Caravan Of Death

New identifications of Pinochet’s Caravan of Death massacres in Calama

Forensic investigations carried out by Servicio Medico Legal on the remains of the Calama victims of Pinochet’s Caravan of Death on November 19, 1973 have now ended, leading to the re-identification of Rolando Hoyos Salazar, Rosario Munoz Castillo and Jose Saavedra Gonzalez, as well as the identification, for the first time, of Carlos Pinero Lucero and Milton Munoz Munoz. The remains were discovered in a mass grave in 1990, 13km away from Calama, on the road to San Pedro de Atacama.

The remains of victims Rafael Pineda Ibacache and David Luna Miranda have not been identified.

Calls for impunity from former military officer charged as an accomplice in Caravana de la Muerte

Juan Emilio Cheyre, a former military officer charged by Judge Mario Carroza as an accomplice in the torture and murder of 15 civilians during the Carvana de la Muerte massacres committed in La Serena, has denounced activists’ efforts to bring dictatorship-era perpetrators to justice. Activists, he declared, do not want to see Chile prosper. He called for denouncing dictatorship opponents, adding that only the police and the military should be involved in proceedings leading to indictment and subsequent prosecution.

Cheyre also stands accused of torturing Nicolas Barrantes and Luis Ravanal. Barrantes stated that the torture inflicted upon him only ended when the military murdered his brother, who was also detained and tortured.

Remembering the Caravana de la Muerte victims of La Serena

 

(La Serena victims of Caravana de la Muerte. Pictured: Marcos Barrantes Alcayaga, Jorge Contreras Godoy, Carlos Alcayaga Varela, Oscar Cortes Cortes, Hipolito Cortes, Jorge Jordan Domic, Jorge Pena Hen, Manuel Macarian, Mario Ramirez Sepulveda, Oscar Aedo Herrera, Jorge Osorio Zamora, Roberto Guzman Santa Cruz. The other two victims not shown above are Victor Escobar Astudillo, Gabriel Vergara Munoz and Jose Araya Gonzalez.)

On October 16, 1973 in La Serena, 15 Chileans were murdered in Augusto Pinochet’s extermination operation dubbed the Caravan of Death. La Serena was the first stop in the second part of the operation targeting the north of Chile. The victims were brutally mutilated before being shot and disappeared, buried in unmarked, mass graves.

The military officials responsible for the Caravan of Death massacres are Sergio Arellano Stark, Sergio Arredondo Gonzalez, Pedro Espinoa Bravo, Carlos Lopez Tapia, Marcelo Moren Brito, Antonio Palomo Contreras, Emilio Robert de la Mahotiere Gonzalez, Luis Felipe Polanco Gallardo, Juan Viterbo Chiminelli Fullerton and Armando Fernandez Larios.

Remembering Pinochet’s Chile. On the eve of London, 1998

Steve J Stern (Duke University Press, 2006)41d7LWm-nPL

As Pinochet’s tangible presence receded from the Chilean political structure, a vibrant memory legacy erupted, challenging dictatorial impositions and awakening the struggle for historical memory. The volatile political environment following the disintegration of the dictatorship created a complex memory framework fighting not only the imposed oblivion, but also an ingrained process through which memory became an essential part of the collective experience on both sides of the political spectrum. In “Remembering Pinochet’s Chile. On the eve of London, 1988”, Steve J Stern explores the national experience of the dictatorship, fragmented into several memory camps beyond the usual distinction of memory versus oblivion, depicting the diverse ramifications of collective memory and the induced oblivion in return for complacency and indifference, thus extracting the fight for remembrance promulgated by the marginalised opposition to the dictatorship. 

Right wing rhetoric frames political violence as a necessity, with remembrance based on recollection which do not necessarily represent personal experience. Memory as salvation – the expression of a collective national sentiment as purported by Pinochet’s adherents is detached from historical reality and fails to question the dynamics of Chile’s left, such as whether violent revolution was favoured by Salvador Allende. The remembrance associated with the experiences of other harbouring similar sentiment indulges in a convenient dismissal of torture and disappearances. The fear of violence becomes displaced, projected onto the resistance incorporated by the militant left, in order to justify the violations committed by DINA.

Dissident memory, incorporating memory as rupture, persecution and awakening, involves a transformation of various struggles of the collective. An embodiment of contradictions between life and memory, existence is organised around memory, with different forms of expression contributing to the collective. While memory as rupture manifests itself as an expression of anguish, particularly in honouring the disappeared and executed, memory as persecution is characterised by an inevitable division of society owing to contrasting memory camps, in turn validating social commitment and values to promote solidarity through activism.

