Maxine Lowy for Memoria y Justicia
September 30, 2004
teenagers during the brief years of the Unidad Popular government
of Salvador Allende lived the excitement of the moment to
the maximum. That is how Michel Nash lived it: with seemingly
inexhaustible energy. And that is the enduring image his mother
Ana Saez and his sister Leila have of Michel 31 years after
his execution and disappearance in Pisagua,
northern Chile, that would mark their lives forever.
Nash family lived on Santos Dumont Street in Santiago, a middle
class neighborhood known as Recoleta near the foot of San
Cristobal Hill. Michel Nash, senior, a Communist Party member,
worked from the mechanic workshop he had set up at home. At
noon Mr. Nash, a descendant of Syrian immigrants to Chile,
would close the shop to share lunch and animated conversation
with the family on history, politics, scientific advancements,
and current events. The astronaut moon landing captivated
them all and launched Michel flying in outer space with his
imagination. He learned much from his father as well as life
around him, his mother Ana Saez recalls.
admired her older brother who she considered also a great
friend. Michel had a lively personality, enjoyed a good joke
and had great charisma. "He was an active member of the
Jota (Communist Youth Organization). We lived in a
conservative section of Recoleta, residence to many Arab businessmen.
Never had any progressive group existed in that area. And
in 1971 Michel was key in forming a progressive political
group in his neighborhood. He discovered that the gentleman
on the corner was a left leaning doctor, the lawyer a block
away was also progressive, as were the architect and the day
laborer that lived nearby. They were people of different social
classes and political parties, but they all shared ideas in
handed out on the street convened the first meeting. When
the meeting began, someone asked who had convened it. Michel
got up to the podium and admitted that he had written and
distributed the leaflets. The group that came to be known
as the Gamal Nasser Unidad Popular Command (CUP) united young
people and adults in activities in support of the Allende
government. "It must have been impressive," says
Leila. "Just imagine, a kid organizing a political meeting.
He was 16 years old at the time. When he spoke, all the old-timers
listened to what he had to say."
At 14 years old, Michel worked on the Salvador Allende presidential
campaign. Father and son loading trucks together to distribute
rationed grocery items, during the critical months when opponents
sought to destabilize the government by purposefully hoarding
basic supplies. His mother recalls: "One day I was in
line to receive grocery rations, because there was hoarding.
Suddenly, I saw him run by with a cart filled with cans of
paint and paintbrushes. Other kids came running along behind
him and they painted graffiti denouncing the hoarding. He
encouraged us, his parents, to participate."
remembers that once Michel told her, "Mama, I know everything
there is to know about life. I would not be afraid to die."
The comment astonished his mother. "I asked him, How
can you know all about life? You are so young and life has
so much to teach you still. His words left me thinking."
in 1972 he turned 18 years old, Michel was obliged to enlist
in compliance with mandatory military service. His parents
tried to obtain an exemption and a doctor declared that he
had flat feet. Leila reminds her mother that "actually,
Michel never opposed complying with military service. You
[parents] did not want him to go." For young men like
Michel, impassioned by the ideals represented by the Unidad
Popular, it was a patriotic honor to serve the Salvador Allende
government as a military conscript. "You are right,"
Ana concedes, "He was happy to serve."
so, in April 1973 he was one among hundreds of crew-cut conscripts
who boarded a train bound for the Granaderos Regiment N.2
in Iquique, where he had been assigned. Michel managed to
write only two letters to his family back home in Santiago.
"He was not big on writing. He was better at speaking
than writing," says Leila. The first letter from Michel
described his routine in copious detail. He told them that
military discipline was strict but he was well. Perhaps due
to his natural leadership ability or simply because of his
was assigned head of his platoon.
Michel was tall, with a light complexion, light-brown hair
and blue eyes, characteristics that corresponded to Army class
bias of a military leader.
second letter Michel wrote after the so-called "tanquetazo,"
the Buin Regiment tank uprising that menaced the Allende government
on June 29, 1973. "He told us the treatment in the Army
had changed. They treated him roughlly . Before, no one thought
to hide their political views. People openly expressed their
opinion with no fear." Once Michel phoned his family.
"He asked us to write more. But the boy was fine so we
were not worried."
After the military coup of September 11, 1973, the Saez family
was concerned for Michel. Ana Saez sought help with the bus
fare north to reassure herself that he was well, a harrowing
trip still vivid in her memory. "On the road to Iquique,
I fell asleep and woke up startled to find that soldiers were
searching the bus. In Iquique I went straight to the Regiment
and asked for my son.
As I waited outside, a lieutenant remarked, "So you are
the mother of Michel Nash." And he told me my son was
in Pisagua. I did not understand what he was doing there.
