Slow, slow justice

Rodrigo Rojas, a young Chilean photographer who grew up in Washington, D.C., made a trip to Chile in 1986 that would cost him his life.

Rodrigo Rojas, a young Chilean photographer who grew up in Washington, D.C., made a trip to Chile in 1986 that would cost him his life.

It happened 29 years ago this month, and was one of the most egregious human rights cases during the Pinochet dictatorship. A passing military patrol set two teenagers on fire during anti-government protests in Santiago, killing one and badly injuring the other. Unfortunately for the regime, the dead teenager, Rodrigo Rojas, was a budding photographer and U.S. resident who had grown up in Washington, D.C. and attended Woodrow Wilson High School. The killing received a great deal of publicity in the U.S. news media, including programs on ABC’s Nightline and CBS’s 60 Minutes.

This week a Chilean judge ordered the arrest of seven former army officers, part of a continuing investigation into the case. A former conscript has identified one of the officials who he said had set the two teenagers on fire, and described how officials tried to cover up their actions. The New York Times reports that the conscript and other young soldiers were drilled on what to tell investigators in the case.

“We had to memorize statements that had already been drafted,” he said. “They had even made a mock-up of the place so that we could learn our version better.”

They gathered several times to agree on their stories, Mr. Guzmán said. At one point, he said, they had a meeting with the vice commander in chief of the army at the time, Santiago Sinclair, now 87, who said that nothing would ever happen to them and that they should think about their families. “I am still afraid and think that maybe they will act on their threats,” Mr. Guzmán told the judge.

A silver lining to the case: Carmen Gloria Quintana, who survived the burning attack, was moved from a hospital in Santiago to a special burn facility in Montreal and spent years in rehabilitation. She still bears the scars of what happened, but since that time has managed to get a university degree, get married, pursue a career and currently serves as science attache to the Chilean Embassy in Ottawa.

3 comments on “Slow, slow justice

  1. Thanks for posting this

  2. Michael Robins says:

    I knew Rodrigo Rojas in Washington D.C. for a few months before he went to Chile in July of 1986. His smile was infectious, and although at most of the events he attended at that time at the Institute for Policy Studies, where I worked, he wore a nicely pressed white shirt with jeans, he had a raw, vital, panther-like energy that belied the ironed attire. I’d already grown close to Isabel Letelier–the widow of Orlando Letelier, the former Chilean Minister of the Economy and Ambassador to the United States under Allende, who Pinochet had assassinated on Embassy Row in D.C. in 1976; this meant I knew what type of an animal Pinochet was. One who certainly believed that his political mission gave him the right to determine who lives and who dies. When I heard about Rodrigo being burned alive on July 2, and dying 4 days later, I grieved deeply. The military officers who did this to Rodrigo were cut from Pinochet’s crap. I grieve now again. I hope the full truth will come out, and those responsible will pay. But mostly I wish Rodrigo–who would now have been 48–could have lived to see Pinochet fall, to see democracy restored to Chile, to have a career as a photographer, lovers, perhaps a spouse and children, thousands of lunches and dinners with friends, 10,600 more sunrises and sunsets–at least.

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