Saturday, December 29, 2012

La danza de los cuervos: el destino final de los detenidos desaparecidos

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

Reinalda Pereira
Víctor Díaz
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.
Daniel Palma
Fernando Ortiz Letelier
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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review. His Hands Were Gentle: Selected Lyrics of Victor Jara

This book review was first published in Irish Left Review here.

His Hands Were Gentle: Selected Lyrics of Victor Jara
Smokestack Books, 2012

His Hands Were Gentle: Selected Lyrics of Victor Jara (2012) captures a spectrum of lyrics which explicitly portrays social upheaval and the struggle against injustices. Victor Jara’s poetry resonates with memory and history woven into relics of resistance and triumph, culminating into an unfinished poem narrating the decadence of the dictatorship and initiated annihilation of socialism.

Thirty nine years after his death, Victor Jara remains a symbol for the Chilean left. Joan Jara’s foreword to the book shifts between memory and exile, explaining the commitment towards imparting Victor’s legacy in the aftermath of his murder. Living a constant battle against the right wing’s coveted practice of oblivion when confronted with dictatorship atrocities, Joan reiterates that Chilean justice is hampered by secrecy and impunity.

A founding member of the nueva canción movement together with Isabel Parra, Angel Parra, Rolando Alarcon and Patricio Manns, Victor gave constant support for Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular political campaign. Epitomised by songs such as El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido and the ubiquitous hymn of Venceremos, Allende’s campaign amalgamated social struggle and culture into a popular movement. Nueva canción served as a medium of expression for the left wing and, following Allende’s electoral triumph, many musicians travelled abroad as ambassadors for Unidad Popular.

This collection portrays Victor’s tenacity to challenge inequalities which, at times, manifested themselves into atrocities. Born in Lonquen, Victor witnessed and experienced the ramifications of poverty, finding solace in music and later conducting extensive research in folk music. Songs such as Canción del minero (Miner’s Song) and Plegaría a un labrador (Prayer to a Labourer) assert the indignity of exploitation with regard to human labour and natural resources. The helplessness exhibited in Cancion del Minero is transformed into a yearning to defeat the oppressor in Plegaría a un Labrador – unity embracing revolution and hope. Acknowledging armed struggle as a possible means to achieve dignity is implied in the last verse – evolving from solitary lament into social consciousness.

Victor pays homage to Miguel Angel Aguilera in El alma llena de banderas (Our Hearts are Full of Banners). A communist and member of Brigada Ramona Parra, Aguilera was killed during a street demonstration in Santiago in 1970. Victor contrasts the inspiration of Aguilera with the traitorous attitude of his murderers, stating “In the hiding place of rich murderers/ your name will stand for many names/ The one who burnt your wings as you flew/ cannot put out the fire of the poor.”
Preguntas por Puerto Montt (Questions about the massacre of Puerto Montt) earned Victor the rancour of right wing sentiment after singing the song at a boys’ secondary school in 1969. The song is addressed to Mr Perez Zujovic, the Minister of Interior who ordered a massacre upon a peasant community occupying a stretch of wasteland in Puerto Montt. Ninety one peasant families were attacked by 250 armed police, leaving 11 dead and many injured. The youngest victim was a nine month old child.

A particularly poignant song, Manifiesto (Manifesto) articulates Victor’s testimony as a singer, reaffirming his dedication to alleviate and revolt against violations. “My guitar is not for killers/ greedy for money and power,/ but for the people who labour/ so that the future may flower.” Victor’s declaration of “… a man who will die singing/ truthfully singing his song” was no vague metaphor but an assertion of his loyalty towards the people and a premonition of his own fate. The song is reminiscent of El Aparecido (The Apparition), dedicated to Che Guevara a short while before he was ambushed and murdered by CIA trained troops in Bolivia.

On the day of the military coup, Victor Jara was taken prisoner along with other workers and students barricaded inside the Technical University. Estadio Chile, Victor’s last poem, was written during his brief imprisonment at the stadium, which was transformed into the first detention and torture centre during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Written on scraps of paper and smuggled out of the stadium by a detainee who was later released, Victor inscribed what would be one of the initial endeavours in memory narrative, describing the brutality of the dictatorship. The incomplete poem describes the terror inflicted upon the 5,000 detainees in the stadium, documenting the soldiers’ beatings and psychological torture inflicted upon the prisoners. “One dead, another beaten as I could have never believed/a human being could be beaten/ … one jumping into nothingness,/ another beating his head against a wall,/ but all with the fixed look of death.”