The officer explained that Michel had to be separated "to
prevent worse things from happening." His words alarmed
me so much that I began to cry. Another military officer approached
me and said, "You have to be cautious of these young
men," as if Michel were a dangerous person. When the
lieutenant saw me so anguished, he tried to obtain a meeting
with Army Commander Carlos Forrestier, but he would not receive
me. Then the lieutenant suggested I speak with the Army lawyer.
This man assured me that my son was well where he was, that
he had a bed to sleep on and had good meals."
later, the Nash family learned that Michel was shocked that
he was forced to participate in raids on homes in Iquique
on the day of the coup. He and a friend decided to ask to
be released of their military obligation and allow them to
return to Santiago. When superior officers asked why the two
conscripts wanted to resign, they naively responded that they
did not agree with the way the army treated civilians. The
officers then accepted their resignation, but upon leaving
the Battalion premises both were promptly arrested.
September 12, they were taken to the Army Telecommunications
Regiment and from there to Pisagua. Michel Nash was in the
Pisagua Prisoner Camp a little over a week. At first other
prisoners thought he was an infiltrator, sent to spy on them,
and they avoided him. "Undoubtedly, it was very painful
for him to be isolated like that. Only when he returned to
the prison cell in bad shape from torture inflicted during
interrogation did fellow prisoners realize that they had been
mistaken. He cried in corner of the cell. The other prisoners
then consoled them and tried to lift his spirits."
persons who were prisoners in Pisagua testified before Judge
Juan Guzman Tapia about what happened on that day, September
29, 1973. In the morning, Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Larrain,
commander of the "prisoner of war" camp, ordered
the 600 prisoners to line up outside their cells. After roll
call, Larrain asked for six volunteers to paint the campgrounds.
Then he announced that another six persons were needed for
another job. These last six (Juan Calderon, Marcelo Guzman,
Luis Lizardi, Nolberto Cañas, Juan Jimenez, and Michel
Nash) were not volunteers. Each military officer chose one
person. When the military officers later returned without
the prisoners, the official explanation was that the six had
attempted to escape, obliging the military to fire.
1990 the clandestine mass grave containing the mummified remains
of 20 persons was discovered near the Pisagua cemetery. Of
the six prisoners summarily executed on September 29, 1973
with the false justification of an escape attempt, the remains
of Caños, Jimenez, and Michel Nash were not found in
evidence indicates that Michel was not chosen for execution
at random. Judge Juan Guzman became convinced of that fact
and on April 12, 2000 he indicted the former Army vice Commander-in-Chief
Carlos Forestier, former military prosecutor Mario Acuña
and lower-ranking officer Miguel Aguirre as authors of aggravated
abduction of ten people, including Michel Nash, who remain
disappeared to this day. In 2001 the military report from
the Dialogue Table named Michel Nash as one of 130 persons
whose bodies were allegedly thrown into the sea from helicopters.
But Ana Saez does not believe the report. "They tell
us our loved ones were thrown into the ocean to make us stop
searching for them and stop bothering the government about
1990 Ana Saez again traveled to Iquique, this time to the
Medical Legal Institute, to participate in the recognition
of the remains found in the mass grave. She still has nagging
doubts about the identity of the bodies. "All the family
members entered the room. All the bodies were well preserved
and it was perfectly possible to recognize them. The bullet
holes were completely visible as well as the expression left
by their final scream. It was a terrifying sight that you
cannot ever forget. One person insisted that a body was that
of my son. But when I came closer to him, I saw that his mouth
was open and his teeth were not those of my son. Michel was
they showed me another body that had been put together from
Sack 20. The hand was in very good condition. You could have
taken fingerprints from it. But I could not recognize him
because the clothing was burned and the body was incomplete.
I thought forensic studies would give us an answer. But they
have never been able to tell us the identity of the remains
of Sack 20. That is why I have my doubts. Judge Guzman told
me that Sack 20 was sent to the United States for identification."
Nash family was shaken by the execution of Michel. The house
in Recoleta was raided and the father was arrested. Michel
Nash, senior, died in 2002 with a great sadness due to the
inability to locate his son. Ana Saez suffers from depression
and is consumed by unanswered questions about the fate of
her son. "Ever since they told me the news, I could never
accept that my child was dead. I always believed he was alive.
I made myself believe that somehow he had really escaped,
and clung to that hope for many years."
both Ana Saez and her daughter Leila Nash know that Michel
was killed in cold blood in Pisagua but they still have questions
no one has been able to answer yet. They want to know what
happened to Michel and where he was buried. And they want
to know who was responsible for killing Michel. Ana Saez affirms:
"Our hope is that all the truth be known and that those
responsible for the crime be convicted. Otherwise, there is
no justice and without justice democracy in Chile is incomplete."