Former torture centre to be recognised as memory site

Venda Sexy, a former detention, torture and extermination centre during the Pinochet dictatorship, will be recognised as a memory on Wednesday. The centre will be administered by Colectivo de Mujeres Sobrevivientes Siempre Resistentes after a long social media campaign in which various human rights organisations participated. In a statement, the organisers insisted that the Valech Commission’s failure to specify the torture practices against women at Venda Sexy are an omission of memory that needs to be corrected, in order to avoid the generalisation of torture. The memory site will be exclusively run by women. 

Will the errors of Chile’s left facilitate a right-wing victory?

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.

Valparaiso Court of Appeals orders the arrest of former DINA torturer Cristián Labbé

Former DINA agent, torture instructor and mayor of Providencia, Cristian Labbe, has been arrested upon orders by the Valparaiso Court of Appeals for his role in the kidnapping, detention and torture of Cosme Segundo Caracciolo Alvarez.

Caracciolo Alvarez was kidnapped from his home in March 1975 and taken to Rocas de Santo Domingo.

Labbé was also prosecuted in 2014 for his association with Tejas Verdes upon a series of accusations related to torture which came to light after publication of Javier Rebolledo’s book, “El Despertar de los Cuervos.”


Ingrid Olderock: la mujer de los perros

Ingrid Olderock: la mujer de los perros

Author: Nancy GuzmánPortadaOlderock

Publisher: Ceibo Ediciones, 2014

“In this type of investigation, objectivity is non-existent.” Alejandro Solís Muñoz’s statement in his prologue to “Ingrid Olderock: la mujer de los perros” necessitates reflection. Objectivity, in the wrong hands, is a weapon of normalising violence and human rights violations. The end result would be normalising the dictatorship and its atrocities. It would also be an aberration to normalise the experience of Ingrid Olderock as part of the dictatorship’s intelligence services, elevated to the rank of Captain by former DINA chief Manuel Contreras.

The book is based upon three interviews with Olderock conducted by Nancy Guzmán in July and August of 1996, following a request by the BBC request to work on a documentary about torture. Ingrid Olderock was on the list of names given to the author by Chilean human rights lawyer Nelson Caucoto.

Years after her involvement with DINA, Olderock’s existence was mired in fear. Reprisals not only from the Chileans who she persecuted and tortured, but also from former DINA colleagues, became a reality. Her knowledge of surveillance tactics was not enough to shield her from an assassination attempt on July 15, 1981, when two MIR militants shot her at close range but failed to kill her. In hospital, Olderock refused anesthesia – memories of DINA tactics to coerce information out of detainees or to prepare the detainees for the death flights were prominent. It was not, however, a fragment of belated compassion. Olderock had been going to therapy sessions during which, it was possible, that she had divulged secret DINA information. Mistrust – a component of DINA’s psychological tactics – was well ingrained in Olderock.

Balancing interviews and facts, Guzmán imparts a vivid account of Olderock’s character, as well as her role in DINA. Olderock is most known for her role in training dogs to violate female detainees, according to testimonies from torture survivors. The depravity, however, is not limited to this aberration – from surveillance to torture and disappearances, Olderock formed part of the most feared DINA brigades and collaborated with other torture and extermination centres.

Guzman’s research is meticulous.  Her analysis of Olderock’s childhood, in which racism and Nazism were venerated while exhibiting profound anti-communist sentiment, set the pace for the unfolding information as narrated by the former DINA agent. Olderock moved seamlessly in a realm where Nazism, racism and anti-communist sentiment were normalised and fanatically admired since childhood. During the interviews, Olderock states: “I have been a Nazi since childhood … I was also in agreement with Colonia Dignidad,” with reference to a German colony run by former Nazi Paul Schafer and which also served as part of Pinochet’s surveillance, detention and torture centres.

