ON THE STATUS OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHILE
of “on the spot” Observations in
The Ritoque Detention Center
The Government that was installed after September 11, 1973, decided to
detain in Dawson Island, south of the Straits of Magellan, at the extreme
southern tip of the American hemisphere, a group of political
personages—around 30—connected with the previous regime: an ex-Minister of
Foreign Affairs, an ex-Ambassador of Chile to the United States, Senators, an ex
Secretary of the President of the Republic, Popular Unity party leaders, etc.
These persons were flown to Punta Arenas, handcuffed, and then taken in a
ship to their destination.
Dawson Island is a particularly inhospitable place, lashed by hurricane
winds, snow and hail from the South Pole. The temperature is usually many
degrees Centigrade below zero. Prisoners told the Commission they were
transferred without being permitted to get any clothing in addition to what they
had been using as detainees. They also stated that the place where they were
lodged lacked the installations that are essential for decently housing anybody
in comfortable and sanitary conditions.
Before the Commission reached Chile, these prisoners were ordered
transferred. Only some local prisoners from Punta Arenas, who are more
accustomed to the particularly harsh elements of the region, remained. The
transferred prisoners were first taken to various military establishments in
Santiago, and shortly thereafter to the Ritoque installation, near the Quintero
Airbase, on the Pacific coast, north of Valparaiso.
The Government authorized the Commission to visit the installation and to
converse freely with the prisoners. Five of the Commission members present in
Chile made the visit on July 27.
The Commander of the Quintero Base explained the organization of Ritoque
He stated that the “detainees camp” (that was the term used by him)
was in charge of the air force. There is a superior officer for the entire
jurisdictional area of the Quintero zone. He is the Commander of Wing 2. The
direct responsibility for the custody and care of the prisoners was assigned to
Commander De La Fuente.
The camp is divided into two parts:
The administrative section (covering matters relating to correspondence,
office work and keeping of records in charge of a civilian; and
The executive section, in charge of an officer who is appointed in
rotation by the army, the carabineros, and the air force, every two weeks.
The detainees camp was first under the supervision of the air force,
receiving its orders from this base, and a number of personnel for the custody
and security of the camp. All problems occurring in the camp are resolved by the
Commander. No visits are permitted without his authorization. For the Commander
to be able to give his authorization, a communication must be sent from
Santiago, announcing the name of the visitor and the day and hour of the visit.
Prisoners supplies go to the base and are checked there, to ensure that nothing
affects the security of the prisoners. Later, if appropriate, the requested item
is delivered to them. The base also receives items that prisoners request from
outside, such as newspapers and cigarettes, which are distributed through the
Commander Lamas is in charge of what is called the Ritoque Camp. Under
him is the Camp Commander, assisted by the counsel, correspondence, and prisoner
control sections. There is a health section, consisting of a resident doctor,
dentist, and nurse. The Naval Hospital is also available for emergency cases. In
the weeks since the prisoners had arrived two of them had been taken to the
Naval Hospital: Mr. Osvaldo Puccio who had been given an electrocardiogram, and
Mr. Vergara, who was prescribed an exercise program for problems in one hand.
Two or three other prisoners had been treated by the nurse. There are also an
administrative and a surveillance system. The administrative system is in charge
of food, supplies, and transportation.
The installation had available what little equipment there was in the
camp, plus other items sent by SENDET and some from the base itself brought in
on loan. There is one vehicle and a station wagon, both new, available for
Surveillance is in charge of a lieutenant, a captain, or a
sub-lieutenant. At that time, the air force was in charge, and a lieutenant was
on duty; later the army or the carabineros would be in charge.
