Villa Grimaldi


Center for Detention, Torture and Extermination

The Prisoners
Witnesses to Atrocity
Case History
Analysis by Attorney Nelson Caucoto
Key Moments in the Case


Center for Detention, Torture and Extermination

The series of cases labeled as "Villa Grimaldi" includes cases related to torture and detention centers Londres 38, Jose Domingo Cañas, Venda Sexy as well as Villa Grimaldi. Two characteristics common to all these cases prompted Judge Juan Guzman, who investigated the cases until October 14, 2002 when the Supreme Court transferred them to Santiago Appellate Court Judge Alejandro Solis, join the proceedings. First, they all involve secret detention and torture centers operated by the DINA from 1974 to 1976. Second, Villa Grimaldi was the last place many of the executed and disappeared persons in these cases were seen alive.

The secret detention centers of the dictatorship generally held prisoners who were never officially acknowledged as in detention. The Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission describes the system of detention in the clandestine prisons of the military dictatorship:

"Some of the persons brought to these facilities were released after a period of imprisonment and torture. Others were removed and executed in other locations and with but a few exceptions, in which the body was recovered, remain disappeared. A third group of prisoners was transferred to detention centers where although torture was not practiced, they were still cut off from the outside world, prohibited from receiving visitors. Or they were released, or even returned to the secret detention and torture centers, some of whom regained their freedom while others were made to disappear."

It is important to note that these centers were never a secret to the Military Junta, which paid the water, electricity and all operational costs.

Strategic Location
For the purposes of this article, we will focus on Villa Grimaldi, center of operations for the Metropolitan Intelligence Brigade (BIM).

Prisoners who were brought blindfolded and remained blindfolded throughout their detention at Villa Grimaldi attempted to orient themselves geographically by the road of helicopters and airplanes. In fact, Villa Grimaldi was located in an isolated zone near the the Tobalaba Airport, where many Army helicopters were based. A little farther up the road was the Telecommunications Regiment, Augusto Pinochet's base of operations on the day of the coup.

Villa Grimaldi's location was strategically important for the DINA. In November 1973 the property, a place of intellectual gatherings during the 1970s, was expropriated by the military, as was the case of all buildings employed by the DINA. The DINA controlled the property until late 1976. After 1976 the successor to the DINA, the CNI inherited the property, which it used for administrative purposes until 1986. In 1987 the property passed to the family of the CNI's last director Hugo Salas Wenzel until expropriated by the State of Chile in 1993. Some months before the inauguration of the first post-dictatorship democratic government, in 1989, military personnel bulldozed the buildings to the ground, in a futile attempt to erase the memory of the site that served the DINA for the longest time as torture center.

At Villa Grimaldi, also known as Cuartel Terranova, Pedro Espinoza Bravo was director, with Marcelo Moren Brito second in command. Under this command came the Caupolican and Puren Brigades, each subdivided in several units of 20 to 30 agents. The Puren Brigade, under Army Major Raul Iturriaga Neumann, was the intelligence structure, with the job of gathering, processing, infiltrating, and transferring information. The Caupolican Brigade, initially headed by Moren Brito and later by Miguel Krassnoff Marchenko and subdivided in the Halcon I and Halcon II units, was the operative and interrogational structure.
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The Prisoners
After the National Stadium and Chile Stadium, Villa Grimaldi had the greatest concentration of prisoners in the Santiago area. An estimated 5000 women and men were imprisoned in Villa Grimaldi, some for a few days, others for weeks or even months. During January and February of 1975 an average 3 persons were brought to Villa Grimaldi each day. All were routinely subjected to torture. From the roster of the disappeared, 142 persons were last seen alive in detention at Villa Grimaldi, from where their traces are lost.

During its initial period, Villa Grimaldi operatives targeted the leadership of the MIR.
In those years, from 1974 to 1975, some prisoners were executed but the majority was transferred to other detention centers, such as Tres Alamos, and eventually released. Some of the persons executed during this period were:

