My feature article on Chile’s 2017 presidential elections is published at TRT World. Featuring exclusive comments by historian Alberto Harambour, investigative journalist and author Nancy Guzman, torture survivor Pedro Alejandro Matta and activist Jorge Hostt.
(First published in Instituto Manquehue)
Mapuche poetry has been a consistent trajectory expressing resistance against the oblivion and discrimination enforced upon the indigenous population through colonisation and subsequent governments targeting the community with oppressive laws. The literary realm attempts to connect the historical struggle against colonisation to the social problems constituting the enforced oblivion faced by the Mapuche people.
It is difficult to speak of ‘vestiges’ of oppression in the allegedly democratic era following the fall of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, as subsequent governments have embarked upon a more refined replication of the ethnocide and displacement characterising Mapuche history.
The Mapuche resistance against Spanish colonisation creates a backdrop against which the population has been able to reconstruct the dynamics of resilience against governments who have marginalised the indigenous population. Following the declared independence of the Chilean State, the colonisation of Mapuche territory through land purchase and expropriation led to the alleged pacification, which in reality accelerated defeat through military conquest. Restricting Mapuche communities was a step towards attempting assimilation of the indigenous population within the state, thus eliminating any references to territorial reclamation. In 1979 during Pinochet’s dictatorship, laws decreed that “the divided lands will no longer be considered indigenous lands, and the people living on those lands will no longer be considered indigenous.” The Mapuche people remain incarcerated within practices of oblivion, including the repression of history and culture in education and other forms of social exclusion leading to poverty and restriction of basic services including health and education, to prevent any possible reclamation of rights.
Oblivion, therefore, has been managed by the Chilean state through repressive laws capitulating to the proven violence of neoliberalism – a relic of Pinochet’s dictatorship which has been endorsed by the Concertación governments. This is particularly evident in the manipulation of anti-terror laws enacted during the dictatorship – now utilised to target Mapuche communities in order to annihilate resistance. The official divestment of identity required the rethinking of Mapuche resistance with regard to territory – the preservation of the indigenous subaltern memory of a community whose ancestral ties to land have been severed by colonialism, the emergence of the Chilean state and the application of Pinochet’s anti-terror laws. Despite the tenacious collective memory, the Mapuche struggle is marginalised through the dominant narrative which continuously strives to obscure the dynamics of resistance embedded within a community which has not relinquished its definition of nationhood.
It is pertinent, therefore, to assert that Chilean governments are committed to obliterating indigenous identity in order to deconstruct the struggle for recognition into terrorism which is erroneously justified by the application of the anti-terror legislation, upholding historical injustice while displacing the atrocities and violence committed by the state upon Mapuche activists. As is evidenced in past struggles, the state attempts to foment further division by differentiating between Mapuche activists and the rest of the community in political rhetoric; a tactic to dissolve unity which, authorities hope, will ultimately lead to a permanent dissolution of identity.
Recognition of the Mapuche demands remains fragmented, with post-dictatorship governments embarking upon deliberate compromises to enforce oblivion. Political participation remained marginalised and the New Indigenous Peoples Act (1993) did not recognise ancestral claims to land, thus the Mapuche remained estranged from the geophysical dimensions of their struggle. The ambiguity enforced by colonisation and subjugation is entrenched with legislation that seeks to create alienation from the ramifications of historical and contemporary memory. Thus, political autonomy, the recognition of the Mapuche as a nation, land reclamation and control over natural resources remain confined to a struggle which governments have sought to oppress, through eradication of the socioeconomic framework. This led to a rise in Mapuche social and political activism that has been criminalised under the anti-terror legislation. In pledging allegiance to the neoliberal framework endorsed by Pinochet, subsequent governments have modified discourse to depict the plunder of natural resources and destruction of landscape as progress and improving infrastructure. Governments, therefore, have opted for neutralisation policies that would further oppress the struggle for recognition and rights – a strategy that backfired in a renewed struggle for autonomous indigenous identity.
Mapuche poetry encompasses the collective struggle in a manner which displays the connection between language and land. For the Mapuche, language serves as a medium of expression in which historical memory is amalgamated with the ongoing social struggle, always in relation to land. Hence, through language and metaphor, the recuperation of culture occurs through countering the marginalisation enforced upon the population; a marginalisation occurring through the authorities’ tenacity to adhere to and manipulate the oppression inflicted by colonisation and legislation pertaining to the dictatorship.
Mapuche poet Jaime Luis Huenún describes literature as “creating a more visible culture” and marked by the anti-colonial struggle. Since the anti-colonial struggle is part of the Mapuche collective memory framework, Huenún insists that the idea of individuality that is cherished in the West with regard to creative work does not apply to Mapuche literature. Literature becomes the medium of articulating the community’s struggle. The same collective expression was expressed by Mapuche poet Leonel Lienlaf: “More than a representative of my culture, I come from it. I am an expression of it.” Collective memory, therefore, transcends the confines of individual expression to encompass a unified struggle against the neoliberal economic reforms that attempt to instigate assimilation in order to neutralise the reclamation of land, cultural and historical expression.
Mapuche poetry is a fluid expression of the contradiction between the restrictions placed upon the indigenous population through colonialism and the dynamics which have enabled a constant struggle against the dominating neoliberal political framework prevailing in Chile. While colonialism and neoliberalism have desecrated the Mapuche conservation of land, the indigenous struggle and its portrayal through literature has promulgated both the ancestral legacy and the affirmation of history – elements that override the external and hostile definition of what constitutes the indigenous. The political and socio-cultural aspects remain central to land reclamation and Mapuche identity, challenging continuous policies which elaborate upon allegedly inclusive rhetoric while increasing marginalisation through the criminalisation of Mapuche resistance.
