South America has had a very turbulent history from the very time that the Western World learned of its existence. Today, much of South America is considered to be part of the developing world, including the two countries that will be studied in depth in this unit. Many of the countries in South America have struggled with maintaining government stability in their governments, from the time they were granted or won independence from the Western World. Argentina and Chile are no exception. Each of these countries has struggled in a similar fashion in the process of democratization. The background information following is broken down by country. For each country, there is a very brief history of the respected country, followed by the rise to dictatorship, the gross human rights violations that occurred under said dictatorships, and the aftermath and transition from the dictatorship. After these two sections, the goings on elsewhere in the Southern Cone will be discussed. Then the international reaction and response to the dictatorships will be discussed.
Argentina is said to be the most “European” destination in South America. It is the home of the tango, world-renowned soccer, and of course the best beef in the world. Despite its rich culture, Argentina is unfortunately not an exception to the rule of the unstable history that has plagued South America for hundreds of years.
Argentina has a very rich and interesting history, but let us focus briefly on the beginning of the 20
century. The beginning of the last century saw weak civilian rule and economic strife, leading up to a military coup in 1943. This coup ultimately led to Juan Perón coming to power that same year. He was elected President in 1947, and his first wife Eva became the First Lady of Argentina. On July 26, 1952, Evita died of cancer. The military rebelled in 1955, and Perón fled Argentina.
While in exile, Perón married Isabel Martinez. He was later elected President of Argentina again in 1973. He died one year later, in 1974. Isabel, his wife, had been serving as his vice president. She then became the President of Argentina.
On March 24, 1976, Isabel Perón is thrown out of power via a military coup d’etat, and thus began the dictatorship of our study.
Rise of the Dictatorship in Argentina
Prior to the coup in 1976, Argentina faced severe governmental, social, and economic instability. This instability included for example terrorist attacks and trade unionist conflicts. In 1975, Isabel was pressured to appoint Jorge Rafael Videla as commander-in-chief of the Argentine Army. Videla stated that “as many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure.”
In fact, Videla helped to head the coup to overthrow Isabel’s government.
Isabel was replaced by a military
, headed by Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera, General Orlando Agosti, and Videla himself. Massera later stepped down in 1978, although the
ran Argentina from roughly 1976-1983. The
called itself the “National Reorganization Process,” and formed a system of repression that would leave lasting marks on Argentinean society. The
is well known for its
, or forced disappearances. The
instilled fear in its civilian population, as the government hunted down what they referred to as
, or “subversives,” across the nation. Subversives included terrorists, in particular. Terrorist groups targeted included the Montoneros and guerrillas. The state utilized medical experts, including psychiatrists, to interrogate and torture suspects. Newspapers at the time, as well as other research, report that the large majority of terrorists and terrorist leaders had already been eliminated by this time. The state sponsored acts of violence were therefore unnecessary, as those terrorists that they were seeking out were no longer a threat.
Gross Human Rights Violations in Argentina
Before the coup that overthrew Isabel Perón, human rights were already being violated in Argentina. However, these violations had not yet reached the scale they later would under the military dictatorship between the years 1976 to 1983. In fact, before the dictatorship officially began in March of 1976, the Argentine government was already participating in two international operations that sought to silent political dissenters, Operation Condor and Operativo Independencia.
Operation Condor was officially implemented in 1975, a full year before the coup that would bring Argentineans to their knees for seven long years. Operation Condor organized and gathered information between the secret services and governments of South America with the end goal of eliminating left wing political dissenters. The key countries involved in Condor were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Ecuador and Peru later joined and held more marginal responsibilities.
This international cooperation allowed participating countries to practice “hemispheric defense defined by ideological frontiers.”
South American security forces, as the military dictatorships would later accomplish within their own borders, pursued persons based on their political beliefs. They targeted
dissidents and leftists, union and peasant leaders, priests and nuns, intellectuals,
students and teachers-not only guerrillas (who, under international law, are also
entitled to due process).
Security forces that participated were responsible for a number of “targeted abductions, disappearances, interrogations/torture, and transfers of persons across borders.”
As it was a secret operation, not all reports have been declassified, and thus the numbers of deaths that the operation resulted in is not clear. However, the operation was certainly responsible for the deaths of several political leaders, including
Chilean Orlando Letelier -foreign minister under President Salvador Allende and a
fierce foe of the Pinochet regime - and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt, in
Washington D.C., and Chilean Christian Democrat leader Bernardo Leighton and
his wife, in Rome. Condor assassinations in Buenos Aires were carried out against
General Carlos Prats, former Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean army; nationalist
ex-president of Bolivia Juan Jose Torres; two Uruguayan legislators known for
their opposition to the Uruguayan military regime, Zelmar Michelini and Hector
Declassified U.S. documents illuminate the fact that not only did the U.S. support Operation Condor, but also “U.S. security officers saw Condor as a legitimate ‘counterterror’ organization.”