Stern also acknowledges a process through which a form of passive oblivion is inadvertently practiced. Using the metaphor of memory as a closed box, Stern describes a process of silence through which atrocities remain unchallenged. A lack of validation of a collective expression in the public sphere becomes prone to a form of idolisation of victims which shifts the focus from the actual issue of dictatorship atrocities and the quest for justice.

Despite the encompassing collective experience, other forms of memory remain obscured due to guilt and unintended complicity. Various leftist supports willingly presented themselves for questioning, others urged to comply by family members. The ensuing permanent disappearance rendered a guarded expression of memory, with remorse being less explicit due to the burden of guilt. Enlisted conscripts, among them former leftists, were also coerced to participate in arrests and torture – an experience which failed to safeguard against DINA retribution, such as in the case of Carlos Alberto Carrasco Matus who, upon confiding in his friend about the horrors perpetrated by the dictatorship, was forced to take part in arresting his friend. Both ended up prisoners in Villa Grimaldi – Carrasco was beaten with chains and murdered by DINA in Villa Grimaldi, while his friend was exiled and in 1990 testified before the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Besides Pinochet’s insistence upon oblivion, Stern discerns another memory framework which negates atrocities through an intentional misinterpretation of history. Memory as indifference is established by recalling the alleged reasons as to why the coup was a necessity, while undeservedly attributing altruistic adjectives to a military which constantly proved its macabre character. According to an interviewee in the book identified as Colonel Juan F, the Chilean military possessed a ‘socialist character’ and was the salvation to Chile’s future through its solutions of problems posed by a welfare system. Any failure was blamed upon the Allende era having produced ‘mentally sick people’, depicting a complete irrelevance to the deterioration of progress which rendered society irrelevant in order to justify political violence.

Measures were also taken to enable the military to distance themselves from the atrocities committed. A particular instance refers to the Calama massacres, where Colonel Eugenio Rivera sought to protect himself and his soldiers by placing the blame solely upon General Sergio Arellano Stark, in charge  of the ‘Caravan of Death’.

The various memory frameworks have created a volatile coexistence shaped by elements in a constant struggle. Different experiences of life under Pinochet’s dictatorship have provided the framework for the ensuing cultural silence battled by a quest for justice, memory and recognition of committed atrocities. Considering the split within Chilean society, the major obstacle to emblematic memory is its displacement due to persistent right-wing hegemonic narratives. Hence the projection of emblematic memory into the public sphere in order for the collective experience to escape fragmentation and isolation, which in turn strengthens the case for historical legitimacy. Chilean society is imbued with ambiguities – certainties mingle with doubt, the struggle for memory resisting certain narrations which, despite the relevance to the struggle, are perhaps perceived as blurring the divide between various forms of rupture, as in the case of conscripts who resisted implementing torture and suffered the same fate as left wing supporters. Stern’s book serves as a compelling reminder of an incomplete sequence in the Chilean struggle, one that is partially dependent upon a dissolution of impunity in order to eliminate the process of selectivity and the peril of descending into various forms of oblivion. 

Flowers in the Desert: the search for Chile’s disappeared

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Paula Allen, University of Florida Press, 2013

(Review first published in Chileno)

“We dug in the desert and sometimes came across strange bones. We were so frightened during those years that we would bury them again.” The statement by Leonila Rivas Ruiz, mother of dictatorship victim and disappeared Manuel Hidalgo Rivas summarises the intensity of contradictions fluctuating within the relatives of the executed men in Calama. Flowers in the desert – the search for Chile’s disappeared (University of Florida Press, 2013) is a compelling, bilingual narration which disseminates the tenacity of the women of Calama, defying the atrocities of the dictatorship by launching an autonomous investigation and search for the twenty six victims of Pinochet’s Caravan of Death.

Paula Allen has created a harrowing account of the massacres, weaving the anguish associated with political executions and disappearances into a visual and literary narrative. With contributions by writers such as Ariel Dorfman, Peter Kornblugh and the late Patricia Verdugo – researcher and author of books regarding the Caravan of Death, the book provides testimonies substantiated by an overview of research and a multitude of photographs depicting the vastness of the unknown – juxtaposing the immensity of the desert with the resonating silence of dictatorship impunity.