The challenge within collective memory is best portrayed in the incisive poetry of David Aniñir Guilitraro, an urban Mapuche whose work challenges the imposed obliteration of history. In an interview which I carried out with Aniñir, it is explained that the poetic concept of identity incorporated within the book harbours “revenge against everything”. Aniñir explains, “My construction of the subject should be read within the context of discrimination and deprivation. We are the children of dispossession, of the exile suffered by our parents … Mapuche people have suffered as political prisoners, been subjected to murder, flawed trials and judicial assembly, militarization of communities – all these things are undeniable in our history. That’s my poetic art – corrosive, foul, crude. It is a poetic revenge against everything.” Fragmentation and retention of identity are exacerbated through the dynamics of nostalgia, experiences which accumulate and remain in constant conflict between fluidity due to the evolution of culture within the urban landscape and the imagined nostalgia which, nonetheless, retains significance within the collective experience of forced eviction.
Poetry exists as a collective expression despite the individual artistic articulation. For Aniñir, poetic expression is synonymous with experiences of the indigenous population and the importance of identity reconstruction within the urban framework. Expressing the collective identity is also important in the rewriting of history; the necessity to challenge official historical discourses which fabricate the memory of the oppressed in order to retain the hegemonic narrative. The trend is not solely confined to academia; it infiltrates official policy in order to discover the means of diminishing atrocities committed against the Mapuche people by distorting the dynamics of force to portray a conflict as opposed to systematic oppression.
The fragmentation expressed in Mapuche poetry incorporates a passion incumbent upon reflection wrought by distance and a lack of documented memory which is indicative of the turbulence associated with a permanent homecoming. In the absence of inscribed history, Mapuche poetry reveals the magnitude of nostalgia as a political testimony of forced displacement, a documentation of silence as collective memory in its various dimensions continues to assert its relevance within the wider context of the social and political struggle.
(First published in Mint Press News)
Tuesday marks the anniversary of a suspicious death during Chile’s dictatorship era – that of Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda on Sept. 23, 1973. Renowned for his passionate and politically-charged poetry, Neruda was one of the intellectuals greatly feared by Augusto Pinochet and his U.S.-backed dictatorship.
Culture – one of the pillars of President Salvador Allende’s revolutionary process – was to be severely suppressed by the dictatorship and its propagators tortured, murdered or exiled. Starting with la nueva canción Chilena, a revolutionary folk music movement, and moving on to the dissemination of literature, Neruda would become a prime target for the dictatorship following the suspicious circumstances under which Allende met his own death.
It is certain that Allende died during the coup staged by Pinochet’s forces. What remains unclear, however, is how. With the presidential palace La Moneda surrounded by Pinochet’s forces, Allende either committed suicide — as the official account of his death states — or was assassinated on Sept. 11, 1973.
As with Allende, there is a degree of uncertainty surrounding Neruda’s death. Official records indicate that the poet succumbed to advanced prostate cancer. This narrative remained uncontested until testimony from Manuel Araya, Neruda’s personal assistant and chauffeur, revealed a sinister plot culminating in the premeditated murder of the poet at the Santa Maria Clinic in Santiago, where Neruda sought refuge until plans for exile in Mexico were finalized.
In 2011, Manuel Araya declared himself the sole witness to Neruda’s murder, an act allegedly perpetrated by a CIA agent also working under the dictatorship. “I only ask that the truth is uncovered. The truth is, Neruda did not die a natural death. Neruda died by injection,” Araya insisted.
A compelling case for CIA involvement
Investigative reporter and author Francisco Marín has written extensively about the case, with his research being published in a 2012 book titled “El Doble Asesinato de Neruda” (“The Double Murder of Neruda”). Based on extensive testimony offered by Araya, forensic evidence, and the circumstances surrounding the upholding of the official version despite the dissonance, Marín has managed to present a compelling case that the poet had indeed been murdered by the dictatorship.
Prior to his arrival at the Santa Maria Clinic, Neruda, a staunch Allende supporter and advisor, had been abandoned with his wife, Matilde Urrutia, and Araya at La Isla Negra, the poet’s coastal residence. Their only possible means of communication was a transmitter, which they used to contact the Mexican embassy.
Neruda’s plans following the takeover of the presidential palace involved going into exile to establish a proper resistance abroad. With the Mexican ambassador’s help, Neruda was transferred to the clinic by ambulance, where he would stay until plans for his exile were finalized. The voyage was replete with checks and surveillance. Such a wholly humiliating ordeal was a speciality of the Tejas Verdes contingent — the brigade under the command of Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional (the National Intelligence Directorate, or DINA) chief Manuel Contreras which was responsible for the worst atrocities committed during the dictatorship era.
On Sept. 22, Neruda was advised that the plane offering safe passage to Mexico would leave Chile two days later, on Sept. 24. As Matilde and Araya returned from La Isla Negra after packing the poet’s belongings, they claim to have discovered that something had been injected into Neruda’s stomach. Only moments later, Araya was entreated by a doctor at the clinic to “urgently buy a remedy that is unavailable in the clinic.” Sent to an obscure street away from the center of Santiago, Araya was ambushed, beaten, and wounded in the leg, then he was transferred to the Estadio Nacional — Chile’s national stadium which had been transformed into a detention and torture camp under Pinochet. Here, Araya endured severe torture by DINA.
