Chile must not forget dictatorship era crimes

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Chile remains a country of contradictions, influenced by the struggle between memory and forgetting. The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet has left a legacy that has not been adequately challenged since the country's return to democracy.

Javier RebolledoHuman rights and memory groups in Chile have struggled against state institutions and military secrecy over dictatorship crimes. They demand, for example, that Punta Peuco, the luxury prison for former agents of National Intelligence Directorate (DINA, the Chilean secret police under Pinochet) be closed and the inmates transferred to ordinary jails. That such demands remain unmet provide foundations from which impunity can make inroads.

Last week, Chilean media reported that Javier Rebolledo (pictured), an investigative journalist and author specialising in uncovering dictatorship era crimes, was taken to court by former DINA agent and Punta Peuco inmate Raul Pablo Quintana Salazar. Rebolledo is facing 'calumny' charges in court, over one particular quote published in his most recent book, Camaleon.

Rebolledo has published several books about the dictatorship's torture, extermination and disappearance of its opponents, and mentions Quintana as part of the notorious Tejas Verdes regiment of DINA. Quintana was in charge of the prisoners held at the port of San Antonio, 100km west of Santiago, and part of a group of agents that specialised in torture.

Here, Rebolledo reveals that a former officer, Gregorio Romero Hernandez, witnessed Quintana inserting a carrot into the vagina of a Uruguayan woman, Nelsa Gadea Galan — who is one of the disappeared — during a torture session at Tejas Verdes.

The revelation is not out of the ordinary. There are various testimonies of depraved sexual torture committed by DINA agents against female detainees. One former prisoner, Nieves Ayress, testified that agents 'placed rats in my vagina and then gave me electric shocks'.

Quintana, who is being represented in court by his daughter and whose lawyer, Juan Carlos Manns, is also the lawyer of former DINA chief Manuel Contreras, has claimed that Rebolledo's revelations are injurious to his purported 'honour'. Public support for Rebolledo also prompted Quintana to claim, through his lawyer, that the author is threatening him. Rebolledo can face up to three years in prison if the court rules in favour of Quintana.

 

"The end result would be to consolidate Pinochet's request for oblivion. Chileans would be forced to forget, while dictatorship crimes, many of which are still classified, would remain out of public scrutiny."

 

However, the underlying motives have little to do with the alleged honour of DINA agents. With Chile once again under the rule of a right-wing president in Sebastián Piñera, former military officers and their relatives have the opportunity to demand impunity from the government.

Former president Michelle Bachelet's failure to close Punta Peuco has emboldened the military and its former officers, who have been calling for convicted torturers to be pardoned, while requesting that Chile complies with the military's request for 'understanding' the circumstances in which DINA operated.

The end result would be to consolidate Pinochet's request for oblivion. Chileans would be forced to forget, while dictatorship crimes, many of which are still classified, would remain out of public scrutiny and thus limit opportunities for Chileans to pursue justice.

Rebolledo has remarked that this indictment marks a first in Chile's history; that an investigative journalist faces the possibility of imprisonment for reporting about human rights abuses and imparting information that is relevant to many Chileans.

Quintana is serving 30 sentences for dictatorship-era crimes. Considering that the declaration in Rebolledo's book was part of a testimony given in court, and the number of prison sentences Quintana is serving, there is little to substantiate claims of 'calumny'.

On the other hand, Piñera's presidency creates a favourable climate for politicising the court. The current justice minister, Hernan Larrain, is notorious for having openly supported Paul Schafer, a former Nazi official who established Colonia Dignidad and allowed the dictatorship to use the colony's premises as a torture centre.

Chile's quest for justice has been frequently ruptured by the refusal of governments from both the centre-left and the right to prioritise memory over political power. Although operating within different dynamics, both the centre-left and the right have collaborated, in different ways, to protect the perpetrators from justice.

While Bachelet may be seen to have procrastinated on several issues — notably the closure of Punta Peuco and the application of Pinochet's anti-terror legislation — to the benefit of state institutions, Piñera will have the opportunity to leverage the right's calls for impunity.

Rebolledo's writing makes it clear that the dictatorship cannot be imagined away as if it never occurred. Yet, the legal action against him shows that Pinochet's calls for oblivion are still taken seriously by former military officers and their relatives.

Chile is allowing a situation to happen where a convicted torturer is being given the benefit of the doubt over a sentence that corresponds to torture practices committed during the dictatorship and which was recorded as testimony in court. This latest charade should be exposed as a weapon of political violence against a committed journalist. Chile still needs people like Rebolledo if memory is to survive.

 

 

Ramona WadiRamona Wadi is a freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger. Her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America.

