disappeared

Former DINA agent dies at Punta Peuco

Basclay Zapata Reyes, a former DINA agent imprisoned at Punta Peuco, died at the age of 71 from cancer. Zapata Reyes former part of Brigada Aguila within DINA and considered one of the most brutal torturers within the intelligence agency. Lorena Pizarro from the Association of Families of Disappeared Detainees, declared Zapata Reyes as “one of the bloodiest agents of the dictatorship, who we will remember for his brutal and inhuman nature, and one of the first individuals associated with the torture and murder of the disappeared detainees.”

Zapata Reyes also formed part of DINA’s joint command, which was responsible for the majority of disappearances in Chile.

 

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.

The right to memory in Chile: an interview with Erika Hennings

(First published in Upside Down World)

Operacion Colombo, or the case of the 119[1] was an intelligence operation staged by DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional), which sought to exterminate political opponents of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Most of the victims were members of MIR. Having first been detained in Londres 38[2], most of the detained persons were ‘disappeared’[3] by DINA. In what amounted to a treacherous conspiracy, Pinochet’s dictatorship allied itself with other repressive governments in Latin America, seeking to influence public opinion about the fate of the desaparecidos by publishing articles about supposed political turbulence within the left which led MIR members to turn against each other.

In memory of the desaparecidos, as well as an assertion in favor of the right to memory, Londres 38Espacio de Memorias inaugurated an exhibition detailing the origins and set up of Operacion Colombo. Erika Hennings, President of Londres 38, speaks about the right to memory – a contrast with state laws and dictatorship practices which act as censorship or criminalization of social mobilization in Chilean society.

Ramona Wadi: Explain the historical connection between Operacion Colombo and Londres 38.

Erika Hennings: The victims of Operacion Colombo are all people arrested by DINA, whose systematic method of disappearance started in Londres 38. That location was a place of detention, torture and extermination of people, mostly leftist militants during that particular period of MIR. DINA devoted itself primarily to the extermination of MIR (Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionaria). Besides the missing victims there are innumerable persons who survived their detention in Londres 38, and were witnesses of the detention and missing of people who are in the 119 list, and therefore are also witnesses of the farce and set-up which was realized to conceal the facts.

RW: What was the dictatorship’s aim in orchestrating Operacion Colombo? How did other governments in Latin America collaborate with DINA’s manipulation of events?

EH: Operacion Colombo was staged by the repression of the dictatorship, together with its intelligence agency, DINA, to conceal their crimes, most of which still remain unpunished. Operacion Colombo was part of Operacion Condor, which coordinated the repressive apparatus of the Southern Cone together with the participation of agency officials such as embassies and news media. With the repressive Argentine intelligence and complicity of the Chilean press, such as El MercurioLa Segunda and La Tercera, the dictatorship found a way to sway public opinion with regard to the desaparecidos, attributing their deaths to internal leftist political strife, especially with regard to MIR. In this context, the Chilean press reports reproduced information published in journals: Lea in Argentina and Novo O Díain Argentina and Brazil, which ‘clarified’ the whereabouts and circumstances of the 119 persons. The first of these publications reported about the fate of 60 desaparecidos, while the others reported about the remaining 59.

RW: Has any information resurfaced about the fate of the victims? Can you relate the stories of any of the desaparecidos?

EH: In the case of persons disappeared by DINA, the 119 and the other hundreds of desaparecidos, there has never been any confirmed information relating to their fate.

RW: What does the exhibition attempt to convey and how does it challenge current laws and impunity in Chile?

EH: The exhibition “Montajes Comunicacionales del pasado y el presente” arises out of a need to visualise the operations conducted by the dictatorship to hide their crimes, most of which still remain unpunished due to impunity.

The Courts of Justice are still investigating the case of Operacion Colombo; family members and human rights agencies hold a firm conviction that permanent struggle and determination can support the achievement of justice. Some condemnations have been achieved in a few cases of the desaparecidos, however sentences have not been harsh and many cases still fall under the impunity.

At the same time it is necessary not only to achieve permanent mobilization against cases in the recent past, but also towards present cases which are a continuity of practices from the dictatorship. State security law and the anti terrorist law are being used to criminalize all social mobilization. 

RW: How did the idea for the exhibition originate? Describe the exhibition and what it seeks to portray through the various mediums used.

EH: Londres 38Espacio de Memorias, raises the significance of memory that links them to the present, in order to release knowledge that may lead to reflection and action on what is occurring today, which should generate a contribution to legal and social justice, as well as respect for human rights in its broadest perception.

