Chile and Palestine

The Santiago Times reports that two senators from opposite ends of Chile’s political spectrum, Senator Alejandro Navarro of the leftist Movimiento Amplio Social and Senator Ivan Moreira of the right-wing Union Democratica Independiente, will travel to Palestine, where they hope to meet with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. According to Navarro, “Chile cannot continue to be indifferent” to the violence in Gaza.

My friend and colleague Natascha Scott-Stokes has an article on Chile’s Palestinian heritage and community. She notes that Chile is “one country where Palestinians are not immediately associated with suffering, but with the exuberance of their great culture.” Santiago has its own version of the Alhambra Palace, built by an Arab mining magnate in 1860, with mosaics and beautiful fountains, and that many towns have a Club Arabe, which hold cultural events open to the whole community:

A guest post on old detention/torture sites in Chile

In a small town in Chile, a dark secret at the site of a former factory.

In a small town in Chile, a dark secret at the site of a former factory.

Never underestimate the time it takes to deal with the leftovers from a dictatorship. General Augusto Pinochet left the Chilean presidency in 1990, the Chilean army in 1998 and this world in 2006 but his legacy lingers. My friend, colleague and old Chile hand Lezak Shallat reports from Santiago:

Things that Happen in Chile Dept: Torture Centers Popping Up Everywhere

For the second time since I arrived six weeks ago, friends have written me saying they’ve run across a Pinochet-era detention center in their neighborhoods.

This week it was Ian, who is painting a mural on a street in the Quinta Bella section of Recoleta. He looked through a crack in the wall to discover four tiny cells with metal doors at the back of an abandoned patio. “I asked the neighbors,” he writes, “and they confirmed my suspicion: the property had been a police station during the dictatorship. Today it is occupied by guys selling pasta base.”

“Nothing out of the ‘normal’ in a country FULL of places where people were illegally detained and often tortured,” he adds.  And he’s right: in Santiago alone, some 130 detention sites have been identified (, to the surprise of some neighbors and the unseeing eyes of others.  I know, because the former Cuartel Lautaro Extermination Center is in my La Reina neighborhood. (Please listen to my audio, The Death Camp in Our Neighborhood at

“That the site is now occupied by people selling drugs is also not strange in a place like Quinta Bella,” says Ian. “But the weird thing is that the house is RIGHT IN FRONT of the Corporacion Cultural de Recoleta.  Nobody claims it, nobody has done anything with it.” The address is Parque Central with Calle Inocencia, Poblacion Quinta Bella, Recoleta. Here’s a link with the testimony of someone who was tortured there: 

A few weeks earlier I received a similar e mail from Natascha, in Limache, a small town about an hour outside Valparaiso. “About a month ago a large tract some five blocks from my house was cleared to make way for yet another supermarket. A derelict building known as the ex tomato factory Parma stands at the edge (see photo). Shortly after, the local station Radio Latina reported that human remains had been found on the site. I asked a long-time resident about it and he said that it was common knowledge the site was used as a detention center. He also noted the place has two large wells where they probably dumped bodies.

“Another local man told me more,” she continues. “In 1973 he lived in a religious community with close ties to the local police. He remembers the police captain telling him the tomato factory workers were going to kill his grandmother.  He said that the police believed the tomato factory workers were storing arms, and that a man who was teaching workers about their rights was detained and killed. The way he told it, the man was thrown out of a helicopter right here over the valley.

Something terrible certainly seems to have happened at the old tomato factory, but it is not recorded in official records. Where were the bodies found? Where were they taken? Who were they? So many questions without answers….”

A coach, a professor and some Americans

Chilean sports fans derived some grim satisfaction from watching Germany beat Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final July 8, and not just because their team lost to the former by a  penalty kick the previous week.  The Brazilian team’s coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has professed admiration for Chile’s late dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, saying “he did more good things than bad” and justifying the regime’s repression as necessary to avoid anarchy. The headline in Chile’s El Mostrador reports on “the humiliating finale of the Brazilian coach who admired Pinochet:”

Speaking of Pinochetistas, a Chilean judge has issued new indictments for homicide against a professor at the National Defense University and several other former regime officials. Retired brigadier Jaime Garcia Covarrubias had been a faculty member teaching national security affairs at NDU when he visited Chile last year, only to find his return to Washington blocked by a judicial order.  The first charges involve the deaths of seven political detainees in southern Chile shortly after the 1973 military coup; the second indictment is for the arrest and disappearance of a young lawyer and member of Chile’s Radical Party young wing, who was arrested by a military patrol and later transferred to Garcia Covarrubias’ regiment.

The judicial investigation into these events had been going on for a considerable time, which raises the obvious question as to how Garcia Covarrubias came to be teaching at the National Defence University while under a legal cloud.  Here is a link to some background material on the case by former NDU professor Martin Edwin Andersen:

And another Chilean judge has ruled that U.S. officials played a role in the arrest and killing of two American citizens in the aftermath of the 1973 coup. The arrest of Frank Teruggi and Charles Horman (whose case was dramatized in the film Missing) were part of a “secret United States information-fathering operation carried out by the U.S. Milgroup in Chile on the political activities of American citizens in the United States and in Chile.” A lawyer representing the Teruggi and Horman families noted that neither man had been of particular interest to the Chilean military at the time and would not have acted against the without input from U.S. officials.

The New York Times story: