history of Pisagua Prison as a detention center for war prisoners
- captured in "wars" against foreign as well as
internal enemies of Chile - dates to the late 19th
century when Peruvians taken prisoner during the War of the
Pacific were confined there. In 1956 Carlos Ibañez
del Campo became the first Chilean President to employ the
site as a place of torment for other Chileans declared enemies
of the State. Some 17 years later, Augusto Pinochet would
once again destine Pisagua Prison for that same purpose in
On September 18, 1973 an estimated 50 persons arrested in
Valparaiso in the days following the military coup desembarked
at Pisagua from the merchant vessel 'The Maipo.' The few residents
of the old port of Pisagua and the common prisoners incarcerated
at the jail had already been transferred to Iquique.
three-story building that forms the main section of the Pisagua
Camp came to vastly exceed its capacity with the internment
of approximately 500 prisoners transferred from the Telecommunications
Regiment of Iquique, from various police stations in the Region
of Tarapaca, as well as the prisoners detained in Valparaiso.
Women were lodged in the old theater. Up to 30 people were
enclosed together in cells of four by ten meters. Unlike the
Peruvian prisoners of the late 1800s, these were all civilians
political prisoners who were treated as if they
were prisoners of war.
commanding officers at Pisagua Prison Camp were Lieutenant
Colonel Ramon Larraín Captain Sergio Benavides.
As of the day of the coup, Army General Carlos Forestier Haensen
became Chief of the Zone in State of Seige for Tarapaca Province
as well as Commander of the Armys Sixth Division, the
highest ranking military officer with authority over the events
that occurred at the Pisagua Prisoners Camp.
survivors have testified to the brutality experienced by prisoners,
who were routinely subjected to torture. In particular, Commander
Larrain was known for his cruelty, which a former prisoner
attributes to "an irrational hatred of all of us who
were held there."
War Councils were convened at Pisagua, in addition to the
one the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report describes
as the "illegal and alleged Council known only by Decrees
of October 11 and 12 of 1973." All together, these War
Councils processed a total of 147 people.
Military Justice Code establishes a procedure and structure
for Military Courts in time of war. However, the War Councils
convened at Pisagua, directed by Larrain with Mario Acuña
Riquelme as Military Prosecutor, shared a characteristic common
to the majority of War Councils convened after the coup. These
War Councils functioned with complete disregard for their
own regulations, outside the bounds of law, and with no respect
for fundamental due process rights of the accused.
September 29, 1973 and June 1974, 26 persons from the Pisagua
Prisoner Camp, were executed. The circumstances of two of
the executions at Pisagua are described below.
of the Pisagua Executions and Disappeared Prisoners
- in Spanish)
the criminal complaint filed by the parents of conscript Michel
testimony of persons who were prisoners at the time, before
9:00 AM, September 29, 1973, the "prisoners of war"
camp commander Lieut. Col. Ramon Larrain ordered the nearly
600 prisoners to stand at attention outside their cells.
accounts of former prisoners at Pisagua, Larrain was accompanied
by Captain Sergio Benavides and Lieutenants Contador, Figueroa,
and Ampuero. After roll call, Larrain asked for six volunteers
to paint a building. Then he said that another six people
were needed to install some concrete columns. These
six were not volunteers. Each officer chose one person, even
though in the cases of Cañas and Guzman, these prisoners
asked to be allowed to stay and other prisoners offered to
take their place.
chose Cañas even though he had been operated on before
his arrest and had trouble walking. Ampuero chose Guzman,
who they went to look for because he had not come out of his
cell for roll call. Benavides selected the Army conscript
Michel Nash. Larrain personally took Lizardi. Figueroa took
the two Navy cadets Juan Calderon and Juan Jimenez. The latter,
employees of the Customs Investigation Department, had arrived
on September 18 from Valparaiso on 'The Maipo' as prisoners
of the Navy, along with 300 other political prisoners of that
have testified before Judge Sanchez Marre (who investigated
the discovery on June 2, 1990 of a mass grave near
the locality of Pisagua) that the prisoners never attempted
to escape. They were forced to run while a group of military
men whose weapons included a 30-point machine gun set up from
a Jeep, shot at their backs.
