The Valech Commission’s recently updated list of human rights victims has a few names whose inclusion has upset many Chileans. The panel’s former president, Maria Luisa Sepulveda, said that their mandate was to study these individuals’ treatment at the hands of the military regime, not judge their subsequent actions. They include an accused assassin and two former leftists who collaborated with the Pinochet regime’s security forces after being tortured, and the backstories make compelling, if grim, reading.
Galvarino Apablaza had been an active member of Chile’s communist party when he was arrested in wake of the 1973 and tortured. Following his release, he went into exile, then returned in 1986 to help found the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, an armed leftwing group that attempted to assassinate Pinochet that year. The return to democracy in 1990 did not cause Apablaza to lay down his arms and the following year a rightwing member of Chile’s senate, Jaime Guzman, was killed by the group. Chilean officials have linked the killing to Apablaza, who was granted asylum in Argentina—and Argentine authorities have refused to extradite him.
Then there is Luz Arce, a former member of Salvador Allende’s paramilitary bodyguards, the Grupo de Amigos Personales. She, too, was arrested after the military coup and subjected to a horrifying barrage of torture, beatings and gang rape before being brainwashed and coerced into collaborating with the DINA, the regime’s brutal security agency. Arce later gave testimony to the first official human rights inquiry in 1990 and wrote a book about her experiences, offering a rare look at the inner workings of the DINA and its activities in Chile and abroad. El Infierno was published in Santiago in 1993 and in 2004 the University of Wisconsin Press brought out an English version, The Inferno: A Story of Terror and Survival in Chile. An excerpt:
“Sit down, Luz. Untie her and take off her blindfold. I can’t talk if I can’t see her eyes,” said a sickly sweet voice. “Ok, Lucecita, the two of us are going to talk. Bring some coffees! Lucecita, what sign are you?”
Of all the questions in the world, I would never have thought they would ask me that one at a time like that. He repeated it slowly, as if he were relishing each syllable.
“Y-O-U-R S-I-G-N, of the Z-O-D-I-A-C.”
Another leftist-turned-collaborator is Miguel Estay Reino, who also broke under torture and began working with the Chilean air force and police. He was later indicted for his role in a notorious triple murder in 1985 and is currently in prison. The inclusion of Estay and Arce on the list has outraged support groups for families of the disappeared, who were disappointed that many of the cases they have documented over the years were not added to the Valech Commission’s list and who are demanding the list be revised.