Despite efforts to reveal the identities of officers responsible for Victor’s murder, most details are shrouded in secrecy and strengthened by oblivion and impunity. The Armed Forces of Chile refuse to reveal information which would further investigations into Victor Jara’s murder. In May, a documentary entitled Quien Mato a Victor Jara? (Who Killed Victor Jara?) revealed the name of Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez as the lieutenant who allegedly pulled the trigger on Victor. Barrientos has been living in Florida since Jose Paredes, an ex-conscript, was indicted for his role in Victor’s murder and refuses to return to Chile. Other officers refuse to collaborate, since the impunity laws of the dictatorship still govern Chilean society.

This poetry collection furthers Victor’s testimony of political turmoil in Chile, the years of Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular when metaphors transcended the realm of illusion, and the initiation of the subsequent US aided military coup. The figure of Victor Jara has, throughout the years, become synonymous with the fight for justice despite the repression of dictatorship relics still governing Chilean society. An endeavour which strikes against impunity and oblivion, His Hands Were Gentle imparts a revolutionary consciousness, ensuring that the cry of “ni perdon, ni olvido” (neither forgiveness, nor oblivion) enters the realm of internationalism.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chilean Documentary Reveals the Name of Victor Jara's Alleged Killer

This article was first published in Irish Left Review here.
cn2Earlier this year human rights lawyer Nelson Caucoto Pereira and Joan Jara, wife of nueva canción singer Victor Jara, appealed to the Chilean Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence to collaborate in the effort to reconstruct the events leading to Victor Jara’s murder, as well as divulging the names of lieutenants responsible for the atrocity. While no affirmative statement was issued following the appeal, a documentary featured on Chilevision in May revealed the name of the lieutenant who allegedly pulled the trigger on Victor Jara.

The documentary entitled ‘Quien Mato a Victor Jara?’ (Who Killed Victor Jara?) created a strong narrative of the events unfolding in Estadio Chile and the circumstances leading up to Victor’s murder and subsequent discovery of his body. Jose Alfonso Paredes Marquez, a former conscript from the Tejas Verdes contingent who had previously been indicted for his participation in the murder, named Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez as Victor’s alleged killer.

Barrientos was the unidentified lieutenant who, according to Paredes, shot Victor in the head after the singer refused to answer his questions. “He shot him at almost point blank range because the man would not answer him.” [1]

Barrientos has been living in Florida since the 1990s, around the time when Paredes was arraigned in court for his participation in Victor’s murder. Barrientos was interrogated by the FBI some weeks before the airing of the documentary, following a request from Chile regarding the murder of Victor Jara. Tracked by journalist Macarena Pizarro from Chilevision, Barrientos denied his involvement in Victor’s murder. When asked whether he would return to face Chilean justice, Barrientos retorted, “It depends. I do not have to face justice because I killed no one. I’ve been to Chile several times but now, loud and clear, I won’t go.”[2]

The Tejas Verdes contingent, under the command of Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, had been ordered to Santiago as part of the support for the military coup in the vicinities of La Moneda. Upon the transfer to Estadio Chile, the lieutenants indulged in the interrogation, torture and murder of those detained in the stadium. The first prisoners to be transferred to the stadium were those barricaded inside the Technical University, including Victor Jara.

Testimony by Osiel Nuñez from the Students’ Federation sheds light upon the treachery and intimidation by the Tejas Verdes contingent at Estadio Chile. Upon the persona of ‘el Principe’ (The Prince), Nuñez states that he had a very powerful voice and did not need a microphone to make himself heard in the stadium. The lieutenant declared “Soy un Principe” – I am a Prince, to the detainees, later addressing each section of detainees, asking them if they were hearing him, with each section having to answer in the affirmative.
The identity of El Principe remains disputed – both Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko from DINA and Edwin Dimter from Tejas Verdes were suspected of having been ‘the Prince’. However during court procedures, Paredes mentioned Lieutenant Nelson Edgardo Haase Mazzei as the alleged ‘Prince’; a statement which has been denied by Haase.