Despite lack of evidence pertaining to acts associated with militancy (Pinochet had stated that the Chilean military was facing thousands of armed guerrillas trained in Cuba) the twenty-six men massacred in Calama were accused of conspiring to blow up the DuPont factory. On October 19, General Sergio Arellano Stark landed in Calama – the final stop in the Caravan of Death massacres, following a trail of terror which encompassed Cauquenes, La Serena, Copiapó and Antofagasta. Colonel Eugenio Rivera Desgroux allowed Stark access to the prisoners for interrogation, receiving notification of their annihilation only a few minutes prior to Stark’s departure from Calama. The men were blindfolded and herded into vans under the command of Colonel Sergio Arrendondo Gonzáles, taken to the outskirts of Calama, mutilated with sabres and shot. Upon viewing the bodies and consulting with the regiment doctor, Rivera ordered a secret burial of the bodies in a mass grave due to the severe mutilation, striving to avoid confrontation with relatives. The official version of the massacres shielded the military from culpability – the men were allegedly shot for attempting to escape from custody and the bodies could not be immediately released to their families for burial. According to Verdugo’s research, Colonel Ariosto Lapostol Orrego insisted that Stark had indicated on a list the prisoners scheduled for the massacre. 

Prompted by the authorities’ silence and refusal to divulge details regarding the disappearance of the twenty-six men, relatives embarked upon a personal quest to recover the bodies – a search which lasted seventeen years. Allen, a photojournalist, embarked upon the journey with the women of Calama. “I wanted to find a body, to help relieve the grief of even one of these women, but I was also frightened that my fingers would actually touch a bone.” Alternating between digging at sites and photographing the struggle for truth, Allen has managed to capture an immense tenacity which reveals the repercussions of Pinochet’s dictatorship, etched within a sliver of memory obfuscated for years. After following various leads and rumours, the location of the mass grave was revealed on July 19, 1990. Years of venturing in the desert, at times stopped by officials for allegedly digging on archaeological sites, had culminated into the discovery of a mass grave in the Vulture’s Ravie near San Pedro, only 15km away from Calama. According to testimony by one of the relatives, “Lying on top of the earth were pieces of skulls, ribs and jaws. The ground was soft in places, and when you walked in it, little bones popped up from the sand.”

The fragments of bones and body parts, as opposed to the expected discovery of bodies still intact, is surmised to have been part of Pinochet’s clandestine plan known as ‘Operación Retiro de Televisores’. Following the discovery of fifteen bodies in an abandoned furnace in Lonquén, Pinochet ordered the exhumation of disappeared victims by the dictatorship, in an attempt to prevent other mass grave discoveries. Bodies were excavated and burned in drums or packed and dropped into the ocean from helicopters. However, the bodies were crushed by heavy machinery, thus leaving fragments of bone in several secret burial sites which allowed for the identification of various desaparecidos.

In the case of Calama, it is estimated that the bodies were exhumed and reburied four times by different military units, prior to being dumped in the ocean, resulting in severe disintegration of the bodies. Only one body remained intact – Luís Contreras León was discovered in a mine in La Tetera. His cadaver was preserved by the temperature in the mine – Contreras was completely identifiable, exhibiting signs of torture and his eyes missing.

Other relatives had to contend with fragments of their loved ones being returned to them, after undergoing tests to confirm the identity of the desaparecidos. The book details the turbulence associated with receiving body parts “… a lot of severed fingers, and a left boot with toes in it,” pieces of jawbone, scraps of clothing and shrivelled skin. The difficulty of accepting fragments, however, was challenged by another experience, that of relatives waiting to receive the remnants of their loved ones only to be informed that the tangible evidence had corroded during testing, leaving relatives to contend with the confirmed executions and the lack of a relic to bury and mourn.

The magnitude of division within Chilean society is vividly expressed in the narrated testimonies. “Pinochet created a new class of Chileans – relatives of the executed and disappeared. We are the disposable class.” The statement is also reminiscent of Steve J Stern’s research, meticulously presented in his memory trilogy of Chile. The implied ramifications are endless, coercing a nation into further societal erosion due to the complicity in concealing criminal evidence fortified by impunity.  Judge Guzmán initiated investigations into the Caravan of Death, which allowed investigators to trace criminal liability to Pinochet. Impunity, however, would shield Pinochet from responsibility, together with the alleged dementia rendering him unable to recall details of the atrocities.  

It is worth recalling that participants in the Caravan of Death were rewarded with further opportunities to perfect their macabre inclinations – Colonel Marcelo Moren Brito became the director of the notorious torture centre Villa Grimaldi. Major Armando Fernández Larios, Colonel Sergio Arredondo Gonzáles and Brigadier Pedro Espinoza Bravo took part in clandestine operations and targeted assassinations within Chile and abroad.