While the Argentine security forces collaborated abroad with other countries in Operation Condor, they were also involved at home in Operativo Independencia. This military operation, which also began in 1975, was stationed in Tucumán, a province in Argentina. The goal of the operation was to defeat the ERP, the
Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo
, or the People’s Revolutionary Army. The result of Operativo Independencia was the death of over 150 guerrillas, 22 officers, and 21 other ranks, as well as large military casualties. After 1975, the Argentine government had to continue to give military aid to assist in locating the one hundred guerrillas, both ERP and Montoneros that remained in the countryside. Extreme right wing officers began to employ their chase of guerrillas as an excuse to slay any left wing rival. They even went so far as to utilize it as a disguise for general crimes that they themselves committed. This mission would become the first major military undertaking of what would come to be known as the
or the Dirty War.
The Dirty War would leave lasting marks on Argentine society until this very day. It was waged silently and was unknown by many for quite some time. As previously explained, it began before the dictatorship was even established. The military junta continued what had begun in the mountains of Tucumán with its National Reorganization Process. Soon after assuming power in 1976, Jorge Rafael Videla announced the “Statute for the Process of National Reorganization.” This statute later came to be dubbed as “El Proceso,” a much more positive sounding name than the current reality of Argentine life. The National Reorganization Process, or “El Proceso,” is what essentially legalized the kidnapping, torture, and murder of thousands of people in Argentina. The military junta claimed that what “El Proceso” was doing was for the benefit of the people, i.e., the restraint of all subversives.
The junta sought to gain the endorsement of all Argentines in their attempt to “reorganize” Argentina. The military called upon
citizens... to sacrifice their individual rights and needs in order to "heal" the
country and achieve peace "for God and country." References to "cleansing" the
country of subversive elements illustrate the influence of the Nazis on the
The military junta recruited the Argentine people in its ideological war. According to the junta, the enemy was internal, and one could not know who was and was not an enemy. Argentina was deemed by the junta as being “ill,” and all Argentines needed help to seek the “cure.”
Argentina was plagued with propaganda supporting the military junta and “El Proceso.”
The junta carried out the Dirty War in secret. Unfortunately, the junta also shared their methods of repression and torture to Central America, with the encouragement of the United States, through Operation Charly. This covert operation lasted from 1977 to 1984, and helped to share the methods the Argentines had first learned from the French with other nations in Central America.
Throughout the nation of Argentina, there were about 350 detention centers, which ranged in size from about 1,500 prisoners to one as small as 30 prisoners in the basement of a shopping center. People, dubbed as subversives, as previously mentioned, were abducted at all hours of the day, at night, and even in daylight while victims were at work. The personal property of victims was turned upside down and stolen. Other family members were in some cases tied up, beaten, while young children were either taken in with their family, or left alone at home. Local police assisted in such abductions. Often times, these kidnappings were extremely exaggerated, in an effort to encourage the people to believe in the peril and danger caused by the internal enemy.
Often, victims were blindfolded or hooded when kidnapped, and continued as such for the remainder of their imprisonment. As they did not know where they were or what was happening, they did not know when they would next be tortured. By and large, captives were given numbers, and the torturers had nicknames to protect their real identity. This prevented prisoners from learning the identities of both the other prisoners and their torturers. At the detention centers, prisoners were
brutally tortured, both physically and psychologically, even when the torturers
knew that their victims had no information. They were sexually abused, starved,
made to wallow in their own filth, and they were burned with such things as
electric cattle prods. They were held in small spaces called "tubos' (tubes), some of
which were so low that they could not even sit up; when lying down, they had to be
in the fetal position because they could not extend their legs. Jewish people were
also subject to Nazi -like tortures as well. Hitler's speeches were heard over
loudspeakers; photos of Hitler adorned the walls.
Many prisoners died in the detention centers, and buried in mass graves. Others were drugged, loaded into an airplane, and dropped over the ocean, so that no remains of their bodies would ever be found.
Many prisoners were simply “disappeared.” No record of their abduction could be found. Family members went from police station to police station asking about their loved ones, and could not find out what had happened to them. These victims came to be known, as we will later see also in Chile, as
Different organizations have calculated different totals of
, but human rights organizations calculate that about 30,000 people disappeared in Argentina. In less than seven years, 30,000 people were vanished. This number does not even include the numbers of people that were tortured and released.