This exhibition traces the origins of Operacion Colombo. Panels portray the origin of Operacion Colombo, its context and its relationship to other frame ups such as Operacion Salamandra, also known as El Caso Bombas. The exhibition also includes life size silhouettes of the missing 119 detainees, whose detention and attempted murder was denied by those orchestrating Operacion Colombo.

RW: What effect does this exhibition have on memory and citizenship and how does it establish a link between relatives of the desaparecidos and the public?

EH: I can’t say what effect this exhibition had, but the wide participation of the citizens in this effort meets the goal of imparting knowledge about what happened and delivers elements which make it possible for people to reflect on how impunity allows the continuity and repetition of facts to silence all social and political mobilization. The relatives of the desaparecidos are part of the ‘public’, part of the citizens – they are informed and mobilized.

RW: Has the exhibition compelled people to come forward with any information relating to Operacion Colombo or other dictatorship related torture?

EH: The people approach, discuss, they comment with regard to the exhibition, they wonder and question. There is a perceived great interest to discover and link with other cases of  frame ups which they have known or heard of.

RW: How does the exhibition challenge Chilean media and is there any repetitive pattern in media manipulation from the dictatorship era?

EH: A leading role was played by the press addicted to the dictatorship. Chile’s media and journalists from the media provided space in their pages to try to give credibility to the lie known as Operacion Colombo. More than 30 years later, media such as La SegundaEl Mercurio and La Tercera have never given an explanation about their lies and complicity with these crimes. They enjoy total impunity. It is this impunity that allows more than 30 years later, journalistic practices which are complicit in political, economic, religious, the police and any other kind of power. Empowered by the same impunity, the media which in the past participated in Operacion Colombo now echo, without ever questioning police versions, or else in collusion with government prosecutors, the cases which affect the Mapuche people or young anarchists.

The Patriot Act, the law of state security and the press have been used in these years of democracy as means to criminalize social movements and struggles. More recently, the prosecution was unable to sustain terrorism charges against young anarchists whilst the media had already condemned them.

RW: How much would you say the right to memory is respected in Chile, and can you speak about any contrasts between Chilean civilians opposing the dictatorship and the government, with respect to the right to memory?

EH: The exhibition “Montajes comunicacionales del pasado y el presente” was scheduled to be launched in January this year at the Library of Santiago, but the entity attempted to modify the contents of the exhibition – an act of censorship that was rejected by Londres 38, Espacio de Memorias.

For Londres 38Espacio de Memorias, modifying the contents of the exhibition by a public body not only violated editorial principles but also, the attempt at censorship contradicted the principles of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and specifically, those posed by its Committee of freedom of expression and access to information, which states that libraries contribute to the development and maintenance of intellectual freedom and help safeguard basic democratic values and universal civil rights. Furthermore, it states that libraries should acquire, organize and disseminate information freely and oppose any form of censorship. Also libraries should preserve and make available the widest variety of materials reflecting the plurality and diversity of society, providing users with the ability to communicate and express themselves; which should not be censored or restricted by policy approaches.

In this sense, Londres 38Espacio de Memorias, defends its right to maintain and preserve its editorial policy, where the contents of memory retrieval are a necessity related to the present. Similarly, Londres 38states that the state has the obligation to guarantee the right to memory; it should ensure the plural use of public spaces for citizens’ organizations. After a meeting with the Director of the Dibam (Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos), on whom the library of Santiago depends, it was decided that the exhibition would be displayed on the site as originally designed by Londres 38Espacio de Memorias.

For now the show will remain in Londres 38 until April 25. Immediately after that date, the exhibition will be visiting various facilities of the Universities of Chile and Catholic Universities – organized by their respective student federations – municipalities such as La Granja, San Miguel and San Joaquin, as well as library spaces of independent publishers such as GAM and Museo de la Memoria.

Notes:

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.

Feeding on dreams: Confessions of an unrepentant exile

(First published in Upside Down World)11114997

Ariel Dorfman’s Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile (HMH Books, 2011) is an eloquent memoir which fluctuates between reflections on death and exile – the meaning of not having died next to Chilean President Allende during the 1973 military coup, and the consequences of Dorfman’s own exile, a decision enforced by Allende’s advisors and which very possibly saved his life from the deadly machinery of the Pinochet dictatorship, but which has assailed Dorfman with a tenacious need to question his own role and actions within that particular era of Chilean history.