As the book so poignantly elucidates, the struggle for memory and its divisive complexities are central to interpretations of truths derived from judicial investigations and testimony of former participants in the massacre. Within each testimony lies a sliver of doubt tainted with false hope, as relatives question the feasibility of dumping executed detainees into the ocean and contemplate the possibility of discovering other desaparecidos in the vast deserts of Chile. For the ‘disposable class’, certainty remains an abstract, tarnished with arrogant statements such as that of Pinochet’s son describing the dictatorship victims as ‘not human beings, they were beasts,” and the lack of accountability which has allowed countless torturers and executioners to escape any semblance of justice. Without lessening culpability, the book also serves to empower the victims through renewed efforts to establish and consolidate collective memory, shifting the dynamics of the dictatorship through a depiction of human rights violators overshadowed by the memory of the Calama victims.

 

Name  Age at execution Year(s) of identification
 Mario Arguellez Toro 34  1995 
 Carlos Berger Guralnik 30 2005 (unofficial)
 Haroldo Cabrera Abarzúa 34 1990 (fingerprint), 1995
 Jerónimo Carpanchai Choque 28 1995
 Bernardino Cayo Cayo 43 2011
 Carlos Escobedo Caris 24 1995
 Luis Gahona Ochoa 28 1995, 2011
 Daniel Garrido Muñoz 22 2011
 Luis Hernández Neira 32 1995, 2011
 Rolando Hoyos Salazar 38 1995, 2011
 Domingo Manani López 41 2005 (unofficial)
 David Miranda Luna 48
 Hernán Moreno Villaroe 29 1995
 Luis Moreno Villaroel 30
 Rosario Muñoz Castillo 26 2010
 Milton Muñoz Muñoz 33 1995
 Víctor Ortega Cuevas 34
 Rafael Pineda Ibacache 24
 Carlos Piñero Lucero 29 1995
 Sergio Ramírez Espinoza 29
 Fernando Ramírez Sánchez 29 1995
 Alejandro Rodríguez Rodríguez 47 1995, 2011
 Manuel Hidlago Rivas 23 2011
 Roberto Rojas Alcayaga 36 1995, 2011
 José Saavedra Gonzáles 18 1995
 Jorge Yueng Rojas 37 2010

El Despertar de los Cuervos. Telas Verdes, el orgien del exterminio en Chile

rebolledo cuervosJavier Rebolledo (Ceibo Ediciones, 2013)

Following the macabre narration ‘La Danza de los Cuervos: el destino final de los detenidos desaparecidos’, which describes the torture and extermination of dictatorship opponents carried out in Cuartel Simon Bolivar, Javier Rebolledo’s latest book, ‘El despertar de los Cuervos. Tejas Verdes, el origen del exterminio en Chile’ (Ceibo Ediciones, 2013) provides a detailed account of DINA’s formation in Tejas Verdes – the location where experimentation with torture was carried out in the early days of the dictatorship.

The prologue to the book describes perversity as an inadequate term in relation to dictatorship atrocities committed in Chile. With the full truth of horrors still concealed from the nation, the subject of torture, extermination and disappearance is shrouded within various levels of anonymity – the anonymity enforced by DINA upon the disappeared, torturers whose identity is still undisclosed, and tortured victims who are reluctant to disclose their accounts and add to the Chilean collective memory framework.

Alternating between testimonies from torture survivors, information from official investigation documents and critical commentary, Rebolledo’s account of Tejas Verdes validates his earlier statement dwelling on the difference between conventional reporting about atrocities and survivor testimony. The dehumanisation of detainees through various forms of torture, degradation, manipulation of culture and a refusal to acknowledge individual identity of detainees created harrowing narratives vacillating between the need for recognition and the experiences which DINA attempted to mire within a widespread imposition of oblivion in order to consolidate impunity.

The importance of Tejas Verdes has been overshadowed by other infamous torture centres such as Londres 38 and Villa Grimaldi, as well as by operations carried out by DINA involving the extermination of MIR and Communist Party militants such as the Caravan of Death and Operacion Colombo. However, prior to the formal establishment of DINA, political opponents of Augusto Pinochet were already being tortured and disappeared from Tejas Verdes – the primary torture and extermination centre in Chilean dictatorship history.

Tejas Verdes served as the initiation into torture and a focal point for other torture and extermination centres in Chile. The majority of torturers received their instruction at Tejas Verdes – names such as Marcelo Moren Brito, Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, Ricardo Lawrence and Cristian Labbé featuring prominently in dictatorship history. Operating under various brigades, DINA agents were tasked with intelligence operations, specific targeting of MIR and Communist Party militants, security and clandestine operations involving extermination of dictatorship opponents. Of particular mention are Brito’s role in the Caravan of Death and Krassnoff’s torture practices in Londres 38. Brigada Halcón, which operated in Londres 38, was also involved in the kidnapping, torture and murder of Víctor Díaz which occurred at Cuartel Simon Bolivar. The refinement of torture practiced in other torture centres such as Clínica Santa Lucia – an issue discussed by Patricio Bustos Streeter indicates a continuous attempt to obliterate any previous errors and cultivate an elaborate impunity. Rebolledo also discusses the existence of Brigada Mulchén under the command of Cristian Labbé – a relatively unknown brigade involved in clandestine operations but whose complicity has been difficult to prove, apart from the murder of Spanish diplomat Carmelo Soria in 1976.

