DerechosChile - Victims - Targets of repression


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Targets of Repression


Political Parties

Persecution by Decree

Leftist political parties were subject to carefully planned and selective persecution from the day of the coup and throughout the entire 17 years of authoritarian rule.

Declaring that "the new government has the mission to eradicate Marxism from Chile," the Junta announced, through Decree Law 77 of October 13, 1973, that all political parties of the left and other leftist organizations were "dissolved, prohibited and considered illicit associations."

The Decree specifically names the Communist Party (PC), Socialist Party (PS), Popular Socialist Union, Popular United Action Movement (MAPU), Radical, Christian Left, Independent Popular Action and all other entities "founded on the Marxist doctrine... which aim to destroy the principles ...of this Junta." Not only did Decree 77 consider a crime the act of promoting or organizing any of these parties but also confiscated their property, transferring it to the state.

On October 17, 1973 , Decree Law 8 declared a temporary "recess" of all political parties not included in the former decree. These included parties of the center and right such as the Radical Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Party (PDC), National Democratic Party, Radical Left Party and National Party.

"we resolved to keep as many party leaders as possible inside the country. It was our first political decision..."

(Read testimony of Jaime Gazmuri, Socialist Party member)

Unlike the generation of party activists that came of age politically in the 1980s, those heading parties in 1973 had no experience whatsoever with the type of repression exercised by the new regime nor with clandestine operations. Faced with a drastically changed set of political rules that were imposed literally overnight, political parties were at first reduced and disorganized but within months began conducting party activities clandestinely or abroad.

According to the Rettig Commission, the following figures correspond to the deaths and disappearances of leftist party militants:

- The Socialist Party lost 405 of its members, or 17.8% of the total.

- The MIR victims numbered 384 or 16.9% of their total membership.

- The Communist Party lost 353 or 15.5% of its members.

Members of the Popular United Action Movement (MAPU), the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), the Radical Party, the Christian Democrats, the Christian Left, the National Party also suffered serious human rights violations.

Nevertheless, according to the Rettig Commission, 46 % of the fatal victims had no known affiliation with any political party. The view of Chilean sociologist Elías Padilla, in his study "La memoria y el olvido" is that this figure may be misleading and does not necessarily mean the victims were non-political, but rather that information on their political affiliation was not available or was inconclusive.


UP Government Officials

Many members of the Communist, Socialist and MAPU parties occupied leadership positions in government, both nationally and regionally at the time of the coup, which placed them in immediate danger of serious human rights violations. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission verified that persons executed or disappeared by agents of the military regime included: six mayors, four governors, 16 city councilors, three intendentes, and two congressmen, all of whom represented the UP government. In addition, 31 Popular Unity leaders, 140 leaders of community organizations and 30 high-ranking members of state-run firms were among those executed or disappeared from 1973 to 1989.

Release of political prisoners from the Penitentiary, Santiago, 4/20/1978. Photo: L.NavarroThe Christian Democratic Party (PDC) had supported the coup, although with strong internal dissident views from the outset, but it later adopted a more critical stance. By the end of 1974, leaders of the PDC also became targets for repression.



Unions as Victims

Labor unions and their leaders were one of the main targets of the regime's initial wave of violence and human rights abuses because of their traditional allegiance to the leftist ideologies the authoritarian government sought to nullify. Trade unions were drastically disabled in the initial stages of the regime but were nonetheless at the forefront of the opposition movement that emerged later on.

In the month following the September 1973 coup, the military closed down labor federations, associations, and unions, raided their offices, took possession of documents and property and arrested union leaders nationwide. Decree Laws 12 and 13 annulled the legal status of the Central Union of Workers (CUT), Chile's most powerful labor confederation, and banned all forms of organization, activity and publicity.

The Junta revised the legislation and regulations pertaining to union organizing and other labor activities. The changes included suspending collective bargaining rights, banning union meetings without prior authorization from police and suspending the direct election of union leaders, among others. These so called "emergency measures," imposed on Chile’s unions in the first months of the new regime to bring union activity in line with the ideology of the new state, and which reshaped labor relations after the coup, became permanent features, some of which are still in place today, eight years after the end of the military regime.