Ariel Dorfman was thirty-one years old and working as a cultural advisor to President Salvador Allende when Augusto Pinochet’s military coup abruptly destroyed the socialist revolution. The actions of the dictatorship created a reign of macabre realities which would split Chilean narratives into opposing memory camps. Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile (HMH Books, 2011) is an eloquent memoir which fluctuates between reflections on death and exile – the meaning of not having died next to Allende in the presidential palace La Moneda, and Dorfman’s own exile, a decision enforced by Allende’s advisors and which very possibly saved his life, yet which has assailed Dorfman with a tenacious need to question his own role and actions within that particular era of Chilean history.

The book moves rapidly from one event to another, disrupting chronology whilst creating an intense discussion of contrasts – death and exile, the revolutionary and the exile, the desaparecidos and the exile, language and exile.  Exile becomes a single constant which, as time passes, exudes a certain inevitable detachment from the reality that is Chile. There is no reconciliation with the revolutionary past in exile – an issue which Dorfman struggled against for many years in various countries as he futilely sought to aid the Chilean resistance from abroad during the first years of exile in Paris and Amsterdam.

El pueblo unido – the people united in a socialist revolution under the banner of the Unidad Popular disintegrated in exile. A hierarchy developed within the exiled community, leading to strife within the movement struggling to develop a resistance movement against Pinochet. Dorfman recounts how his family had been promised an apartment in Paris by Carlos Iturra, author of the famous hymn Venceremos, at “solidarity rental rates.” The family moved their belongings to the apartment, only to discover a few days later that Iturra had received threatening phone calls from dictatorship sympathisers. The location was presumably unsafe. However, upon collecting their luggage from the apartment, it became evident to the family that the hierarchy of the Communist Party had negotiated with Iturra to reside in the apartment. Iturra was, at that moment, organising a vacation in the Alps for children of Chilean exiles. The sense of a community united in a revolutionary stance had deteriorated.

“Exile destroys children along with the parents.” Dorfman recounts how his children, Rodrigo and Joaquin struggle with identity and history in exile. Whilst the eldest, Rodrigo,  gradually eliminates traces of Chile in his art, Joaquin seemingly fails to absorb the Chilean identity. Dorfman describes how the Andes Mountains feature prominently in Chilean children’s artwork – a characteristic which holds no fascination for Joaquin, born in exile. However, both sons are affected by the consequences of dictatorship and exile. Rodrigo has imbibed a rebellious streak which leads him to a return to Chile and subsequent filming of protests.  Joaquin is haunted by the stories of the desaparecidos and the terror inflicted upon Chileans, such as the story of Rodrigo Rojas – a young man who, along with his girlfriend Carmen Gloria Quintana, had been doused with paraffin and torched. Their bodies were dumped in a ditch – at the exact location where three dissidents were discovered with slit throats only a year earlier. Dorfman admits an inconsistency between the lies designed to protect children from the horrors of the dictatorship and the children’s absorption of the truth.

The ramifications of exile flow into metaphorical prose. Dorfman distinguishes between various facets of exile – the actual departure from Chile, and the indefinite aspect – which lead the author to hold on to a library inside their house in Chile which was being used as a safe house for the MAPU, instead of acquiring new books. Exile created contradictions, ambiguity and barriers, as Dorfman realises that the revolutionary who joined the struggle for a socialist revolution, who was present when Allende saluted the people a week prior to the military coup, had distanced himself from his compañeros in Chile. After a long process in which he persisted in identifying with the resistance in exile and aiding the movement, Dorfman’s evolution veers towards the intellectual writer whose memories and stories are festering within an increasingly permanent exile and the still imagery of the revolutionary past.

Dorfman struggles with the truth as the exile commences in Buenos Aires. Narrating the case of Victor Jara, he tells of how a writer described Victor having his hands cut off by the lieutenants – an erroneous statement which portrayed how legends mingled with truth to construct a false reality. Another experience of false memory is Dorfman’s recollection of a photograph of him taken a week before the coup in front of La Moneda. His memory is of him in revolutionary stance, fists in the air. When the photo resurfaces, Dorfman discovers a pensive version of himself next to writer Antonio Skarmeta. The illusion of el pueblo unido had vanquished the actual memory – exile implants images in  the mind of the exile and constructs an alternative reality.

It is not only actual memories that abscond from the exile. Pinochet’s reign contaminated language and society by referring to torture as ‘excesses,’ whilst the dictatorship was described as a ‘regime.’ The euphemisms contributed toward the cycle of impunity and infiltrated social circles where new alliances were being forged, with some former socialists seeking to gain elite status by liaising with the right wing – a phenomenon which Dorfman states was blatantly portrayed in the social pages of newspaper El Mercurio.

