A U.S. civil court achieved what no court in Chile has been
able to achieve: bring to trial and sentence one of the individuals
responsible for the Caravan of Death executions. Details about
the case and the organization that filed the complaint follow
Background on the case
(by Center for Justice and Accountability)
Bay Area Family Wins Historic Verdict in Trial Against
Pinochet Operative for Role in "Caravan of Death" Killing
jury awarded four million dollars in compensatory and punitive
damages to a Bay Area Chilean family for the torture and murder
of their brother, a Chilean economist, on October 17, 1973
- almost 30 years ago to the day. The civil jury found Armando
Fernandez Larios, in his role as a member of the "Caravan
of Death" - a military squad acting under orders from Chilean
dictator Augusto Pinochet - liable for torture, crimes against
humanity, and extra judicial killing. The trial marks the
first time any Pinochet operative has been tried in the United
States for their role in human rights abuses committed in
Chile, as well as the first jury verdict for crimes against
humanity in the United States.
" The verdict also coincides with the fifth anniversary
of the arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London," stated Sandra
Coliver, Executive Director of the Center for Justice and
Accountability, which brought the lawsuit, "Pinochet was being
sought for having ordered the deaths that took place during
the Caravan of Death. While Pinochet was never brought to
justice, today at least there was an acknowledgment by a court
of law that what the Caravan did to Winston Cabello and others
constituted a crime against humanity."
Plaintiffs in the case are Elsa Cabello and Zita Cabello-Barrueto
of Foster City, Karin Moriarty of Santa Clara, and Aldo Cabello
of Oakland. They are the mother, sisters, and brother of Winston
Cabello, one of the 70 or more civilians executed by the Caravan.
The jury found Fernandez liable, as a member of the Caravan,
for conspiring to commit, and aiding and abetting in, the
torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, and extra-judicial
killing of Mr. Cabello. The "Caravan of Death" traveled through
Chile by helocopter to different towns within weeks after
the 1973 Pinochet-led coup d'etat ordering the deaths of political
prisoners detained by Pinochet's military junta.
"This is a victory, not just for our family, but for all the
families and victims of the Caravan of Death," said the Cabello
family, "While we believe that Fernandez should be tried on
criminal charges in Chile, we are happy that this case has
disrupted his ability to live with impunity in the United
A Chilean amnesty law prevented Fernandez's prosecution in
Chile, and U.S. criminal laws do not permit prosecution for
summary killings committed abroad, or for torture committed
abroad before 1994. However, two federal statutes, the Alien
Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and the Torture Victim Protection Act
(TPVA), permit human rights victims or surviving relatives
to bring civil claims against perpetrators from other countries
who are found in the U.S. The civil suit brought by Cabello
family, therefore, was the only avenue available to them to
pursue justice against Fernandez Larios.
Fernandez came to the United States in 1987 after reaching
a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in which he pleaded
guilty to covering up the responsibility of the Chilean secret
service for its responsibility for the 1976 car-bomb assassination
of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his American
assistant Ronni Moffett. After serving a five-month federal
prison term, Fernandez moved to Miami. Argentina has also
sought the extradition of Fernandez for his alleged role in
the assassination of Chilean General Carlos Pratts in Buenos
The suit was initiated by the Center for Justice and Accountability
(CJA), a San Francisco-based human rights organization that
works to end the impunity of perpetrators of human rights
abuses by, among other means, bringing civil lawsuits against
perpetrators who live in the United States. Co-lead counsel,
providing their services pro bono, were Robert Kerrigan, of
Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin & McLeod based in Pensacola,
Florida, & Leo Cunningham, a partner with the firm of Wilson
Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, in Silicon Valley, California.
on Cabello v. Fernandez Larios Case
What is this case all about?
On October 17, 1973, Winston Cabello Barrueto, who had been
a well-regarded regional planning official in the ousted Chilean
government of President Salvador Allende, was murdered by
or at the orders of members of a Chilean military delegation
known as the "Caravan of Death"
in the city of Copiapo, Chile. The murder took place some
five weeks after General Augusto Pinochet launched the military
coup d'etat on September 11, 1973 that placed General Pinochet
in power. In this case, Mr. Cabello's mother, sisters, and
brother, all U.S. residents since the 1970s, seek to establish
the responsibility of a Chilean former army officer, Armando
Fernandez Larios, for his role in the killing. Fernandez Larios
was one of several officers in this military delegation believed
to have ordered or carried out the killings of more than 70
civilians during a journey by helicopter throughout Chile
in late September to October 1973. This military group has
become known as the "Caravan of Death." Criminal charges against
General Pinochet in Spain and in Chile were based on his alleged
role in ordering the Caravan journey of death. However, Pinochet
escaped liability after being found mentally unfit to stand
trial by the Chilean courts. Accordingly, the civil trial
will mark the first time any member of the "Caravan" will
stand trial for responsibility for any of the killings perpetrated
during its journey.
Who was Winston Cabello?