It was the Prince who, upon recognising Victor Jara, separated him from the rest of the detainees together with Litré Quiroga; Chief of the Service of Prison under Salvador Allende’s government. Victor was taken into a room where Lieutenant Nelson Haase was sitting behind the interrogation desk. Another lieutenant – allegedly Pedro Barrientos, played Russian roulette with Victor, eventually shooting him in the skull. Victor fell to the ground, his body convulsing. The order was given to conscripts to open fire on Victor’s body,[3] as well as upon the other fourteen detainees who were with Victor. One of the victims was Quiroga, who was reportedly tortured for three days prior to his assassination.[4] The documentary featured the exact location where Victor’s body was discovered by social activist Monica Salinas – in a field outside the walls of Cemeterio Metropolitano.

The documentary highlights the impunity enjoyed by the ex officials. Implying a range of absurd rhetoric, Pedro Barrientos, Jorge Smith and Luis Ernesto Bethke denied being present at the Estadio Chile in the aftermath of the military coup, although Paredes’ testimony contradicts the lieutenants. When interviewed by Chilevision, Barrientos denied the Tejas Verdes regiment or himself having been present in Estadio Chile. Asked about Paredes, who accompanied Barrientos in his role, more denials ensued. Echoing Jorge Smith, Barrientos insisted he did not remember Paredes and was nowhere near Estadio Chile, claiming instead to be in the vicinities of La Moneda. This contradicts the fact that Paredes stated he had access to the interrogation rooms through accompanying Barrientos. Bethke’s non-committal reply to the same question was “Why wouldn’t I admit I was there?” The epitome of impunity was characterised by Nelson Haase in 2009 during a telephone interview with newspaper La Nacion. Asked whether he was present in Estadio Chile during Victor’s torture and murder, Haase replied that he was not in Estadio Chile. “I was never in Estadio Chile. I don’t know it. I don’t even like football.”[5]

The officials from Tejas Verdes responsible for the atrocities which occurred in Estadio Chile in the aftermath of the coup are Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, who later became Head of DINA (Dirección de Intelligencia Nacional), Jorge Smith, Luis Ernesto Bethke, Nelson Haase, Edwin Dimter, Rodrigo Rodriguez Fuschloger and Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez. The officials specialised in torture and indulged in the violations upon their return to Tejas Verdes, taking over a resort hotel and transforming it into an interrogation and torture center.[6] Hernan Valdes, a survivor of Tejas Verdes stated “… all I knew about evil until then was only caricature, only literature. Now evil has lost all moral reference.”[7]

Reacting to the information revealed in the documentary, Joan Jara expressed shock at the cynicism and arrogance of officers involved in her husband’s murder. “Everyone was lying with impunity. I believe that there was a large official circle in the stadium that was, in one way or another, involved in this cruelty.” Gloria Konig, executive director of the Victor Jara Foundation, declared that justice must allow investigations into the new declarations by conscript Paredes. “I believe yesterday it became clear that the conscripts have fear.” Lawyer Nelson Caucoto Pereira stated he expects Chile to respond to the warrant requested by the Courts in order to indict Barrientos for his alleged role in killing Victor Jara, echoing earlier statements in which he insisted the aim is to hold those officials wielding power responsible for Victor’s death.[8]

Friday, September 21, 2012

Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile

This review was first published in Upside Down World

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.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tribute to Victor Jara: Venceremos!

The lines fainted, their dilapidated strands
wove bandages for crushed hands,
that strummed strings in the wake
of imminent annihilation. The anthem
defended and defeated, braiding
definitions around treacherous throats

History bequeathed the stadium
with punctured lungs and slain guitars.
In the long, narrow land, a memory writes itself.

Dawn dissolved in dark mines and the victorious voice
banished melancholy below the butchered bodies
allowing the revolution its revival in the blossoms
of an anticipated historical future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September Narrations