The location of Neruda’s death and the suspected identity of the “doctor” who allegedly administered the toxic injection to the poet are especially significant points to examine. The Santa Maria Clinic has, in recent years, come under greater scrutiny with regard to human rights violations committed during the dictatorship era. Former Chilean President Eduardo Frei died at the clinic following surgery in 1982. While his death was officially attributed to sepsis, it was later alleged that Frei had been administered toxic substances during his hospitalization, making Frei’s death another crime attributed to DINA.
Meanwhile, biological and chemical weapons experimentation formed a significant part of Pinochet’s dictatorship, with newly manufactured weapons routinely tested on tortured detainees. The manufacturing was the responsibility of biochemist Eugenio Berrios and former CIA and DINA agent Michael Townley, a U.S. citizen currently living under the witness protection program in his home country. Dr. Sergio Draper, a doctor who worked at the clinic during Neruda’s stay, has named Townley as the unidentified doctor who allegedly administered the toxic injection to the poet.
Townley’s stint in DINA was recorded by several witnesses, who have even placed him at the notorious Cuartel Simon Bolivar extermination site. Jorgelino Vergara Bravo, a former errand boy working under the command of DINA chief Contreras who was later transferred to the extermination center, witnessed Townley experiment with chemical weapons upon two indigenous detainees. Townley was also involved in the assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington, on Sept. 21, 1976, for which he was convicted and sentenced to 62 months in prison in 1978.
Meanwhile, shortly before his death, right wing-affiliated newspapers La Tercera and El Mercurio had slowly started reporting about Neruda’s allegedly deteriorating health. According to Marín’s research, Pinochet sought to quell Chilean sensitivity and forthcoming indignation at Neruda’s impending death by issuing a statement: “Neruda is not dead. He is alive and free to travel wherever he likes, as befits other people of old age and struck with infirmity. We do not kill anyone and, if Neruda dies, it will be of natural causes.”
On Sept. 23, El Mercurio reported that Neruda’s health had taken a turn for the worse — a report that coincided with the day the toxic injection was allegedly administered to Neruda.
Within the wider framework, the suspicious circumstances of Neruda’s death align perfectly with the brutal dynamics of the dictatorship. As with nueva canción musicians, writers and intellectuals were also targeted by the dictatorship, with many of them going into exile to escape torture and imprisonment. While attempts to fund and form resistance abroad resulted in predictable splits within the groups, Pinochet’s obsession with overseas opposition led to extreme measures of surveillance through collaboration with various agencies and embassies, as documented by authors Mauricio Weibel and Carlos Dorat. Had Neruda managed to escape Chile, a political resistance acknowledged abroad might have endured, as Allende had frequently visited Neruda at La Isla Negra, seeking the Communist Party member’s political advice.
Exhuming Neruda’s remains
In April 2013, Pablo Neruda’s remains were exhumed to be tested for toxic substances, in order to challenge the state’s official stance that Neruda had succumbed to advanced and metastatic prostate cancer. The process leading to the legal order was fraught with difficulties, not least because the Neruda Foundation refused to cooperate, adamantly insisting upon the official version as the truth. Marín has uncovered other disturbing details about the Neruda Foundation, including its affiliation with Ricardo Claro, a torture coordinator under Pinochet’s dictatorship, who ran the Chilean enterprise Cristalerías Chile which provided funding to the dictatorship.
Preliminary investigations were inconclusive, determining that while no toxic substances were discovered in Neruda’s remains, further tests were to be conducted – thus leaving open the possibility of assassination.
Communist Party lawyer Eduardo Contreras has also requested DNA testing upon the remains to confirm that the exhumed body was indeed Neruda’s. Though ridiculed by many, this insistence on DNA tests is not excessive. In the 1980s Pinochet ordered the exhumation and destruction of the bodies of dictatorship victims under the codename “La Operación Retiro de Televisores” (“Operation of TV Removals”). It’s possible that Neruda’s body may have been substituted for another.
Speaking to Marín, it is evident that impunity retains a stronghold in Chile, while the lack of conclusive evidence has kept the story away from prominent media.
“I feel that no significant progress has been made. Last November the international commission of experts who analyzed the case failed to reach a determined conclusion,” Marín told MintPress News. “What has been repeated in the press is that Neruda was suffering from advanced cancer, thus the interested in the subject had dwindled. But the truth is that there is no proof that Neruda was suffering from advanced cancer.”
On the subject of forensic evidence, Marín has spoken at length to forensic expert Luis Ravanal, who pointed out the medical inconsistencies that cast doubt upon the officially disseminated version of Neruda’s death.
Additionally, Marín noted that Neruda’s family, represented by legal attorney Rodolfo Reyes, asked for public clarification with regard to the presence of metastasis in the exhumed remains of Neruda, yet that request was not upheld.
“The cause has also been severely affected by the fact that the most active player in this case, lawyer Eduardo Contreras, was appointed as ambassador to Uruguay, thus leaving a void with regard to the duties necessary to reach a conclusion in this case,” he said.
However, Marín reserved harsh criticism for Chile’s Servicio Medico Legal (SML) – the entity responsible for forensic investigation with regard to crimes committed during the dictatorship era.
“The most unfortunate thing is that the SML still does not recognize the obvious. Neruda was not suffering from cachexia at the time of death, as inscribed in the official documents from the Clinica Santa Maria and which was reproduced on the death certificate,” he said.
