rn: Pinochet: torture’s legacy


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,

This morning on Canada's CBC This Morning (Sunday) program at 10 AM they
play a BBC program on Letelier's killing, with interviews with his widow,
the guy who was jailed (for only 5 years) for the killing and others. ...I
cried when they played Isabel Morel Letelier saying how she felt when
greeted with news of Pinochet's arrest. She was, of course, pleased, but I
was thinking that this will never bring back Letelier... and the lives of
all the people who were tortured. (It may be possible to hear the radio
program on the CBC's web site in real audio. <www.radio.cbc.ca>)

Despite recent news that Pinochet has been judged not fit for trial, the
documentary says he may be brought to trial in the US. Seems unlikely to me...

The article below is troubling reading. While the US government has not yet
attacked US citizens with quite the level of horror of the Pinochet regime,
it has been complicit in these crimes too. ...I wish more people cared more...

all the best, Jan
Date: Mon, 03 Jan 2000 11:37:15 -0800
From: Sid Shniad <•••@••.•••>

The New York Times                                               January 3, 2000


        By Clifford Krauss

SANTIAGO, Chile -- It was only when Mario Fernández saw the 
headline, “Pinochet Under Arrest,” that the dam broke and he 
finally found it possible to talk about the beatings, the electric 
shocks, the cigarette burns, the terrible sense of humiliation and 
        “My body froze; I had an intense allergic reaction, and I didn’t 
know whether to laugh or cry,” said Mr. Fernández, trembling at 
the memory. He ran to his wife and wept on her shoulder, and, at 
long last, took her advice to seek therapy. 
        “I needed to talk about the terror inside that hood they put on 
me, of not knowing whether they would kill me from one minute to 
the next,” he said. 
        Mr. Fernández is not alone in the anguished release that has 
come with the arrest of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in London on 
human rights charges in October 1998. 
        Psychologists report that hundreds if not thousands of people 
like him have begun to see therapists, to organize group therapy, to 
share their long-hidden horrors with spouses and children. 
        Although no accurate count exists, at least 40,000 Chileans 
were tortured under the Pinochet dictatorship from 1973 until 
1990, people who had been members of leftist parties, unions, 
student groups or even merely bureaucrats in the Socialist 
government of President Salvador Allende Gossens. 
        Some were tortured for information, some to drive them into 
exile, some purely to intimidate them. In a systematic campaign run 
by the armed forces and the police at special sites across the 
country, they were raped, beaten, shocked, hooded, drugged, held 
under water and deprived of sleep; they were subjected to mock 
executions and months of solitary confinement. 
        And when it ended in 1990, they were forgotten, overshadowed 
by the 4,000 Chileans who disappeared altogether, resented by a 
majority still suspicious of the political left, hounded by guilt and 
anger, silently enduring the terrible mental scars of their ordeal. 
        Now 44 and unemployed, Mr. Fernández, who was a factory 
metal worker in the Allende era, still suffers from insomnia, chronic 
head and joint aches and red blotches that he calls an allergy. He 
said he seriously contemplated suicide four times, once very nearly 
jumping off a bridge before some passers-by stopped him. 
        To this day no torturer has been investigated, no torturer has 
been tried, no compensation has been paid. Too many military 
officers were involved for the new civilian government to pursue 
the issue without threatening the stability of a still-incomplete 
transition to civilian rule. 
        “Torture is the great dark secret in Chile’s closet that is just 
beginning to open a crack,” said Alfredo Joselyn-Holt Letelier, a 
historian at the University of Santiago de Chile. 
        “If we can’t deal with 4,000 disappeared easily, how are we 
going to deal with 40,000, 70,000, or maybe even 100,000 torture 
victims? The fact that we don’t even have good statistics is a sign 
of how we treat this issue.” 
        But since the arrest of General Pinochet on a warrant issued by 
a Spanish judge, reports about the torture charges against him have 
begun to appear regularly in the press. Newly reinvigorated human 
rights groups have come to victims, first seeking testimony they 
could use in the courts in London and Madrid, then urging them to 
seek help. 
        One group of torture victims said 500 people sought its help 
this year, three times as many as last year. A mental health program 
sponsored by several Christian churches reported that monthly 
demand had climbed from 60 patients a month before General 
Pinochet’s arrest to 90, and was still rising. 
        Of 300 torture victims interviewed for testimony by the Group 
of the Families of the Disappeared, for instance, at least 100 have 
sought or plan to seek therapy. 
        In the small agricultural center of Rancagua, 50 miles south of 
Santiago, newly organized torture victims recently held meetings 
with 3,000 people who were fired from their jobs for political 
reasons after the 1973 coup. They have identified 200 who suffer 
various physical and psychological problems from torture, and who 
have now said they are willing to give testimony and seek help for 
        “It’s like a snowball gathering momentum,” said Jorge Pantoja, 
a psychologist and director of the Christian program. Paz Rojas, 
chief of neurological services at the University of Chile, said a 
growing number of torture victims were appealing for help from 
private doctors and psychologists. “Pinochet’s arrest was a great 
catharsis that has begun to break the silence,” she said. 

