Hiram Villagra is a member of the Corporation for Defense
of the Rights of the People (CODEPU) legal staff since 1986.
He represents 40 former prisoners of Villa Grimaldi as plaintiffs
in criminal complaints for the crime of torture.
by Memoria y Justicia, May 2003
Factories of Terror
Repressive agents of the dictatorship subjected prisoners
to torture since the very day of the military coup, September
11, 1973. Later torture was institutionalized by the DINA,
the Comando Conjunto, and by the CNI secret police. It reemerges
during the years of protest in the 1980s. Torture takes place
under different contexts. It is important to point out that
all political prisoners were subjected to torture. Not only
did they endure unjustified political imprisonment but also
direct torture. This alone makes them victims of human rights
violations and gives them the right to demand and agitate
these former political prisoners subjected to torture, the
survivors of torture centers are key. Their testimony allows
us to continue filing cases against the factories of terror
such as Villa Grimaldi, Venda Sexy, Jose Domingo Cañas,
and other such places in which an entire structure existed
to systematically apply torture. These were true torture factories
designed to produce a determined result: confession, demoralization,
and fear with the object of facilitating the break up of opposition
to the military regime.
centers involved the planned use of a facility for the purpose
of exterminating a group, serve as secret prison, and generate
serious effects of forced disappearance upon a particular
social group. Therefore, the criminal methodology unit, the
extermination unit, and the unit of perpetrators are one single
team that act in concert with each other, which makes the
and also Victims
With the first criminal lawsuits filed against former agents
and officials of the DINA, the former political prisoners
who had been held in secret torture centers participated in
the cases as survivors, testifying from their condition of
witnesses. In most cases, they viewed themselves primarily
as witnesses to the disappearance and execution of their friends.
The first associations of former prisoners were organizations
of survivors of the various DINA detention and torture centers.
The primary purpose of these organizations was to contribute
to the search for the whereabouts of the victims of forced
two criminal complaints, one filed in 2001 with the Ninth
Criminal Court for torture at the Aviation War Academy (AGA)
and the other filed in 2002 for torture at Villa Grimaldi,
our aim was to win recognition of torture as a crime in and
of itself. All survivors experienced extremely serious situations.
And there we have a paradox. Killing is acceptable under certain
circumstances but torture is never tolerated. All international
pacts have clauses condemning torture. The penal reproach
for the practice of torture is high in international law.
Later torture was incorporated as a form of genocide, first,
in the Convention for the Prevention of Genocide [ratified
by Chile in 1953]. Later it was included in the Convention
against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment
[ratified in 1988 by the military regime with reservations,
which were removed in 1991].
Tolerance for Torture
However, the social and political reproach regarding torture
is quite lower. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions do not
consider the specific issue of torture; in fact, most have
excluded it. Torture was viewed as a minor issue when the
first criminal complaints were filed. The first draft of the
Argentine due obedience law was strange because it excluded
persons who perpetrated aberrant and inhumane acts. Subsequently,
the question arose: "Do aberrant and inhuman acts include
forced disappearance? And torture?" That torture was not considered
seemed to imply that it does not in the category of an inhuman
and illegitimate act. We have the distinct sensation that
torture does not have a social reproach.
that concerns us is the tendency to downplay the importance
of torture, and this has to be dispelled. It is a serious
issue that has not received the attention it merits. The number
of victims of torture is very high, much higher than the number
of persons who disappeared or were executed at Villa Grimaldi.
Many victims of torture are witnesses in the cases because
they saw a prisoner executed in Villa Grimaldi or saw a prisoner
whom later disappeared from Villa Grimaldi. In the course
of narrating what they observed as witnesses, they also testify
about their own torture. This produces a very complex and
unique situation, as the witnesses are also victims of crimes.
Hostages of the DINA
Two major types of legal cases arise from Villa Grimaldi:
one on behalf of survivors and the other for executed prisoners.
Another group that merits particular reproach is the case
of child hostages. A criminal suit was filed for a group of
minors who the DINA took as a means of pressuring their parents.
Plaintiffs range from Macarena Aguilo who was 3 years old
to Tito Peña and Hugo Chacaltana who were arrested
at 16 and 17 years of age, respectively.
two situations affect the children. The older child was punished
for his or her own political participation but was also utilized
to strike against a nuclear family with deep political participation.
Hugo Chacaltana, for example, is a nephew of Atilio Ugarte
Gutierrez, a victim of the Caravan of Death in Copiapo. The
other situation was that of minor children employed explicitly
as hostages. The DINA took children as hostages in order to
pressure their parents. Such was clearly the case with Macarena
Aguilo as well as two sisters, Lena and Casandra Parvex, who
were 3 and 7 years old, respectively.
the extreme cases of children forced to listen as their parents
were being tortured, I am firmly convinced that merely bringing
a child into the atmosphere of Villa Grimaldi is a form of
torture. Although this situation was not taken up in these
complaints, that child will hear screams, will see bleeding
people, and will see people pass through the halls with their
heads covered. This is the second subject of the complaints
and the plaintiffs have testified extensively. Macarena Aguilo
and the Parvñex girls have testified in court. It has
been difficult for them, as they live in exile and are adults
today. Macarena Aguilo is mother of a three-year old, the
same age she had at the time of her abduction when she was
taken to Villa Grimaldi. It is very important that torture
be recognized as a crime against humanity, especially in the
abduction of minors used as hostages.
they survived torture, the testimonies of former prisoners
are vivid accounts that carry great weight as witnesses. The
premise of concentrating on a few so-called emblematic cases
involving loss of life is shattered because the testimonies
tell us that that the practice of torture as exercised against
Chileans was a massive form of violence.
are progressing in these cases and we believe we will have
indictments for the crime of torture at Villa Grimaldi in
the near future.
"In Focus: Villa Grimaldi"