Impunity and collaboration
The case of Pablo Neruda’s assassination reflects impunity and collaboration as prominent themes running throughout Chile’s dictatorship era and even into the present. Once again, the diverging memory frameworks in Chile are resonant, with agencies related to the state rarely discovering evidence that contradicts the widely corrupt disseminated narrative.
With regard to Neruda, the official version of his death has been formidably challenged by both Araya and Marín – the latter skilfully portraying the dynamics of the dictatorship, evident within other narratives, through the lens of Neruda’s particular case.
Rather than relying on the usual tactics of right-wing versus left-wing narratives, Neruda’s case should be considered as part of the multitude of human rights violations committed by the dictatorship – the murder of a man, as many others had been murdered, with one striking difference: In eliminating Neruda, Pinochet stood to extend his own political survival. Hence, forthcoming proof that Neruda had been murdered would constitute an addition to a series of politically motivated crimes — a means to ensure the permanent elimination of political opposition that could have properly challenged the dictatorship.
(First published in Upside Down World)
In another event which exposes the reality of Chilean society’s split memory, an homage to former Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) officer Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko was described as an exercise in freedom of expression by mayor of Providencia Christian Labbé, in turn prompting outrage and protests from human rights and activist groups in Chile since its announcement.
On November 21, Labbé organised a book launch for the 4th edition of right wing historian Gisela Silva Encina’s Miguel Krassnoff: Prisoniero Por Servir a Chile (Miguel Krassnoff: A Prisoner for Serving Chile). A letter from Krassnoff was read during the event, in which he described his incarceration as ‘illegal, illegitimate and unconstitutional’. Hundreds of activists and relatives of tortured victims gathered to protest the event, some holding placards stating “I don’t forget, nor forgive”. Others turned up with photographs of tortured, assassinated or missing relatives. Protestors hurled eggs and stones in the direction of Club Providencia, resulting in clashes between opposing groups and the use of force and tear gas against protestors by the Chilean police. Earlier that day another indictment was issued against Krassnoff, charging him and three other DINA officers with the kidnapping of Newton Morales Saavedra in 1974.
A message relayed by one of President Sebastian Piñera’s assistants stated that while the President was unable to attend, he wished the event success, bearing in mind that “Krassnoff is a representative symbol of the 1973 – 1978 era.” Following the protests, Piñera issued a retraction, saying the initial message was not his and there was no way his government would have participated in such an event.
Krassnoff was sentenced to 144 years in prison in 2006 for over 20 counts of crimes against humanity. A graduate of the School of the Americas (SOA) and renowned for anti-Marxist sentiment, Krassnoff took part in the September 11, 1973 military coup d’état which ousted President Salvador Allende. Having been in charge of DINA’s Brigada Halcon, Krassnoff was at the helm of Pinochet’s secret service which kidnapped, tortured and assassinated members of Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria de Chile (MIR) – who had formed a paramilitary resistance against Pinochet’s dictatorship. Those arrested were taken to Villa Grimaldi and Londres 38, torture complexes which operated from 1974 to 1978.
According to Stern (Reckoning with Pinochet: The Memory Question in Democratic Chile 1989 – 2006) 4,500 prisoners were tortured from 1974 – 1976; including 205 disappearances. Survivors of torture recount extreme atrocities committed against prisoners. Sheila Cassidy, a British doctor living in Chile at the time of the coup, was arrested and tortured with electric shocks on the accusation of medically treating a Pinochet opponent. Paul Hammer, a law student arrested on suspicion of membership in a left-wing paramilitary group states he was beaten, shocked and brought to the verge of suffocation. Another torture survivor of Villa Grimaldi, Pedro Matta was arrested in 1975 and taken to Villa Grimaldi. His extensive research sheds light on the methods and manner of torture.
Prisoners who refused to become collaborators for DINA were kept standing for long hours in tiny cells, torturers submerged the prisoners’ heads in putrid water, others were subjected to the shattering of limbs, performed by a guard who would drive a vehicle over the victim’s legs. Sexual abuse and torture against women was particularly sadistic, which included rape, using animals to sexually abuse women and the burning of genitals. Influential prisoners who refused to succumb to the interrogator’s demands were usually anesthetised, taken on board a helicopter and thrown into the ocean. This elimination of opponents was also affirmed by Cassidy.
Labbé, a personal friend of Krassnoff since their time at the (SOA), so far remains unscathed by the law. A former body guard of Krassnoff, he later formed part of Brigada Halcon, given the duty of instructing guards in torture methods. Reiterating that he allowed the use of Club Providencia each time there was a commemoration pertaining to the Pinochet era, Labbé considers the event as honouring part of Chile’s history. Notwithstanding his role in Villa Grimaldi, Labbé continues to enjoy the authorities’ support and has contested council elections, retaining his place as Mayor since his first campaign.
Despite the testimonies from survivors and reports drawn up by the Valech and Rettig commissions; Chilean society remains split over the dictatorship era. According to Krassnoff’s declaration in the letter read during the book launch, “the military coup didn’t happen. It was a legitimate military intervention.” Once again, memory and blame are displaced. Pinochet’s initial declaration to allegations of human rights abuses, “Sometimes democracy must be bathed in blood” was mellowed through the years into a mission of refuting evidence of torture and murder through the discrepancy oblivion, as he stated in 1995, “The only solution to the issue of human rights is oblivion.”