Some of the women that were abducted were pregnant. In hundreds of cases, torturers waited for these babies to be born, and then killed the mothers. As many as 400 newborns were taken from prisoners and adopted by military families and friends. After the newborns were taken, their birth certificates were counterfeited. Human rights groups have helped about 88 of these people to find their true identities.
Some torture victims have chosen to speak out. Patricia Isasa is one such woman. She was abducted in 1976, when she was only 16 years old. During her two years in captivity, she was beaten and tortured, raped, and even given electric shocks.
When she was abducted, her father Miguel Angel Isasa searched for her, but to no avail, as she later described:
Isasa walks to Police Precinct Number One in the small Argentine town of Santa
Fe and knocks on the door. It is answered by a man in a uniform who tells him
she's not there. Isasa demands to see the register of prisoners, but her name is not
listed. And although he has reason to believe his daughter is in custody, there is
nothing he can do. In fact, Patricia Isasa is inside, locked in an empty room,
hooded and shackled, awaiting her turn to be beaten, raped and subjected to electric
shock, another victim of Argentina's "dirty war."
During this ideological war, many basic human rights were violated. Yet there is a group of women that was not afraid to speak their minds, the
Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo
, or the Mothers and the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Many parents at first thought that their children would be let out of jail, and that it was all a mistake. As Patricia’s father found out, they went from one jail to another, from police station to police station, to hospitals and to the Army barracks. No one had information about their children. Some thought that their children had gone into exile. Many of these mothers began to carefully talk to other mothers about their children, and they began to meet in houses and churches. The mothers began to meet at the Plaza de Mayo, which faces the Casa Rosada, first on Fridays, and then the day they met later became Thursdays. More and more women started to come. If the police tried to arrest one woman, the others would also demand to be arrested. The women grew in number, and in strength, evolving into a national and an international movement, ultimately demanding that the perpetrators be served justice. These women continue to meet every Thursday afternoon to protest at the Plaza de Mayo.
Aftermath and Transition in Argentina
The unanticipated loss of
las Islas Malvinas
, or the Falkland Islands, to England in 1982 was the final test of the dictatorship. That same year, the dictatorship reinstated the basic civil rights of Argentinean citizens, and came to an end when Raúl Alfonsín came to power on December 10, 1983. Three days after his inauguration, Alfonsín passed Decree Number 158, which ordered legal proceedings against nine military officers of the first three of four juntas. The Argentine dictatorship had actually been run by four different juntas, and the final and fourth junta had passed a self-amnesty law.
On December 15, 1983, Alfonsín created the
Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas
, or CONADEP. The National Commission of the Disappearance of Persons, as it is called in English, was created to investigate the human rights violations committed during the dictatorship, and more specifically, the
. CONADEP reported its findings in a report called
which was issued in 1984. The Commission documented the disappearance of approximately 9,000 people, though as previously stated, human rights groups estimate the number at 30,000.
also recorded that approximately 458 people were assassinated and about 600 were disappeared during the years 1973-1976.
It is important to note that CONADEP did not receive any aid, official or unofficial, from the military in its research.
aided in the Trial of the Juntas. This trial led to the sentencing of life imprisonment of nine of the lead officers of the juntas, including Jorge Rafael Videla and Emilio Eduardo Massera.
In an effort to pacify the military, and in a way taking a step backwards, Alfonsín sponsored the passing of two laws, the
Ley de Punto Final
Ley de Obedencia Debida
Ley de Punto Final
, or the Full Stop Law
was passed on December 24, 1986. This law mandated the end of investigation and prosecution of those people facing charges for political violence during the dictatorship, up to December 10, 1983. This law was passed to halt the escalation of the trials against the military. The
Ley de Obedencia Debida
, or the Law of Due Obedience, was passed on June 4, 1987. This law states that all officers and their lesser colleagues cannot be punished by law for acts of political violence committed during the dictatorship because they were operating under due obedience. That is, they were following orders from their superiors, i.e. the military leaders that had been indicted under the Trial of the Juntas.
Carlos Ménem pardoned those officers that had been indicted when he became president in 1989.
Consequently, “by 1990, only 10 people had been convicted, and all were pardoned and released.”
Under Ménem’s government, controversial economic reparations began to be paid to victims and the families of victims. The Human Rights Office of the Ministry of the Interior, which was set up under Alfonsín, maintained its attempt at ascertaining the truth about the occurrences of the past. Most of the information gathered by the Ministry of the Interior was obtained through testimonies from victims and their families, although little of these testimonies were from the military. Human rights organizations began to search for loopholes in the legal system, as the amnesty laws had brought court proceedings to a halt. Several mid-level officers began confessing the atrocities they committed during the dirty war, which pressured the need for the renewal of court trials. Truth trials then began as a result of pressure from the
Madres de la Plaza de Mayo
. Argentina’s civil society pressed for the truth to come out. Courts still had the power to subpoena and investigate those suspected of crimes, but did not have the power to charge or convict people. Therefore, the courts began to gather evidence in search of the truth that could be used for future prosecutions. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights signed a settlement in 1999 with Argentina that guaranteed “the right to truth by obtaining clarification of what happened to disappeared persons.”
