Saturday, August 8, 2020
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More setbacks than progress in human rights
Arnaldo Pérez Guerra
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Relatives of the victims of the dictatorship denounce a lack of political will to punish those responsible for crimes against humanity.

“Twenty-six years after the end of the dictatorship there is no political will to investigate all the crimes committed, annul Chile’s Amnesty Decree-Law, close down the Punta Peuco prison, demote those members of the army who were convicted, compensate deservedly the victims, and a long etcetera,” says Alicia Lira, president of the Group of Family Members of the Politically Executed (AFEP) to Latinamerica Press.

It was in the United States and not Chile where retired Liutenant Pedro Pablo Barrientos, now an US citizen, was declared guilty of being one of those responsible for the murder of singer-songwriter Víctor Jara. The eight days that the civil trial lasted in the Orlando Court are in stark contrast with “living so many years with the pain of impunity” declared his widow Joan Jara. Víctor Jara, one of the emblematic artists of the “The New Chilean Song” movement, was taken prisoner after the military coup that ousted President Salvador Allende (1970-1973) on Sept. 11, 1973 and tortured and killed in the Chile Stadium.

Right-wing and pro-government legislators have presented three bills that would allow prisoners to be granted prison benefits because of age, and health or humanitarian reasons. The initiatives, according to Senator Alejandro Navarro, president of the Human Rights Commission, “only pretend to generate conditions for the benefit of ex-military personnel violators of human rights.”

“Added to impunity, short prison sentences and special prisons, they [the bills] look to set free those few guilty of genocide that we have been able to convict,” says Lorena Pizarro, president of the Association of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees (AFDD), in declarations made to the Uchile newspaper.

By late September, inspecting judge Mario Carroza reopened the Caravana de la Muerte (Caravan of Death) case, a military convoy that traveled through the country in 1973 following the order of dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-90), which ended with the execution and disappearance of 97 detainees, stemming from the fact that the Criminal Investigation Police included in a report data from the Incident Logbook of the Arica Regiment Guard from October 1973, that recorded political prisoners leaving from the jail of La Serena and taken to the Regiment, the firing squad victims among them.

Former Commander in Chief of the Army Juan Emilio Cheyre is being tried as an accomplice in the case. According to plaintiff attorney Cristián Cruz, the finding of the Incident Logbook strengthens even more the evidence against Cheyre.

“The person who takes the prisoners is an intelligence officer who was very clear in court when he testified that at the time he had followed the orders from then Lieutenant Cheyre, his superior,” he said.

In early June, Interior Minister Jorge Burgos ordered the removal of Jorge Cabezas, the head of the Human Rights Program, and attorney Rodrigo Lledó, legal area chief of the program, to prevent them from moving forward with their intention to request the indictment of Cheyre.

Lledó rejected the pressure coming from the Executive and before leaving his post he asked inspecting judge Carroza for the prosecution of the former military chief as accessory to murder and aggravated kidnappings.

“They pressured judge Carroza not to prosecute Cheyre, and it is highly possible that the removal of the heads of the program had the same intention,” acknowledges Lledó to Latinamerica Press.

For attorney Carmen Hertz — widow of Carlos Berger, murdered by the Caravan of Death —, “the fact that at 43 years since the coup and its genocidal mechanism they are expecting to continue hiding the identity of the killers, is not only intolerable but it puts Chile outside the margin of its international obligations. This is extremely serious.”

Maintaining the secrecy
On Aug. 31, the Chamber of Deputies voted to keep secret the testimony and documents gathered by the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture (Valech Commission) — created in 2003 to identify the people who were detained and tortured by agents of the State during the military dictatorship — in this way protecting the identity of those guilty of crimes against humanity. Despite the fact that this is in violation of international treaties, the secrecy provision that prohibits making public for 50 years the testimonies that are part of the Valech Report, still stands.

“The names of the repressors and the crimes they committed will not be known; the aggressors will not be brought to justice,” Lira says. “Their absolute impunity is assured and that goes against the rhetoric of searching for the truth, justice and compensation. The decision taken by the Chamber of Deputies is shameful. We have the right to know what truly happened and for this impunity to end, to have the violators of human rights judged and sentenced. Years ago the president [Michelle Bachelet] pledged to meet with us and to give us answers on this issue, something that has not happened as of yet,” she adds.