In the first three months after the coup, arrested CUT leaders numbered more than 200 while 16 trade union leaders were executed. On September 11 and 12, public edicts issued on radio and other media demanded that the national CUT leaders present themselves to the authorities. Rather than do so, many sought asylum in embassies or went into hiding. Those who obeyed the order were likely to be imprisoned and possibly executed.

In the months following the military coup, all leaders of the National Federation of Miners were arrested and the governing boards of its 13 unions dismissed. The 700 leaders of the National Federation of Metallurgical Workers were reduced to 420. Only five of the 33 leaders of the National Textile Workers Federation retained their posts, while in the powerful National Association of Public Employees, ANEF, only eight of a total of 21 leaders remained.

An International Labor Organization (ILO) delegation that visited Chile in late 1974 made the following assessment of the situation affecting the nation's unions: "many leaders or former leaders of unions have been killed...either by execution, with or without trial, by the fugitive law, as a result of torture, or in other circumstances."

In mid-1976, the ILO Council in Geneva petitioned the military regime to bring its labor legislation and practices in line with international law.


Reorganizing Workers

Union membership had reached an all-time high in 1973 with 32.5 % of the Chilean work force affiliated to a union. The number of unionized workers tripled between 1964 and 1972. Indeed, organized labor had flourished under the UP government of Salvador Allende between 1970 to 1973, and had taken an active role in shaping the political, economic and social decision-making process.

The military Junta aimed its offensive at breaking down and controlling this powerful labor union movement, which it said had become "political in nature, under the influence of foreign tendencies that are at odds with the national identity.".

Despite the repression, as early as 1975 former union leaders had reorganized and created informal associations, as in the case of the public employees union ANEF. Possibly the most important such initiative was the National Union Coordinator (Coordinadora Nacional Sindical), publicly unveiled in June 1978. A letter campaign to the military government initiated by these incipient labor union groups was joined by many new supporters and spurred the birth of other organizations. The new labor organizations began showing their renewed strength with demonstrations in Valparaíso and San Antonio, in October 1977, at the El Teniente copper mine in November 1977, Burger Textiles in December 1977, and others.

In April 1976, police arrested an undetermined number of union leaders, organized as the "Group of 10", who had demanded that overtime be voluntary and be paid with a wage 50 % above the normal wage. Several businessmen accused these union leaders of sabotage and of infringing upon national security.

The labor groups main demands were the right to organize and to celebrate International Worker's Day. They also criticized the government's economic policy and expressed their repudiation of the deteriorating quality of life under military rule.

The Confederation of Copper Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores del Cobre, CTC) backed by political parties, took the lead in convening the first national protest of May 11, 1983, an event that ushered in a period of massive public displays of opposition to the regime. Copper miners responded to the subsequent repression against union leaders and copper union leaders in particular by holding the first general strike in the mines in a decade. In early June the National Workers Command (Comando Nacional de Trabajadores) was created and convened the second protest. The massive turnout at the second protest made evident the importance of unions in bringing together a broad spectrum of opponents to the regime.

A new Central Union of Workers (CUT) was set up in August 1988, and held its first General Assembly in October 1991, obtaining legal status in March 1992.

The labor union movement never recovered the vitality it lost in 1973. In fact, union membership has even declined in the years since Chile's return to democracy, dropping from 15.4 % of the work force in 1992 to 12.7 % in 1995.


top Rural Community (Campesinos)

Agrarian Reform

Agricultural workers (campesinos) and rural leaders were persecuted immediately after the military coup for their high level of organization and participation in the UP government’s Agrarian Reform program. Large numbers of farmworkers with no apparent political involvement or importance were taken to the prison camps during the early years of the regime.

The military coup brought to a halt the process of restructuring agricultural landholding patterns, a process that was initiated by President Eduardo Frei Montalva in 1965 and continued with more vigor under the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. Over 4 million hectares had been expropriated from large landholders while rural organizations, including unions, multiplied. The vitality lost through years of repression and decree laws has never been fully regained.