  • Luis Guajardo Zamorano and Sergio Tormen Mendez, both cyclists and members of the MIR, were arrested July 20, 1974 in their bicycle shop. Jose Ramirez Rosales, who replaced Guajardo in his unit of the MIR, was arrested a week later on July 27, 1974, inhis home by Osvaldo Romo and Basclay Zapata. The three were seen in Londres 38 and later in Villa Grimaldi, from where they were made to disappear.
  • Jorge Muller Silva, member of the MIR and filmmaker with Chile Films, was arrested together with his co-worker and girlfriend Carmen Bueno, on November 29, 1974, a day after the premiere of his first film. Both were taken to Villa Grimaldi, and were last seen in Cuatro Alamos.
  • Jaime Robotham Bravo, a sociology student, was arrested together with Claudio Thauby Pacheco, both members of the Socialist Party , December 31, 1974 on a public street in Santiago. They were last seen in Villa Grimaldi in January 1975. On July 11, 1974 in town near Buenos Aires, Argentina two unrecognizable cadaveres were found, one bearing the falsified identification card of Jaime Robotham. A mes later, his name appeared among the names of 119 other Chileans printed in fictitious newspapers of Argentina and Brazil, as part of the orchestration know as Operation Colombo.

    During January 1975 the following persons were arrested and were last seen alive in Villa Grimaldi: Agustin Martinez Meza, Patricio Urbina Chamorro, Claudio Contreras Hernandez, Miguel Angel Sandoval Rodriguez, Julio Fidel Flores Perez, Jose Patricio del Carmen Leon Galvez, Luis Gregorio Munoz Rodriguez and Juan Rene Molina Mogollones. All were members of the MIR and their disappearance resulted after they were taken to Villa Grimaldi.

    In 1976 Villa Grimaldi focused its repressive apparatus primarily against the Communist Party.
    Practically every person brought to Villa Grimaldi after 1976 was assassinated, leaving few witnesses. Among the many persons killed during the course of that year were:
  • Several persons, all members of the Communist Party Central Committee, arrested in early May 1976 in what has since come to be known as Operacion Calle Conferencia, were last seen in Villa Grimaldi. They include: Mario Zamorano Donoso, Lenin Diaz Silva, Marcelo Concha Bascunan, Cesar Cerda Cuevas and CP subsecretary general Vi�ctor D�az Lopez, who was last seen in the Tower of Villa Grimaldi.

  • Marta Ugarte Roman, member of the CP Central Committee was arrested August 9, 1976. Several witnesses saw her in the Tower. She died as a result of torture, and her body, bearing evidence of multiple fractures, was later found outside the coastal village of Los Molles.

  • In July 1976 the repression was directed against CP members of various editorial and printing professions. Among the people taken to Villa Grimaldi and who disappeared subsequent to their detention: Guillermo Martinez Quijon, Oscar Ramos Garrido, Oscar Ramos Vivanco and Juan Aurelio Villarroel Zarate. � Vicente Atencio Cortes, former member of Congress and also member of the PC Central Committee, was arrested August 11, 1976 and was taken to Villa Grimaldi.
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    Witnesses to Atrocity
    Former prisoners - living witnesses of the cruelty unleashed in the Villa Grimaldi country estate - and other persons associated with the Parque por la Paz project, founded in December 10, 1994, tell this story.

    Raul Flores, arrested and imprisoned at Villa Grimaldi in December 1975, is a member of the Parque por la Paz Committee.
    Pisagua corresponds to the initial phase in which the dictatorship was installing itself in the country and employed forms of mass, wide-scale repression. Hundreds of thousands were arbitrarily and indiscriminately arrested and imprisoned in Pisagua, the National Stadium, Chile Stadium, and Chacabuco Prison Camp.

    Villa Grimaldi corresponds to the next phase when the dictatorship sought to prevent the resurgence of popular organizations. The objective was to prevent the younger leaders and party members from re-organizing. The policy was one of more selective repression. In Pisagua and the Caravan of Death, members of the Armed Forces participated with their full ranks, files and war councils. The Armed Forces openly exhibited their faces of repressors. How do DINA agents operate from Villa Grimaldi? They operate with political names and aliases. At Villa Grimaldi they conceal their identities, in a more sophisticated repressive policy that includes concealment of the prisoners and of the bodies of the people they execute.

    Luis Santibañez, President of the Parque por la Paz Corporation until 2003, was one of the architects who designed the Parque por la Paz.
    Atrocities were committed in Pisagua but in Villa Grimaldi atrocity was the system. It was not that atrocities were sometimes committed. Torture was the daily system within that atrocity. The functionaries who participated at Villa Grimaldi were trained torturers, trained at the School of the Americas. We have discovered that the method of atrocity was neither casual nor the result of rage or madness. What has impressed us most is that they considered it normal and routine. What they were doing was good and they did it for the sake of the country.