Further progress was made when it was discovered that babies were born to mothers in detention centers and then given up for illegal adoption to military families under different identities. The Full Stop and Due Obedience laws did not cover baby theft, and as a result, Ménem created the Comisión Nacional por el Derecho a la Identidad, or the National Commission for the Right to Identity, in 1992. Although Jorge Rafael Videla was pardoned by Ménem in 1990, along with other military generals, he was found guilty of kidnapping minors in 1998. He spent just over a month in prison, and was thus transferred to house arrest because of health problems.
International pressure for the conviction of military personnel mounted in the 1990s. Several countries, including Italy and Spain, called for the extradition of many Argentines for the atrocities they committed during the Dirty War. President Fernando de la Rúa, however, stated that arrest warrants in other countries could not stand up in Argentina, and that these warrants violated Argentina’s sovereignty. De la Rúa signed Decree 1581, which became Argentina’s official refusal to allow Argentines to stand trial for human rights crimes in other countries.
Ley de Punto Final
Ley de Obedencia Debida
were both repealed in 2003 by the Argentine National Congress, and then found unconstitutional by the Argentine Supreme Court in 2005 under the Argentine President Néstor Kirchner. These actions allowed for the reopening of cases in 2006 against those involved in political violence during the dictatorship. Those that were previously pardoned, however, could not be retried. One of the first cases, against Miguel Etchecolatz, the Buenos Aires Provincial Police’s second in command officer, led to the acknowledgement that the Argentine state terrorism under the dictatorship was, in fact, genocide.
In 2006, it was later ruled that Ménem’s 1989 and 1990 pardons were unconstitutional. In April of 2007, Argentine federal court officially struck down Ménem’s pardons and reinstated human rights abuse allegations.
While the Argentine government has played a large role in the transitional justice of the military dictatorship, Argentine civil society has been the rallying factor. Civil society groups and human rights organizations have motivated the change to be made, and have motivated Argentines to never forget what happened during the Dirty War. One such group is
, or Project Disappeared. This is a project between several human rights organizations “with the purpose of recovering and maintaining memory, understanding what happened in Argentina during the ‘dirty war’ and fighting against impunity.”
This project maintains web sites documenting the disappeared persons, torturers, pertinent documents, and the voices of the disappeared.
In addition, monuments have been erected to remember the past. In 1999, the Monument of the Victims of State Terrorism began with the placing of one stone. This monument was inspired by the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC and features names of the
. It was finished and inaugurated by Kirchner in 2007. It is set within the
Parque de la Memoria
, or Park of the Memory.
This monument and the park in which it is set commemorate a dark time in the history of Argentina, and express the importance of remembering those that were lost.
It is not for me to decide whether justice has been served, either in Argentina or in Chile. What is clear, however, is that Argentine society has greatly suffered and has greatly changed as a result of the Dirty War. Argentina will not forget what happened. The
and all victims of the Dirty War will remain in their hearts forever.
Chile is well known for its incredible geography. With a desert in the north, mountains in the central region, glaciers in the south, and bordered by an ocean in the west, this country has a very wide variety of climates, terrains, and peoples. Like Argentina, it also has a tumultuous past.
Let us focus on a brief history starting in 1891, when the President, José Manuel Balmaceda’s many numerous disagreements with Congress led to a civil war. Thousands of lives and eight months of war later, Congress’ victory began a short period of parliamentary rule. This system was less efficient, because representatives entered and left office far more often. However, it led to more stability and democracy. In 1925, a new constitution was written, giving universal suffrage for the election of the president. It also introduced a separation of church and state, as well as mandatory primary education. The depression in 1929 brought with it economic hardship, as it did around the world, along with another civil war. The civil war ended and stability returned in the late 1930s due largely to the Radical party, a coalition of different political groups from both the left and center. Chile was ruled by three different Radical presidents from 1938 to 1952.
Salvador Allende, a figure who is vital to Chile’s history in the second half of the 20
century, became a founding member of Chile’s Socialist party in 1933. Beginning in 1937, he was a member of the chamber of deputies, and he ran in and lost the presidential elections in 1952, 1958, and 1964. Eduardo Frei, a Christian Democrat, won the 1964 election. The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of rising inflation and unemployment. Frei failed to lower the rates of inflation and unemployment through his policies of partial nationalization of mining companies and his cautious agrarian reform. By 1970, there was staggering social unrest. Allende was then elected president by a very narrow margin, representing the
, or ¨Popular Unity¨. He only obtained 36.2% of the votes, while Jorge Alessandri, a former president, won 34.9% of the votes, and Radomiro Tomic of the Christian Democratic Party won 27.8% of the votes.