Within a history battling oblivion and fabrication, fences materialise to portray the division between death and desolation. Faces disappear prior to their annihilation. Abbreviations belonging to embodiments of socialist struggle fester underground. The bombing of La Moneda and the voice of companero presidente. Constructing a memory out of narratives, an eloquent testimony which led me to Estadio Chile - the systematic, impeccable horror of military uniforms contrasting with the eyes of detainees, where nueva cancion and Unidad Popular and MIR and street demonstrations and cries of Allende, Allende, el pueblo te defiende! slithered towards me, clamouring for an inscribed testimony. Guitar strings ... Victor ... the first five thousand victims of neoliberal vengeance inscribed in the final poem. More faces etched in black, grey and white shades - memories of resistance tortured, torched, buried or dispersed by helicopters hovering over the ocean. The contamination of treason spread far beyond the narrow land. Enforced exile dispersed unity in contradicting narrations. Parillas, detenidos desaparecidos, ni perdon ni olvido. A solitary banner accompanied by a solitary voice on the island of conformity was hounded by the impeccable spectre in white. An apparition of concentration camps manifested itself between the impeccable spectre and the voice. In the aftermath of the dream, only the white gloves remained - a relic of the dictator's manifestation. Names transformed into a litany of faces and families. Beyond the realm of lacerated justice, language strives to conjure biographies, a memory beyond my years engulfed in ashes, the suspicious death of a poet, a murdered singer, MIR, Unidad Popular ... a flag dissolving into a distant September beyond my consciousness battling justice, oblivion and vengeance.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chile: The Desaparecidos of Cuartel Simon Bolivar

This article was first published in Upside Down World here.

Estimados familiares del compañero Ángel Gabriel Guerrero CarrilloInvestigations into the history of Calle Conferencia I and II - a clandestine operation of Direccion de Intelligencia Nacional (DINA) aimed at eliminating members of the Communist Party and Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionario (MIR), has confirmed the identification of the remains of four detenidos desaparecidos (disappeared). The verification was issued last month, prompting a renewed outrage from relatives with regard to the history of Cuartel Simon Bolivar - an extermination site operated by Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfin which remained shrouded in secrecy until exposed by a former DINA agent, Jorgelino Vergara Bravo, in 2007. The investigation’s results, combined with testimonies from former DINA agents, have bequeathed another sliver of dictatorship memory to Chile - the process of dissident extermination and disappearance in a systematic manner ordered directly by Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, head of DINA.

Angel Guerrero, a militant of (MIR), along with three Partido Comunista militants Fernando Ortiz Letelier, Horacio Cepeda and Lincoyán Berríos, were detained by DINA in 1976 and subsequently tortured and murdered. [1] Servicio Medico Legal, a branch of the Ministry of Justice specialising in forensics, released the remains of the victims to their families to conduct memorial services and funerals for the victims during the last days of July. A speech by Guillermo Teillier, current President of the Communist Party, hailed Letelier, Cepeda and Berrios as companeros worthy of Salvador Allende’s memory, describing them as imbued with loyalty and committed to fighting the dictatorship until the very end. Speaking at Guerrero’s memorial service, Washington Guerrero described his brother as motivated to put an end to dictatorship oppression in Chile. Letelier, Cepeda and Berriós were buried in the Memorial del Detenido in the General Cemetery of Santiago, while Angel Guerrero was buried in a cemetery in Puento Alto.[2] In both memorial services, speakers availed themselves of the opportunity to point out certain trends in Chilean history which tend to repeat themselves, notably state violence against students protesting for better education. Closure for the victims’ families was achieved after a 36 year struggle - an achievement in justice somewhat dampened with the reality that other families might never obtain answers to their questions about their disappeared relatives--a fact which was asserted in both memorial services. Relatives called for renewed efforts and a united struggle to trace the rest of the desaparecidos.

Ortiz, a history and geography professor dismissed from his post after the military coup, was ambushed and beaten in Avenida Larrain by hooded people, and driven off in an unregistered vehicle. An unnamed witness later contacted the family to confirm Ortiz’s detention by DINA. [3] Tortured at Villa Grimaldi, a detention and torture facility, and later allegedly transferred to the north of Chile, Ortiz was beaten to death and torched to prevent identification. Horacio Cepeda[4] was out on an errand and meeting another member of the Communist party when he was abducted in a public area in the center of Santiago on December 15, 1976. Reports on Memoria Viva, an archive of human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship, speculate that Cepeda’s arrest coincided with that of other desaparecidos detained on the same date. According to investigations into Calle Conferencia, Cepeda was murdered by electric shocks. Angel Guerrero was imprisoned for several months in Villa Grimaldi and was seen by another MIR militant, Rolando Alarcon. Guerrero met his end at Cuartel Simon Bolivar, with stakes driven though his hands and his torso lacerated and left to bleed, according to reports in and Nuestro Canto, who described Guerrero’s death as “a slow extermination”.[5] Lincoyán Berríos [6] was abducted in a public space and his detention falsified by the dictatorship under claims of fleeing to Argentina – a fabrication which was reiterated with regard to the desaparecidos of Operacion Condor.