Despite her crucial role in DINA, Olderock was relatively unknown prior to the assassination attempt. Guzman explains that the previous focus was on male DINA agents. However, through testimony from former detainees, Amnesty International had informed the UN of Ingrid Olderock’s role as DINA torturer. Meanwhile, Guzmán explains, the assassination attempt was an additional worry for the dictatorship, particularly since the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) had managed to organise from exile and returned to Chile to resist the dictatorship through armed struggle. For DINA it was a time of upheaval after Pinochet dismissed Manuel Contreras and dissolved DINA, replacing it with the CNI which, although described as less brutal, was more efficient in surveillance and targeting of individuals, including those in exile, due to its collaboration with governments abroad.

Apart from her interviews with Olderock, Guzmán also sought commentary from other professionals to shed light on issues such as repression and armed struggle, as well as Olderock’s claims of suffering from amnesia as a result of her assassination attempt. The foundations, in both scenarios, lie in the systematic repression practiced by the dictatorship. The militant ideology is a direct protest against dictatorship brutality, thus making armed struggle legitimate. Olderock’s claims of forgetting, on the other hand, are a form of convenient dissociation from themes which she preferred to leave unexplored – a form of self-defence on many levels, particularly from possible retribution by former DINA agents.

The latter is not hard to imagine. Prior to the assassination attempt, there were plans to fly Olderock out of Chile in return for information about DINA and the CNI. During the course of the interviews, Olderock divulges to Guzmán that she is in possession of secret DINA information: “Contreras will kill me if he finds out,” she says.

Gaps in Olderock’s narrative are explored by Guzmán ’s research. While Olderock is keen to speak of her role in DINA as Captain and recruiter of female agents, as well as torture instructor – roles assigned to her by Contreras, it is clear that she maintains a balance between imparting information and incrimination. Indeed, one of the courses she taught to female DINA agents was on the evasion of accountability with regard to torture and disappearances. Her female recruits include Gladys Calderdon, who later moved on to Cuartel Simon Bolivar and was assigned the role of injecting detainees with toxic substances or anaesthetic in preparation for the death flights. The courses taught by DINA fuelled hatred and detachment in order to train recruits in ruthlessness. For target practice, agents were required to fire upon posters of MIR militants. In turn, this generated further hatred of socialism and communism. Recruits were also tested for stealth in infiltration – one of the tests described by Olderock and which almost all failed to accomplish was for recruits to infiltrate Tejas Verdes without being identified.

As a female DINA captain and member of Brigada Purén, Olderock had more access than most to different torture centres. Apart from being assigned by Contreras to administer the DINA archives at the Clinica Santa Lucia – a location that was previously utilised by MAPU and transformed into a detention and torture centre by DINA, she had direct access to Villa Grimaldi and Venda Sexy. At the Clinica Santa Lucia, detainess were held until a decision about their fate was taken – a transfer to other torture centres or extermination and disappearance. Brigada Purén also reported directly to Contreras.

Olderock also denied the use of dogs in sexual violations at the detention and torture centre known as Venda Sexy – a place where music blared 24 hours a day to obliterate the incessant screams of agony from tortured detainees. In her mind, the denial is absolute – she refutes evidence of her being part of the brigade. However, testimony form torture survivors state the opposite. Alejandra Holzapfel Picarte, a former detainee and torture survivor, states that the torture took place in the basement of Venda Sexy, including Olderock’s depravity of using a German Shepherd named Voloida, as part of the sexual torture. The torture took place in the presence of other DINA agents who wished to watch.

Guzmán remarks: “The normal life that had existed in this country on September 10, 1973 was lost in a few hours … Public spaces were transformed into spaces for the destruction of society and humanity.” Venda Sexy was one such manifestation. The torture is said to have been more sophisticated than what occurred in Villa Grimaldi. According to records, the youngest torture victim at Villa Grimaldi was a six month old baby, presumably to coerce the parents into divulging information. In Venda Sexy, there was a time table for torture dictating which torture sessions should take place and when. Women were sexually humiliated and forced to perform obscene acts on male detainees. All the agents at Venda Sexy, including Olderock, were responsible for torture, murder and disappearance. Former DINA agent Manuel Rivas Diaz also shed light on Venda Sexy as being part of the extermination centres, having witnessed the preparation of detainees for the death flights. Other testimony explicitly states that the death flights were also a form of murder – detainees were sometimes alive when tied and thrown into the ocean from helicopters.