Despite his lack of a true mandate, he began his radical left wing reform program. Inflation rose, and Allende made many enemies because of his policies. Allende appointed generals to his cabinet in order to try to maintain friendly relations with the military. In August of 1973, Allende appointed Augusto Pinochet as his commander-in-chief of the army. A little over 2 weeks later, on September 11, Pinochet takes part in the violent coup d’etat during which Allende died.
In the months leading up to the coup, Chile was plagued by outrageous inflation (approximately 238% in 1973), a large black market, strikes, lines for food, and a growing polarization between left and right wing political parties. Due to these difficulties, many Chileans yearned for change. Some saw a military coup, and the events of September 11, as an opportunity to save a nation on the brink of a civil war and an economic crash. Those in opposition of the coup were primarily left wing parties, such as those making up the Unidad Popular. A number of these adversaries saw the coup on September 11 as a “‘last card’ played by conservative forces to defeat Latin America’s only successful socialist revolution in democracy.”
Because they were unable to defeat Allende democratically in the election, or via any economic means, they opted for the final alternative, which was military involvement.
The ultimate consequences of Chilean military involvement in 1973 include of course the coup on September 11, the resulting dictatorship, and Allende’s controversial death. Some say he was murdered, while his adversaries say that he committed suicide. In a speech addressed to a Cuban audience on September 28, 1973, Beatriz Allende, Salvador’s daughter, describes how the coup took place. She was present for part of it. She states that Allende carried an AK rifle, which had been a gift to him from Fidel Castro, and was labeled “To my comrade-in-arms.”
Beatriz describes Allende as never hesitating to fight during the coup. Military leaders called repeatedly, offering him a plane to fly himself and his family to safety. Allende chose to stay and fight, and later La Moneda was bombed.
Rise of the Dictatorship in Chile
Pinochet and his junta ultimately ruled Chile from 1973-1989. Pinochet, just as the military
in Argentina, used state sponsored terror as a method to protect national security and fight the communist threat. The Chilean government abducted and tortured subversives, many of which were disappeared forever.
Pinochet did aid in the stimulation of Chile’s economy, which obviously in no way diminished the atrocities that were carried out. Inflation was reduced and foreign investment was encouraged. However, the international community condemned the grave and deplorable human rights abuses committed by the dictatorship.
agreed to rotate leadership among themselves. However, Pinochet takes over by himself in 1974. In 1980, he puts a new constitution up for vote in a referendum, which was approved by 75%. This constitution gave Pinochet eight more years as the president of Chile. At the end of the eight years, in October 1988, the
would offer a presidential candidate for approval in a referendum. Pinochet was of course the candidate. However, 55% of the voters said ‘no.’ Free elections were then organized for December of 1989.
The seventeen-year dictatorship ultimately ended on March 11, 1990.
Gross Human Rights Violations in Chile
In the first hours of the dictatorship, thousands of Chileans were corralled into the Estadio Chile, where many remained for days with scarce food or water. Many of these thousands included Allende’s collaborators. Many were tortured. Many were then transferred to the Estadio Nacional de Chile, or the National Stadium. The military had set up concentration camps, where they brought
, or subversives, as in Argentina, who were believed to be a possible threat to the new military junta. These were the political prisoners arrested during the dictatorship. In addition to Estadio Chile and the Estadio Nacional, other concentration camps were set up in Villa Grimaldi, Tres ¡lamos, Chacabuco, Pisagua, Dawson Island, Puchuncaví, Ritoque, Buque Esmeralda, as well as other locations. In some cases, the military set up the detention centers where they owned property, but in other cases, they obtained property from third parties.
On September 12, 1973, Chile’s Armed Forces announced Decree Law No. 5, which proclaimed an “internal war.” Thus, the conflicts that had pervaded Chile before the coup had now been deemed a war by the military. State terror permeated throughout Chilean society as the concept of the enemy within and the National Security Doctrine infused fear within all. Similar to the enemy in Argentina, “the enemy within was the Communist, the Marxist, the Socialist, the revolutionary, the subversive, indeed, anyone perceived by the military to constitute a challenge to the new established order.”