Victim: Torture Memories ‘Always Inside Me’ 

        Viviana Uribe, a 48-year-old human rights activist with a warm 
smile and confident countenance, dug through her pocketbook for 
some pills as she prepared to leave her Santiago apartment to do 
some errands the other day. 
        “I feel a lot better, I really do,” she said in a strong, steady 
voice. “I still get my headaches, but maybe they are a little better. 
Ever since I heard Pinochet would be judged for his crimes, it has 
been a tremendous relief for me.” 
        Given the horrendous torture she experienced -- Ms. Uribe said 
that she was raped four times and that among other things, electric 
cables had repeatedly been clamped to her eyelids, lips, tongue and 
around her head for bolts of shock during interrogation sessions -- 
she appears to be the picture of a well-adjusted woman. 
        Ms. Uribe has no ticks or obvious nervous habits as so many 
other torture victims do. And although she refused to have her 
photograph taken for this article, she spoke with surprising ease 
about the disappearances of her husband, Fernando, and her sister 
Bárbara -- whose pictures, of each smiling broadly, one at a 
wedding, the other at the beach -- she keeps posted on the wall next 
to her desk. 
        For years, Ms. Uribe managed to cope by helping around the 
office of a human rights group and marching with other relatives of 
the disappeared for an accounting of her husband’s and sister’s 
fates. She took it upon herself to find her torturers, looking up their 
addresses in the telephone book, and even to confront the wives of 
men she believes raped her. 
        She says the repeated torture sessions -- some combined with 
interrogations -- still made no sense to her. She had belonged to a 
radical group that supported the Allende government, but she said 
she never did anything more extreme than to plaster walls with 
posters. Her interrogators’ claims that she had been a threat to the 
state were absurd, she said. But through her years of exile in 
Mexico and her eventual return to Chile, she mainly kept silent 
about her terrible experience. 
        “My own torture always took second place,” she said. 
        Everything changed a few weeks after General Pinochet’s 
arrest, when her daughter Bárbara sat down with her on her living 
room couch to discuss the disappearance of her aunt and namesake. 
        The two had discussed the terror of the Pinochet years many 
times in the past, but this time was different. Like many other 
relatives of the disappeared, Bárbara was gathering testimony for 
the human rights lawyers in London and Madrid. Under her 
daughter’s urging, for the first time Ms. Uribe told her of the rapes. 
        “It was like vomiting, all the horrible things flowing out 
uncontrollably,” she recalled. “The torturers are always inside of 
me.” The very next day, Ms. Uribe entered therapy. 