Topic tags: Ramona Wadi, Augusto Pinochet, Chile, Javier Rebolledo

 

 

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General Pinochet saved his country from a Stalinist nightmare that would have been worse than his own regime. That coward Allende showed his true pathetic nature by committing suicide. The General used methods that no Christian can approve. He also voluntarily stood aside and permitted the restoration of liberal democracy in his nation. No Latin American communist ever did the same. I hope he repented of his many misdeeds. The left never see themselves as sinful and in need of repentance.
Bob | 03 August 2018


Thank you Ramona for reminding us of the horrors faced by Chileans during the very brutal Augusto dictatorship. Dr Salvador Allende was not a Stalinist disaster as claimed by Bob. It is true that he had a very difficult task to provide education, health care and social services to the poorest Chileans in the more remote parts of the country. This was especially so because of the lack of cooperation by senior officers in the armed forces. Alberto Bachelet, a former brigadier general of the Chilean air force was imprisoned and tortured by the military after the coup because he used his position to transport humanitarian support to Chileans in remote places. He died as a result of his treatment. His daughter, Michele, while a refugee studied medicine at Sydney University and later became Chile's president. However,Brigadier Bachelet was only one of many thousands who were butchered by the Pinochet fascist regime Another was the famous and very popular political folk singer, Victor Jara. Bob needs to be aware that the Chilean people suffered greatly because of the crimes and human rights abuses committed by the Pinochet regime, which were continually condemned by Chilean bishops. Opus Dei was one of the few religious organisations that condoned the overthrow of democracy The real nightmare occurred during the time of Pinochet's dictatorship. And we should never forget the role of the CIA in assisting the military in the overthrow of Chilean democracy and ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service) which helped the CIA.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 05 August 2018


An excellent article Ramona. The way back to a genuine democracy after any totalitarian government is often a rocky one. Turkey still has real problems accepting that the Armenian Genocide took place whereas Germany accepted the horrors that had happened under Nazism. Hopefully Chile will go down the German rather than Turkish path. You cannot redeem the past until you accept and attempt to make amends for it. Chile's military cannot be allowed to flout civilian norms.
Edward Fido | 06 August 2018


Bob, I would wager that you have never been anywhere near Chile, or ever met a Chilean person. Your comment is as absurd as it is offensive to the victims of the Pinochet regime. I wonder if you feel the same way about Franco. Did he save Spain from a 'Stalinist' nightmare? I suspect you think he did. What about Mussolini? He certainly got those trains running on time and kept Italy safe from godless communism. Now, what about that other fellow, the one who rescued his country from an unstable socialist government and, of course, the inevitable Stalinist future? Allende was not a Stalinist or a coward but Pinochet was almost certainly a fascist. You need to visit the city cemetery in Santiago in Chile. Head right from the front gates towards a place that was once known as Patio 29. There, Bob, you will see what a real nightmare, the one perpetrated by Pinochet, looks like.
Tony Thompson | 06 August 2018


History tells us that if we ignore past events, we are destined to repeat the same mistakes again. Today's Syria is a classic example Chile like many Central and South American Republics , has a long history of authoritarian rule, usually by right wing dictatorships or the Military. Since World War II, most South and Central American, and many South East and East Asian Countries ; for example, the Marcos (Philippines), Lon Nol (Cambodia) Diem (South Vietnam) Rhee (South Korea) regimes have been financed and supported by the CIA in an attempt to impose US policy and as a reaction to a perceived Communist threat to US Interests in the affected regions . As a result the peoples of these nations have suffered grievously. Salvador Allende (Chile) was democratically elected by the people, sick of the excesses of previous right-wing dictatorships. Sadly in the" cold war climate" of the time, that did not sit well with the US. Augusto Pinochet, like many dictators past and present , used what ever force was necessary to gain and stay in power .He stayed in power as long as he had US support. The moment he lost that support, his days were numbered, as was the case in almost all examples I have mentioned . He was guilty of crimes against humanity and sadly like other tyrants before him, has never faced trial for his excesses. I doubt very much he volunteered to resign, he just saw the writing on the wall and 'plea bargained' his exit.
Gavin O'Brien | 06 August 2018


Latin American political history, including the national struggles for liberation from the Spanish and Portuguese colonial governments, is very different from ours. As far as I am aware, Salvador Allende was never a Marxist of any sort. He and his government certainly attempted to address some of the enormous socio-economic problems Chile faced. The coup led by General Pinochet was a result of the powerful opposition to Allende's reforms by certain sectors of the community backed by the armed forces and supported by the CIA in the days the USA regarded any leftist movement in Latin America as being de facto 'Marxist'. Hopefully, the USA has moved on from there. It certainly seems not to have attempted to overthrow the populist government of Evo Morales in Bolivia. I regard Trump as an aberration and hope that the USA, a great and powerful nation which could do so much for the world, does not go down the path of supporting vicious dictators on mistaken 'anti-Communist' grounds again.
Edward Fido | 06 August 2018


Bob, if anyone followed in the footsteps of Stalin, it was Pinochet - not Allende. Allende was democratically elected and had a mandate. Pinochet did not.
AURELIUS | 10 August 2018


And by the way Bob, Pinochet didn't voluntarily stand aside! He relinquished military rule after a brutal murderous 11 year fear campaign where innocent people were slaughtered. He was voted out. Pinochet murdered innocent civilians, NOT Allende, Have you heard of Catholic social teaching?
AURELIUS | 12 August 2018


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