The Armed Forces also announced a state of siege, which lasted until 1987, with the exception of a few brief periods of time. Thus, any and all legal cases concerning violations of State of Siege decrees were handled through wartime military establishments, instead of the civilian courts. The military junta employed military concepts, including the suspension of habeas corpus, to justify the state’s killing and repression. State terror was not confined to one region of Chile. It was also not confined to one “social class, gender, profession, civil status or age.”
As previously stated, thousands of people were arrested all throughout Chile and September 11, 1973, and in the subsequent days. By the end of 1973, in less than four months, approximately 250,000 Chileans had been arrested and held in custody for political causes.
People were detained, tortured, summarily executed, while some were literally disappeared, and some were killed in false armed altercations. Chileans began to accuse each other, a custom which the junta came to promote.
Under Chile’s state sponsored terrorism between 1973-1990, the military junta used a large variety of repression techniques, including
arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, torture, forced disappearances, summary executions,
collective executions, the negation of the right to appeal War Council sentences,
homicide, exile, internal exile, abduction, intimidation, attempted homicide, death
treats, raids, dismissal from jobs and surveillance.
violated the following rights: the right to life, the right to personal integrity, the
right to personal liberty, the right to personal security and the right to live in one's
Thousands of people became
, or disappeared, as in Argentina. Many were sentenced to death without a trial, as their arrests and murders were hidden. Mass graves have been uncovered since the end of the dictatorship. It was impossible to find out any information about those that had been arrested. One woman, Joan Jara, the wife of a famous Chilean singer, was able to find out about the death of her husband, Victor Jara. The day of the coup, September 11, Victor reported to work at the Technical University in Santiago. He never returned home. The University was surrounded and attacked by military forces. Victor was taken to the Estadio Chile, where we was beaten and tortured. Friends later brought word to Joan about Victor’s fate. Hector, a young Chilean of about 19 years of age, spotted Victor in the morgue and secretly brought Joan to identify his body.
Yet thousands of people to this day do not know what happened to their loved ones. In
Utopías de fin de siglo: verdad, justica y reconciliación
, 1995, one such victim writes:
Can anyone explain why Alejandro was sentenced to die without a trial? Why were
his remains buried clandestinely in Army property? Why were his detention,
murder and burial concealed for 15 years? Who is responsible...?
Between September 30 and October 22, 1973, a Chilean army death squad which came to be known as the Caravan of Death flew from the south to the north by helicopter. During this time, members of the death squad ordered or executed themselves almost one hundred individuals held by the Chilean Army. The death squad carried out executions with small arms, and then buried the victims in unmarked graves.
In June of 1975, the military junta announced Decree law No. 521, officially creating the DINA secret police, although they had already existed before they were made legal. The DINA, and their replacement in 1977, the CNI secret police, played a major role in the detainment of prisoners. The CNI secret police were collect information and protect internal security, until they were legally disbanded in February of 1990.
The DINA carried out Operation Colombo, which involved the disappearance of subversives. At least 119 people were claimed to have been killed in this operation, although human rights groups claim a much higher number. The DINA reported that these deaths were the product of internal fights. They helped to create two sham magazines that provided false information in Argentina and Brazil to back this assertion. In addition, they planted unidentifiable bodies on the streets of Buenos Aires, suggesting that the disappeared had been killed not by the Chilean government, but by other travelers.
In the beginning of the dictatorship, the junta shut down both the Constitutional Tribunal and the National Congress. They also dissolved all left wing political parties, and declared them to be illegal. They declared other political parties to be temporarily shut down. Voter registration lists were burned, and all political power of city counselors and mayors was terminated.
While the military junta wreaked havoc and caused terror in the lives of Chileans, many organizations sprouted up to condemn the previously mentioned human rights violations and to make them known to the world. Relatives of victims and the Catholic Church had a large role in creating these organizations, which included the Vicaria de la Solidaridad, the Comité para la Paz, the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared and the Associations of Victims of Political Executions. These are only a few examples. The Committee for the Defense of People’s Rights (CODEPU) and the Christian Churches Social Assistance Foundation (FASIC), and several others, were organizations established to promote human rights in Chile.
These organizations are proof that an opposition movement against the military junta existed. In the 1980’s, it openly protested the junta’s repression, and the junta reacted with even crueler of a repression. In 1988, as previously stated, the junta called for a plebiscite. The result was an election in 1989, which Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat, won. He was sworn in on March 11, 1990, thus beginning the slow transition to democracy in Chile. The principal conflict with which the new Chilean governments would have to deal with were the consequences of the extended abuse of human rights.
Aftermath and Transition in Chile
Aylwin and Chile had a great advantage over Alfonsín and Argentina in the sense that he could draw on experience not only from Argentina, but also from Brazil, Uruguay, and several other countries in seeking justice for the grave human rights abuses that were committed. The Chilean experience, however, has been very different from the Argentine experience. When the Argentine dictatorship came to an end, the military had gone to disgrace. In Chile, however, this was not the case, and Pinochet, in fact, stayed in the public realm for quite some time.
