Victor Diaz:
31 Years Later the Truth begins to



Victor Diaz, assistant secretary general of the Communist Party underground, was last seen alive in 1976 in Villa Grimaldi. Some 31 years later, on May 12, 2007, on the same premises, today transformed into Peace Park, more than 200 people gathered to honor his memory and example of courage.

Below we offer the translated transcription and excerpts of the words spoken on that occasion by writer Jose Miguel Varas, Communist Party Vice President Jorge Insunza, attorney Eduardo Contreras and Viviana Diaz, vice president of the Association of Families of the Disappeared.

During many years the last known whereabouts of Victor Diaz was The Tower, a tall wooden structure, originally a water tower, adapted by the DINA in Villa Grimaldi that forced prisoners to remain crouched in small wooden structures that they had to enter crawling. However, since December 2006, when a former DINA collaborator confessed to Judge Victor Montiglio, who investigated the Calle Conferencia Case, it has come to light that sadistic DINA torturers continued to torment prisoners taken from Villa Grimaldi, only a couple of kilometers away, at 8630 Simon Bolivar Street, until calculatingly killing them.

Jose Miguel Varas, National Literature Award 2006

Many years ago, with no exaggeration, some 56 or 57 to be exact, I chatted one night with that famous newspaper seller known as "The Babe" (El Guagua) because he was just a notch over a meter tall and, paradoxically, the most outstanding leader of the Newspaper Sellers Sport Federation. In all likelihood no one here ever knew him or even heard of him. As a radio station worker and later journalist, I was in the habit of stopping late at night at his kiosk on the corner of Alameda and Ahumada, downtown Santiago, always brightly lit, next to the entrance to the Ramis Clar Café.

That was a meeting spot for Santiago night owls because it was open past midnight. The main attraction, aside from the afternoon newspaper, some clandestine Communist Party (CP) leaflet, was lively conversation with The Babe, always up on the latest political news, and he could also offer cogent reflection on literature, philosophy, history and other subjects. His solemn full name, which few people knew, was Zorobabel Gonzalez, an oversized name for this pint-sized man. He was openly and proudly Communist, which earned him a quota of run-ins during the repressive years of President Gonzalez Videla.

Babe enjoyed lecturing about Communist Party history and its worker leaders. His tales mixed historic fact with a certain dose of legend or folklore. One night, in 1949 or 50 he told me about The Core Rock. His version of the story involved a kind of indestructible nucleus, located in the Heart of the Party. He explained it like this.
"It is what can never, ever be broken. It is so tough that the teeth of the bourgeoisie and police crack on it. You will not find the Core Rock in the bylaws. It is formed by comrades harder than steel, the most tenacious, those the Party can always count on. Always, no matter what and for whatever, without questioning, without asking a thing, and they are always there when the going gets hot."
And his small hands clenched shut around an imaginary rock.

Why bring up The Babe and his famous Core Rock today? Why mention it now as we gather to remember Victor Diaz and, once again, demand justice, upon learning the horrendous details of how he was murdered and how so many other Communist Party leaders were killed during that dark year of 1976? In my opinion, Victor was one of those steely comrades the Babe always talked about.

His schooling ended at third grade. His father was a miner and his mother a washerwoman. Victor was the fourth of five children. He began working while still a child to help put food on the family table. When just a little boy, he began helping his mother, delivering washed clothes to her customers. At an age when other children do homework and play, he sold newspapers along the streets of Tocopilla, in northern Chile. At 18 years of age he entered the mouth of the La Despreciada copper mine and began working as a miner, just like his father.