Government: Official Position Angers Victims 

        Torture had always taken a distant second place to the 
disappearances as a political crime and public issue in Chile, but the 
Pinochet case has finally pushed the subject front and center. 
        Soon after he took power in 1990, President Patricio Aylwin 
established a commission that documented more than 3,000 
disappearances during the Pinochet years. But the panel left torture 
out of its report, except for cases that ended in death, leaving many 
torture victims feeling abandoned and cheated. 
        The reason for their exclusion goes to the heart of Chile’s slow 
democratic transition. General Pinochet remained a potent political 
force as commander in chief of the army until he stepped down 
from that post in early 1998, and human rights investigations would 
have threatened the uneasy civilian-military balance. Torture was a 
particularly sensitive subject because it involved a far greater 
number of military officers and units than the disappearances, which 
were largely the work of two quasi-independent military 
intelligence agencies. 
        Since General Pinochet’s arrest, President Eduardo Frei has 
pressed to block the general’s extradition to Spain, contending that 
any trial should be in Chile. His position has been supported by 
Ricardo Lagos, a Socialist Party member who is the presidential 
candidate of the Socialist-Christian Democratic coalition that has 
governed the country for the last nine years. 
        That position has caused anger and pain among many torture 
victims, including Mr. Fernández, the unemployed metal worker. 
“Their betrayal,” he said, “is the cause of my pounding headaches.” 
        Repeated attempts were made to interview senior officials in the 
presidential palace and Health Ministry, but aides said they were 
unavailable for comment. 
        The emergence of democracy spurred only modest efforts to 
help torture victims resuscitate their lives. The government 
established a small unit in the Ministry of Health called the Program 
for the Integral Repair of Health and Human Rights to treat torture 
victims, former political prisoners and family members of the 
        From 1991 through 1998, 31,102 people received at least some 
attention, but over time the program has withered and several 
administrators have resigned in frustration. Today many of the 
program’s original 13 teams -- which were to include a doctor, a 
nurse, a social worker and a psychologist -- are now down to a 
nurse and social worker. Foreign financing for private and public 
agencies that help torture victims has dried up, in part because the 
government has refused to pitch in matching funds. 
        Still, Patricia Narváez, a senior administrator at the health 
ministry program, said first-time visits of torture victims this year 
for treatment at her agency were up 20 percent from 1998. 
        “The needs are great,” Ms. Narváez said. “Some, especially on 
the right, wanted to shove this subject into the past, but we have all 
been full of silence. It’s macabre. It’s a phenomenon of silence.” 
        If there is a conspiracy of silence, the victims are a part of it. 
Psychologists say many of the victims are still embarrassed that they 
survived while others were executed. Some feel shame for having 
given up names of comrades to their torturers, while others feel 
paranoia at the thought that people may think they did even when 
they did not. 
        But now their grievances have taken on international legitimacy, 
and as the Pinochet case has propelled torture to the top of the 
agenda of international human rights law, many torture survivors 
say they are happy that their testimony can have legal value for the 
cause of justice. 
        In March, the House of Lords in Britain ruled that General 
Pinochet could be extradited to Spain on charges of torture and 
conspiracy to commit torture committed only after his government 
signed the international Convention Against Torture in 1988. A 
judicial panel of seven members of the House of Lords, known as 
the Law Lords, further ruled that torture was an international crime 
for which any court in a country that has signed the convention has 
        Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who issued the warrant for 
General Pinochet’s arrest and who wants to try him in Spain, has 
prominently included charges of torture in his case against the 
former dictator. 
        Meanwhile, a group of former political prisoners here is 
preparing to file the first criminal complaint in a Chilean court 
accusing General Pinochet, as well as an undetermined number of 
former officers, of torture. The hope, leaders of the group say, is to 
see the imprisonment of the leaders of the former military 
government’s vast torture apparatus and to collect millions of 
dollars in reparations from the government. They are beginning 
with 50 cases and hope to expand their complaint to 500 in the next 
few months. 
        “Pinochet’s arrest catalyzed us,” said Raúl Reyes, a 60-year-old 
bookseller who is one of the organizers of the complaint. “During 
the dictatorship, we were stigmatized as criminals and terrorists, 
and even rebuffed by our families. That’s changing now, albeit 

Aftereffects: High Alcoholism and Joblessness 

        For all the change, a lot of torture victims say they feel no 
better. As a group, experts say, they still experience high rates of 
alcoholism, family violence and chronic unemployment. 
        “It’s a mortal sin to be 52 years old and a returned political 
exile or torture victim,” said Antonio Ozimica, who is all three. 
“People isolate you, and you can’t find work.” 
        None of that has changed for Mr. Ozimica since General 
Pinochet’s arrest. In fact, he said he has only felt worse watching 
the government working hard to defend the former dictator against 
extradition. He has begun therapy at a public hospital under a new 
government program to help people who lost their jobs for political 
reasons, but relief appears distant. 
        “If Lavín wins,” he said, referring to Joaquín Lavín, the former 
official in General Pinochet’s planning ministry who stands a good 
chance of winning the presidency Jan. 16, “I am going to put a 
pistol to my head.” 
        Mr. Ozimica appears to be a particularly frail man, even among 
torture victims. He goes from giddy highs to the deepest lows of 
depression from one moment to the next. After what he has gone 
through, his gloom is understandable. 
        As Mr. Ozimica tells it, his only crime was to serve as a low-
level accountant in President Allende’s agrarian reform in the town 
of Temuco. Shortly after the coup, he was dismissed and then 
pulled out of bed by troops in the middle of the night and dragged 
through the streets naked. 
        For six days he went through torturous interrogation at a police 
station, and he said he had nothing of value to tell them. For two 
days he was kept in total darkness, he recalled, the next two under 
intense fluorescent lights burning into his eyes. Then for two more 
days, he said, he was hung by his wrists, causing the dislocation of 
his right shoulder, which is still maimed. He also lost the ability to 
feel in his right hand. 
        In another torture session, police dunked him repeatedly in a 
tub of water. As he gasped for air, his torturers pulled him up by his 
hair and smashed metal plates against his ears until blood flooded 
from one of them. He remains hard of hearing. 
        After months of imprisonment, Mr. Ozimica said, he was 
allowed to leave the country, and he settled in an Indian village 
deep in the Venezuelan Amazon, where he lived for 18 years in a 
hut under a zinc roof. 
        “The torture made me hate life,” he said. “I was so 
dehumanized, I figured only the Indians were human beings because 
they were nonviolent and they didn’t lie. And I didn’t need hearing 
because it was so quiet in the wilderness.” 
        Mr. Ozimica said that he had made a living making cement 
bricks, but that his wife left him and took their two children back to 
Chile. He finally came back too, after democracy returned, but he 
still does not live in peace. 
        “Pinochet’s arrest didn’t give me happiness or sadness because 
his falling prisoner doesn’t solve anything,” he said. “So many of 
the people who were behind him are still around.”