Prisoners were organized into five sections, corresponding to the
barracks in which they were lodged. There are five barracks in the camp, and
each barrack houses about nine or ten prisoners. The residents of each barrack
have selected a section head, who is their representative, and from amongst all
of them they have selected a representative who receives requests, complaints,
The head representative is Hugo Miranda. The section heads are: from
Barracks B, Alfredo Joignant; from Barracks C, Pedro Ramírez; from Barracks D,
Hugo Miranda, who has already been mentioned; from Barrack E, Orlando Cantuarías;
and from Barracks F, Sergio Bitar. Barracks B also lodges Clodomiro Almeyda,
Alfredo Joignant, Hernán Soto, Tito Palestro and Carlos Matus; Barracks C
houses Daniel Vergara, Benjamín Teplizky, Luis Corvalán, José Cademartori,
Fernando Flores, Jaime Concha and Pedro Ramírez; in Barracks D are, Jorge
Tapia, Alejandro Jiliberto, Carlos Morales, Hugo Miranda, Osvaldo Puccio
(junior) and Aníbal Palma; in Barracks E are, Orlando Letelier, Luis Matte,
Miguel Muñoz, Miguel Launer, Julio Stuardo González and Orlando Canturías;
and in Barracks F, Maximiliano Marcos, Sergio Bitar, Enrique Kirberg, Duarte
Pinto, Andrés Sepúlveda, Luis Vega, Sergio Vuscovic and Leopoldo Zuljevic.
All of the prisoners are adults, and none of them is held incommunicado.
They are allowed visits twice a week. They themselves have requested that visits
not take place on weekdays, because most of their families are from Valparaiso
or Santiago. Therefore, visiting hours were set at 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. on
Saturdays and Sundays.
With regard to food, we were informed of the menu last week. Monday:
stew, lentils, roast apples and tea for lunch; vegetable soup, potato pie, and
pears for dinner. Tuesday: cream of tomato soup, chicken with mushrooms, canned
pineapple and tea, for lunch; avocado with lettuce, Italian stew, and cucumbers,
for dinner. Wednesday: tuna salad, pork stew, beans, and tea, for lunch; beef
“a lo pobre”, and hot milk for dinner. Thursday: meatballs, fried fish with
salad, bananas and tea, for lunch, etc.
After these explanations, the Commission went from the Quintero base to
the Ritoque detainees camp.
The place where the prisoners are kept was a public beach facility
constructed near some sand dunes barely covered with grass. The place has been
surrounded by a high wall with barbed wire and watch towers on all corners, in
which guards armed with machine guns could be seen. It was indicated that this
installation is very close to the beach.
Inside the enclosure are five wooden barracks, divided into small rooms
with 2 two-deck beds in each, that is to say, with room for four persons.
Toilets and showers are in a separate barracks. The roofs and walls of these
buildings and of the common dining room, are of thin wooden boards, without
insulation. As twilight neared, the building became cold.
There are a small infirmary, guard houses, troop quarters, etc., all with
the same construction. All of the rooms are clean and in meticulous order.
The enclosure has free spaces, enough for the prisoners to be able to
It was pointed out to us that stoves have been provided for the prisoners
although the guards do not have any. We could see that stoves were in the dining
room, but they were not lighted.
As the prisoners stated, the Commission's presence meant a relaxation of
the strict discipline. The Commission members expressed their desire to share
lunch with the prisoners, which was granted. There were two courses served: a
kind of broth with a small pieces of boiled meat, a sweet potato, a potato, and
a pork chop boiled with garlic. An apple for dessert. The menu was considered
exceptional by the prisoners, as well as the fact that they were provided with
knives and forks, and not simply spoons. They said this was the first time that
had occurred since their detention in September 1973. No liquid was served at
After lunch, the Commission had ample opportunity to talk with the
prisoners. All conversations were tape recorded. The following is a transcript
of the recording with the sole elimination of some names at the request of the
After the Commission Chairman briefly explained the reasons for the visit
and the scope of the authority conferred on this OAS Organ, one of the prisoners
made a general statement, which is transcribed as follows:
Prisoner: First of all, I appreciate, Mr. Chairman, the openness
with which you have indicated the Commission's authority, because I want to tell
you in all frankness that there are undoubtedly few of us who thought the OAS
has the necessary structure to be able to attain full observance of human rights
in all the member countries. So that I appreciate the frankness with which you,
Mr. Chairman, have indicated to us the limitations of your Commission. We
understand all of those limitations perfectly, and we have exchanged opinions
among ourselves, even with respect to the ultimate meaning that your report
might have, because we understand perfectly well the political way this material
will be discussed, if it is ever discussed, some day in the Assembly of the
Organization of American States. That is the reason for this explanation, and I
thank you for the frankness with which you have defined the actions of this
Commission. It seems to me that to proceed in an orderly fashion, the first
thing is to give an outline of our long detention. You already know that we have
been prisoners for ten months. Some of my companions may tell you later of
aspects such as interrogations, the tortures to which they have been subjected,
and the really brutal way in which we have been treated on many occasions, and
finally some will make comments relating to the problem of the observance of
human rights, not only as it affects us, but also with respect to human rights
in general, at this time in our country.
