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As Chilean left struggles to preserve memory, right-wing Pinera government works to erase it

As Chile nears its 45th anniversary since the socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown, former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) and National Information Centre (CNI) agents are being released from prison on parole, despite having been handed multiple lengthy prison sentences.

by Ramona Wadi

Part 3 - The return to democracy has failed to support Chilean collective memory

Lissette Fossa, a journalist from Londres38, spoke to MintPress about how subsequent governments after Chile’s return to democracy remained tied to the dictatorship’s legacy: “The Concertacion governments generated a transition pact with the dictatorial regime and its allies, resulting in an inability to pursue truth and justice. In the words of former President Patricio Aylwin, ‘to do justice to what extent is possible.’

Fossa noted that the Valech commission has been required, by law, to keep victim testimonies as classified information for 50 years. Meanwhile, most court sentences for human rights violations are not proportional to the committed crimes, while the imprisoned perpetrators receive many benefits in prison. She added: “We have information that only about 10 percent of dictatorship-era state agents have been tried and detained. This has made it easier for Pinera’s government to release criminals under the guise of benefits or parole.

One major demand from the Chilean left-wing public was to close down Punta Peuco — the luxury five-star prison that houses convicted torturers from DINA and CNI. Despite pledging to close the prison and transfer inmates to ordinary jails, former President Michelle Bachelet — who was herself a torture victim and whose father was murdered by the Pinochet dictatorship — ultimately reneged on her promise, which she had made to Carmen Gloria Quintana. During a protest against the dictatorship — on July 2, 1986 — seven Chilean military officers doused Quintana and Rodrigo Rojas de Negri with petrol and set them on fire. Rojas died of severe burns while Quintana remained heavily scarred for life.

Last July, the Chilean Supreme Court granted provisional liberty to seven former dictatorship agents imprisoned in Punta Peuco. Two agents, Moises Retamal Bustos and Manuel Antonio Perez Santillan, were students at the School of the Americas (SOA), a U.S. army facility that trained thousands of Latin American personnel whose names have surfaced as torturers and assassins over the years. The facility is now run by the U.S. Defense Department and known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). Santillan was sentenced two years ago for his role in covering up the murder of former DINA biochemist Eugenio Berrios, who was tasked — along with U.S. citizen, CIA and DINA agent Michael Townley — with the production of sarin gas.

Another of the released agents, Emilio De la Mahotiere Gonzalez, formed part of the Caravan of Death squads under the supervision of Sergio Arellano Stark, by which at least 75 Chileans were brutally murdered between September 30 and October 22, 1973 — the aim being to terrorize Chileans and thus prevent revolt against the dictatorship.

According to the conducted psychological and behavioral analysis, none of the seven inmates has demonstrated any remorse or acknowledgement of their crimes against humanity.

In October 2017, it was reported that DINA’s worst torturer, Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, as well as CNI chief Alvaro Corbalan, had petitioned the Santiago Court of Appeals for parole. In the wake of the released inmates from Punta Peuco, which is also Krassnoff’s current location, defense lawyer Raul Meza, who represents Punta Peuco’s inmates, stated: “I am convinced that Miguel Krassnoff is innocent.” Krassnoff is currently serving 642 years for crimes against humanity.

Fossa emphasised the repercussions of such a possibility: “Londres38 considers the possible release of Krassnoff as extremely serious. He is responsible for hundreds of killings and disappearances. His image is symbolic due to the calculated cruelty and coldness in his crimes, apart from never showing the slightest remorse or the intent to collaborate. Releasing Krassnoff would have severe implications for Chile’s justice system — it would constitute an undeniable advancing of impunity. The current court decisions reflect a vision that does not take into account the severity of crimes against humanity and their consequences.

More than a year ago, Londres38 launched the campaign “Toda la Verdad, Toda la Justicia” (All Truth, All Justice). Fossa explains: “We launched this campaign because we believe that impunity is a phenomenon that affects all of society in many ways, not only the families of the detained, disappeared and executed. The campaign aimed to raise awareness about the fact that only 10 percent of the dictatorship criminals are in prison, while we do not know the whereabouts of many of the disappeared.

She added: “Other crimes in Chile have gone unpunished, such as the case of the three detained and disappeared during democracy — the case of Jose Huenate, Hugo Arispe and Jose Vergara, as well as other crimes against the Mapuche in Southern Chile. Allowing past crimes to remain unpunished generates a society where new crimes are not investigated and where popular power is obscured and repressed in favor of the most powerful.

Francisco Estevez, the Director of Museo de la Memoria, explained to MintPress how the decision to release the seven former torturers and agents affects “the international commitment of the State of Chile to comply with seeking full justice with regard to crimes against humanity committed during the Pinochet dictatorship. When the state is involved in violating the rights of its citizens, it must be treated with different criteria than if it were a common crime.

The UN Human Rights Commission, Estevez states, requires of states the responsibility and duty to remember situations of systematic human-rights violations. The Chilean Supreme Court’s decision “clearly runs contrary to these international guidelines, since there are more than 2,200 victims of forced disappearance and the remains of only 100 have been discovered.

Building upon the slogan “Never Again,” the Museum for Memory seeks to build social and cultural awareness. Estevez explains that is is not enough to confront threats coming from “negationist behavior and the denial of truth.” Rather, he says: “Education is the spirit behind the museum that teaches the values of tolerance and non-violence, because the sacrifice of the victims, and the people’s collective pain, can only be repaired if justice — through a culture of peace and human rights — becomes permanent in our country.

Estevez suggests linking the slogan “Never Again” with the sense of urgency to combat the prevailing impunity: “More than ever, ‘Never Again’ needs to open a dialogue within society. This is because there is an ethical consistency in defending human rights violated during the dictatorship and defending those same rights if they are violated in times of democracy.

On August 19, Chilean media reported Pinera announcing the creation of a “Museum of Democracy” to showcase Chile’s democratic history and its return after Pinochet. According to Pinera, Chile has lost the “capacity for dialogue — hence the establishment of a Democracy Museum, “because democracy is a fundamental value that should not be taken for granted, because there are countries that have lost it.

Given the recent developments in safeguarding impunity, however, Chile is still far from embodying democratic values.

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