Winston Cabello was a 28-year old regional planning official
for two northern Chilean districts, Atacama and Coquimbo,
in the coalition "Popular Unity" government of President Salvador
Allende at the time of the Pinochet-led coup against the elected
Allende government in September 1973. Cabello was highly regarded
in Copiapo, the northern city in which he lived and worked:
in addition to being chosen for a position of significant
responsibility in the Allende government for his intellect
and role as a mediator between diverse political groups, he
played guitar with a local folkloric music group and had been
a star Copiapo soccer player. Cabello refused to identify
himself with any particular party, preferring to maintain
his political independence. Cabello was detained on September
12, 1973, the day after the coup d’ etat, and held in the
Copiapo miltary garrison without ever being formally charged
with any offense. He was held for five weeks without incident
until the evening of October 16, 1973, when the "Caravan of
Death" arrived in Copiapo. On that evening, Cabello was taken
from the garrison and killed along with 12
other civilian prisoners also detained after the coup.
Who are the plaintiffs?
The plaintiffs, Zita Cabello Barrueto, Karin Moriarty, Aldo
Cabello, and Elsa Cabello, are the sisters, brother, and mother
of Winston Cabello, respectively. The Estate of Winston Cabello,
through its personal representative of Zita Cabello Barrueto,
also is a plaintiff in the action. Soon after Winston Cabello's
murder, Cabello's sister Zita Cabello Barrueto and her husband
Patricio, who also had been detained in Copiapo and forced
into internal exile, fled to the United States in 1974. The
rest of the Cabello family followed in 1978. All eventually
became U.S. citizens, except for Aldo Cabello, who is a legal
What role did Fernandez Larios play in the murder of Winston
Plaintiffs claimed that Fernandez Larios either directly participated
in Winston Cabello's murder, or that he at least provided
assistance to or conspired with other members of the Caravan
and local officers who carried out the killing. Fernandez
admits that beginning in October 1973, he accompanied General
Arellano Stark on the Caravan of Death, and that he became
aware during the Caravan's journey that civilians had been
killed in the cities where the Caravan had stopped. Testimony
provided to Chilean courts and in public interviews by Chilean
journalists implicates Fernandez in killings and torture in
many of the cities in which the Caravan stopped. While evidence
suggests that Fernandez may himself have murdered Winston
Cabello, Plaintiffs claim in the lawsuit that Fernandez is
at least liable as an accomplice or co-conspirator for having
willfully participated in the Caravan's mission to torture
and kill certain civilian detainees in Copiapo and elsewhere
What do plaintiffs and CJA hope to achieve with this case?
The Cabello family seeks justice, first and foremost, for
themselves and for all those whose loved ones were killed
by the Caravan of Death. The perpetrators of such crimes should
not be able to find safe haven in the U.S. Plaintiffs view
this case as part of a larger effort to document, acknowledge,
and assign individual responsibility for human rights violations
committed under the banner of "state security" during the
Pinochet regime. These abuses, in fact, were tools of repression
and terror against a peaceful civilian populace. Finally,
the plaintiffs believe that impunity is one of the biggest
obstructions to the development of emerging democracies, especially
in countries that have recently experienced periods of state-sponsored
human rights abuses. By pursuing this case against Fernandez
Larios, plaintiffs hope that they can lend solace and encouragement
to people in Chile and elsewhere who feel justice has been
left behind in the transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Why wasn't the case filed in Chile?
A 1978 amnesty law prevents
charges from being brought in Chile against Chilean officials
for crimes or cover-ups committed by officials under General
Pinochet at any time between the military coup on September
11, 1973 and March 10, 1978, when a state of siege was lifted.
Accordingly, relatives of most victims of the Caravan generally
do not have a remedy in Chile. Chilean courts have, however,
allowed cases to proceed in which the bodies of victims have
never been recovered on the ground that these cases involve
"continuing crimes" not covered by the amnesty law. As Winston
Cabello's body was located in 1990, the Cabello family cannot
bring a legal action in Chile against those responsible for
Both the United Nations General Assembly and the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights have criticized the amnesty law.
Since Pinochet's attempted extradition from the UK to Spain,
Chilean courts have recognized that continuing violations
such as disappearances are not covered by the amnesty law,
and a number of cases involving human rights abuses during
the 1973-78 period have been brought. It is only during the
past year that these cases have been brought to trial and
convictions obtained. The amnesty law has no legal effect
in the United States. The Chilean courts dismissed charges
against General Pinochet in 2002 for his role in the Caravan
of Death after finding him unfit to stand trial owing to alleged
mental and physical deficiencies. It appears unlikely that
the Chilean courts now will bring any of the other participants
in the Caravan of Death to trial. The Cabello family's case,
therefore, stands as the first, and possibly only, case in
which a Caravan participant will be required to face justice
for his role in the Caravan.
What is CJA?
The Center for Justice and Accountability is a non-profit
international human rights organization based in San Francisco
that works to hold human rights abusers accountable. CJA represents
survivors of torture and relatives of victims of summary killings
in claims in U.S. courts against human rights violators who
live in or visit the U.S. CJA also provides information to
U.S. government agencies to help them pursue, prosecute, and
deport human rights abusers within the U.S., and advocates
for appropriate legislation and policies to ensure that human
rights violators may be held accountable. CJA was founded
in 1998 with initial support from Amnesty International USA
and the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture.