Through the three interviews granted by Olderock, Guzmán skilfully portrays Olderock’s commitment to DINA – to the extent that she betrayed her sister to DINA upon her return to Chile from Germany, thus facilitating her detention and torture at Villa Grimaldi. The methodical practices described by Olderock and researched by Guzmán shed light upon one of the most dehumanising experiences inflicted upon a country.

Apart from insights into Olderock’s psychology and the construction of Chilean collective memory, this book stands out in its ability to connect the missing pieces of information to show DINA’s reach at a national and international level. For Olderock, working with DINA was a mere question of obeying the orders given by her superiors, hence the absence of any remorse as regards her role in human rights violations. The collaboration between torture centres makes DINA’s pact of silence even more relevant as regards impunity. A leak from one source could have jeopardised the entire dictatorship structure. Hence, this pact of silence is also a reflection of the measures taken by DINA to silence any form of dissent in Chile and abroad through targeted assassinations and surveillance collaboration. In recognition of this fact, Guzmán ends the book with a warning: “Memory should clearly and completely expose the criminals … to avoid normalisation of barbarism.”


Colonialism, neoliberal violence and the dynamics of resistance in Mapuche poetry

(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.







Launching of Rodrigo Rojas de Negri’s complete photographic archive

Next Tuesday, the complete photographic archive of Rodrigo Rojas de Negri was presented at Universidad de Chile. The archive, which comprises over 7,000 photographs, slides, documents, posters and audio visual material, forms part of the investigative project “Archivo Rodrigo Rojas de Negri” which is partly financed by Fondart Regional 2015.

Montserrat Rojas Corradi, curator of the exhibition “An Exile Without Return” which includes Rojas’s work, describes the photographer as “not only a victim of human rights during the dictatorship, but also a photographer portraying Chile during that period.”

Rojas was burned alive in 1986 by a military patrol. Carmen Gloria Quintana, who was also targeted by the military, survived the attack but remained heavily scarred.

A Temporary Suspension of Exile in Chile: An Interview with Former MIR Militant Hugo Marchant


(First published in Upside Down World)

Chile’s supreme court of appeals has temporarily suspended the exile sentence imposed upon an ex-militant of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). Hugo Marchant was detained in 1973 for distributing leaflets containing anti-Pinochet propaganda and later became a member of the (MIR) while in exile. Marchant entered Chile clandestinely in 1980 as part of a guerilla group opposing Pinochet’s dictatorship. 

Accused of involvement in the killing of Santiago General Carol Urzúa Ibáñez, Marchant and his family were arrested and tortured by Centro Nacional de Intelligencia (CNI) agents. Following nine years of imprisonment, Marchant’s sentence was commuted to exile during Patricio Aylwin’s presidency. Founded in 1965 by left-wing students, MIR quickly established support in Santiago, especially from working class neighborhoods. MIR supported Salvador Allende; however the group expected more radical social reforms. Nevertheless, prior to the military coup, MIR began contacting junior officers within the army, urging them to support the civilian elected government. With Allende overthrown by Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1973, MIR were targeted and thousands of members, including the leaders, were arrested and killed, with those surviving the clampdown fleeing from Chile.

Marchant’s previous attempts to enter Chile were quickly repudiated by the Chilean authorities. Now nearing the end of his first exile sentence, Marchant’s renewed attempt to enter Chile brought about a legal triumph. Upon presenting his passport, Marchant found himself detained by the police and subsequently deported to Buenos Aires, where he awaited the final decision of Chile’s supreme court of appeals. Echoing Marchant’s adamant opinion that legalities were in his favour, the judiciary declared the temporary lifting of the exile, granting Marchant fifteen days, starting on December 29, 2011 at 9:30am, to visit Chile and be reunited with his family.

The appeal has garnered a lot of media attention as well as support from human rights and activists groups. It is estimated that between 1500 – 2000 MIR militants have been killed, exiled or disappeared by the Pinochet dictatorship. A few ex-militants remain exiled; their sentences will be nearing completion between 2012 and 2014.