Second War Council
The October 31,
1973 edition of the daily newspaper, El Tarapaca reported
the firing squad execution of four prominent provincial Socialist
Party leaders. According to their account, the motive for
the execution was the supposed participation of the prisoners
in a plan to bring about a civil war in Chile and to incite
rebellion in the Armed Forces. The article also noted that
"the executed prisoners were judged in conformance with
regulations set forth in the Military Justice Code."
It took 17 years
to uncover the truth about that War Council: Military Prosecutor
Mario Acuña Riquelme leveled false charges against
the four Socialists, denied them the option of defending themselves,
and proceeded to order their execution. With the finding in
June 1990 of a mass grave at the perimeter of the Pisagua
cemetary, retired Army captain Juan Sinn Bruno, who served
as Military Prosecutor for that War Council, revealed that
the night of October 29, 1973 superior officers ordered War
Council members to change the pre-determinded sentences of
10 years in prison to death penalty sentences. The only element
of proof used to support the convictions was the prisoners'
alleged confessions, which were obtained as the result of
In the statement
that forms part of the complaint filed in September 1999 with
the Court of Appeals, attorney Carlos Sottile Messineo recalls:
it was difficult to have access to my clients [four of the
six accused]... and I only gained access to the court record
late in afternoon of October 26, 1973, when the War Council
had been convened for the following day, causing a blatant
impediment to my ability to fully study the charges. This
situation compelled me to work in conjunction with the other
two defense attorneys throughout all that night and into
the early hours of the next day, October 27."
Juan Sinn Bruno and defense attorney Carlos Sottile Messineo
attempted to convince the Council not to impose the death
penalty. The arrival at Pisagua the day before the War Council
of an Army chaplain and a military physician led Sottile to
presume that sentences for capital punishment would be issued.
situation motivated me to tell Commander Larrain... that
it was preferrable to impose convictions of 50 or even 100
years in prison rather than the death penalty because the
dead cannot be resucitated and sooner or later there would
come a time when the War Council trials at Pisagua would
be the subject of an historic investigation. The Commander
turned to me and replied that it was clear that I was on
the opposing side but his conscience was completely at ease
because he had been advised by the Military Prosecutor and
in any case, he would not sign anything contrary to the
Military Justice Code."
Efforts by the
auditor and the defense attorney to save the prisoners were
to no avail. The four Socialist leaders were shot at 6:00
AM the next morning. Their bodies were not among those found
in the mass grave discovered in 1990 and remain disappeared
to this day. The individuals executed by the Second War Council
Fuenzalida Fernandez, 43, Socialist Party regional secretary,
who was arrested September 11, 1973 in his home.
Ruz Diaz, 32, Socialist Party member and Iquique customs employee,
who presented himself voluntarily to the Telecommunications
Rosier Sampson Ocaranza, 33, Iquique municipal government
public relations officer, who voluntarily presented himself
to Iquique police on Septiember 21, 1973.
Taberna Gallegos, 30, Director of the Regional Planning Office
in Iquique and Socialist Party member, who also voluntarily
presented himself to the Telecommunications Regiment on September
of the Mass Grave
On May 31, 1990 the Vicariate
of Solidarity filed a complaint with the Pozo Almonte Criminal
Court. The action denounced illegal interrment in the northwestern
perimeter of Pisagua Cemetery and led to a judicial investigation.
Information provided by witnesses of the executions at Pisagua)
from September 1973 to June 1974 provided the clues as
did several local people who knew about the existence of a
clandestine grave. (See Doctor
Alberto Neumann's declaration.)
On June 1, 1990, magistrate Nelson
Muñoz convened at the site accompanied by an anthropologist,
an archeologist, a chemical engineer, court officials, excavators
and witnesses. During that initial day of work, they unearthed
human remains from an ancient period of time, evidence of
a pre-Colombian burial ground. The next day, June 2, upon
excavating another area, the mass grave was found. In the
same place along a slope facing the ocean where they were
shot, the prisoners, stuffed into burlap sacks, had been flung
into a mass grave, then, covered with lime and dirt. (See
Grave Site Map)
Eventually, 20 bundles were unearthed
in the pit, which measured 2.10 meters wide, 11 meters long
and 2.00 meters deep. The salt that impregnated the sand preserved
the bodies as they were when the men were brought before the
firing squad, hands tied behind their backs. The clothes they
wore the day of the execution were intact, as were their blindfolds.