In April 1940 he entered the Communist Party. A likely influence was his friend Victor Contreras, a stevedore who became mayor of Tocopilla, and later Minister of Land and Colonization during the brief period of Communist participation in government before President Gabriel Gonzalez performed a political somersault and began persecuting his allies. In 1948 Victor had barely been married a month to Selenisa Caro, his lifelong companion, when he was arrested and banished to Pisagua, in what has been called "times of infamy," years of anti Communist repression. From Pisagua he was taken to Cosapilla, a village so miniscule that I have never been able to find it on a map. From there he was sent to Putre, a community 4000 meters above sea level whose Aymaran inhabitants, eked out a living through subsistence agriculture and raising llamas. Then he was taken to Copiapo, where he escaped and ended up in Santiago, where, reunited with Selenisa and the children, he carried out tasks as an underground and active Communist member.

Around 1950 or 1951, Victor began working at the Horizonte Press, on Lira Street in Santiago. The giant press that printed the El Siglo had been dismantled in 1948 when repression made circulation of the newspaper too risky. Machine parts were numbered and hidden in various places, according to precise instructions from the Czech engineer Alejandro Freiberg, a CP Chile member. To assemble the enormous machine again was a feat of technical mastery.

Victor Diaz participated in this highly demanding and complex endeavor. I do not know when or how he learned the printing trade. Mostly likely, the old timers taught him and he shared lunch or a pint with them after work at the corner bar at Lira and Santa Victoria streets. The press machine parts were transferred from their respective hiding places to the warehouse on Lira Street and reassembled in absolute secrecy. Police never had a clue what was going on. The reappearance of the Communist newspaper El Siglo in August 1952, with President Gonzalez Videla still in power, took the government completely by surprise.

I first met Victor Diaz in 1954 or 1955. I was a journalist for El Siglo and he worked the presses. We became fast friends. He lived a block away from the press and would invite me to join him for tea with bread and avocado, in his house on Tocornal Street. There I met his wife Selenisa and his then little daughter Viviana.

Victor, "El Chino" Diaz , as they called him, was a burly man with oriental-looking eyes, like many people of northern Chile. A man of few words, he had a deep voice, thin moustache, an easy smile and a refined, polite manner. A voracious reader, he would sit down at the dining table to read after lunch, which was the only place in the small house he could do that. His daughter Viviana describes him as a methodical reader, jotting down notes in the margin of the page, underlining sentences or paragraphs, sometimes taking notes in a notebook. He deeply felt the need to strive and constantly study in order to understand the world, history and social class situation better and live up to the demands and challenges that the Party and life in general posed. When one of his daughters did poorly on a test and was kept back a grade, he spoke to her seriously but not harshly, in his convincing, somewhat ponderous style, "You must concentrate more. You must make better use of time. We will find you someone to help you study. I want you to finish school and have a profession, that I could not have." He wanted to better himself but never lose his class-consciousness. He frequently talked about the importance of working with dignity, no matter how lowly the job. "Work never dishonors anyone," he would say. And also, "One should never forget his origins."

He was a friend of Pablo Neruda and painter Delia del Carril, commonly known as Hormiguita. Victor joined them at some of their refuges during that clandestine year, 1948, before the poet left Chile crossing the Andes on horseback. It was a true friendship between comrades, much like the friendships Neruda and Hormiga enjoyed with other working class Communist leaders, Elias Lafertte, Galo Gonzalez, Julieta Campusano, Andres Escobar, and Humberto Abarca. The poet sincerely believed that it was he who learned most from conversations with those illustrious proletarians.

In her marvelous book, Hormiga pinta caballos, the writer Virginia Vidal transcribes parts of a long interview with Victor Diaz, in which he speaks about his relationship with Neruda and Delia del Carril during the period underground. "It was then that I learned to understand and respect intellectuals," says Victor. "Pablo and Hormiguita couldnŐt stand to be shut indoors, so we would go out for a walk in the afternoons. I would accompany them because danger did not temper their desire to be outside in contact with nature, and relish a breath of freedom. Then we would share a cup of tea and conversation. Pablo loved to hear stories about my childhood. I was a boy during the big economic crisis with the joblessness and hunger of the 1930s."