As evidenced from Gisela Silva Encina’s blog about Krassnoff, Pinochet supporters are in denial of the history of human rights abuses, assassinations and disappearances. Echoing a quote from Krassnoff, “I am a soldier who has been transformed into a persecuted politician.” Encina states that Krassnoff was the victim of lies and that no evidence incriminating Krassnoff was brought forward. Indeed, Dr Patricio Bustos, Head of Servicio Medico Legal, testified that he was tortured by Miguel Krassnoff, and that Krassnoff never used a pseudonym to conceal his identity. The testimonies of victims were dismissed as memory manipulation. Encina’s blog also portrays the protestors as criminals attacking Pinochet supporters, thus necessitating the use of force on behalf of the police. Chile’s laws do not deem the celebration of genocide as a crime; therefore once again, victims and their relatives have been subjected to a travesty of justice.
However, the memory of the oppressed refuses to relinquish its stand. Lorena Pizarro, president of Agrupacion de Familiares de Detenidos Desparecidos (AFDD), condemned the homage, stating it portrayed Chile as a state which sanctions terrorism, as well as opening an avenue for a repetition of state terror. Alicia Lira, president of the Agrupacion de Familiares de Ejecution Politicos (AFEP) denounced the homage as an affront to memory and an example of the impunity which Piñera’s government is unwilling to counter, since many officers from the Pinochet era remain in authoritative positions. On behalf of the AFDD, Pizarro is suing Labbé, demanding to know whether public funds were used to finance the event.
Tt a time when Chile is experiencing a surge in protests, notably the students’ protests demanding quality and free education, the event elicited responses from political figures. Head of Senate Guido Girardi denounced the homage, calling it “a tribute to torture, assassination and rape” and challenged Piñera to take measures against allowing Labbé to run for council elections in 2012.  “It is not possible that public authorities honor torturers and murderers … It is not democratic that your party supports a militant who has incurred faults that go against the constitution and the law … Labbé should be prevented from reapplying for office as he clearly has not responded as democracy demands.”
(First published in Mint Press News)
Two recent developments in Chile have reignited the struggle for memory against Augusto Pinochet’s lasting culture of oblivion. On Aug. 7, Chileans on both sides of the political spectrum either lamented or celebrated the death of Manuel Contreras, former head of Pinochet’s National Intelligence Services (DINA).
Contreras’ death ignited a fresh surge of rage and indignation, as the families of the over 3,000 disappeared still face an uphill struggle against the state and the military to uncover details regarding the murder and disappearance of their relatives.
Prior to Contreras’ death, Chilean media had announced investigations into another case from the dictatorship era — the burning of photographer Rodrigo Rojas and student Carmen Gloria Quintana, during a street demonstration on July 2, 1986. On July 21, Judge Mario Carroza ordered the arrest of two former army officers and five former non-commissioned officers, charging them with premeditated murder in the burning death of Rojas and attempted homicide against Quintana. The case in Chile is known as Caso Quemados (“the case of the burned”).
The arrests came on the heels of former conscript Fernando Guzmán revealing the identity of the commander responsible for Rojas’ death. During an interview on Chilean television, Guzmán named Julio Castañer, the head of Intelligence Section II, who, according to Guzmán, was also involved in cases related to the Chilean disappeared.
Rojas, the son of political exile and torture survivor Veronica de Negri, grew up in Washington, D.C. He visited Chile in May 1986, when he was 19, as part of a group who, on the morning of July 2, 1986, attempted to photograph a two-day national strike against the dictatorship in a Santiago neighborhood. The military descended upon the group, capturing Rojas and Quintana.
According to witnesses, including Quintana herself, both were severely beaten by the military, doused with gasoline and set on fire. The military patrol dumped Rojas and Quintana in a ditch on the outskirts of Santiago, where they were later discovered by locals and taken to the hospital. However, officials refused to have them transferred to a hospital that could treat the severity of their burns. Rojas died four days later. Quintana suffered severe disfigurement and received her treatment in Canada, including around 40 operations.
In an interview with CNN Chile last month, Rojas’ mother Verónica de Negri spoke about government complicity in concealing crimes pertaining to the dictatorship, describing former presidents Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei and Ricardo Lagos as “criminals who protected Pinochet.”
The Concertación governments — a coalition of center-left political parties that won every election from the time military rule ended in 1990 until right-wing Sebastián Piñera’s electoral victory in 2010 — maintained the pact of silence enforced upon society by Pinochet. Hence, the state and the military were allowed to maintain a veil secrecy over details of execution, torture, disappearances and other horrors perpetrated against Chileans under the dictatorship.
“Lagos,” de Negri told CNN, “attended my son’s funeral to garner support for his presidential candidacy.”
The Rojas’ case: A turning point for the US
A trove of declassified documents reveals the CIA’s role in supporting and even arming violent right-wing factions in Chile to bring about the downfall of democratically-elected socialist President Salvador Allende’s presidency. With Allende at the helm, Chile was perceived by the U.S. as a country capable of instigating a wave of socialist revolutions in South America and thus extending the Cuban Revolution’s triumph further within the continent.
Acts of economic sabotage, instances of funding violence, and motions of impunity for torturers have all been well-documented, but Rojas’ case presents both a turning point and a contrast in U.S. involvement in Chile.
The declining support for Pinochet during the Reagan administration showed the U.S. as taking a more active interest in the Rojas case, given the U.S. government’s priority of ensuring that left-wing opposition would not create another revolution. The aim was to preserve the foundations enshrined by Pinochet while creating conditions necessary for a possible transition.