Most of us were arrested the same day the coup d'etat occurred, September
11. Many of our comrades here were in La Moneda, others in the Defense Ministry.
I believe the Defense Minister went to the Ministry; he was detained in the
Ministry. You already know the details of how the bombardment of La Moneda
occurred, and how prisoners were taken from there, some to be transferred to
regiments and most of them to the Military Academy. One of them, or two (at this
time there is one) was taken to a Stadium and treated with unusual violence: he
is a 21 year old youth (he became 21 in detention), Oswaldo Puccio, who was
accompanied by his father, the Private Secretary of the President of the
Republic; and that is why he was in La Moneda. In other cases, companions were
brought in, whose names appeared in edicts of the Military Junta. We were
transferred on the 14th or 15th—noon of the 15th—of
course without communications of any kind, without notifying our families,
without taking clothing, appropriate for the weather that we were going to
suffer on Dawson Island; and with a really extraordinary, unnecessary violence,
we were taken in mini-buses to Cerillos, treated with great violence, and
shipped to Dawson Island. We arrived at Punta Arenas. In Punta Arenas, an event
occurred during the transfer from Punta Arenas—from the airport of Punta
Arenas to the port—which really should be pointed out, because of the
consequences that it had further on, and that is the fact that we were
transferred in military vehicles, in military trucks, military cars—of course
covered—and the rifle of one of the soldiers guarding us went off, ricocheted
off the roof, and struck the right hand of Daniel Vergara Bustos, who was given
cursory treatment in the fort, without further examination, with a very
superficial treatment, and despite that, was taken to the Island with the rest
of us. He still has not recovered use of his right hind; and it is still being
treated. We were shipped in barges, naturally without receiving anything more
than a sandwich for the whole day. We were treated with considerable violence,
without being able to speak with each other, without being able to sleep. One of
our companions who fell asleep, Aniceto Rodríguez, who is now in Caracas—the
Senator—was struck with a rifle butt. An officer hit him with a rifle butt
because he had fallen asleep. We reached the Island About 5:00 o'clock in the
morning; and I repeat, without adequate clothing.
There where old people there, like Dr. Edgardo Henríquez, the Rector of
the University of Concepción, who was Minister of Education at that time, a man
perhaps 65 years of age. There was Julio Pallestro, also a rather old man. We
were then taken on foot—we went ashore from the barges onto a beach covered
with snow—we had to travel several kilometers on foot. The older
people—there were only five of us—were transferred to a car after going
about two kilometers. Finally we reached a Navy Engineers Camp, which of course
did not have the accommodations needed for a group as large as ours. There were
something like 36 of us at that time, or less. We were received that morning by
the Naval Officer in charge of the camp, Jorge Felé, who was a lieutenant, no,
a commander. Jorge Felé came out and immediately informed us that we were
prisoners of war—that was the first notification we had regarding our status.
When we were visited by the Minister of Justice in the Military Academy, he told
us that he was making the visit on his own account, without instructions from
the Junta, and that he wished to intercede in our behalf so that we might leave
the country. We were not told at that time what our legal status was then in the
view of the Junta. Commander Felé told us for the first time that we had the
status of prisoners of war, and in the first two or three months, we were
treated with great violence: we had to sleep in small barracks, absolutely
unsuitable, without ventilation and above all without the minimum space needed.
Dr. Aréchaga: May I ask just one question to try to understand
better: you were informed that you were detained as prisoners of war? Were some
of you arrested in circumstances where you were making use of arms? (There is an
interruption, and another prisoner speaks).
Prisoner: They issued an edict by radio, summoning such and such
persons to come forward, and those who were named then reported voluntarily on
the same day, the 11th, because they were called in. Under the state
of siege nobody could go out into the street. So those who were not arrested in
the usual places, the Ministry, La Moneda, or at home, reported voluntarily.