The indisputable evidence of the impact of bullets represented
a clear condemnation of Pinochet and the regional military
commanders of the time.
The bodies corresponded to persons
who had been executed, including prisoners who military officials
claimed to have released. However, the remains of some of
the persons executed in 1973 did not appear in the pit, and
excavators found bodies of other prisoners whose deaths had
never been officially recognized.
Of the persons whose executions
had been recognized by authorities but were not in the mass
grave, seven corresponded to the Socialist Party leadership
of Iquique executed by order of the War Council of October
29, 1973. Nor did the mass grave contain the remains of three
other persons executed under the guise of a false escape.
These missing remains led to a search throughout the perimeter
of the Pisagua Cemetary and the judicial investigation headed
by Sanchez Marre.
The Sanchez Marre investigation
was interrupted by a jurisdictional challenge from the military
courts. The case was transferred to the Seventh Military Court
of Arica, which applied the amnesty law to close the proceedings
History of the Pisagua Case
an interview with attorney Adil Brkovic)
at Pisagua have been the object of several judicial investigations.
The first criminal complaints were filed by the families of
individuals who military officials claimed to have freed,
but who were, in fact, never seen again.
It is not coincidental
that this group of families was the first to file legal actions.
With the exception of the six persons alleged to have
been released from the prison, military officials formally
acknowledged the executions carried out at Pisagua. General
Forrestier informed the local press of all executions, attributing
them to different causes. He would say, these people
were executed becuase they attempted to escape," or these
were condemned to death by a War Council." The public was
informed and there was a certainty as to the deaths of these
people. With these six cases there could be no political justification.
Everyone knew they had no political ties, but rather were
connected to black market trade.
were the first to file criminal complaints demanding an investigation
into the fate of their loved ones, who according to military
officials had been set free. None of these complaints filed
in the late 1970s and early 1980s, led to investigations.
During the course
of the investigation conducted by Sanchez Marre, not a single
Army officer who had been at Pisagua was asked to testify.
Nevertheless, the investigation constituted an important source
of information and formed a legal basis for the criminal complaint
filed in 1998 with Judge Juan Guzman at the Santiago Court
In 1998 attorneys
Adil Brkovic and Alfonso Insunza initiated proceedings by
filing two criminal complaints against Augusto Pinochet on
behalf of Michel Nash and Freddy Taberna, respectively, both
executed at Pisagua. The cases aim to, first, locate the bodies
not yet found, and, second, bring to light criminal participation
in the deaths.
If we compare the investigation
conducted by Sanchez Marre with the investigation Judge
Guzman is currently conducting, one fundamental difference
can be noted. While the Sanchez Marre investigation failed
to establish penal responsiblity, Juan Guzman determined
involvement and indicted three people, at least in relation
to the charge of abduction, that is, the disappeared persons.
General Forrestier was indicted, as was former Military
Prosecutor Mario Acuña (who died in prison) and Miguel
Aguirre Alvarez, a member of the Military Intelligence Service
who participated in these events.
describes the relationship between the events at Pisagua and
the former Commander-in-chief Augusto Pinochet as direct as
the link between Pinochet and Sergio Arellano Stark, who led
the Caravan of Death.
"It is an institutional
relationship. As Commander-in-chief Pinochet is the hierarchical
superior of Arellano Stark. At the time, Arellano Stark
was a delegate of Pinochet. Forrestier was also Pinochet's
judicial delegate for the zone. From a legal standpoint,
a clear and direct line exists between Forrestier and Pinochet.
We asked the judge to indict Pinochet as abettor and accomplice
but the judge disagreed. I plan to ask again for elimination
of immunity for Pinochet once all witnesses have testified.
did not execute anyone at Pisagua. He did not execute anyone
in Iquique either. Arellano Stark acted as a delegate of
Pinochet with a mandate to execute persons in territorial
jurisdictions where commanders did not carry out the mission.
In the case of Forrestier, he carried out every detail of
the instructions he had received. What is the connection
between the two? The connection is that both belonged to
an aparatus of "justice" known as the " jurisdictional
area command." Arellano Stark and Forrestier put into
practice the criteria of justice handed down by the highest
echelons of the military government. At Pisagua we have
been able to establish precisely what that criteria for
Pisagua Model for Execution
is like a small laboratory of everything that took place in
Chile during that time," explains attorney Brkovic.