A reaction to the news on social networking sites, notably Facebook groups relating to memory in Chile, was whether investigations had yielded any other results; namely the possibility of identifying other detenidos desaparecidos. The possibility of identifying other remains is remote. In January 1979, following the discovery of 15 corpses of peasants killed in Lonquen, dictator Augusto Pinochet announced Operacion Retiro de Televisores; an encrypted order to illegally exhume corpses of detenidos desaparecidos from the mine. The corpses were dumped in the sea or else burned in drums. According to DINA agent Erasmo Sandoval Arancibia’s (also known as Pete el Negro) court statement, the Vicaria de la Solidaridad (an organisation affiliated to the Catholic Church in Chile led by Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez) was tipped off by a peasant who had discovered the bodies, but Arancibia asserted, “we got there first”. In 2000, around 200 bone fragments later identified as the remains of Guerrero, Letelier, Cepeda and Berríos were discovered in the mine – overlooked relics from Operacion Retiro de Televisores.

Further details about Cuartel Simón Bolivar emerged in 2007 when the case came under the jurisdiction of Judge Victor Montiglio, also in charge of Calle Conferencia I. Among the victims of Calle Conferencia I was Communist Party member Victor Diaz, who was tortured, asphyxiated, injected with toxic substances and burned to prevent identification. [7] One hundred and twenty DINA agents were processed by Montiglio for their participation in Operacion Condor - an intelligence operation carried out by right wing dictatorships in the Southern Cone aimed at eradicating socialist and communist support and dissidents. The same agents were also indicted for their role in Calle Conferencia I & II, however many agents remain sheltered under impunity laws. Until 2007 Arancibia worked in Providencia under the patronage of former DINA agent Cristian Labbe, now mayor of Providencia and to this day benefiting from impunity. Arancibia was charged and condemned for the murder of the youngest victim of the dictatorship – a fourteen-year-old boy shot four times in the head, doused with gasoline and burned. [8]

However, Cuartel Simón Bolivar, described as ‘the place where no one got out alive’, remained a secret extermination site until unveiled by Jorgelino Vergara in 2007. Vergara, also known as El Mocito, came from a poor peasant family who, at the age of 15, ended up working as a servant in the household of Manuel Contreras, later head of DINA. Following the military coup, Vergara was trained by the organisation and sent to work in Cuartel Simón Bolivar. His observations and recollections are the subject of Javier Rebolledo’s recently published book, La Danza de los Cuervos: el destino final de los detenidos desaparecidos (The Dance of the Crows: the final destination of the disappeared detainees).[9] Rebolledo describes the desaparecidos leaving Cuartel Simon Bolivar ‘as a package’ – DINA agents disposed of the desaparecidos with impunity.

Operated by Brigada Lautaro and Grupo Delfin, the center was a place of torture, death and disappearances. Extermination orders came directly from Manuel Contreras and executed by Chief John Morales Salgado, head of Brigada Lautaro, who ordered his agents to “make them suffer” – in reference to the detainees. Various forms of murder were carried out by DINA: asphyxiation, electric shocks, cyanide injections, beatings and sarin gas.[10] DINA biochemist Eugenio Berríos, Colonel Eugenio Huber and CIA agent Michael Vernon Townley, an American citizen recruited by DINA and now living under protection in the US, were responsible for the production of sarin gas. Furthermore, it is estimated by School of the Americas Watch that one out of every seven DINA agents was a School of the Americas graduate, taking on roles of torture in various detention centres in Chile.