Therefore, nobody was caught unawares with weapons.
Dr. Aréchaga: And those who were caught in La Moneda, for
example, a place that was under air attack at that time, didn't any one have a
weapon in his hands?
Prisoner: They were surrendering, most of then went out with a
white flag. Also, many of us here are from that sector, and others have
Dr. Aréchaga: Thank you very much.
Prisoner: We can give you all of those details. The truth is that
our legal status at that time was changing, because shortly after we arrived, as
I said, they classified us as prisoners of war, and referred to the Geneva
Convention regarding how we were to be treated, so that we were then considered
as prisoners in concentration camps. Later, we were considered political
prisoners. If I remember correctly, by Marine Commander Carrasco. It was only
yesterday that we were informed that this camp would be called a military camp.
They surely must have told you that. So that we have had different legal
Another prisoner speaks: Mr. Chairman, I am one of the few who has
had the opportunity to speak with attorneys, because most of the others have not
had that opportunity in ten months.
Dr. Aréchaga: Who are the lawyers?
Prisoner: I believe that there are two here. We have all had the
opportunity to speak with our layers. I asked him expressly what my legal status
was, whether he knew what it was, because he had been in contact with the
Ritoque authorities. So it seems that, in general, our status has not changed.
(Another prisoner interrupts).
Prisoner: Regarding our legal status, I think it should be added
at this time that even in the text of one of the decree laws hidden away there
we are, in addition to being prisoners of war, in a kind of hostage status, as
the word can be interpreted, because we are detained for what might happen with
or without our will both inside the country and abroad. And this status of
hostage has clearly been shown in the kind of treatment they have announced to
us and have given us. At any rate, we are under the threat even here of mediate
punishment in the event of an attack on the camp, whether it be real or
fictitious. We have been subjected to attack drills in which the entire
procedure centered on the need to eliminate the group at the first sign of
attack. And this is true, although our alleged responsibilities of any kind have
never been brought out, because even now many of us have never really been
interrogated except on property matters, regarding taxes. They even informed us
openly in some of the detention centers that the specific mission of the guards
was to liquidate us before defending the camp.
Another prisoner speaks: That's true. In one of the places where I
was detained, in the Air Force Academy, I was immediately told that any attack
against the Academy would mean that the prisoners would be shot. All the
prisoners including myself were told this.
Dr. Aréchaga: Thank you very much, gentlemen. I thing that we
should continue with the statement to keep the record straight.
Prisoner: Very well, I believe that the excessive, and furthermore
unnecessary, violence to which we were subjected as soon as we reached Dawson
Island should be stressed here—absolutely inadequate housing, the lack of
sanitary services. We were forced to wash ourselves with water we took from a
ditch that had passed through the sanitary services in the previous group's
camp; there were prisoners here when we arrived; they were prisoners from
Magallanes, the Province of Magallanes. You know that that island is south of
the Straits of Magellan. Consequently, we had to wash even our cooking utensils
in the same water that had previously passed through the latrines of the other
camp. With regard to food, it should also be stressed that it was absolutely
insufficient, as was verified by the doctors, the two doctors who were
imprisoned with us: the former Minister of Public Health, Dr. Jirón, and the
personal physician of President Allende, Dr. Patricio Gijón. This was later
confirmed by two National Red Cross doctors, who came to visit us after one or
two months I believe, more or less. Then, in addition to that, not to go into
too many details, it should be pointed out that, as soon as we arrived, we were
subjected to forced labor. It need not be pointed out that we were surrounded
with barbed wire fences. Consequently, we could not move about, we were confined
to a very small yard, and then we were subjected to forced labor, which of
course had a number of undesirable effects on our health, I believe, because we
did not have even the minimum clothing suitable for the region. The forced labor
meant for example that one of the prisoners, Vladimir Arellano, the former
Budget Director of the Treasury Department, suffered an accident at work that
cost him a paralyzed right arm because of a fracture. During our stay on Dawson
Island, we put up at least some 16 to 18 kilometers of telephone poles and wire.
Dr. Aréchaga: About 200 poles?
Prisoner: No, many more. One for every 50 meters. The word
basically consisted of setting up telephone poles.