Declassified documents from the National Security Archives reveal the extents to which the U.S.-backed dictatorship, on orders from Pinochet himself, would go to ensure evidence and testimony would be silenced. Five days after Rojas died, Chilean chief of police Gen. Rodolfo Stange presented Pinochet with a report that identified the army units responsible for the immolations of Rojas and Quintana, which Pinochet flatly rejected.
On July 14, 1986, Rojas’ murder was the subject of the Presidential Evening Reading, according to a declassified document, and the only time an atrocity committed by the U.S.-backed dictatorship ended up on the agenda — the reason being Rojas’ status as the son of a political refugee residing in the U.S. The document acknowledges the dictatorship’s transmission of false information, such as attempting to persuade the public that Rojas and Quintana were “victims of their own Molotov cocktails.”
Another document reveals that Chilean police were reluctant to continue their investigations into the crime, deciding instead to hand over responsibility for investigation to the army. According to a declassified U.S. Embassy cable, Gen. Stange delivered a single-page report identifying the army patrol unit responsible for the violence inflicted upon Rojas and Quintana to Pinochet on July 11. According to the document, which cites a “reliable source within the Carabineros,” the uniformed Chilean national police force: “President Pinochet told General Stange that he did not believe the report, and he refused to receive the report from General Stange.” Further, an unidentified army official declared that “the case would be resolved within 48 hours,” followed by a notification by the army that “according to the source of the above information, as of yet there is no witness who saw anyone set the youths on fire.”
Pinochet wasn’t the only one to dismiss the case. Chilean journalist Alejandra Matus posted a callous comment that had been uttered by Pinochet’s wife, Lucía Hiriart, regarding Quintana: “Why is this child complaining when she suffered little burns?” Quintana remains scarred for life.
Government intimidation was the source of another declassified document, which showed that Chilean security forces threatened and detained witnesses to change their testimony on what happened to Rojas and Quintana, in order to avoid implicating the military.
While the Rojas case is cited as a reason why U.S. support for Pinochet’s dictatorship declined during the Reagan administration, the mounting protests against the repressive policies of the dictatorship created an alternative hypothetical scenario for the U.S. — that of growing left-wing mobilization against neoliberalism which would ultimately affect U.S interests in the region.
According to Peter Kornbluh, author of “The Pinochet File,” “Reagan admired Pinochet and wanted to go to Chile to personally thank him for ‘saving Chile’ and tell him [Pinochet] that ‘it was time to go.’”
US intelligence played ‘a fundamental role’ in the murders of two American citizens
However, U.S. complicity in torture and violence, the Rojas case and subsequent interest contrasts the official reaction to the deaths of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi. The American citizens working and studying in Santiago, respectively, were arrested, tortured and murdered in Chile in 1973, following their investigations into U.S. complicity in overthrowing Salvador Allende.
American interest in the Rojas case did not stem from the fact that the victim was a U.S. resident being immolated. Rather, the State Department was safe to pursue details of the case due to the government’s growing need to detach itself from Pinochet’s systematic abuse of power.
Conversely, the deaths of Horman and Teruggi in the early days of the dictatorship would have been a liability for the U.S., given the involvement in the crime of U.S. military officers stationed in Valparaiso, one of the bases for both Chilean and U.S. coup plotters. In fact, a State Department document clearly mentions the complicity of U.S. intelligence forces in the murders of Horman and Teruggi.
In 2011, Chile’s Supreme Court indicted two former Chilean intelligence officers and U.S. Navy Capt. Ray E. Davis, who headed U.S. military operations in Chile at the time of the coup, in connection with the deaths of Horman and Teruggi.
“The military intelligence services of the United States had a fundamental role in the creation of the murders of the two American citizens in 1973, providing Chilean military officers with the information that led to their deaths,” the ruling by Judge Jorge Zepeda said.
However, the U.S. is said to have not been served with a 2012 extradition request for Davis, who Chilean authorities had long believed was living in Florida. It later emerged that he had been secretly living in Chile, where he died in 2013 without ever facing trial.
(First published in Mint Press News)
Augusto Pinochet’s obsession with eradicating socialist opposition to his dictatorship prompted the creation of specialized brigades operating with the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) – a fact established many times throughout Chilean history and in court cases pertaining to the assassinations and disappearances of Communist Party and Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) leaders and militants.
Last week, visiting Judge Mario Carroza ordered the re-enactment of the death of MIR founder and General Secretary Miguel Enríquez. The re-enactment, according to reports on Chilean news website El Ciudadano, is aimed at establishing whether Enríquez’s death was the result of a premeditated execution or the fallout of his clash with an armed group.
The formal request for the re-enactment was made by Enríquez’s son, Marco Enríquez-Ominami; Miguel Enríquez’s partner, Carmen Castillo Echeverria; the Chilean human rights group Agrupación de Familiares de Ejecutados Políticos (Relatives of Executed Political Prisoners); and the Human Rights Program of the Ministry of Interior of Chile.
The Rettig Commission Report, commissioned by former President Patricio Aylwin in 1991, states that on Oct. 5, 1974 Enríquez was surrounded by a contingent of armed DINA officers, and a helicopter hovered overhead as reinforcement. As the agents opened fire upon Enríquez, the revolutionary leader attempted to shield Castillo, who was attempting to leave the scene. Castillo, who was six months pregnant at the time, was severely injured in the onslaught. She was transferred to a hospital and later detained by the same DINA agents reportedly behind Enríquez’s murder: Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko and Marcelo Moren Brito. According to autopsy reports, Enríquez was wounded 10 times by bullets throughout the hour-long attack.