In the latest developments, former head of DINA Manuel Contreras stands accused of planning and ordering the detention and disappearance of eight Communist Party militants which occurred between 4th and 12th May, 1976.[11]

Ramona Wadi is a freelance writer living in Malta. Visit her blog here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Nueva Cancion Research

Soy una escritora freelance que investiga la nueva canción Chilena. Si tienen cualquier narración o memorias del movimiento chileno por favor póngase en contacto conmigo. Gracias. Ramona Wadi (Malta), Ramona Wadi on Facebook or Twitter @walzerscent

I am a freelance writer researching the nueva canción Chilena. If you have any narrations or memories of the Chilean movement, please get in touch! Ramona Wadi (Malta), Facebook Ramona Wadi on Facebook or Twitter @walzerscent

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trazos de Memoria

Trazos de Memoria
Illustraciones animadas creadas a partir de los testimonios del archivio audiovisual de Londres 38, espacio de memorias
Londres 38, 2012.

Trazos de Memoria seeks to re-enact the recent history of Chile's dictatorship and its widespread torture and macabre annihilation of opponents. A short, illustrated text with testimonies from torture survivors and relatives of detenidos desaparecidos, the book imparts a sliver of memory narrative in flashes of recollections.

The testimonies are taken from Londres 38's audiovisual archive. Guillermo Rodriguez Morales (former MIR militant), Miguel Angel Rebolledo (former MIR militant), Mario Irarrazabal (survivor of Londres 38), Erika Hennings (former MIR militant, survivor of Londres 38 and wife of detenido desaparecido Alfonso Chanfreau), Luz Encina Silva (human rights activist and mother of detenido desaparecido Mauricio Jorquera Encina, former MIR militant) and Gastón Muñoz Briones (former MIR militant and torture survivor) disclose their experience of dictatorship practices, notably the struggle of each individual against the uncertainty of their plight.

As this book shows, the struggle against oblivion was a collective commencing far before Pinochet's insistence to obliterate memory with regard to torture and disappearances. Resisting lies regarding detention, blindfolds and unknown destinations, detainees relied on memory and verbal communication to construct their narratives and identity within history, in order to ensure recognition of other torture victims whose disappearance remains shrouded in violence and oblivion. A very striking testimony by Erika Hennings describes the manner in which detainees would describe themselves to others incarcerated with them - one of the women participating in this exercise was Muriel Dockendorff Navarrete, a disappeared former MIR militant whose name appears in the List of the 119, or Operacion Colombo.

The book is free to download from Londres 38 espacio de memorias. An innovative manner of imparting memory, I highly recommend this book for anyone willing to join the fight against dictatorship oblivion; also for others whose journey through history and memory needs to be rekindled.

Neither forgiveness, nor oblivion. A steadfast struggle for justice within memory.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

La Cultura Rechaza Violencia Contra Pueblo Mapuche

A worldwide initiative by artists and intellectuals to publicly condemn state violence directed against the Mapuche people of Chile. Sign and share the petition to garner widespread support.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Betraying Memory in Chile: Documental Pinochet's Manipulation of History

This article was first published in Upside Down World here.

Impunity and split memory in Chile were highlighted on June 10, 2012 with the screening of Documental Pinochet at Teatro Caupolican. Describing the event as an aberration, human rights groups in Chile launched a campaign which culminated in protests outside Teatro Caupolican, emphasizing the contradiction of honoring the dictator responsible for the torture and murder of thousands of Chileans within the parameters of democracy.

Documental Pinochet gives a glorifying account of the military coup and the dictatorship years up to Augusto Pinochet’s funeral. Focusing on the Pinochet rather than the nation, the documentary manipulates history in a manner which all but obliterates Salvador Allende and Unidad Popular. Branding socialists and members of MIR (Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionario) as terrorists, the documentary embraces impunity from the beginning, imparting a distorted justification of the coup while deftly eliminating all historical footage of repression.

Agrupacion Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (AFDD), together with relatives of people who were tortured, murdered or disappeared during the dictatorship, filed an appeal for suspension of the documentary, reiterating that such a tribute could cause psychological harm to relatives who, after decades of repression, are still struggling to discover the fate of their relatives. Lorena Pizarro, speaking on behalf of AFDD stated that such a tribute will demean any declaration of “never again” with regard to genocide, [1] however, the Court ruled against the appeal, also accusing AFDD of issuing threats. AFDD’s initiative also garnered support from human rights lawyer Hugo Gutierrez, who denounced the tribute as a means to undermine the rights of the victims of state terrorism in order to pay homage to a criminal. Deputy Enrique Accorsi from Partido por la Democracia (PPD) stated the tribute was a direct attack on democracy and announced that a draft agreement would be presented to avoid such events in the future.[2]