Mass Executions

In the first months after the coup, most government agricultural officials in the provinces were arrested, and many subjected to summary trials in which they were sentenced for having participated in agrarian reform. Mass executions or disappearances of farm workers took place near Santiago as in the cases of Paine, Isla de Maipo, Chihuio and Melipilla, as well as major agricultural centers near Valdivia, Concepcion, and Osorno, among others.

The mass executions and other abuses produced a "psychosis" among rural dwellers, who feared they might be the next ones shot, according to German Rodríguez of the Confederación Campesina El Surco. The persecution of rural leaders, Rodríguez says, was intended to serve as an example and warning to other agrarian reform advocates. For instance, the fear was such that for days following the execution of 18 campesinos in Chihuio no one dared approach the body of one of the victims, Andres Montecinos Silva. Montecinos' body remained in the spot his assassins left him for 15 days before family members buried him.

It was also fear that kept many witnesses and family members from testifying before members of the Rettig Commission in 1990. Officials of the Confederación Campesina El Surco say the Commission's official registry of 324 executions or disappearances of agricultural workers could actually be as high as 3,000.

Persecution of rural leaders went hand in hand with dismantling the agrarian reform itself. Farmworker unions, as all other unions, were outlawed in 1976 (although one, the Confederación Provincias Agrarias Unidas announced its support for the regime). By mid-1979 some 29 % of the expropriated land had been directly returned to its original owner or placed on the auction block. State participation in agricultural production backed off, allowing agriculture to operate according to the rules of the market.


Rebirth of Rural Organization

Despite the decree closing rural organizations, clandestine organizing work continued. Cardenal Raul Silva Henriquez, a personal advocate of rural organization, created the Vicaria's Rural Department, in defense of the campesino. The regime's 1980 Labor Plan, permitting limited union reorganization in most labor sectors, made way for the creation of several rural confederations such as Confederación El Surco, Federación Nehuen, and Confederación Union Obrero Campesina. The National Campesino Commission (Comisión Nacional Campesina), born in 1982, coordinated the various actions with programs that included training and union organizing.

Still, according to El Surco's German Rodríguez, for the vast majority in the Chilean countryside, the persistence of fear "makes it impossible to even talk about unions."

Only eight % of campesinos today are organized in associations or cooperatives of any kind.


top Mapuches

Persecuted For Being Indigenous

Rural activists and leaders of Mapuche origin were victims of human rights violations during the 17-year authoritarian regime.

Mapuche communities suffered persecution in the initial stages of the dictatorship primarily because they were identified, as were campesinos, with agrarian reform and "subversive" organizations like the Mapuche rights group AD-MAPU and the Revolutionary Campesino Movement (MCR), a wing of the MIR. For example, AD-MAPU leader Jose Santos Millao Palacios was one of hundreds of Chileans banished to remote areas of the country.

A 1978 report prepared by the United Nations Special Work Group stated: "On the very day of the coup, land owners, military and police began persecution of Mapuches who had fought for their lands and had recovered them." The Popular Unity's agrarian reform program allowed the Mapuche community, which numbered between 600,000 and 1 million people in southern Chile, to recover part of the lands they had lost with the arrival of the Spaniards and the creation of the Chilean state.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report accounts for at least 100 Mapuches who were executed or disappeared following arrest by the Army or other security forces. Amnesty International (AI) says "the figure is probably higher, as many Mapuches live in isolated areas and barely speak Spanish... they are still afraid of testifying." A Mapuche leader AI interviewed in 1991 said he knew of cases of disappearances not included in the Commission Report, and of other instances in which fear led relatives to later retract their testimony.

As with other organizations considered enemies of the state, the Mapuche victims were not all leaders and activists. A report issued by Inter Church Committee for Human Rights in Latin America following a visit to Chile in November 1979 stated that Mapuches were "...persecuted... only for their condition as indigenous people."