Dr. Aréchaga: What is the peat bog work I've heard about?
Prisoner: Two of our companions here worked very actively in the
Another prisoner: It's a project they invented. They didn't know
anything about it. The stuff is a kind of mud, a bog, in which a particular type
of fern has decomposed. The military maintained—maybe they're right, maybe
they have technical information on the subject—that it's good for fertilizer.
So we had to work in that mud. Of course those who had boots suffered a little
less than those of us who had no boots at that time. They had to get into the
mud, pull out the decomposing ferns and pile them in big heaps; but the worst
part of the work is that we spent a great deal of time on it and later they made
no use of the material whatever, that is, we couldn't even have the satisfaction
that the work was of some use. That was the famous peat bog – mud all day
Another prisoner: It might be useful to give a brief description
of our work. Basically, there was setting up telephone poles, a work for which
we of course had no protection, because workers who do that kind of work of
course use special hard hats, gloves, boots, safety belts, etc. Then there was
loading trucks with large cobblestones, again, with no kind of safety measure.
We cleared the road, dug ditches and trenches, put up wire fences (because
livestock is raised on the island), carried sacks of gravel on our shoulders on
the run. To make the last part clear, it was forced labor, and they were very
violent, particularly because they gave no consideration to any safety aspects.
The worst part is, as I said, that a rather serious accident occurred, since
Arellano still has not completely recovered the use of his right arm. We were
under those conditions about two months, before receiving letters from our
families and before receiving any kind of clothing suitable for the region, to
protect against strong winds, rain, and snow. And all this with food consisting
in the first few months of a very simple lentil soup in the morning and evening,
a cup of tea with bread in the morning—we had milk with the tea when
assistance arrived from the International Red Cross. As a result of all of this,
we lost an average of from 10 to 12 kilos per person and in some cases 20. For
example there is the specific case of the Minister of Interior and Defense, José
Tohá, who was first transferred to Punta Arenas, returned to the island again,
and was transferred to Santiago, where he met the end that you know about. This
fundamentally affected his health. We have already spoken of José Tohá, Dr.
Edgardo Henríquez, and Julio Palestro.
Dr. Aréchaga: What was the state of health, as you were able to
determine, of José Tohá, when he left Dawson Island the last time?
Prisoner: Well, of course, he had lost considerable weight, it was
really alarming. He was a man perhaps 1 meter 90 tall, or more, about 1 meter
92, and he lost an amount of weight that of course really affected him. There
was also the case that has been mentioned here of the former Rector of the
University of Concepción, the Minister of Education. In addition to losing
weight, he had a very serious heart condition which made it necessary to take
him first to Punta Arenas, and then to Santiago. He was then returned to the
island in much worse physical condition than when he was taken to Santiago. The
same is true of Palestro, and Tohá, and Daniel Vergara, as well as Arellano and
Puccio. Arellano was taken to Punta Arenas, and while not fully recovered, was
returned to the island. Daniel Vergara's case is exactly the same; he isn't
fully recovered. Puccio and Daniel Vergara were in the military hospital, were
transferred without having been released and without the knowledge, and against
the advice, of the doctors. They were then immediately taken from here to the
Valparaiso Naval Hospital.
Dr. Aréchaga: Where is Dr. Puccio now?
Prisoner: He is here.
Another prisoner: He is Puccio's son.
Dr. Aréchaga: Your father is also here now?
Prisoner: Yes, he is.
Prisoner: The forced labor continued; the bad food continued; the
system continued. Naturally the weather improved a little when the summer
arrived, and we were transferred to a concentration camp made for that purpose,
with two or three rows of barbed wire around some barracks, common dining rooms
with sentry boxes overlooking them, with guards carrying automatic pistols and
machine guns—really extraordinary display of force. We had various commanders
at that place, which was first called a camp, or a concentration camp, and then
was called a prisoners camp. But among the various commanders and armed forces
groups that were in charge of us, perhaps mention should be made of the group in
charge of the marines, whose commander was Marine Lieutenant Carrasco.