Enríquez-Ominami has emphasized the importance of establishing the facts that led to his father’s death: “The context is very important, because it was against MIR that Pinochet ordered torture and violence to eliminate the rebellion and resistance headed by my father.”
The re-enactment will require the cooperation of witnesses who were present when DINA agents surrounded Enríquez’s safe-house in Santiago. Yet Enríquez-Ominami expressed doubt about the participation of witnesses, stating that the fear of retribution must be eliminated for the investigation to be valid.
A situation the U.S. helped to create
A physician and a well-read individual with extensive knowledge of Chilean history and the Cuban Revolution, Miguel Enríquez became MIR’s general secretary in 1967, distinguishing himself through the application of revolutionary socialist theoretical knowledge.
As Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular government pursued the revolutionary process through the existing democratic frameworks corrupted by the Chilean right-wing, MIR increased its criticism of Allende’s political decisions, in particular as overt and covert U.S.-backed operations to destabilize the socialist government threatened social order. Departing from the perception of the Cuban Revolution as a threat, the United States’ intent was to stifle any form of support for socialist governance in Latin America. Allende’s electoral triumph, in particular, was seen as a possible turning point — not least due to the fact that socialism in Chile was achieved through democratic elections as opposed to armed resistance against U.S.-backed right-wing dictatorships.
A Church Committee report from 1975 established that the U.S. had begun supporting covert operations in Chile in 1962, culminating in operations designed to prevent Allende’s electoral triumph. Throughout the period of socialist governance, the U.S. government channeled funds to right-wing political parties and the CIA aided militant right-wing groups in carrying out acts of sabotage designed to create instability. Ironically, in 1974, the CIA was asked to compile human rights reports regarding the human rights violations committed by the dictatorship — a situation which the U.S. government and the CIA helped to create.
MIR affirmed its adherence to armed resistance, calling upon Allende to arm the people against right-wing violence. In fact, Cuba provided support to MIR’s training for armed revolutionary struggle – a reflection of Cuban internationalism as well as Fidel Castro’s discussion with Allende in which he urged the Chilean president not to put trust in the military.
The Sept. 11, 1973 military coup was the initiation of a brutal extermination of socialist opposition. While a considerable percentage of socialist militants attempted to seek refuge in foreign embassies to avoid political oppression or retribution, Miguel Enríquez refused political asylum and the possibility of exile in order to attempt to lead the resistance against Pinochet’s dictatorship from within Chile.
Operating within organized cells, MIR became a target for Pinochet. Evidence of the torture, assassination and disappearance of MIR militants is abundant — many having met their end at Cuartel Simon Bolivar, the torture and extermination center described as “the place where no one got out alive” by former errand boy and DINA agent Jorgelino Vergara Bravo.
One of the agents responsible for the torture, assassination and disappearance of MIR militants was Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, the former head of Brigada Caupolican, who attempted to shift his role from that of torturer to analyst. He is currently serving 144 years in prison for his role in various acts of brutality.
During the trial pertaining to the disappearance of MIR militant Maria Cecilia Labrin Saso, Krassnoff denied his role as torturer, despite the testimony of former torture survivors, some of whom stated that Krassnoff never attempted to conceal his identity and described himself as an agent undertaking analysis and intelligence studies aimed at providing information about “terrorist groups like MIR.” Yet it is an established fact that Pinochet’s intention was to eradicate the revolutionary movement to prevent any possible formidable opposition to his rule.
Investigative research by Mauricio Weibel published in the book “Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura” (“Illicit Association: The secret archives of the dictatorship”) details the spy network maintained abroad by Pinochet and collaborative governments and entities to keep tabs on exiled militants. A particularly notorious endeavor of the dictatorship is Operacion Colombo, also known as the Case of the 119 – a reference to the list of 119 militants (the majority of whom belonged to MIR) executed and disappeared by the dictatorship. The dictatorship narrative, this time in collaboration with Argentina and Brazil, attempted to influence public opinion by publishing articles alleging that the militants had fallen victim to political turbulence and splintering within the revolutionary movement itself.
Murdering Miguel Enríquez proved to be a difficult task for DINA. With political rhetoric aimed at uniting the masses – a direct defiance of Pinochet’s enforcement of terror and oblivion, Enríquez recognized that his survival and that of the revolutionary movement could only be ensured if he worked clandestinely.
In October 1974, DINA’s surveillance network managed to locate Enríquez’s relatives by curtailing the movements of his daughter, thus narrowing Enríquez’s location to a working class area south of Santiago where the revolutionary leader was thought to have taken up residence.
Then, on Oct. 5, he was surrounded and killed.
Accountability and impunity
While DINA’s aggression is clearly documented in Chilean history, it remains unclear whether Miguel Enríquez was armed at the time of his attack. Thus, obscure definitions and loopholes come into play. The Rettig Commission Report states that “the Commission cannot regard the death of Miguel Enríquez as a human rights violation in the strict sense. However, it does believe that he lost his life as a result of the situation of political violence, since he died resisting arrest by an agency which he had grounds for believing would torture and kill him if he were arrested.”
It is evident that criteria had to be established in order to determine and classify the various human rights violations committed during Pinochet’s dictatorship. However, in the cases of Miguel Enríquez and others, the notion that Pinochet’s dictatorship itself constituted a human rights violation has been disregarded, thus affording DINA officials the impunity to triumph over a proper reconstruction of events that would reveal the identities of the perpetrators.
