rather than take refuge in the embassies that offered it. They included José Toha, Minister of Defense, a man six feet four inches tall, who, when last seen alive, was down to 112 pounds, and could hardly see, hear, or walk. The junta has listed him a suicide, but there are convincing reports that he died by strangling. Daniel Vergara, one of two deputies who was shot in the back after he tried to negotiate with soldiers in La Moneda during the coup, was suffering from gangrene from his untreated wounds; it is feared that his arm may have to be amputated. His only son has been held for months in Chacabuco, for no other reason than being his father’s son.

Before the Dawson Island camp was closed down in late April, the prisoners there suffered from extreme cold, hunger, lack of medical attention, and denial of privileges to read or write. They were forced to do manual labor too severe for them. Now they await the trials being planned for prominent political prisoners—expected sometime in May—and are being held incommunicado in secret locations near Santiago.

Trials of the junta’s remaining enemies in the military services have already begun. Just before the coup more than a hundred officers and soldiers whose loyalty to the junta was in doubt were murdered. Others were shot during the takeover. The regime not only cannot afford to have experienced military opponents at large but seems determined to make examples of them. On April 17, fifty-seven air force officers and ten civilians were put on trial for treason and conspiring against the regime—the group is described as “Bachelet y Otros,” after General Bachelet, who mysteriously died before the trial began.

The air force under the junta, it is generally agreed, is the most brutal of the four branches of the military (the carabineros are the mildest), all of which have the power to arrest and interrogate. Some civilians have been arrested and then released by three of the military services and gloomily await arrest by the fourth. Such people may be given “conditional release” if they sign a statement that they were well treated and agree to return once a week to “cooperate.” Arrested members of the military service, however, are not released at all.

The trials of allegedly disloyal army and navy officers and the Dawson prisoners will follow. Aside from the death sentence, the penalties being asked range from eighteen months to life, fifteen to thirty years being common for younger men. One military student is facing the death penalty because he protested flagellation. A thirty-two-year-old officer named Patricio Carbacho, described as a model soldier, has been accused of conspiring with dissenters months before the coup, although he carried out all orders unhesitatingly when it took place. Unaccountably, he also faces a death penalty. At least two generals who supported the coup have recently resigned. One is General Baeze, whose own nephew died by torture while he tried helplessly to intervene.

The military trials, though not discussed in Chilean newspapers, are “public.” But secret trials and executions go on all the time throughout the country. In the province of Osorno, for example, dozens of farmers and workers disappeared last autumn and were located only when their sentences were announced or their bodies found. On March 29, Senator Kennedy’s office learned that two Osorno women had been condemned to death and 39 others given sentences of six to twenty years. At least thirty corpses of people who had been missing, some without arms, legs, or feet, were washed up on river banks in Osorno during the winter after relatives had given them up for lost.

In the “private” trials, the state-appointed lawyers usually have been given less than the legal forty-eight hours notice of trial, and often less than twelve hours, with no advance information about the charges, and only a few moments in which to see their clients. The prosecutors and judges are rarely lawyers and are frequently men with little education. A young school teacher was condemned to thirty years for allegedly instructing (“conscientización“) his elementary school pupils in Marxist doctrine.

Four young students from the University of Chile at Arica were arrested for nothing more than participating in political discussions at the university. One of them, twenty-three-year-old Enzo Villanueva, received an arbitrary nineteen-and-a-half-year sentence (although the prosecutor had asked for five) after seeing his lawyer for five minutes. Another, Jorge Jaque, received thirteen years. Suffering from a disease of the joints, he was both severely tortured and denied medicine by his captors. One hand and his toes were amputated. The other two men, Miguel Berton and Sergio Vasquez, received twenty-five and eighteen years respectively. They are all in La Serena jail with little hope of appeal.