The largest obstacle that Aylwin and the legal system faced was the amnesty law, which Pinochet enacted less than five years after he took power. This law, which was decreed in April of 1978, exempted military personnel from being prosecuted for torture and murder. Unfortunately, this law ultimately led to the impunity of many military officers in Chile. In addition to the self-amnesty law, Pinochet made himself and eight others senators for life in the 1980 constitution, which also granted parliamentary immunity. Pinochet would also remain Commander-in-Chief of the Army until 1998.
On August 24, 1990, the Chilean Supreme Court upheld the 1978 Amnesty Law and maintained its constitutionality. The plaintiff attorney in the case, Alfonso Insunza Bascunan, stated that any cases involving human rights violations that occurred before 1978 were basically over and done with.
The Chilean court continued to uphold the amnesty law for multiple cases, and even suspended a judge without pay for declining to utilize the amnesty law to throw out a case. The Supreme Court in fact did not reverse any rulings that enforced the amnesty law until November 19, 1997, when the court reopened a case involving the arrests and later disappearances of Gregorio Lopes and Rodolfo Espejo, two members of the Socialist Party, in 1974.
Because the military still maintained some power, the self-amnesty law could not be touched. Aylwin, instead, had to take different routes to promote human rights. Aylwin and his government worked to memorialize the past and ascertain the truth. Reparations were offered for the human rights violations that had occurred. He also aided in the ratification of human rights treaties and helped to avert human rights violations in the future. Finally, Aylwin helped to put on trial a small number of cases that the amnesty law did not cover.
On April 25, 1990, Aylwin’s government created the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the human rights abuses that occurred during Pinochet’s dictatorship. This commission came to be known as the Rettig Commission, as it was led by attorney Raúl Rettig. This purpose of this commission, however, was to gather information, and had no legal authority.
On March 4, 1991, the Rettig Commission presented its report and its conclusions. According to the Rettig report, at least 2,025 people were murdered or disappeared, 90 people were killed by civilians, and 164 were murdered due to acts of political violence. Today, human rights organizations report that many more were killed, and a great deal more were tortured. The military rejected these findings. After the presentation of this report, Aylwin officially apologizes to the families of the victims and human rights organizations call for human rights trials. In 1991, the Chilean Commission on Human Rights initiated an educational campaign to create more public awareness about the findings of the Rettig Report.
In addition, Aylwin supported many different acts of commemoration. He held a ceremony in the National Stadium only days after he was inaugurated. He also worked with various human rights groups. Aylwin aided in and supported Salvador Allende’s funeral, seventeen years after his death. In 1990, a memorial wall was started, which listed the names of all known victims that were murdered or disappeared during the dictatorship. It was later finished in 1994. That same year, a peace park was initiated in Villa Grimaldi, and was finished in 1997.
In January of 1992, the government established the National Corporation for Reparations and Reconciliation, resuming the work done by the Rettig Commission. This organization created educational programs on human rights and distributed reparations for victims and their families. It examined the Rettig Commission’s work and collected new testimonies. It issued a final report in 1996, and increased the official death toll to 3,197 people.
During Aylwin’s presidency, Pinochet continued to flex his power. He continued to make his disgust for civilian government clear. When the investigation into his son’s finances escalated, he called a large majority of his army generals to the military headquarters, which was only across the street from the presidential palace. Accompanying their presence were armed troops in uniform and the launch of a state of alert. This act came to be known as the “boinazo” because of the black berets that the army wore. Thus, Aylwin introduced a new bill in 1993, which would grant anonymity to those being charged, and speed up the human rights trials. However, this bill proved to be unpopular for many, including human rights organizations as well as many political parties. Within a month Aylwin withdrew the bill, and sought to keep the matter of human rights out of the public air until the end of his presidency in order to relieve the boiling tensions between the military and civilian government.
Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle was then elected president in December of 1993. Aylwin left the presidency in March of 1994, and the issues of justice and impunity remained in the air. Although the amnesty law created by Pinochet continued impunity, a
Ley de Punto Final
or final stop law was not enacted such as in Argentina. Thus, the prospect of justice was still possible. However, Frei did not stress the importance of human rights in his campaign for the presidency. The beginning of Frei’s presidency brought to light the civilian government’s possible inability to control the military, as two high profile cases came to a close. Manuel Contreras and Pedro Espinoza were sentenced to seven and six years of prison for the murder of Ronnie Moffit and Orlando Letelier. Espinoza evaded his sentence for a month, and Contreras avoided his for six months
. The military clarified the fact that they would not consent to other trials after these two.
