The Caravan of Death

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Retired General Sergio Arellano, charged with some of the most egregious human rights violations during Chile’s military regime, died without ever going to prison.

General Sergio Arellano Stark, sometimes referred to as “the butcher” for his role in a series of summary executions in wake of Chile’s 1973 military coup, has died. Here’s part of the story from his notorious tour.

The northern city of Calama, located near Chile’s massive Chuquicamata copper mine, was relatively tranquil on the morning of September 11, 1973, the day the country’s military overthrew the socialist government of President Salvador Allende. The commander of the local army regiment, Colonel Eugenio Rivera, was meeting with a municipal government official to discuss plans for Chile’s two-day fiestas patrias celebrations to be held the following week. When the radio broadcast news of the military uprising, that meeting ended abruptly and Rivera telephoned the army general in charge of the region for instructions. As it turned out, neither he nor the general had been informed of the plans for the coup, as was the case with a number of senior Chilean military officers.

There was little open resistance to the coup, and many of the prisoners arrested in its aftermath had complied with radio and television announcements ordering them to report to authorities. Detainees were prosecuted by a provincial military court, which sentenced them to jail terms but found no evidence of weapons or armaments. One of the shorter sentences, sixty-one days,  was for the director of a local radio station, who had defied orders to shut down the station on the day of the coup.

But the Calama military court’s handling of these cases did not satisfy the authorities in Santiago, and the tribunal’s commander was ordered back to Santiago, where he was arrested, court-martialled and held in three different military installations where he was interrogated and tortured. On October 19 the Calama army base was visited by a senior army general from Santiago, General Sergio Arellano Stark. No one had been told the reason for the visit, and in an interview years later Colonel Rivera told this blogger that he had prepared a schedule for the general that included a formal luncheon and a visit to the copper mine. The Calama troops were standing at attention and the regiment’s band was waiting to perform when a Puma helicopter landed. General Arellano and his committee emerged, dressed in combat uniforms and brandishing their weapons “as if they expected to be met with enemy fire,” Rivera recalled.

Arellano showed Rivera a document designating him as General Augusto Pinochet’s delegate, and asked to see the files on political prisoners held at the base. After looking through the papers the general announced that a military tribunal would be convened after lunch. One of Arellano’s officers asked for and received permission to interrogate the prisoners before the tribunal met, and Rivera took the visiting general on a tour of the Chuquicamata copper mine.

When they returned to the base Rivera asked about the war tribunal and was told it had finished. There was a dinner for General Arellano that evening, and Rivera noticed that one of his officers seemed agitated. When the general and his committee left in the helicopter, the official told Rivera that the war tribunal had convened but when they ordered the prisoners to appear they were told that the twenty-six men had just been executed on the orders of Arellano’s officer. He and the other officers at the Calama base seemed in a state of shock, Rivera recalled, and said that one of the executed prisoners happened to be the brother of one of the regiment’s non-commissioned officers.

Calama was the last stop on what would become known as the Caravan of Death, a seven-city tour in which 97 prisoners were summarily executed. In 2008 Arellano and six other officers were sentenced to prison for their role in the killings, but by then Arellano was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was spared jail time. He ended his days in a Santiago nursing home.

Here’s a link to a radio interview by my friend and colleague Lezak Shallat with Zita Cabello-Barrueto, the sister of one of the men killed by the Caravan of Death: https://soundcloud.com/lshallat/zita-cabello-barruetos-search-for-spring-how-the-sister-of-pinochet-victim-prevailed-in-a-us-court The interview will air on March 15 at 7 pm in the show La Raza Chronicle on KPFA 94.1 FM.

And a link to Zita’s book, In Search of Spring: a sister’s quest to unearth the truth about her brother’s assassination by Chile’s Caravan of Death:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Search-Spring-sisters-brothers-assassination/dp/1500256757/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1457627941&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=zita+cabello+barrueto+arch+of+spring

 

One comment on “The Caravan of Death

  1. Many thanks for this post, Mary Helen, it is very important to maintain a written period of this era of Chilean history, which many Chileans would prefer to bury and forget

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