Amnesty has extensive reports not only of persecutions in the colleges and among educators but of the torture and terrorizing of children in order to intimidate their families. Amnesty was informed in March that a nine-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy were tortured to death in front of their parents. There have been dozens of documented cases of kidnapings—particularly in the poorer districts—and of threats of kidnaping made to families whose children were at school. Kidnaped children have often been returned to their families after being maltreated by the police.

One of the regime’s most feared instruments of terror is the paramilitary intelligence group called the DINA, which General Pinochet set up in December as a plainclothes terror apparatus directly under his control. It is apparently modeled on the death squad in Brazil, where some of its leaders are known to have been trained. It specializes in brutal raids on factories and the houses of the politically suspect, sometimes kidnaping the inhabitants; it tends to be used in cases where the police and military forces want to avoid legal inquiries about missing persons.

Members of the medical profession have been selected for particularly vicious treatment. Since September 11 at least sixty-five doctors have either been shot or have died as a result of torture and untreated wounds. Seventeen psychiatrists were murdered in various parts of Chile the first day of the coup and psychiatrists in general have been persecuted, jailed, or kept under house arrest. Many doctors, nurses, and medical assistants have been arrested as potential threats to the junta, apparently because they were not against Allende—as a good many doctors were—and because they were much respected in working class communities and therefore seen as dangerous. Those who did not take part in a strike against the Allende regime by doctors and other professionals last summer became highly visible. A large number of them have since been under attack and, if not imprisoned, refused the right to practice. Several sources have estimated that over a thousand have been dismissed from hospitals.

Silvia Morris, the head nurse at the children’s hospital in Valparaíso, was condemned and tortured, for no greater offense than suggesting that her patients needed more nourishment and medical attention. Doctor Ernesto Luna Hoffer, a well-known neurosurgeon from Valdivia, was given a year in jail for raising the Chilean flag at half-mast as a sign of mourning for his fellow doctor, President Allende. Dr. Danilo Bartolin, a heart surgeon whose friends in Santiago despair now of his surviving, was taken to the Estadio Nacional in Chile in September, whipped and tortured, and taken to the mine at Chacabuco. Dr. Elena Galvez, after being removed from the Hospital Sotero del Rio, was abused in the stadium for refusing to take reprisals against certain hospital functionaries; she has just been released from jail.

On March 26, Amnesty International received a distressing new appeal from a group of Chilean doctors. Painstakingly documented, it lists eighty-five doctors now in prison. None has specific crimes charged against him. Nine have been condemned to death. Six well-known doctors were arrested January 13 (an ad in The New York Times and pressure from US colleagues helped to bring about the release of one of them, Dr. Gustavo Molina). It is now feared that death sentences will be handed down in secret trials to Alejandro Romero, Patricio Cid, and Bautista von Schowen. Earlier in March Amnesty heard that von Schowen, thirty years old, picked up December 13 after police had kept watch on his parent’s home for two months, had been so beaten and mangled that he was taken to a military hospital.

Catholic priests and other clergy have been doing more than anyone else to help the victims of terror in Chile and they have emerged as the only group that has been openly challenging the regime. At increasing risk to their immunity, they have been pursuing every legal means available to secure information on people who are missing and to arrange the release of prisoners or publication of charges against them. They give moral and financial help to the thousands of Chilean children who have recently become orphans, to families in which the wage earners are dead or jailed, and to those who want to emigrate. Much of their time is spent trying to find lawyers to defend the poor, weak, and ignorant. (In fact, because so many lawyers have been persecuted or disbarred, they are also helping to find counsel for the well-to-do.)

The Lutheran bishop Helmut Frenz has recently organized the “Committee for Cooperation and Peace” along with Fernando Ariztia, the Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago, and Fernando Salas, a young Jesuit priest. Prominent Jewish and Protestant clergymen support this committee, which is trying to help political prisoners and their families, as well as the unemployed. In the last few weeks Bishop Frenz’s committee has sent 131 writs of habeas corpus to the minister of interior, with no response.