When in August 1971, the Central Committee elected him assistant secretary general of the Communist Party, Neruda, at the time Chilean ambassador in Paris, sent him a card and a bottle of exquisite French cognac as congratulations. Victor held onto that bottle of cognac as if were holy water, and made it last a long, long time. Perhaps until the days of the coup and the systematic massacre and, once again, clandestine existence, when without hesitation he accepted the highest leadership position of the Communist Party after the arrest of secretary general Luis Corvalan.

Arrested in May 1976, he fell into the hands of the Lautaro Brigade, specialized unit in charge of personal security for DINA chief Manuel Contreras and the physical elimination of Communist leaders. He was taken to Villa Grimaldi, later to Casa de Piedra, in Cajon del Maipo, which was the house of Dario Sainte Marie, the former owner of the Clarin newspaper. Finally, he was brought to 6830 Simon Bolivar Street (the street number was later changed). At this center for systematic extermination, the final stop of a brutal itinerary, sadistic and highly technological torturers who comprised the Lautaro, Puren and other brigades of the DINA subjected Diaz to suffering day after day, week after week, during more than eight months. They did the same to other Communist leaders arrested that dark year of 1976: Mario Zamorano, Jaime Donato, Uldrico Donaire, Edras Pinto, Jorge Mu–oz, Fernando Ortiz, Horacio Cepeda, Lincoyan Berrios, Reinalda del Carmen Pereira.

The inquest headed by judge Victor Montiglio learned that one of the heads of the DINA Lautaro Brigade, Army major Juan Morales Salgado issued the following special orders for carrying out these murders, "make them suffer."

That is how they annihilated the leaders of an historic organization of the Chilean people. That is how they killed Victor Diaz, whose noble figure we have gathered to remember this morning in Villa Grimaldi, where so much pain was unleashed.

Jorge Insunza, Communist Party of Chile

Certainly we are gathered here to repudiate those who killed Victor, but we also have come here to celebrate his life. That proletarian nucleus life, is what convokes us today. Possibly the hardest blow Pinochet dealt us was the loss of that Core Rock, as Jose Miguel described it. In defense of that life, so many people, who you would never imagine, dared to take great risk during the first period underground. Victor was confined to a room because the difficulties in reorganizing the Party were immense. Together with Mario Zamorano, we transferred him to a house. Do you know who got us that house? The actress, Ana Gonzalez. The house belonged to an architect who died recently. During a time I lived there and willingly gave it up for Victor in the firm belief that we had to protect the clandestine leadership of the Party. This was after the arrest of Don Lucho (Luis Corvalan), and was crucial for what came afterwards. I was at Calle Conferencia many times with Victor, Mario, Donaire, Waldo.

Most important today is to understand that the way we honor those who sacrificed their lives is by building a broad, powerful movement capable of ending this savage capitalism. Restoring a strong worker movement, we must also open new perspectives that will perpetuate the great values they embodied, symbolized in Salvador Allende. It must be a movement capable of incorporating new perspectives, as we have been taught. Action must be designed in keeping with the reality of the contemporary moment we live in. That means every moment is a new moment, a new opportunity, for rebuilding all over again. That is how we will honor those like Victor Diaz who gave their lives.

Eduardo Contreras, Attorney

In early 1974 Miguel Enriquez had died fighting. In 1975 the Socialist Party clandestine leadership headed by Carlos Lorca fell. In 1976, the Organization of American States was to hold its annual assembly in Chile, at the insistence of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger with the intention of legitimizing Pinochet. Officials thought the Communist Party would resort to force to commit crimes while the Assembly was being held. Therefore, in December 1975 the dictatorship conceived of a plan to target the Communist Party, by forming units of the DINA such as the Puren and Lautaro brigades, with the explicit mission to wipe out the underground Communist Party leadership. The Calle Conferencia ambush took place in the first days of May 1976 and then Victor Diaz fell on a May 12 like this one on Bello Horizonte Street.

Then there was silence, and for years no one knew what had happened to them.

