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 (http://www.memoriaviva.com), 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 https://soundcloud.com/lshallat/the-death-camp-in-our-neighborhood-clean-version).
“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: http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=67707
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….”