The primary and most important premise has been eliminated from the narrative regarding Enríquez’s death: Pinochet’s intention was to entirely exterminate the MIR. This goal violates people’s legitimate rights of armed resistance against oppression.
Although several decades have passed, establishing the series of events and the facts that led to Enríquez’s assassination will serve to articulate the notion that even if Enríquez was indeed in possession of weapons at the time of the assault, his death was part of a predetermined, nationwide terror structure, thus ensuring a proper placing of accountability rather than the reliance of legal jargon to safeguard impunity through initiatives of the Chilean state.
(First published in Mint Press News)
Earlier this month, Chilean media erupted with the news that a former member of Chile’s secret police under the dictator Augusto Pinochet would face trial in the United States for the 1973 murder of , a popular revolutionary folk singer.
The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) confirmed the news with a statement on its website on April 14. “We are delighted with the news that our case will move forward for torture and extrajudicial killing,” CJA International attorney Almudena Bernabeu is quoted as saying.
Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez, a former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) agent, has been living in the U.S. since 1989. Knowing that a number of previous extradition requests from Chile had failed, the CJA filed the lawsuit on behalf of Jara’s family in a U.S. District Court in Florida, asserting claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).
Court documents made available by the CJA show that Barrientos is being held responsible “for the arbitrary detention, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and extrajudicial killing of Victor Jara at the Stadium on or about September 15 1973.”
After subjecting Jara to extreme torture, Barrientos played Russian roulette, eventually shooting the nueva canción singer in the back of the head. Jara’s body was then riddled with bullets by five military conscripts under orders from Barrientos.
On Jan. 30, 2015, Barrientos presented a motion to set aside the lawsuit instigated by CJA. His statement is replete with anti-socialist propaganda reminiscent of Henry Kissinger’s rhetoric, dismissing state violence as a mere excess that resulted “in the false detention, torture and execution of scores of individuals at Chile Stadium and other locations.”
Still, the CJA’s current legal proceedings against Barrientos, which commenced in September 2013, constitute a major step forward in attempting to bring Jara’s alleged murderer to justice.
“Quién mató a Víctor Jara?”
On Sept. 11, 1973, Pinochet ousted Salvador Allende, a democratically-elected, socialist president, in a U.S.-based coup that would keep Pinochet in power for almost two decades. In supporting the coup, the U.S. aimed to prevent the possibility of Chile becoming another beacon of socialism in South America, particularly in light of the resilience and popularity of the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro.
Allende’s campaign sought to unify the workers’ struggle within cultural consciousness. The Nueva Canción Chilena (Chilean New Song), a folk movement which originated in the mid-1960s as a means of articulating social struggle, became a popular revolutionary feature during Allende’s campaign.
Many nueva canción musicians, including Jara, later assumed roles as cultural ambassadors, and thus, targets for Pinochet.
A A mural depicting Victor Jara, one of the founders of the nueva canción movement.When “Quién mató a Víctor Jara?”
(“Who Killed Víctor Jara?”) aired on Chilevision in May 2012, the documentary accelerated an otherwise dormant process as former DINA conscript Jose Paredes Márquez revealed the name of Jara’s alleged killer.
“I do not have to face justice because I killed no one. I’ve been to Chile several times, but now, loud and clear, I won’t go,” Barrientos says in the documentary with the self-assurance of a man who, despite being wanted for Jara’s murder in Chile, has continued to live in the U.S. for almost 30 years without much threat of extradition.
Barrientos also cast doubt over Paredes’ testimony because after naming Barrientos as Jara’s killer, Paredes later retracted his testimony, stating that he was pressured by authorities to reveal details. And, indeed, given the lack of cooperation by the authorities to open dictatorship archives, it is likely that Paredes was pressured into retracting his statements to preserve Chile’s ingrained culture of impunity.
In December 2012, Chilean newspaper El Mostrador reported that Chilean courts handed down indictments against former DINA agents involved in Jara’s murder. Barrientos and Hugo Sanchez Marmonti were indicted as the murderers, while Roberto Souper Onfray, Raúl González Jofre, Edwin Dimter Bianchi, Nelson Hasse Mazzei and Luis Bethke Wulf were indicted as accomplices.
Struggle for justice
Jara’s murder and the subsequent struggle for justice reflect the stories of the thousands of Chileans murdered during Pinochet’s dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990. And speculation as to who murdered Jara was long shackled by authorities’ refusal to cooperate with investigations.
Indeed, legal action initiated by Joan Jara, Víctor’s widow, in Chile, proved futile for decades. The first legal proceedings filed in 1978 remained pending until Aug. 31, 1982, when the Chilean Criminal Court of First Instance declared there was insufficient evidence to charge any DINA agents with Jara’s murder.
Meanwhile, Pinochet passed Decree Law No. 2.191 in 1978. The amnesty law effectively prevented Chilean courts from prosecuting military officials involved in human rights abuses, including torture and murder, during the dictatorship era, which ran from 1973 to 1990. (The country moved to overturn the law last year, aiming to bring the country more in line with international human rights standards.)
Other attempts to bring Jara’s killers to justice were launched in 1999 at the Santiago Court of Appeals and the Chile Court of Appeals. Both were hampered by witnesses who were hesitant to come forward with information. The cases were consolidated in 2001, then closed in 2008, when Paredes stepped forward as a witness to Jara’s murder and provided the Santiago Court of Appeals with Barrientos’ identity as the alleged killer.