    Facile explanations arise to produce oblivion, to avoid confronting things. They say, "someone just went too far," or "this was the work of madmen." Or it was the consequence of the climate of convulsion produced by the Popular Unity government. Therefore, those who produced the convulsion are to blame. Those are all easy justifications intended to avoid the truth. The truth is that Villa Grimaldi was not the result of a few excesses or madness. It was a system.

    Rodrigo Del Villar was imprisoned at Villa Grimaldi four months, beginning in January 1975.
    Villa Grimaldi was a place of experimentation. They started out brutally, and then the guys began to learn how to do their jobs better. Torture was not sophisticated. There is nothing sophisticated about making someone stick his head in a plastic bag. The method was so elementary, that when the United Nations inspectors came, it was easy to conceal what was going on there.

    The torturers concealed their own identity as well as the identity of each prisoner. The main thing was that the prisoner was no longer a person. We were all given numbers - mine was 83 - and we were always called by those numbers, never by our names. The intent was to deprive us of our individual personalities. The aim was to transform you into a substance that could be easily managed. I think that was part of the policy behind making people disappear. If you are only a number, it is easier to make you disappear. It was not an individual who disappeared; only a number disappeared. Stripping a person's identity was part of the plan of extermination.

    For a collection of narratives by and about former prisoners of Villa Grimaldi see

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    Case History
    More than 80 criminal complaints have been filed related to Villa Grimaldi. Of these, approximately 45 were filed for disappeared persons, 6 for executed prisoners, and 47 by surviving former prisoners. Thirteen attorneys represent different cases related to Villa Grimaldi.

    See Interview with Hiram Villagra, Exposing the Crime of Torture

    The cases labeled "Villa Grimaldi" are joined because the detention center by that name in the Penalolen sector of Santiago was the last place the disappeared and executed prisoners were seen alive. Two other common denominators link these cases: 1) Nearly all the plaintiffs were members of the MIR; and 2) The defendants were all DINA agents, many of whom operated from Villa Grimaldi. Also, all the criminal complaints name Augusto Pinochet as defendant.

    The condition of former Miristas that characterizes most of the plaintiffs is explained by the fact that the first period of Villa Grimaldi was aimed against the MIR and many prisoners survived. However, during the subsequent period of Villa Grimaldi, directed against the leadership of the Communist Party, is much more difficult to judicially verify: nearly all prisoners brought there in those years were killed, sparing very few witnesses and, consequently, presenting obstacles to persecution in court.

    Nelson Caucoto, attorney in more than 45 cases filed on behalf of the families of the disappeared, explained to Memoria y Justicia (Interview December 2002): "Court procedure for administering cases is not very systematic. Some persons who disappeared from Villa Grimaldi are included as part of the case called "Condor." Others are in a case under the name "Operacion Colombo," even though they also were at Villa Grimaldi. At one point, the court considered systematizing all the cases, but this was never done. Ideally the cases should have been systematized in four or five chapters, such as Londres 38, Jose Domingo Cañas, etc - but under a single judge."

    The indictments Santiago Appeals Court Judge Juan Guzman ordered in July 2001 originated from a petition Nelson Caucoto filed on behalf of 20 victims:

    "I realized that the arrest, participation of the DINA, and the disappearance of these 20 persons had been proven. It makes no sense to amass information if you don't begin to squeeze.
    "Villa Grimaldi is a vast case with an enormous amount of information that was dispersed during more than 20 years in hundreds of cases. Your view of the facts changes when all the information is brought together. You can assemble an account of the relation between all the agents who were there, all the witnesses who were present, and all the disappeared persons. From that perspective, I think the facts of the case have been detailed very well. And the Court has upheld most of the indictments Juan Guzman issued."

    "With Judge Alejandro Solis as special judge, we finally have judicial proof of what had been impossible to prove in the past. We now have judicially proven the disappearance of persons, the imprisonment of these same persons at Villa Grimaldi, the participation of DINA agents and their respective identities, as well as the presence of surviving witnesses. An entire body of information has been gathered that makes it possible to judicially determine at least that Chileans in this country were abducted and made to disappear. God willing, some day we may also be able to discover where they are, although this is much more difficult. But a defendant may be convicted without determining the whereabouts of the person he abducted because it can be proven that the disappeared person was at Villa Grimaldi, and the crime stops there. Finding the bodies will have to be a task for the future.