Immediately after that officer arrived, he assembled us in the compound of the
camp which contained in addition to ourselves, prisoners sentenced by the
Military Court of Magallanes. They were about 300 in all. He assembled us in the
central yard to notify us that from that time on, we would be under military
discipline and that consequently, we were forced not only to sing the national
anthem at 8 o'clock in the morning and at 6 o'clock in the evening—which we
still do—we not only have to do military drills, but we are subject to real
military discipline—an actual military regime, with corporal punishment, with
excessive physical exercises. For example, the forced labor now no longer
consists of merely doing the work itself, but those who carried sacks of gravel
on their shoulders were forced to go in formation while they carried the sacks
and return on the run, with military drills, with military instruction, because
they declared that they had instructions from the Junta that we were to receive
military instruction. We were forced to sing various military songs—marches;
and violence reached its maximum level in that period. There are some cases
here, for example, Anibal Palma, the distinguished Jaime Concha, Vega,
Lawner—many of us, including myself suffered a great deal. There was the
famous machine that was turned by hand to make electric current for a
transmitter, which of course when it lasted over a half an hour was torture and
a really exhausting thing. They force Anibal Palma to climb a steeper hill than
this on the run once, twice, three, four, five times. And after that he was
forced to do knee bends. Jaime Concha was forced to run 1,000 meters and then do
knee bends. In short there was much punishment. Alejandro Jiliberto, who is also
here with us, was locked up for a very minor thing. Then one day, before the
marines came, an army colonel whom we had never seen suddenly arrived. He
summoned us together in the central yard to tell us that weapons had been found
in an inspection that had been made in the camp two days before, and this had
been mentioned by the Junta President himself, General Pinochet, who stated in a
public speech that preparations were being made for a rebellion on the island
and that arms had been found. He even said that a machine gun had been found,
and you can understand that nobody came on the island without being previously
searched by the military. We had been searched, our baggage had been
searched—if I said 50 times I would be underestimating. So that we were
assembled in the yard after the search in which they found what they called
weapons—some pieces of wire that had been sharpened. The ends of the wire had
been sharpened so as to make drawing on some rocks that are found on the island
beach. The rocks are very black and very soft so that drawings could be made on
them—I don't know whether there are any around here or not. This was only
known by all the authorities, but was even encouraged by them. So that
Lieutenant Barriga, who was second in command, and Commander Felé, who was
later in charge of us attempted to hold a contest among the prisoners on
engraving these stones, and it was these items provided by themselves that we
prepare in the workshop of the camp's marine engineers, with the knowledge of
the officers, the non-commissioned officers, etc. They were classified as
weapons that were in our possession to provoke armed rebellion on Dawson Island.
Of course, the prisoner who at that time was the delegate for the group of
prisoners from Santiago and Valparaiso stepped forward to tell the Colonel that
this was absolutely false and capricious. He said that there was a Lieutenant
named Santiago present there who could verify that we did our work openly, in
broad daylight, and in front of our guards, so that these objects, these
primitive tools, could hardly be classified as weapons, particularly against the
rather high caliber machine guns that they had in their hands. So that if there
were a fight, it would have been rather unequal. From the time we arrived at the
Military Academy, until two days ago here, the excessive firing drills in the
camps in which we have been has been really incredible, unnecessary, and absurd.
I believe that of course the long time we have now been prisoners has in some
way influenced our minds. As soon as we arrived at the Military Academy, we had
to put up with machine-gun fire around the Academy night after night. This
continued first at the Dawson camp, then at the second camp, and now here in
this place, which was a prisoner camp and now for the last 24 or 48 hours has
become a military camp. It used to be a beach resort. A Lieutenant threatened us
that any failure to obey an order might result in shooting. (Interruption by
another prisoner). While we were in the first camp, there were also mock firing
squads for the prisoners from Magallanes, and I want to add that the situation
is becoming more serious than it might appear at first glance, because it is
becoming constant. Especially in the last phase, we were subject to constant
provocation, particularly by the officers in charge of the troops. In their
treatment of us, in the speeches with which they threatened us, there were so
many insults that we had no doubt that what they wanted to do was to provoke a
reaction from us so that they could carry out their plan.