The supreme court declared that Chile had transgressed the 1993-1994 American Convention of Human Rights (Article 22:5) and the Pact of Civil and Political Rights (Article 12:4) which specifically states that no one can be banished from national territory and no one can arbitrarily prevent anyone from re entering one’s own country.

Ramona Wadi: How did you become involved in MIR?
Hugo Marchant: I was a member of Frente de Estudiantes Revolucionarios (FER) during my years as a student at the military high school. FER was the students’ social front of (MIR). In 1977 I entered the party while in exile.

RW: What was your role within the movement?
HM: I was to enter Chile clandestinely in November 1980, as part of the Central Force in the area of logistics.

RW: At what point during Pinochet’s dictatorship were you and your family arrested?
HM: On Tuesday September 7, 1980 at 13:45pm I was stopped by a score of Central Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) agents in the San Pablo con Bandera province. My family was arrested by the same intelligence body in Serrano. The agents arrested my wife, Silvia Sepulveda Aedo, my daughter Javiera who was eight months old, and my son Pablo, aged 4. My son, Simon, was hidden by neighbors for three days in the attic of a neighbouring house. My wife held Javiera in her arms while Pablo played with a little car in a cell at the CNI headquarters. The memory of these moments – the interrogation and torture, is so horrendous I cannot bear to talk about it.

RW: How did your memory of Chile alter during the nine years in prison and the subsequent nineteen years exiled in Finland?
HM: The nine years of imprisonment and nineteen years of banishment, exile, have not alienated me from my country or the struggle for Chile. Through the press, the reading of several testimonies has allowed me to retain the reality. The cruelty of this enforced exile is the emotional upheaval. I cannot walk with my kids and my wife through the streets which witnessed our struggles. I have been unable to mourn at the graves of my fallen comrades in battle. I failed to attend my mother’s funeral. Exile has prevented me from standing with the Mapuche people who are under military occupation of their land by the government in power. I have also been unable to accompany the students in their struggles. And during each day which passes in exile, I know I am suffering a wrongful conviction since fighting injustice and oppression is a legitimate cause.

RW: Did the Valech Commission* report have any effect on your case?
HM: The Valech report notes the violation of human rights committed in Chile and supports our defense. However, a new trial never materialized for me.

RW: What was the response from the government with regard to your case?
HM: The government’s response was a resounding ‘NO’. Not even the unanimous decision from the Commission of Human Rights in parliament, neither the authorisation allowing us time to file an appeal at the Appeals Court, were an impediment for the government to express its hatred for our history.

RW: Has your case created more awareness about the plight of exiled political prisoners in Chile?
HM: The strategy of attempting direct entry into Chile through the airport has been effective in demonstrating the injustice of exile. The laws of the state are in our favor, however the government reacted violently and expelled us. The publicity generated by the media garnered the attention of various social and political groups both nationally and internationally, effectively extending our campaign to terminate this exile. Social movements in Chile have expressed support in a concrete way for our cause. On an international level, a complaint is being filed with the Inter American Court of Human Rights since the state of Chile is violating international treaties to which it is supposed to adhere to.

RW: What do you think will influence the final decision of the appeal? The government or the judiciary?
HM: This is clear – a look at the history of political prisoners and judicial proceedings will show that the judiciary is the only way through which the political confrontation between the popular sectors in struggle and the state of domination or governance can be expressed. With our campaign, political facts have been installed in the political scene. Therefore if we continue accumulating the social and political support with our campaign, we will achieve a force that allows us to realize major actions. Meanwhile our people’s advances in pursuing the fight for human rights will change the legal results. At the international level it is important to perform specific tasks to raise awareness and opposition, such as sending letters to the Judiciary, the Ministry of Interior, The President of the Republic and repudiating manifest injustices such as banishment, exile and forced exile. Collection of signatures should be sent to Comite Fin Al Destierro Ahora – our committee which campaigns to end exile. Every initiative in favor of human rights, every stand against banishment, is a necessary initiative.

*The Valech Commission report is a record of abuses committed in Chile between 1973 – 1990, documenting over 38,000 political prisoners – most of them tortured.