Liquiñe Massacre

What occurred in the small village of Liquiñe, in southern Chile near Villarica, a month after the coup illustrates the type of human rights violations suffered by victims from the Mapuche population. Some 150 kilometers from the city of Valdivia, Liquiñe is an area in which many Mapuche families cultivated crops for their own subsistence, supplementing their income with seasonal work in the forests. Prior to the military coup, agrarian reform had spurred the community to organize itself and take greater role in local decision-making. Training programs were set up and steps taken to improve infrastructure by building schools and constructing roads.

Soldiers arrived in the area immediately following the coup, and along with Carabineros police, began mass detentions on September 18. On October 10, 1973 a military patrol arrested 15 men. Several, such as the three members of the Tracanao Pincheira family as well as Carlos Alberto Cayuman Cayuman were members of the Revolutionary Campesino Movement (MCR) while others were members of the farm worker union. Others had no political affiliation whatsoever. After futile efforts to determine the whereabouts of the arrested men, one of the families pooled money to send a brother to Santiago, believing that all prisoners were held in the National Stadium. After several fruitless days outside the Stadium, he returned to Liquiñe without any news.

It was later learned that all 15 men had been shot on the Villarica bridge over the Tolten River.




Religious Community

The Church’s Reaction

Persecution against members of the Catholic Church began the day of the coup. An estimated 150 priests, nuns, and other clergy were forced to leave Chile within the first days after the coup. Some had been expelled, while others were transferred to other countries by their congregations, under pressure from military authorities. Throughout the military regime, the ethical and moral stance taken by some sectors of the religious community made them, in the eyes of the military rulers, dangerous allies of the left.

The rupture in the democratic order and the unprecedented degree of violence compelled some sectors of the religious communities of Chile to take a stand.

The first to do so was the Methodist Church of Chile, on September 12, 1973, with a letter to the Military Junta repudiating the brutality of the coup.

A week after the coup, Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez canceled the grand inter-religious service traditionally celebrated September 18, in Santiago's Cathedral to mark Chilean independence day, replacing it with a simpler ecumenical ceremony at another church. In calling for "... a light to eternally shine over our soldiers and our civilians... in the noble, difficult and painful task of correcting our mistakes," it is evident that Silva initially believed the military coup to be a positive thing. But the brutal results of what the generals called the "pronunciamiento militar" were already troubling the Archbishop and, in the same homily, he expressed reservations about the "legitimacy" of the Armed Forces' actions.


Marxist Priests

Days after the coup, a meeting between religious leaders, including Evangelical Lutheran Church Bishop Helmut Frenz and Silva, led to the creation, on October 6, of the Comite de Cooperación por la Paz en Chile, also known as the Comité Pro-Paz, founded by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and the Grand Rabbi of Chile. The committee's human rights defense work provoked the ire of the military regime, making true Cardinal Silva's statement that "...they will begin to call me the red bishop."

The accusation of "Marxist infiltrators in the churches," first charged by fundamentalist religious leaders, including Catholics, later became the basis for the regime’s decision to disband the Comité. In a letter dated December 2, 1975, Augusto Pinochet explained to Cardinal Silva his reason for banning the organization, describing it as " a channel by which Marxist-Leninists create problems that disturb national tranquillity."

In its two years of life, legal defense work had been the major service provided by the Comité Pro-Paz, both for those tried in military courts or war councils and for political prisoners. During those two years, it handled more than 6,900 cases of political persecution in Santiago and 1,900 such cases throughout the rest of the country, and more than 6,400 cases of dismissals from jobs for political reasons.


Persecution of the Church

Arrests and expulsions of priests, raids on church buildings, murder and torture of priest and lay leaders, as well as chapels set afire in low-income areas became commonplace. On September 27, 1973 Air Force personnel raided the private house where Archbishop Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez resided.

Six priests died at the hands of agents of the regime during the dictatorship period. On September 14, 1973 Fr. Miguel Woodward was arrested in Valparaiso and taken aboard the ship "Lebu," where he died from torture, accused of involvement in "political" activities. Two other priests - Spaniard Antonio Llido in Santiago and Gerardo Poblete in Iquique - were also to die as a result of torture in 1974. Spanish priest Joan Alsina, personnel director of San Juan de Dios Hospital in Santiago was executed September 19, 1974. These priests, the military regime said, were "Marxists." Some 50 priests and other clergy were arrested in the first months following the coup.