Since the coup, Cardinal Raul Silva, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic in Chile, has been walking a tightrope. A year ago he tried to hold off civil war by inviting the leaders of opposing political parties to meet with him privately in the hope that Marxism and Christianity could coexist in Chile. After the coup, he continued to try to keep his office neutral, and was criticized by Catholic and Protestant leaders abroad for defending to the Vatican a policy of accommodation with the junta.

Since March, however he has become openly critical of the regime. Over official objections he held a public mass for José Toha—a symbolic refusal to accept the junta’s claim that Toha was a suicide. In his Easter sermon, delivered under guard because the junta claimed that his life was being threatened by left-wing extremists, Silva accused the generals of ignoring the wishes of the church and continuing to violate “sacred human rights” (“We have said it in every voice and we have not been heard!”). On April 24, the Catholic bishops of Chile issued a strong statement accusing the junta of arbitrary detention and the use of torture and of creating unemployment and economic havoc for the poor. Chileans, they declared, were “living in a climate of insecurity and fear.”

The junta has tended to be more careful in the pressures it applies to the clergy than it has with other groups. As General Leigh put it, the regime has “great respect for the church, but like many men, without realizing it, they are vehicles for Marxism.” Immediately after the coup, however, American and other foreign priests were herded into Estadio Chile. A Spanish priest, Juan Alsina, was assassinated in the hospital where he worked. Most foreign clergymen left the country.

At Christmas, Ulysses Torres, a Methodist minister from the southern city of Chillán, was jailed with several young people who, according to military intelligence, had used his machine to mimeograph anti-junta remarks. He has not been released. Father Raul Hasbrun, a priest sympathetic to the right, ran the Catholic University’s TV station until April. He was fired when he refused to accept the directives of Admiral Swett, the new rector appointed by the junta. Bishop Frenz was arrested and taken to the police to “talk about Marxism,” and then sent home. On April 19 a Methodist minister, Samuel Araya (who had been fired from his post as head of Santiago’s theological institute in February), was arrested while teaching an evening class at the seminary and taken to Estadio Chile. Father Joel Gajardo was taken to the stadium the same day and is still being held. Araya was released only after appeals were made by church leaders in Europe and the US as well as by former ambassador Nathaniel Davis, who had been Pastor Araya’s parishioner.

William Wipfler of the National Council of Churches, who helped with the appeals on behalf of Samuel Araya and many others, has warned that “only the most intense and united pressures from outside Chile will be able to save the clergy and the laymen still in prison there.” Indeed it should be clear that pressures from abroad, and particularly from the US, are the principal hope (if a slim one) for the victims of terror in Chile. The Nixon Administration, having done much to undermine the Allende regime, now has been supporting the junta with economic and military aid and remains silent about its atrocities and its absolute suppression of rights. It has refused asylum to Chilean refugees (by contrast with Canada, France, West Germany, Sweden, and other countries which have admitted thousands).

What is urgently needed is that American congressmen, lawyers, and other professionals visit Chile as observers of trials, prisons, hospitals;* that protests be made to General Pinochet in Santiago and to the Chilean embassy in Washington; that Congress, the White House, and the State Department be brought under pressure to cut off all aid to Chile until constitutional rights are restored, and to allow the refugees from Chile to enter the US.

Those who want to learn about such efforts (or contribute to them) can write to Amnesty International at 200 West 72 Street, New York, New York 10023, or to the National Council of Churches at 475 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10027.

Letters

On Trial in Chile August 8, 1974

  1. *

    Senators Kennedy and Abourezk and Congressman Don Fraser of Minnesota have been the most active US legislators on behalf of the victims of persecution in Chile. Recently the “Fair Trial Committee for Chilean Political Prisoners” has been organized and has been sending observers to the trials in Santiago and trying to assist Chilean lawyers. The Committee’s address is: 1215 NW 16th Street, Corvallis, Oregon 97330.

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