Gladys Marin filed the first criminal complaint against Augusto Pinochet for Calle Conferencia Case, opening the way for hundreds more cases. With more than 300 cases in his charge Judge Guzman progressed as much as he humanly could, but was not able to progress significantly in more than a dozen and barely began to scratch the surface of Calle Conferencia case. However, in recent months the patient work of judge Victor Montiglio, as well as the notable work of the Fifth Division of Detectives (Departamento quinto), the special unit that investigates human rights violations, some of those young men are with us this morning, tremendous strides have been made in understanding this tragedy.

Today we know practically everything. We know about hiscourage. We know how Victor confronted Pinochet personally at Casa de Piedra, Cajon de Maipu and told him, "Your task is impossible to achieve, General. Your endeavor to destroy the Communist Party is impossible because it is like wanting to destroy the whole people." The serenity with which Victor faced everything is an admirable example for generations to come. We know about the cruelty they used to kill him. We know they asphixiated him and injected him, and that they burned his hands and face to prevent identification.

These details became known late last year (2006) when a simple peasant from southern Chile, whose name we will never reveal, broke the silence, troubled by his conscience. He was not a military man and therefore was not bound by any allegiance to the Chilean military. He had been forced to participate in dirty work and he confessed. Approximately 70 military officers have been indicted in relation to Calle Conferencia case since December 2006. Of those 70, some 50 are in jail and 48 hours ago the Court of Appeals ordered the jailing of another one of those murderers, defended by lawyers who have no scruples and try to justify the alleged innocence of their clients.

And yesterday, the judge issued another subpoena, for the indictment of Hernan Luis Sovino Miranda also in Calle Conferencia. And there will be more indictments and more defendants in jail. It seems the courts are following the good road this time.

But does the outcome only depend upon the lawyers? Does it only depend on the efforts of the families of Calle Conferencia victims? This is a task incumbent upon the entire Chilean society. Unfortunately, the culture of death has not ended in our country. Until the Armed Forces and police become democratic, the change will remain superficial. We have only to recall the recent death of Rodrigo Cisternas in Arauco. This is a task for congresspeople, priests, and each one of you. All Chileans must rise, take each other by the hand and demand the full truth, demand justice so that "Never Again" may truly become a reality.

Beneath this tent at Villa Grimaldi is the best of Chilean society. We have here democratic congresspeople, priests and lawyers who took great risks in the days immediately after the coup to fight to defend human rights. There are also artists who have a social commitment, journalists, and a great number of women, lawyers, professionals, community leaders, human rights workers, and political leaders.

I close my remarks to you with the certainty that justice is posible, and that it is posible to know all that remains to be known about the crimes. And it is equally possible to convict the perperators of these crimes.

Viviana Diaz, Vice President Association of Relatives of the Disappeared

On this day we wanted to be with all of you who have shared these 31 years of searching with us. We have shared painful days and happy days. These years would have been much more difficult without your support. Our father, a self taught man, who only had a few years of schooling, taught us valuable lessons that enabled us to reach many places. He always fought for a more just society and for that we are proud of him.

We so appreciate the work of the lawyers. For us it just as important to know what happened to the disappeared as to see justice in our country. That is how we can contribute to ensure individual rights never again are endangered because of a personŐs views and beliefs. It is so important to repeal the amnesty decree. It is true that judges are not applying amnesty as frequently as in the past, but circumstances could change and judges may again invoke amnesty to close human rights cases. It is shameful that a self pardon decree law remains in effect in our country 17 years after the beginning of the democratic transition.

I wish to conclude by remembering our mother who died 10 years ago, without learning the sad truth. She always hoped to scatter his ashes in the sea off Antofagasta where they got married. Today I really believe it is best that she is not alive to hear the terrible details we hear in the court day after day. Although it is painful, we need to learn the truth. It is good for all us, and we will continue ahead until justice is won for each one of the victims of the military dictatorship. No more Chilean families should ever experience what we have gone through.

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