Between 1973 and 1985 priests Jose Aldunate and Mariano Puga, founders in 1983 of the non-violent Sebastian Acevedo Movement Against Torture, were each arrested more than five times.

The disbanded Comite Pro Paz was replaced by the Vicaria de la Solidaridad in 1976, a human rights defense organization created by the Archdiocese. Its defense of human rights, its Radio Chilena, and assistance to the poor, among other activities, brought persecution upon church and Vicaria staff. From October 1977 to May 1978 acts of persecution, such as the following, occurred each month: arrests of church-sponsored soup kitchens and job banks, abduction and beating of Radio Chilena journalists, raid of the Concepcion Archdiocese social action office, and a bomb planted in the home of a Vicaria lawyer.

In August 1976 three Chilean Bishops - monsignors Enrique Alvear, Fernando Ariztia and Carlos Gonzalez - were among 17 bishops arrested at the start of a conference of Latin American bishops in Riobamba, Ecuador. Upon their return to Chile, a large group of civilians, later identified as DINA agents, attacked them in the airport.

On March 16, 1983, approximately 50 civilians raided a rectory in the Quinta Normal sector of Santiago, arrested two Irish priests- Brendan Forde and Desmond MacGuillicudy, took them directly to the airport where they were placed aboard an airplane bound out of Chile. Two years later the Archdiocese filed a habeas corpus writ on behalf of another foreign priest, Fr. Guido Peeters, who was constantly harassed, followed and threatened by anonymous phone calls and letters, to leave the country.

Under guidance of Bishop Helmut Frenz, the Evangelical Lutheran Church gained the release of imprisoned Chileans and is credited with having assisted 5,000 people in leaving the country. As he became an increasingly vocal opponent of the regime, Frenz came under fire from conservative members of his own church and was ousted as its leader in September 1974. Frenz was instrumental in founding, on April 1, 1975, the Christian Churches Social Assistance Foundation (FASIC), whose major concern was legal and psychological assistance to victims of human rights violations, particularly political prisoners and their families. Associated with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Council of Churches Refugee Service, Fasic's initial concern was obtaining the commutation of imprisonment for exile.

On October 3, 1975, while Frenz was in Europe, the military regime banned him from returning to Chile. Frenz was subsequently appointed secretary general of the international human rights organization Amnesty International. A report prepared for the Vicaria of Solidarity states that the campaign against Frenz "... is the result of orchestrated efforts from the press and dissident Lutherans."

Like Frenz, Methodist Church Bishop Isaias Gutierrez, also a Fasic Board member, represented a minority position within his church. Following publication in January 1984 of a statement condemning violence, a Methodist Church daycare center in Peñalolen was set on fire, and Gutierrez, who ministered to prisoners and relegados, people sent to internal exile, was the object of numerous threats.


Defending the Regime

As religious leaders united against the regime and after the first United Nations resolution in repudiation of human rights violations in Chile was made public, fundamentalist Pentecostals banded together to defend the regime. Founded in July 1975, the Council of Pastors (Consejo de Pastores) became the self-appointed "moral-religious guarantors of military government legitimacy". The Council's loyalty to the regime paid off: in 1976 it sought and was accorded "official recognition as sole representative of the Evangelical Churches of Chile".

In a religious service offered on the first anniversary of the coup, the Evangelical Churches, which later formed the Consejo de Pastores, declared to Pinochet: "The military pronouncement ... was the response from God to the prayer of all believers who see Marxism as the highest expression of the shadowy satanic force."

The Catholic Church also had within its fold authorities who supported the military rulers. Military Bishop Msgr. Jose Joaquin Matte stated during a mass held Sept. 9, 1985, in commemoration of the coup: "Twelve years ago, we prayed the rosary incessantly and Mary produced a miracle with the second independence of Chile."