death flights

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.”

 

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

ALLEN003_500x500

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

La Danza de los Cuervos: el destino final de los detenidos desaparecidos

PortadaCuervoschicaJavier Rebolledo (Ceibo Ediciones, 2012)

The history of Cuartel Simón Bolívar remained a heavily shrouded secret of Direccion de Intelligencia Nacional (DINA), until the pact of silence was broken by Jorgelino Vergara Bravo, known as ‘el Mocito’. A struggle for survival grotesquely transformed into a life of treason – a man of campesino origins working as a servant in the household of Manuel Contreras Sepulveda – Head of DINA, later progressing to inclusion in DINA and transferred to Cuartel Simón Bolívar. ‘La Danza de los Cuervos: el destino final de los detenidos desaparecidos’ (Dance of Crows: the fate of the disappeared detainees) delves into the atrocities committed by Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfín through Vergara’s testimony who, in 2007, declared the Cuartel as ‘the only place where no one got out alive’.  Residents living close to the extermination centre were reluctant to make friends, out of mistrust and the uncomfortable proximity to the terror inflicted upon detainees.

Vergara’s initiation into Manuel Contreras’ realm started with his employment as an errand boy. During the months spent at the household, Vergara equated respect with authority, particularly manifested in his obsession with weapon handling and ownership and learning to work in relation to crime, albeit unconsciously at first. Contreras’ power was gradually revealed – occasional phone calls from dictator Augusto Pinochet, the arrival of Uruguayan President Juan María Bordaberry and the ensuing collaboration in staging Operación Condór and Operación Colombo, the expensive automobiles, the presence of bodyguards and the visits of other DINA agents, such as Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, Michael Townley and Juan Morales Salgado, were a fragment of the reality incarcerated within Cuartel Simón Bolívar.

Javier Rebolledo portrays Vergara’s testimony as a narration of memories, prompted by the author at times for clarification or further information; supplemented by the author’s research through official documents and court statements. However, it is essentially Vergara’s history intertwined with that of the torturers and the desaparecidos of Cuartel Simón Bolívar. Apart from his insistence that he was never involved in killing or torturing any of the desaparecidos, the sensation of blame is effortlessly enhanced. Indeed, Judge Victor Montiglio only acquitted Vergara on the grounds that he was not yet an adult according to the law, during his tenure working for DINA’s Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfín.

The initial realisation of betrayal is only intensified as the book progresses. Vergara’s betrayal of his campesino origins, his betrayal of DINA and, more importantly, the betrayal of Chile’s struggle against oblivion merge and distance themselves incessantly. The contrasts of relieving one’s conscience versus the convenience of acquittal, coupled with Vergara’s trepidation of a possible assassination for revealing DINA’s profoundly fortified secret, all point to complicity in the fate of MIR and Partido Comunista disappeared militants.

On January 20, 2007 Jorgelino Vergara Bravo broke the pact of silence after being falsely identified as the murderer of Víctor Manuel Díaz López, head of the clandestine organisation of Chile’s Communist Party. Insisting that he never killed or tortured any of the desaparecidos, Vergara’s testimony shed light on Cuartel Simón Bolívar as Chile’s torture and extermination centre. There had been numerous speculations about the existence of a site specifically used for the persecution, torture and annihilation of MIR and Communist Party Militants, but DINA refused to reveal any vital information. While Vergara was detained in a high security prison, 74 DINA agents were immediately arrested, leaving no chance for a possible corroboration between officials to avail themselves of impunity. Betrayals and denials ensued. Contreras denied ever having set eyes upon Vergara. On the contrary, Juan Morales Salgado, Head of Brigada Lautaro, was the first to affirm that Vergara ‘was neither an apparition nor paranoid’, confirming Vergara’s employment at Cuartel Simón Bolívar and his previous job as errand boy in Contreras’ household.

Montiglio’s perseverance in bringing the DINA agents to justice was abruptly terminated upon his demise from cancer in 2011. By that time, evidence about Cuartel Simón Bolívar, the Calle Conferencia cases, as well as the process of disappearing MIR and Communist Party militants and Operacion Retiro de Televisores was swiftly unravelling, revealing the ruthless mechanisms of Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfín.

Vergara’s previous fragmented knowledge, garnered from conversations between Contreras and other DINA agents, including Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, Juan Morales Salgado, Burgos de Beer and Moren Brito, gradually manifested itself into revelations of actual torture and extermination ritual. Serving coffee and sandwiches to agents in the midst of torture sessions, Vergara recalls the indifference with which instructions on how to serve coffee jarred with the sight of a detainee writhing from excruciating torture. However, these scenes portrayed a fragment of the torture process. Vergara’s recollections of Dr Osvaldo Pincetti (also known as Dr Tormento) and detainees were impregnated with detail, yet the fate of the tortured dissidents remained obscured. Dr Pincetti specialised in hypnosis; on one occasion Vergara witnessed a victim being forced to watch himself bleed to death – a form of torture designed to coerce the dissident into signing false confessions or supplying information about Chilean dissidents.

The severity of torture ensured that detainees were exterminated and disappeared within seven days of arriving at Cuartel Simón Bolívar. Detainees were forced to listen to their compañeros’ anguish during torture sessions involving the parilla, which administered electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the genitals. Sometimes detainees were beaten to death or asphyxiated. Nurse Gladys Calderon, another DINA recruit whose work experience included assisting Dr Vittorio Orvietto Tiplizky in Villa Grimaldi and DINA agent Ingrid Olderock, notoriously renowned for training dogs to violate women, administered cyanide injections to all detainees. Questioned about her role, Calderon deemed it ‘an act of humanity’ which ended the suffering of those destined to become the desaparecidos of Cuartel Simón Bolívar.