Despite this message, hundreds of trials were underway only months into Frei’s presidency. In 1997, Frei passed several judicial reforms, which would help to remove many of Pinochet’s appointees from the court. One of the major reforms increased the Supreme Court by four members, from seventeen to twenty-one. Another of the reforms established a compulsory retirement at the age of seventy-five, immediately dismissing six judges. By 1998, only four members of the Chilean Supreme Court had been appointed by Pinochet.
In January of 1998, for the first time a Chilean court recognized direct charges against Pinochet. In March of 1998, Pinochet retired as Commander-in-Chief of the Army at the age of 82, and General Ricardo Izurieta Caffarena took his position. Only four days before, the Army vowed permanent allegiance to him. One day after he retired from Commander-in-Chief, he took office as a lifetime senator, despite large protests. In September of 1998, on a trip to England, Pinochet was arrested by means of a Spanish warrant on charges of the murder of Spanish citizens in Chile. He was later served with another warrant on charges of forced disappearances, illegal detention, torture, and murder. Pinochet was then placed under house arrest until 2000, when he was released due to medical reasons. Upon return to Chile, he was granted status as an ex-president and immunity from prosecution in exchange for his lifetime senator position. Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia, however, began legal proceedings against him and requested that his parliamentary immunity be suspended. Pinochet was charged with the kidnapping of 75 opponents. His case, however, was dismissed in 2002, once again, due to medical reasons.
Soon after, Pinochet resigned from the senate. He was stripped of his legal immunity in 2004.
Ricardo Lagos came to power as the next Chilean president in 2000, and remained in office until 2006. During his time in office, the Valech Report was published. This study reexamined the human rights abuses committed during the Pinochet regime. Over 38,000 testimonies were heard, and about 28,000 of them were regarded as legitimate. The major results of this report were a monthly pension and health benefits made available to victims and their families.
In 2005, Lagos endorsed new laws, which were then ratified. Included in the reforms were the eradication of lifelong and appointed senators, in addition to the presidential power to dismiss the commanders-in-chief of the military. Pinochet’s large network of international bank accounts was exposed that same year, and he was once again put under house arrest. In October of 2006, he was charged with kidnapping and torturing multiple individuals at Villa Grimaldi. In December of that year, Augusto Pinochet died. Although he was being investigated for multiple different cases at the time, he was never convicted on any charges involving the human rights abuses committed during his time in power.
With the death of Pinochet, Chile has certainly not turned its back to the human rights abuses that occurred. President Michelle Bachelet was personally affected by such violations, as she and her mother were detained and tortured in Villa Grimaldi in 1975, and thereafter went into exile. Her father was tortured and died in a different detention center in 1974.
Chile’s journey towards justice has certainly been rockier than Argentina’s, although it has improved as the military has relinquished power. As in Argentina, Chileans have not forgotten those that they have lost, and continue to remember and work towards justice.
Elsewhere in the Southern Cone and South America
South America has had a turbulent past, and the 20
century was no different. While Argentina and Chile were plagued by dictatorships, much of their neighbors were as well, particularly those that participated in Operation Condor with them. Brazil was gripped by military rule from 1964-1985. Bolivia was struck by a series of coups d’etat, as there were a series of inconclusive elections. Thus, Bolivia was ruled by several factions between 1978-1982, when Hernán Siles Zuazo became President, twenty-two years after his first term ended. Ecuador was run by a military government from 1972 to 1979. Paraguay suffered a long dictatorship under Alfredo Stroessner from 1954-1989. Peru endured several coups d’etat and dictatorships throughout the twentieth century, including the latest led by Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. Uruguay was ruled by a military regime from 1973-1985. Although each followed a different timeline, it is clear that many people suffered in each of these countries, and human rights violations were abundant, as made clear by the governments’ participation in Operation Condor.
International Reaction and Response
The international reaction or involvement in these dark times in South America are surprising, particularly that of the United States government. Declassified documents have made it clear that the CIA was involved in the September 11
coup in Santiago, Chile, and in fact backed Pinochet. The US viewed Operation Condor as a genuine anti terror organization. To top it all off, newly declassified documents show that Henry Kissinger and other prominent U.S. officials in fact gave their full support to the Argentine military junta and urged them to hurry up and finish the ‘dirty war’ before the U.S. Congress cut military aid.¨
It is clear that the United States was aware of the grave human rights violations being perpetrated, and yet continued to give aid to the military dictatorships. As news in the dictatorships was censored, it was difficult for information to leak. Eventually the world found out about the grave human rights abuses taking place, but no one stepped in to halt the crimes that were being committed.