A 36-year old murder case

A Spanish judge has issued indictments and international arrest warrants against seven former Pinochet regime security agents for the 1976 kidnapping and murder of Carmelo Soria, a Spanish diplomat working for the Santiago-based United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America. The former agents include Manuel Contreras, former head of regime’s secret police agency, the DINA, who is currently serving multiple prison sentences for killings and torture and Michael Townley, an American-born DINA agent who was extradited to the United States for his role in the killing of Chilean exile leader Orlando Letelier and his American colleague in a car bomb explosion in Washington.

Townley served a reduced prison sentence in the United States in return for testifying in the case, and entered the Federal Witness Protection Program. While working for the DINA his Santiago home was used to hold detainees, and Soria was among these victims (see earlier post https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/nocturno-de-chile/).

Judge Pablo Ruz said his Chilean counterparts “had shelved the case” and that there has not been “a serious investigation and follow up of these deeds.”  So what happens next? A lawyer for the Soria family said they were waiting for an extradition request in order to petition Chile’s Supreme Court to reopen the case.

Municipal elections, the morning after

A poster for Cristian Labbe, the former Pinochet security agent and mayor of the Santiago municipality of Providencia, who lost to an in dependent candidate in Sunday’s municipal elections, Photo by Alexandra Stephens

The new mayor-elect of Santiago is the daughter of one of the late socialist president Salvador Allende’s cabinet ministers who died in detention after the 1973 coup.  Allende’s granddaughter unseated the center-right mayor of the municipality of Nunoa, who had called students at a local girls’ school “sluts” after they sheltered protestors fleeing riot police. An independent candidate beat Cristian Labbe, a former Pinochet regime secret police official and mayor of the Providencia municipality where earlier this year Pinochetistas held a homage to a notorious human rights abuser (see earlier posts https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/a-book-an-invitation-and-oops/   and https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/the-krassnoff-aftermath-2/).  And a transgender candidate won a seat on the city council of Valparaiso. Overall, center-right candidates lost 23 municipalities, a serious political blow to President Sebastian Pinera’s conservative government one year before Chile’s next presidential election.

Voter turnout, however, was relatively low. It was the first election since Chile made voter registration automatic, with all adults over 18 eligible to vote.  So the electorate was increased from 8.1 million to 13.4 million voters in a country of 17 million. But abstention levels were higher than in the past, down from 58 percent in 2008 to 45 percent.

Some good reads for the weekend

The new issue of ReVista, Harvard University’s twice-yearly magazine on Latin America, is all about the region’s universities and contains an excellent piece on Chile’s student protests by Wake Forest University’s Peter Siavelis. Subtitled “The Original Sin of Educational Policy,” the article http://www.drclas.harvard.edu/publications/revistaonline/fall-2012/chiles-student-protests looks at the origins of the protests, noting they began with a nationwide movement of secondary students during the government of President Michelle Bachelet and subsided somewhat for reasons having to do “less as a result of progress on the educational front than because of the personal popularity of Michelle Bachelet and her acumen in managing an economic crisis that threw most of the rest of the world for a loop.”  The election of a conservative, Sebastian Pinera, “re-opened the floodgates of protest,” he writes.

The Washington Post has a travel piece by Anja Mutic on northern Chile’s ghost towns http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/the-ghost-towns-of-northern-chile/2012/10/25/fa4adad0-16e2-11e2-a55c-39408fbe6a4b_story.html, accompanied by some stunning black and white photographs.

Forbes Magazine has an article on Refugia, a recently opened hotel on Chiloe whose architect designed the building with a nod to the island’s traditional architecture http://www.forbes.com/sites/heidimitchell/2012/10/26/travel/.  The hotel sits on steel pillars, mimicking the wooden houses on stilts typical of the area, and “every piece of furniture or pillow is locally made by hand, and there are no televisions—just acres of glass overlooking the seal-grey sea and the ever-changing weather.”

Signs of a changing Chile

Sunrise in Santiago

Some recent news:

1)      Last month an army internal document was leaked to Chile’s Canal 13. The memo suggested the army exclude potential recruits with “physical, mental, socioeconomic problems” as well as “drug users, homosexuals, conscientious objectors and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”  Chilean civil rights campaigners were outraged, with some urging that the document’s author be removed from the armed forces.

But it’s not Pinochet’s army anymore. On October 23 the president of Movimiento de Liberacion Homosexual (MOVILH) met with Chilean army commander General Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba and other senior officers to discuss ways to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. MOVILH’s president, Rolando Jimenez, called the meeting as “historic,” and that it showed the Chilean army’s interest in eradicating homophobia. “This reflects a profound and positive cultural transformation,” he said.