Vergara also narrates how detainees were used to test the manufacture of chemical weapons. Developed and manufactured by Eugenio Berriós and Michael Townley; a US citizen recruited by DINA and now living under the witness protection programme in the US, sarin gas featured prominently in Cuartel Simón Bolívar. Two Peruvian men were detained and brought to the Cuartel, where they were forced to inhale sarin gas in the presence of Contreras, Salgado, Barriga, Lawrence and Calderon. The Peruvians were administered electric shocks using a new device displayed by Townley and later beaten to death. Their bodies were probably disposed of in Cuesta Barriga – the site in question during the illegal exhumation of the desaparecidos’ bodies during Operación Retiro de Televisores in 1979.

 

Memories of the torture inflicted upon Daniel Palma, Víctor Díaz, Reinalda Pereira and Fernando Ortiz Letelier are narrated in detail by Vergara, who describes Palma’s cries as being the loudest ever heard, prompting DINA agents to increase the sound level of their stereos to obliterate his cries. Díaz was tortured on the parilla, asphyxiated and later administered a cyanide injection by Calderon, upon direct orders from Morales. After manifesting her terror at the inability to protect her unborn child, Pereira was subjected to mock executions and severe beatings, incited by her pleas to DINA agents to kill her. Ortiz was beaten to death. The bodies were later subjected to further degradation – agents pulled out the teeth in a search for gold fillings. Later, the faces, fingers and any other particular features were torched to prevent any possible identification. As with other Calle Conferencia victims, the bodies of the detainees were ‘packaged’ during the night and ushered out of Cuartel Simón Bolívar, destined for burial in Cuesta Barriga or transferred to Pedelhue, loaded upon helicopters and dumped into the sea. According to Vergara, the desaparecidos were deemed ‘fodder for the fish’ by DINA agents. In 1976, 80 MIR militants suffered the fate of the detenidos desaparecidos – most of them through Cuartel Simón Bolívar.

Rebolledo’s intricate research constructs the alliance between agents of Cuartel Simón Bolívar and other detention and torture centres. A number of agents forming part of Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfín were part of the contingent from Tejas Verdes. As the persecution of MIR and Partido Comunista militants widened to encompass all of Chile, torture centres were set up around the country under the command of Manuel Contreras. At the time of Vergara’s inclusion in DINA, torture centres such as Villa Grimaldi, Londres 38, Tres y Cuatro Álamos and José Domingo Cañas were already operating under special brigades such as Brigada Halcón, headed by Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko and responsible for the torture of detainees at Londres 38.

Vergara recalls a visit to Colonia Dignidad, run by Paul Schäfer and notorious for its abuse against incarcerated minors. Rumours originating from Contreras’ bodyguards indicated that DINA agents profited from the desaparecidos by setting up an organ trafficking trade to Europe, with the recipient countries being Switzerland and Belgium.

Betrayals ensured within DINA following its disintegration after the assassination of Orlando Letelier. With the creation of the CNI, Vergara was transferred to Cuartel Loyola where he found himself lacking the imaginary protection offered by Contreras. Pressed by Rebolledo as to whether he participated in any assassinations after his stint at DINA, Vergara replies in a rhetorical manner, implying self-defence against aggression as implication of participation. Rebolledo remarks upon the vagueness of Vergara’s recollections in this period, noting once again that Montiglio had exonerated him solely because he had been a minor during his time at Cuartel Simón Bolívar. The vague recollections coincide with Operacion Retiro de Televisores – an encrypted message issued by Pinochet ordering agents to illegally exhume the remains of the bodies buried clandestinely in Cuesta Barriga. The remains were either dumped into the sea or burned, to avoid any official investigation. Bone fragments later discovered on site led to the identification of Fernando Ortiz Letelier, Ángel Gabriel Guerrero, Horacio Cepeda and Lincoyán Berríos – all victims of Calle Conferencia.

The book is punctuated with the contrast between the lives of the desaparecidos and the agents in charge of their extermination, laying bare the crudeness with which various sections of the Cuartel served for disparate purposes – desaparecidos left to bleed to death in the gym, which would later be cleaned and used by the agents for their physical training. Sporting events were also held between different brigades of various torture centres.

Undoubtedly, Rebolledo’s research is striving to shift the dynamics of impunity. Recently the author was subjected to acts of intimidation when his research detailing further DINA atrocities was stolen. Chile’s dictatorship disguised under a semblance of democracy is still resisting the masses’ struggle in favour of memory.  As stated in the first chapters, various agents still have not been processed for their roles in dictatorship crimes, whilst others continue to wield influence in Chile’s legal and political hierarchy.

‘La danza de los cuervos’ is both an indispensable read and a significant contribution to Chile’s struggle against oblivion and impunity. The exploitation of humanity decreed by Pinochet and Contreras is vividly depicted without committing error of shifting the focus from the detenidos desaparecidos. Rebolledo weaves his discourse out of a sequence of betrayals within diverse factions in Chile, compellingly bequeathing the memory of the desaparecidos to a country split between loyalty to the dictator’s manipulation and the masses clamouring for an integral part of their narrative which wallowed in oblivion for decades.