CJA is now independent from Amnesty International USA, although
both organizations continue to cooperate on many projects.
CJA receives substantial pro bono support from law firms,
lawyers, professors, translators, and private investigators
around the country.
What is the legal basis of the suit?
The Alien Tort Claims Act, adopted in 1789, gives survivors
of egregious human rights abuses, wherever committed, the
right to sue persons responsible for the abuses in U.S. federal
court. Since 1980, the law has been used successfully in cases
involving torture (including rape), extrajudicial killing,
crimes against humanity, war crimes, and arbitrary detention.
The Torture Victim Protection Act, passed in 1991 and signed
into law by President Bush in 1992, gives similar rights to
U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike to bring claims for torture
and extrajudicial killing committed in foreign countries.
The perpetrator generally must be served with the lawsuit
while they are present in the United States in order for the
court to have jurisdiction.
Can you give examples of similar trials?
The first case brought under the ATCA for human rights abuses
was Filartiga v. Peña-Irala. In 1976, the father of
a young man who had been tortured and killed in Paraguay while
in police custody saw the police inspector involved in his
son's torture and killing walking the streets of Manhattan.
The father called the INS, and the INS arrested the police
inspector for overstaying his visitor's visa. The father and
sister brought a claim against the inspector, and in 1980,
the U.S. court in New York upheld their claims, opening the
way for other claims using the Alien Tort Claims Act to be
One of the most publicized cases in recent years was the case
against former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos. After
he was voted out of power, he found safe haven in Hawaii.
Eventually, a U.S. jury found him responsible for the torture
and murder of Philippine dissidents, and ordered his estate
to pay nearly $2 billion to his victims. In July 2002, CJA
won a $54.6 million judgment against two Salvadoran generals,
both former Ministers of Defense, who had retired to Florida
A jury in West Palm Beach, Florida, determined that the generals
bore command responsibility for the torture of CJA's clients,
three Salvadoran refugees who now live in the United States.
This case was the first case in which a jury found commanders
liable under the doctrine of "command responsibility." This
doctrine provides that commanders may be held liable for failing
to take measures to prevent or punish abuses they knew or
should have known were being committed by their subordinates.
Have plaintiffs been able to collect on their judgments?
There have been few successful efforts to collect damages
awarded to plaintiffs in these suits because most of the defendants
have either been visitors who did not keep assets in the United
States, or individuals who lived in the U.S. but who did not
have any significant assets. CJA intends to devote its efforts
to ensuring that Fernandez Larios pays any judgment against
him. The judge in CJA’s case against the Salvadoran generals
ordered an investment firm to turn over to plaintiffs’ attorneys,
on plaintiffs’ behalf, more than $200,000 held in an account
by General Vides Casanova.
How does CJA find cases to file?
CJA works with survivor communities, human rights organizations,
and torture treatment centers throughout the United States
to help torture survivors seek legal remedies for their injuries.
In addition, CJA does outreach to the over 500,000 refugees
in the U.S. who have endured some form of torture. Victims
are often reluctant to come forward because they were so traumatized
that they still find it difficult to discuss their ordeals,
and they are often scared about potential repercussions for
themselves or for family members who remain in their country
of origin. Along with this Chile case, CJA has filed cases
on behalf of plaintiffs from East Timor, El Salvador, Bosnia,
China, Honduras, Haiti, and Iran.
Why a civil suit? Why not a criminal prosecution?
Only government prosecutors have the authority under the U.S.
legal system to initiate a criminal prosecution. Neither private
citizens, nor organizations like CJA, have the authority to
file a criminal case. There are several federal laws that
allow for criminal prosecution of certain grave human rights
abuses like torture, genocide, war crimes, and terrorism.
However, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) does not believe
that it has the authority to bring criminal charges in this
case. The U.S. law that gives jurisdiction to U.S. courts
to hear criminal cases of torture wherever committed was signed
into law in November 1994. The DOJ maintains that it can only
prosecute criminal acts committed after that date, due to
the prohibition on ex post facto application of criminal laws.
The plaintiffs' claims against defendant Armando Fernandez
Larios are for crimes committed in October 1973, and so the
DOJ would not initiate a torture prosecution against Fernandez.
CJA has provided legal authority to the Justice Department
which establishes that prosecution for torture committed prior
to 1994 would not violate the ex post facto prohibition. Regardless,
to date, the DOJ has not brought any criminal prosecutions
of torturers under the 1994 law. The DOJ tried to bring its
first prosecution in March 2000, pursuant to a tip from CJA,
when a Peruvian security agent believed to have tortured people
in Peru in 1996-97 visited the U.S. However, the FBI released
the man after the State Department gave its opinion, which
was widely criticized, that the Peruvian had diplomatic immunity.
more information, please visit CJA website at www.cja.org