Rebolledo shows how, despite judicial investigations initiated by Judge Alejandro Solis, it has been impossible to determine the number of detainees held in Tejas Verdes. What emerged, however, were the details of an appalling torture network headed by Manuel Contreras Sepulveda – a testimony of sadism in the name of eradicating Marxism from Chile. Torturers indicted by Judge Solis portrayed themselves as patriots unjustly accused, who had allegedly saved Chile from the grips of a communist dictatorship. Through the exhibited vestiges of dictatorial power during the trials of former DINA agents, such as Contreras’ threats to Judge Solis, it is possible to discern the traits of an organisation which operated with impunity.

The testimonies of Anatolio Zarate, Ana Becerra, Olga Letelier and Feliciano Cerda, supplemented by other narrations garnered from official investigation documents, portray the extent of human rights violations which DINA agents indulged in. The torture sessions were designed to create a barrier of immense magnitude between torturer and detainee, between detainee and humanity. Torture survivors describe electric shocks through use of the parilla, sexual violence and coercion, severe beatings, mock executions, the insertion of mice and spiders in the vagina, genital mutilation, use of dogs in sexual torture, mutilation, amputations and crude cauterisation, violation in the presence of family members, degrading language, as well as forced ingestion of urine and faeces. Pleas for death on behalf of detainees were met with additional bouts of torment.

Former soldiers who testified against Contreras claimed that detainees were lured to Tejas Verdes upon the premise of ‘discussing’ points of contention, which was imparted in an official letter. Prospective detainees usually complied and exhibited no resistance, discovering upon arrival the nature of DINA’s alleged discussion. Some were assassinated upon the fabricated pretext of attempting escape, others who voiced their fears of being murdered, such as detainee Lucho Normabuena, were systematically disappeared. Medical professionals who attempted to inscribe the truth about the cause of death were detained in Tejas Verdes. Detainees were forced to listen or witness their friends being tortured, while DINA embarked upon plans in the hope of extracting information from detainees upon other detained militants. Olga Letelier describes how torture sessions were usually attended by a group of DINA officers, alternating between watching and participating in torture.

The book also expounds upon the network of health care professionals recruited to supervise torture and instruct DINA torturers in recognising individual thresholds to reduce the possibility of murder during a torture session. With most medical torturers still benefiting from impunity, Chilean society has to contend with yet another contradiction – that of entrusting their health to doctors whose complicity in torture and murder is still concealed. A list of former medical torturers still practicing their profession has been circulating on the internet, in a bid to expose further DINA atrocities. The literature dealing with medical torturers in the book explicitly portrays how the dictatorship disfigured the profession. Among others, Rebolledo’s book refers to Vittorio Orvieto Tiplisky, who commenced his career with DINA at Tejas Verdes and later participated in the extermination of militants at Cuartel Simon Bolivar; nurse Gladys Calerdon who administered lethal injections to tortured detainees prior to their disappearance and Roberto Lailhacar, who recently admitted to the disposal of six disappeared dictatorship opponents in wells on his property at Curacaví.

Rebolledo has bequeathed another significant treatise to Chile’s recent history. It affirms a previous statement by Chilean author and survivor of Tejas Verdes, Hernan Valdes, who summarised Tejas Verdes thus: “All I knew about evil until then was only caricature, only literature. Now evil has lost all moral reference.” Pinochet’s plea for oblivion decades later served as a reminder of what leftist opposition had struggled against. Oblivion had already been implemented by the dictatorship prior to any public call, as evidenced from the early disappearances from Tejas Verdes, the certainty of impunity which was flaunted time and again at tortured detainees, the illegal adoptions of babies born to detainees in order to eliminate traces of rape in detention centres, the medical practitioners who worked under assumed names, thus separating their roles as torturers from the role assumed within the wider berths of society. The detailed testimony and commentary in this book prove that Tejas Verdes should be at the helm of any detailed research regarding Pinochet’s dictatorship – it is through an understanding of Tejas Verdes as the primary reference to human rights violation that one can comprehend the extended torture network and state complicity during the Chilean dictatorship.