The AFDD announced that it will go to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) to sue the Chilean government for the refusal of the Chamber of Deputies to lift the veil of secrecy. In August 2014, the IACHR warned Chile that it had to repeal any disposition that would interfere with the compliance of international laws regarding to the pending trials of crimes against humanity.

On Sept. 11, 43 years after the military coup, President Bachelet appointed Lorena Fries, former director of the National Institute of Human Rights, as the first Vice Secretary of Human Rights.

“We have made important strides in matters of acknowledgement, truth, justice and compensation, and we want to continue doing that. There are still pending issues; we have not made advances in all of those we wish to cover,” Bachelet said.

Visibly emotional, Bachelet presided over the compensation ceremony demanded by the IACHR in October 2015 for the case of 12 former members of the Chilean Air Force (FACH) who did not subscribe to the military regime and were sentenced by martial courts between 1973 and 1975. They were “acquitted” on Oct. 3 of this year by the Supreme Court. The case includes the father of the president, General Alberto Bachelet, who died as a consequence of torture.

For writer Hernán Montecinos, “the tears and emotions of the president are sincere. However, we have to make clear that this vindication by the state has not been sincere; it is hypocritical. It comes after a ruling and mandate of the IACHR who determined that the state had to compensate the military members and defenders of the Constitution who were arrested, tortured and sentenced as traitors to their country. The state has never as such, by itself and taken upon itself, this moral and judicial obligation. It saw itself forced to do it.”

Former Commander of the FACH Ernesto Galaz, one of the victims, says: “In 2001, the Supreme Court rejected the recourse to judicial review that we filed and in 2003 it rejected an appeal for our reinstatement. After exhausting all avenues in our country we went to the international court.” It was not until the end of September that the highest court upheld the sentences against the torturers of General Bachelet: colonels (r) Edgar Cevallos Jones and Ramón Cáceres Jorquera who received four-year prison sentences.

Impunity prevails
Erika Hennings, president of the Corporación Londres 38, a human rights organization that takes over the address of a former center for repression and extermination run by the dictatorship, denounced that former Carabineros officers convicted of crimes against humanity and fugitives from justice, continue collecting their pension payments. “The delays of the processes and convictions open opportunities for those who are convicted to flee. The web of protection and silence agreements are evident. Some are still members of Carabineros. The government is an accomplice as there are no strict measures to break with the impunity and make that those convicted serve their sentences,” Hennings said in declarations to the Uchile newspaper.

Added to the above is that the AFDD appealed the Oct. 5 decision of the court to grant parole to Raúl Iturriaga Neumann, the former director of the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), the secret police of the dictatorship, and responsible for murders, kidnappings, disappearances and tortures.

“He was freed despite the fact that he had to serve a sentence until 2037 for the murder of Carlos Prats, former Commander in Chief of the Army, and of his wife in Buenos Aires, among others,” Lira says. “This contradicts those judges who truly investigate, arrive at the truth and dictate sentences. Other judges grant prison benefits, slaps on the wrist or simply acquit them.”

“This is only typical of a country that lives under impunity,” Pizarro warns.

Finally, on Oct. 19, the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled unanimously to overturn the decision of the Court of Appeals which benefited Iturriaga Neumann.

Although on Oct. 5 the Parliament has declared Pinochet as the most violent and criminal ruler in Chile’s history, the courts and the State continue being accomplices of the impunity. When they saw themselves forced to investigate, they looked to find pretexts to reduce the sentences, making it possible for most of those sentenced to live a normal life in their homes or in special prisons.

“Also, there is an operation of impunity that looks to benefit those who were sentenced in Punta Peuco to achieve their freedom, making these genocidal criminals appear as frail old men. The Executive compromised with the dictatorship for the impunity. To evaluate the progress made is very complicated because one gets the sensation that the courts close cases each day; but this just is not enough. If the impunity has not reached a more obscene level is due to the actions taken by the organizations of relatives who have prevented it,” Pizarro concludes. —Latinamerica Press.


To put an end to impunity is the banner of struggle of the relatives of victims of the dictatorship and human rights organizations. /
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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