Dr. Aréchaga: You said that during the time that you were on
Dawson Island, some other prisoners arrived there, transferred from Punta
Arenas. Did you have the opportunity to get to know any of those persons? Did
you meet up with Ivan Aristides Contreras Martínez? A young 20 year old
student. Ivan Aristides Contreras Martínez, who was transferred from Punta
Arenas to Dawson Island.
Prisoner: On what date?
Dr. Aréchaga: September 18, 1973.
Prisoner: No, we were separated in different barracks.
Another prisoner: However we can give you information that might
be just as important as that, about people we do know. For example, the Deputy
from Magallanes, Carlos González, who—and there are a number of witnesses to
this—was not only subjected to brutal and tremendously harsh physical
treatment, which left indescribable after-effects, but they even cut a “Z”
on his back with a bayonet. I believe he can still show it to you; it will be
there for many years.
Dr. Aréchaga: Thank you.
Another prisoner: The treatment was as violent as you have been
told, and not only physically, but also psychologically, with harassment of all
kinds, during all the months that we were there. Perhaps I should go into more
detail just to show better the environment in which we were living. When the
marine group arrived, we were told of a number of signals, whistles, sirens,
etc. to warn us, among other things, of a possible attack from outside, which
would be signaled with bugles, while fire, would be signaled by sirens. In the
event of attack from outside, we were to stay in our barracks. In case of fire,
on the other hand, we were to go outside and fall in in front of the barracks,
so that they set up an entire system to deal with emergencies. One night there
was an exercise with great commotion by those of them who were leaving the
Island. They sounded the bugle simultaneously with the fire siren. This of
course confused many of us, because if we went out, the guards were under orders
to shoot us, as we had been previously notified. Both the camp Commander and the
officers had officially announced that. There was a lot of machine-gun fire, of
all calibers, because they had also installed larger caliber weapons. It all
lasted for a rather long time, and we were never given any explanation of any
There was a system to deliver packages, which worked in the beginning,
after we were there two months. It worked relatively well, but the system ended
up by being absolutely discriminatory in that we did not know what was send to
us, but we did know how little we received. It was explained to us later that
this was a system to set up a common fund, etc. But the fact is that the
packages were not being received, and of course our families had a great deal of
difficulty in sending them because they are not receiving the salaries and
income that they used to; they are in very difficult economic straits. It should
also be pointed out how a large quantity of books was confiscated from us by
order of Commander Zamora—Captain Zamora—the last military officer we had.
First, all of the books—all of them, absolutely all of them—were taken
without any explanation whatever. It is a matter of record that the books had
been authorized previously by the SENDET office—by the authorities who were in
charge of us. After many difficulties and many petitions, only a few of them
were returned to us—very few. To date, most of those books have not been
returned to us; some of them were very valuable, language studies, etc. This
Captain Zamora—the one who confiscated the books—also confiscated food,
radios, and packages sent to us by our families. The packages were constantly
rifled by them. The items that were sent to us were so different from those we
received: In order to expose this deliberate robbery, our people sent us lists
of the items in the packages. We never received the lists, but only an
enumeration of the three or four items that were delivered to us. All the others
remained for their use and benefit. Similarly, the items sent to us by the Red
Cross—such as blankets and powdered milk—were for the exclusive benefit of
the guards. We did not receive most of the things that were sent to us.
Dr. Aréchaga: Did you receive correspondence with any regularity?
Prisoner: Yes, it was delayed around 60 days, and censored.
Another prisoner: I personally received a telegram from my lawyer
that was totally censored. They left the salutation and the name of my lawyer. I
still have the telegram.
Prisoner: It was all deliberate. Pedro Luis Vega, who has two sons
who are fighting in the Israeli army in the Middle East conflict, received a
letter from one of them with a paragraph reading: “Dear Poppa, I am sorry to
have to tell you about a misfortune that is going to hurt you a great deal”…
all the rest was censored. A boy who is in Israel cannot affect in any way the
internal factors of international policy, not even the security they seek. But
it was a matter of suggestion, of crushing an individual who is in this
concentration camp, and leaving him to worry about the fate of his other son.
Prisoner: I was detained in the Military Hospital. With
authorization of the chief of the Intelligence Service of the Military Hospital,
who read my letters, I wrote to my son, who was in Las Melosas, and this is all
my son received (he displayed a paper with a number of parts clipped out,
leaving only a few fragments). This is a letter of May 30 from someone who had
been a prisoner eight to ten months. I knew by that time what I could say and
what I could not say. For that reason, I sent the letter to the Major and asked
him: “Tell me if this will past.”