The homage to Pinochet delves deeper than differences of opinion. By allowing the event to take place, the right wing’s approach to Chilean history has been to seek a manner in which the dictatorship’s crimes of torture and murder are legitimized within a distorted historical context. Senator Carlos Kuschel from Renovacion Nacional voiced the opinion that “President Pinochet deserves more tributes than the majority of leaders.”[3]

Pinochet’s grandson, Augusto Pinochet Molina evoked democracy to justify the tribute, stating that “people shouldn’t be afraid to express themselves ...We live in a democratic society with the rule of law and everyone can raise their points of view and act as necessary within that framework.” [4]

Lieutenant Juan Gonzalez, a retired army officer leading the Pinochetista movement and also an organizer of the tribute declared the documentary to be the means of setting the record straight on Chile. During an interview on CNN, Gonzalez described the coup as the saving of Chile, denying the widespread torture, murders and disappearances. Gonzalez’s own sister, Francisca denied these statements the very next day during an interview with the same news channel, declaring she was imprisoned and tortured in Punta Arenas during the dictatorship. [5]

Social networking, in particular Facebook and Twitter, provided a strong means of dissemination of information. A petition hosted at El Quinto Poder entitled Impidamos esta aberración[6], was widely circulated on Twitter. While the petition failed to garner the desired number of signatures within five days, it provided a vital focal point for those opposing the tribute. A steady stream of tweets paid homage to various desaparecidos, the 119 victims of Operacion Colombo and other victims of the dictatorship. The first photos published on Facebook pertained to demonstrations held in France and Brussels against the tribute to Pinochet.

The area surrounding Teatro Caupolican was characterized by a significant police presence. Human rights groups who sought to break through the police barrier to get closer to Teatro Caupolican were forced back with water cannons and tear gas. Opposition to the tribute was particularly assertive – besides families of the desaparecidos wearing photos of their disappeared relatives around their necks and holding placards as protest against the tribute, a re-enactment of torture was exhibited in the streets, with people blindfolded and tied to a replica of the parilla – a common torture device during the dictatorship which administered electric shocks to detainees.

As in a December 2011 protest against Chilean intelligence officer Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko’s homage, protestors were targeted and subjected to police violence. AFDD stated it held Minister of Interior Rodrigo Hinzpinter responsible for the violence and the manner in which police provided protection for the Pinochetistas. Protestors have also alleged that police dressed in civilian clothes infiltrated the crowd and made arbitrary arrests. [7]

Whilst Sebastian Piñera’s government kept its distance from the tribute, statements from the government’s general secretary bordered on the contradictory, stating “The government respects the activity because it is organized within legal parameters, but we won’t be participating.”[8]

Historian Alberto Harambour makes an important observation regarding the contradictions of the Chilean state. He says the tribute is indecent in its glorification of torture and destruction of freedom.[9] The incoherence of applying dictatorship laws of impunity to defend a dictatorship and manipulate history bears a resemblance to the earlier controversy of eliminating any mention of the dictatorship in primary school textbooks. Showing leniency to torture and torturers allows a widespread indulgence of human rights violations.
While the documentary has been pronounced as the product of over twenty years of silence and a means to disseminate the truth about the military coup, its manipulative stance reinforces the split memory of Chilean society. The right wing in Chile adhered to Pinochet’s strategy beyond his death by reiterating that torture, disappearances and murders never happened. However, propagating such distorted views in a documentary exceeds any possible rational acceptance of various truths and memories.

Documental Pinochet further annihilates the memory of the dictatorship victims by refusing to even acknowledge the widespread horror inflicted upon left wing Chileans by DINA and CNI. The refusal to acknowledge Chile’s era of repression is a manifestation of impunity.
Adolfo Pérez, 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner, criticized the tribute, calling it an aberration.[10] Citing a broader perspective than a manipulation of history, Pérez raises the significance and impact of the tribute upon Chile, which is still shackled by laws dating back to Pinochet’s era. The documentary glorifies interventionism in Latin America and upholds the enforcement of anti-terror laws upon the Mapuche population and social movements. In the end, Documental Pinochet has caused uproar within the Chilean left largely because it betrays the nation’s struggle for justice and its own collective memory.

Ramona Wadi is a freelance writer living in Malta. Visit her blog here.
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