As one of the most ruthless and violent strongmen in the history of Latin America, General Augusto Pinochet’s name became synonymous with human rights atrocities during the last quarter of the twentieth century. During his seventeen-year military regime in Chile, his security forces were responsible for the murders of 3,197 Chilean citizens. Of those, 1,100 were “disappeared”—abused to death and buried in still-secret graves, or thrown from military helicopters into the Pacific Ocean. An estimated 30,000 Chileans survived imprisonment and severe torture by agents of Pinochet’s secret police—electric shock, beatings, near-drowning, and rape in secret detention facilities. In the mid-1970s, the Pinochet regime also organized a network of secret police agencies (given the code name Operation Condor) that coordinated the repression of groups and individuals who had been identified as opponents of the military governments of the Southern Cone (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay). Condor’s methods included secret surveillance, kidnapping, interrogation, torture, and terrorist attacks.
General Augusto Pinochet took power on September 11, 1973, during a U.S.–supported bloody military coup that overthrew the democratically elected Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. In a country that had a long tradition of civility and constitutional rule, the military takeover was brutal and violent. In the six weeks that followed the coup approximately 1,500 civilians were killed, including some 320 to 360 who were summarily executed, according to U.S. intelligence reports. More than 13,500 Chilean citizens and several thousand foreigners were detained through mass arrests and sent to detention camps. Many of those were brought to Chile’s National Stadium, which was transformed from a sports arena into a center for interrogation, torture, and execution. Two U.S. citizens, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, were among the hundreds who were killed there.
During his seventeen-year rule Chile became a pariah state, internationally condemned for ongoing, systematic violations of human rights. Pinochet played a leadership role in initiating and overseeing many of these atrocities. One month after the coup, he authorized a death squad, led by his close associate General Sergio Arellano, to “expedite justice” in relation to civic leaders of the former Allende government—police chiefs, mayors, local union officials—who had been arrested in the northern provinces after the coup. Using a Puma helicopter, a five-member military team led by General Arellano flew to various northern cities and, at each stop, selected prisoners and shot or bayoneted them in the middle of the night. Over a period of four days, sixty-eight civilians were killed, having committed no crime other than serving in local community leadership roles under the elected Allende government. This series of atrocities became known as “the Caravan of Death.”
Members of the caravan team were subsequently integrated into a new secret police force known as the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA). Pinochet handpicked Colonel Manuel Contreras, a close friend of his in the Chilean military with no background in intelligence, to be director of DINA. Between 1974 and 1977 DINA expanded into a massive, institutionalized force of repression in Chile, terrorizing Chilean society at every level. DINA agents conducted clandestine raids and arrests; it forced prisoners through a network of clandestine interrogation centers to extract information from them. Many DINA prisoners were tortured to death and then “disappeared.” The U.S. military reported from Santiago that DINA was “becoming a modern day Gestapo” (Kornbluh, 2003, p. 160). One informant announced to U.S. officials, “There are three sources of power in Chile: Pinochet, God, and DINA” (Kornbluh, 2003, p. 153).
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
DO THESE CONSTITUTE WAR CRIMES OR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY?
SHOULD ANYONE BE PROSECUTED FOR THEM?
IF SO, WHO?