Prisoner: That was how the correspondence system was, with
censorship such as you have just heard. It continued that way. And there was the
food system—not only the bad quality, and the absolutely insufficient
quantity—but in the beginning we were given only a very few minutes to eat, in
a tent where the cold was really hard to bear. And then we had to wash up,
ourselves, without any facilities of course, with water from that sewage ditch.
On one occasion, the lights went out, and of course we were warned that any
movement would be punished by a machine gun burst. We always are with soldiers
aiming at us, and with soldiers inside the dining room; this continues to this
day. I don't know whether they will withdraw them now that you are here. Until
today, we had soldiers right here. Also we were absolutely forbidden to speak in
the dining room. In the last period, we ate in absolute silence. Of course we
lined up before entering the dining room, and lined up to go out, etc. (Text
omitted). Some officers were worse than others; some were more vicious than
others. For example, one of them who looked like a schizophrenic constantly
played with a hand grenade while we were eating. He was always loading his rifle
and constantly threatening us, absolutely all the time, during mealtimes, except
for the forced labor that we have indicated. Then some of them tried to increase
the pressure on some of us, for example, on Luis Corvalán—I don't know if
he's around here. Luis Corvalán is the Secretary General of the Communist
Party. They piled work on him. Up to the time I'm telling you about, the
delegate had the task of assigning work, and naturally, he did it taking age
into consideration, rotating people, so that they would be better able to stand
up under it. Although Corvalán sometimes was given lighter work, he was taken
from it and assigned to heavier work. They watched over him especially, made him
run, made him carry heavy sacks, push heavy wheelbarrows, etc., and all on the
run. The day before we were to return to the center of the country, quite a bit
of rain fell. They kept us working there under the rain, with inadequate
clothing, with nothing to protect us from the rain until we were practically
soaked through. The transfer was also something that was really contemptible and
ill-intended. We were told absolutely nothing that evening, and then we were
awakened at 5:00 in the morning, with orders to gather all our things, and were
taken on foot from the camp to the airport, which was rather far away. Although
the camp had its own trucks, we walked at forced march about 12 kilometers.
There were old men, some with very high blood pressure, such as Miguel Muñoz,
who has hypertension. There were other like Andrés Sepúlveda, who has heart
trouble, Jirón, who had a bleeding ulcer. The 12 kilometers on foot that I
described included crossing a ditch that had torn up the road. We had to jump in
some cases; it was difficult to get by. Then we had to cross a river, in the icy
water, in May, in the middle of the winter, at 3:00 in the morning naked up to
the waist. We had to cross the river and go on, and a few minutes later the
truck came back, which had carried the … Not all of them, it wasn't for all of
them. The big river washed away the road in that season, but of course the truck
is able to cross it perfectly well. However, we had to go on foot. Captain
Zamora forced us to cross on foot, naked up to the waist. Of course he waited in
the truck and returned in the truck. And under what conditions was the flight
made? When we arrived in Punta Arenas, we were given a light snack, and then
taken into a huge Hercules airplane. They took away our belts, our shoe laces,
our pens, our cigarette lighters, our cigarettes—we haven't seen most of those
things since—before we were taken to the plane. They tied us with some nylon
cord. We were tied there and taken to Santiago. When we landed in Santiago,
there was a “show” that is something to remember, because it was almost
picturesque. When we arrived in Santiago, the camp was all lit up. Waiting for
us there was the Chief of the SENDET office, Colonel Espinoza, with a large
detachment of the four branches of the armed forces. There then appeared some
individuals who seemed to be male nurses, dressed in white, very correct,
carrying what looked like first aid kits, wearing the Red Cross uniform. Then
each of us was greeted by the Colonel, who inquired about our health, about our
stay in Dawson, etc. We were then very cordially invited by the persons dressed
as Red Cross nurses, to step forward. This was done in the most cordial way
possible, and then when we reached the lighted area, hoods were placed over us,
and we were taken to various vehicles and handcuffed and taken away.