"The first national
criteria of the Junta can be discerned from the Pisagua investigation.
This was to eliminate people considered militarily dangerous.
In other words, the first targets were people of the MIR or
Socialist Party members who also belonged to MIR, as well
as military personnel who leaned towards the left. On October
10, 1973 the public service employees and their directors
were executed. Next, the leadership of leftist parties were
"The Junta used
this criteria to determine targets for elimination during
practically the entire decade of the 1970s. A pattern of executions
existed nationally. The guidelines were: execute the militarily
dangerous, execute the public service employees, and execute
the leadership of leftist parties."
"It is not a
coincidence that on September 29, 1973 in four out of five
parts of Chile people decided to escape on the same day and
all of them died. Or on October 10 people tried to escape
in Iquique, Antofagasta, Punta Arenas and Osorno - and all
of them died. At Pisagua people were executed on September
29, October 29 and November 29 of 1973, just in time to prepare
monthly reports. 'This month we killed four. Today we killed
five.' That is how it worked on the national level whereever
Pinochets jurisdictional delegates followed orders as
the judicial aparatus of the military. But in some places,
the delegates ignored the orders and thats where Arellano
Stark went with his Caravan of Death."
"At Pisagua a
Military Prosecutor, a corrupt and criminal individual, and
the Army Intelligence saw to it that the orders were obeyed.
They would say:
'We had guidelines
to eliminate the militarily dangerous. Who were those people
here? Juanito and Pedrito. We invented a false escape attempt
for them. Then, we were told to kill public service directors.
But the public service directors had not done anything wrong.
Lets kill them and say a War Council sentenced them.
Next we were told to kill the Socialist Party leadership.
Fine, lets call a War Council and give them a lawyer
for appearance. And what can we do to make them confess
to crimes they did not commit? Lets torture them.'
"At Pisagua people
were not tortured to make them confess. They were tortured
to sign a blank confession form. The signed confession form
constituted the major argument that the Prosecuter presented
to the War Council, to obtain a predetermined sentence."
"The best proof
that it was all a farse can be seen in the actions of Arellano
Stark, He had no concern for legality. They razed the table
to the ground. They had no qualms at all. If they had to execute
someone, then they went ahead and executed him. If they had
to concoct an escape attempt, then the prisoner was made to
escape. And if the sentences handed down by the War Councils
had to be changed, they simply changed them."
of Pinochet to see a potential enemy even in the State Defense
Council attorney (because he was legal counsel to the Provincial
Governor, who was a leftist) was extreme. But Forrestier went
right ahead and obeyed every order he received. And I want
to indict them for those homicides. I dont want them
to go scott free with those murders."
"On another aspect
of the case, we have also sought to locate the bodies still
missing from Pisagua executions. Some six or seven investigations
have been conducted in the attempt to locate bodies, but we
have not found them. The most recent information we have received
is that in 1980 the bodies of the six people we are looking
for were removed from the mass grave."
the Case Stands Today
I believe that
Judge Guzman considers the Caravan of Death case exhausted.
He devoted the major part of his time to that case. He also
considers the second case complete in terms of determining
responsibilities, that is, the Pisagua case. Guzmans
primary objective has not been to indict those responsible
for giving the orders, those in charge, such as Forrestier
and the Military Prosecutor Acuña. I believe Guzman's
choice has been to avoid affecting Army officers who were
at Pisagua at that time and who materially carried out the
orders to execute prisoners. We do not share that point of
view. We, the plaintiffs, are trying to establish the criminal
responsibility of each one of the officers at Pisagua. We
have never prosecuted conscripts and we have no intention
of doing so. Other Army officers do bear direct responsibility
and we need to clearly determine exactly what they did.
At this time
Judge Guzman is working on cases related to Operation Colombo,
Villa Grimaldi, David Silberman, Caravan of Death and Pisagua.
In my personal opinion, all these cases are related. Although
different people are executed in different locations, the
authors coordinated the crimes. Therefore, all these crimes
comprise a single criminal act, a mega crime, that extends
from the day of the coup until at least 1978.