2)      A new report by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, “Doing Business 2013: Smarter Regulations for Small and Medium-Size Enterprises,” lists Chile as the best place in Latin America for doing business.  The report examines legal procedures such as obtaining credit, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency as well as the cost and efficiency of such matters as starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property and paying taxes. Chile ranks 37th worldwide, ahead of Puerto Rico (41st place), Peru (43rd place), Colombia (45th place), Mexico (48th place) and Panama (61st place)

The full World Bank report is here: http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/GIAWB/Doing%20Business/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB13-full-report.pdf

The slow, slow pace of international justice

Charles Horman, a filmmaker and Frank Teruggi, a student, were both killed in Chile’s National Stadium in the aftermath of the 1973 military coup.

This week Chile’s Supreme Court, by a vote of 4-1, authorized a judge to request the extradition of a retired U.S. naval officer implicated in the killing of two Americans, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, in wake of the 1973 military coup. (See earlier posts https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/captain-davis-and-el-caso-missing-2/,   https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/an-extradition-request/ and https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/the-whereabouts-of-captain-davis/).

It was last November that Judge Jorge Zepeda announced he would seek Captain Ray Davis’s extradition, and according to information posted on its website http://www.poderjudicial.cl/ the Supreme Court would consider the request within a few days. Now, almost a year later the Supreme Court has finally made its ruling.

So what now?  The case goes to Chile’s Foreign Ministry, which must then present the extradition request to U.S. authorities.

From the island of Chiloé

If you’ve been waiting impatiently for Isabel Allende’s latest book, El Cuaderno de Maya, to come out in English, the release date is still months away. The web site of Harper Collins, Allende’s publisher, lists only an audio book version of Maya’s Notebook available in April of next year. Amazon tells readers to “sign up to be notified when this item becomes available.”

According to the Florida Sun-Sentinel Allende’s longtime translator has fallen ill and http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-02-29/entertainment/fl-ppl-isabel-allende-030112-20120229_1_isabel-allende-latin-american-novelist-fiu  she had hoped the book would come out this year. “But I have no idea. It’s a very contemporary book about a 19-year old girl. By the time it comes out it will be a historical novel. Pisses me off.”

Maya, the teenager in question, finds refuge from a life of drugs and crime on the island of Chiloé in southern Chile. My friend and colleague Lezak Shallat recently visited Chiloé and offers the following glimpses of life there:

“Matias Millacura makes ravels, the three-string Chilote violin. His instruments have travelled far and wide, as attested to a photo on the wall of his house, showing Pres. Ricardo Lagos presenting one to the mayor of Paris.”


“Ana Delia Huenuman, age 91, lives on the far side of Huillinco Lake, in Cucao, on the far side of  Chiloe island. She panned for gold, lived in the bush for several months after losing her house to the 1960 earthquake and has planted potatoes and tended sheep all her life. Today she sits by the warm stove in the house of her grandson Manuel and his lovely, hospitable family. My thanks to them for this new friendship.”

Midnight in Chile, 24 years ago

The October 6, 1988 edition of the Chilean government newspaper La Nacion went to press with the very partial returns predicting a Pinochet victory in the one-man presidential plebiscite.

It was a one-man presidential election in which voters were asked to cast “yes” or “no” ballots for a measure to extend General Augusto Pinochet’s rule for eight more years. The first official returns were announced at 7:30 that evening and showed that with 0.36 percent of the votes counted, Pinochet was ahead by 57 percent. Three hours later there was a second announcement with another tiny fraction of the vote counted, indicating that Pinochet was still ahead by 51.3 percent. Then, rather ominously, there were no more official returns announced.

“The GOC [government of Chile] is obviously sitting on the results and releasing them very slowly, and this has sparked concern by the opposition which continues to receive reports of a major victory from its voting table representatives,” the U.S. Embassy in Santiago wrote in a cable to Washington that evening.http://foia.state.gov/documents/StateChile3/00007B72.pdf

But as midnight approached the commanders of Chile’s navy, air force and carabinero police arrived at the presidential palace for a meeting with Pinochet.  Air force commander General Fernando Matthei decided to “pull out the detonators,” as he later described it, and stopped to talk to a group of Chilean reporters waiting for news.

“It looks to me like the “no” vote has won,” he said. “And we are going to analyze this now.”

The rest, as they say, is Chilean history.