    Many cases of persons who disappeared after detention in Villa Grimaldi were first denounced to the Legal Department of the Vicariate of Solidarity, where Nelson Caucoto worked from 1976. Caucoto filed the original habeas corpus writs and the initial complaints during dictatorship when the Judicial Branch was inoperative. For a lawyer working in human rights, the exercise of the law profession in those years when every habeas corpus writ was denied required strong personal conviction and foresight. Caucoto describes thus:

    "We always worked with a single-minded procedural perspective. You ask what motivated me to keep working on these cases. It was to keep the cases open, waiting for a better moment. Maybe some people thought that moment would never arrive, but I always believed that it would."

    See also The Law Profession

    Key moments in the case

    April 15, 2003
    Judge Alejandro Solis issued the first sentences in Chilean judicial history against the former DINA director and agents for crimes committed during the dictatorship. The case involves the arrest and subsequent disappearance on January 7, 1974 of MIR member Miguel Angel Sandoval Rodriguez, from the clandestine prison Villa Grimaldi. Judge Solis sentenced Manuel Contreras to 15 years in prison, in the first conviction of the former DINA chief since the 7-year sentence handed down against him in 1995 for the assassination of Orlando Letelier.

    The four former DINA agents sentenced were as follows:
    Marcelo Moren Brito, to 15 years as author of abduction; Miguel Krassnoff Marchenko, to 10 years as author of abduction; Fernando Lauriani Maturana to 5 years as accomplice in the abduction; and former Carabineros official Gerardo Godoy Garcia to 5 years as accomplice in the abduction and disappearance. Miguel Angel Sandoval's name appeared among the list of 119 disappeared prisoners in what was known as Operation Colombo, an orchestration that attempted to create the impression that they had left Chile and had killed each other in Argentina and Brazil.

    Some human rights advocates in Chile have speculated that the designated judges would conclude the investigations of the cases in their charge by applying the amnesty law. However, in this first case to reach the sentencing phase, Judge Solis did not apply the amnesty law, which also marks this as a landmark case. The Supreme Court will decide the final appeal in the case.

    October 14, 2002
    The Villa Grimaldi cases that Juan Guzman had investigated were transferred to Santiago Court of Appeals Judge Alejandro Solis Munoz, as part of the redistribution of the many cases originally assigned to Guzman.

    July 23, 2002
    Judge Juan Guzman issued indictments against the same seven former DINA agents for the disappearance of 23 persons who were arrested between 1974 and 1975 and were last seen in Villa Grimaldi.

    September 20, 2001
    The Fifth Chamber of the Santiago Court of Appeals modified the indictments, maintaining only the crime of abduction, and citing statutes of limitation for the crimes of illicit association and the murder of Humberto Menanteau Aceituno. � Regarding the cases of the other 11 disappeared persons, the judges decided not to apply res judicata (former adjucation) even though the amnesty law had been invoked in some of the cases. Therefore, the investigation of the other cases continues.

    July 26, 2001
    Judge Gabriela Perez Paredes initiated a series of cross-examinations in which persons who were prisoners between 1975 and 1976 confronted former DINA agents. The former prisoners recognized their captors and described the torture to which they were subjected. � Osvaldo Romo Mena was the only former DINA agent who acknowledged participation in some arrests. However, he denied having tortured prisoners, which he indicated was the job of Krassnoff, Moren and Zapata. Miguel Krassnoff denied having served as DINA agent, stating that he only had a desk job as intelligence analyst. He was also the only defendant to appeal the indictment.

    July 9, 2001
    The testimony of more than 70 former prisoners of secret prisons convinced Judge Juan Guzman that: "... the National Intelligence Directive, the DINA, maintained various clandestine prisons in Santiago such as Londres 38, Jose Domingo Cañas, Venda Sexy, Villa Grimaldi, and Cuatro Alamos. In these places the prisoners were subjected to illegal physical abuse - torture - and were maintained in abduction. In some cases homicides were committed against these prisoners, and their bodies subsequently disappeared, and to this date have not been found. "This agency, the DINA, was an intelligence service of the government. Therefore, it had a great capacity for centralized action, economic resources and access to state funds. In practice, it was a secret agency that acted outside the bounds of the law...." These findings led Judge Guzman to issue indictments for the crimes of abduction, first degree murder, and illicit association committed against 11 disappeared persons and one executed political prisoner. The seven defendants charged with these crimes are: Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Miguel Krassnoff Marchenko, Marcelo Moren Brito, Basclay Zapata Reyes, Osvaldo Romo Mena, Conrado Pacheco (retired Carabineros police official in charge of Tres Alamos) and Pedro Alfaro (a lower-ranking Carabineros official.).
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