The book is also replete with stories of people from Chile. Carlos – the carpenter who hid Allende’s poster behind the boards in his workshop until Pinochet was arrested in London. Patricia, the wife of a right wing thug who used her husband’s status as a cover to transport Allende supporters to safety in a car gifted to her husband by DINA. Susana Weiner, who worked as a courier for MAPU, played a role in saving the lives of dissidents, including Dorfman, and was entrusted with transcribing notes describing torture in detention centres and smuggling them out of Chile.  Their experiences, combined with the stories of the detenidos desaparecidos and President Patricio Aylwin’s initiative during the transition to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission urged Dorfman to contribute towards furthering the struggle, resulting in two particular publications written in exile.

Widows (1978) is a novel which deals with a group of women who refuse to hand over a body which washed ashore. As the novel was published, the first desaparecidos were being discovered in Chile. In the memoirs, Dorfman describes the act of disappearing people as an aberration on existence. “Disappearance was an outrage against the chemistry and structure of life itself. The bodies of the missing were wrenched out of the normal progression of existence …” The outrage of the discovery contrasts sharply with another discovery of bodies in 1990, where younger Chileans born after the coup were less interested in the process. According to Dorfman, this discovery was a disruption in their lives which necessitated excavation and destruction of a football pitch.

However, in his renowned play entitled Death and the Maiden, Dorfman shows how torture survivors were side-lined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Paulina – a torture survivor whose husband is a lawyer working on behalf of the Commission, kidnaps the man she believes to be her torturer and subjects him to a trial, appointing her husband as her oppressor’s defence lawyer.  Paulina insists she wants the truth – a truth which till now wallows in impunity as torturers and victims walk side by side on Chilean streets, depriving torture survivors of their right to justice and the opportunity to inscribe their testimonies. Dorfman describes how torture tarnishes universal expression such as music. The last scene features Paulina listening to Schubert in a concert – the music played during her torture session. The reconciliation with her favourite music was brought about after the confession was extracted from her torturer – the right to truth as opposed to sacrificing one’s self for the better of the democratic transition.

In the fragments of Dorfman’s diary of his return to Chile in 1990, the author grapples with the realisation that his experiences and that of the Chilean nation have diverged so greatly, it is impossible to nurture the dream of returning to live in Chile. The fragile transition, which sought to reconcile, rather than call for justice in order to avoid disruptions in the process, differed greatly from Dorfman’s vision of returning to the people united in a collective struggle. Exile further split the left wing memory camp, as those who remained in Chile looked upon exiles with certain resentment, contrasting the suffering they had endured with the relative comfort of escaping the horrors of the dictatorship.

Dorfman, unable to harmonize the experience of different memory camps on the left, decided to seek refuge in the US and later become a citizen of the same country which had conspired with Pinochet to overthrow Allende. He states that the desire to return was vanquished by the necessity to adjust, bringing to an end a previous personal conflict concerning language. Renouncing imperialism during the years of Allende’s presidency and the first years of exile also meant renouncing the English language, which Dorfman was familiar with since childhood, having lived in the US when his father and the family fled from Argentina. Throughout the course of exile and the subsequent return to Chile, Dorfman realises that language as a universal medium holds the power to navigate political borders and memory. Also, in Dorfman’s own words, acquiring US citizenship meant “I will never again go into exile.”

Personified by writers such as Milan Kundera, who Dorfman describes as “the saddest man I have ever seen,” and Antonio Skarmeta, author of Il Postino, who predicted Dorfman would never return to live in Chile, exile became the ultimate choice of survival, creating a refuge within another complex realm of loyalties.

Whilst the book might have benefited from a more chronological order, and the metaphorical prose might seem daunting for some readers, Dorfman has masterfully created a narrative so intricate and yet simple in its message. He lays bare the complexities of memory, made easier to follow once the reader acknowledges that memory knows no chronology but is rather a series of events that profoundly impacted the rememberer’s life, and the act of remembering is a process of cunningly implanting additional images and obliterating others. Most importantly, Dorfman furthers the split memory narrative by adding the memory of the exile, the desaparecidos and the torture survivors to the usual general divide between the supporters of Allende and those of Pinochet. As compromising as it may seem, Dorfman acknowledges the importance of embracing ambivalence in order to construct a narrative which berates, glorifies and wallows in despondency. The book emanates the turmoil of Dorfman’s complicated yearning to regain Allende’s years, and his unrepentant decision to seek shelter in a nation known for its oppression, in order to avoid repeating his own history.

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.