More on landmine clearance in Chile

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile’s Patagonia region 

This month the Chilean army will begin removing landmines along the road from Puerto Natales to the Torres del Paine National Park http://www.torresdelpaine.com/ingles/index.asp in the country’s southern Patagonia region. The area is a prime tourist destination, attracting around 150,000 visitors annually, and this is what the U.S. State Department has to say about safety:

Minefields are found in Chile’s northern border region with Peru and Bolivia and around the southern border with Argentina in Patagonia. Minefields are generally marked, but markers may have shifted or may not be visible. Follow clearly identified roads and trails when traveling in minefield areas. Border crossings should only be made at authorized locations. Consult with park or other local officials concerning minefields and other hazards.http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1088.html#safety

And the British Foreign Office tells travellers:

Chile has a small but significant landmine problem. Landmine accidents mainly affect livestock and small numbers of local people crossing the borders at unauthorised crossing points. Minefields are located primarily in the border areas adjacent to Peru and Bolivia in the extreme north of Chile, Regions XV, I and II, and Argentina in the south in Region XII. Although most minefields are clearly marked, some signs and fences have been subjected to the effects of weather or vandalism and may be hard to recognise, particularly in the north of the country. Minefields are, in some cases, laid right up to the edge of highways. You should also be aware that there are mined areas in six government-protected wilderness areas in Regions XV,I and II in the north and XII in the south. You are advised to check with local authorities before travelling to these areas, stick to clearly marked roads and observe all warning signs.http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/south-america/chile

A recent story by Mercopress states that the Chilean army is working to clear five minefields in the area, including 30 hectares owned by a rancher who has lost 26 cattle to explosions.http://en.mercopress.com/2012/09/24/chilean-army-begins-october-demining-of-route-leading-to-torres-del-paine-park

And the American defence magazine Dialogo has just published this report on landmine clearance along Chile’s border with Peru, where last February heavy rains dislodged several explosive artefacts and forced the temporary closure of the Panamerican Highway: http://www.dialogo-americas.com/en_GB/articles/rmisa/features/regional_news/2012/10/01/chile-landmines

Adios, Padre Dubois

Thousands of mourners attended the funeral on Monday of Father Pierre Dubois, a French priest who spent most of his life working in a poor Santiago community.

Father Pierre Dubois’s funeral was held yesterday, and there is a Facebook page honoring his memory: https://www.facebook.com/DueloNacionalPadrePierreDubois.  The site contains photographs of key moments in his life, including one in which Dubois is standing between a riot policeman and a group of residents in La Victoria, the poor Santiago parish where he spent most of his life. My friend and colleague Odette Magnet attended his funeral and sent the photograph above and this report:

“The coffin with Pierre Dubois’s body entered Santiago’s cathedral at 4:30 Monday afternoon.  The church was packed from wall to wall. They say the cathedral can hold 5,000 worshippers. I don’t know the exact number but I do know that absolutely no one else could have fit inside that church and that outside in the Plaza de Armas countless people were listening to the service via loudspeakers.

When the heavy doors of the cathedral opened there was a single cry: Pierre, amigo, el pueblo esta contigo!  Pierre, friend, the people are with you. Again and again this chorus, and then, out of nowhere, hundreds of white handkerchiefs and napkins began waving in a tribute that any Chilean head of state might envy. Hundreds of people had accompanied the priest’s coffin on foot from La Victoria, a poor Santiago neighborhood that began as a squatter settlement.

That is where this French priest had made his life, a parish priest known for his defence of human rights during the Pinochet dictatorship.  One legendary photograph from this period shows Dubois, his arms outstretched, facing a busload of riot police during political protests in La Victoria.

Pierre Dubois was 80 years old and suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease. He was born in Dijon to a comfortable Catholic family. Today in Chile he is known to his parishioners as “another La Victoria resident, one of us.”  And that is where he remained, as he wished.

The residents of La Victoria composed a letter, which was read aloud during the funeral mass. One section said that “Pierre was a man of the Gospel, a just man, who fought for a better world and urged us to improve our quality of life during the dictatorship.” The letter cited a long list of programs he had created with his parishioners, such as soup kitchens and job training.

Santiago Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati thanked Dubois’s brother and sister, who had travelled from France, “for having given us a member of your family” and called Dubois “an ecclesiastical bridge between Dijon and Santiago.” Dubois’s brother and sister said they were happy he had come to Chile. “He always said that his family was in Chile, a country he loved so much.”

I interviewed Pierre several times while covering human rights for HOY magazine. I covered the death of his colleague Father Andre Jarlan, who died of a bullet (perhaps not fired unintentionally) on September 4, 1984 as he sat reading the bible in their modest rectory in La Victoria. I spoke to him on various occasions, as did so many journalists, but I recall with special sentiment the last interview I did with him, on camera, for a documentary we later offered to the national television network in 1990.  That was the year Chile returned to democracy and he returned to La Victoria after the dictatorship deported him in 1986.Our documentary was never aired, but this last interview was so special, so intimate in tone, so heartfelt and thoughtful. I did not get to see him again. Until the day of his funeral, when, for the first time since I returned to my homeland in March of 2010, I felt his presence”