Army Commander Recognizes Institutional Responsibility
For Human Rights Violations




In a clear departure from his predecessors in the Army command, on November 4, 2004 Commander-in-Chief General Juan Emilio Cheyre acknowledged that human rights violations of the past constituted an institutional practice. As recently as 1999, General Ricardo Izurieta, who succeeded Augusto Pinochet as commander-in-chief, stated: "It would be an error to say that no one committed errors during the military regime, but to suggest the existence of an institutional policy of human rights violations alters the facts of reality." In November 2003 Pinochet himself referred to the issue: "In all political conflicts in all parts of the world excesses are committed and there are people who cannot be controlled. So it is possible that lower ranking personnel may have committed excesses and never said a word about it."

While the Navy command responded cautiously, Air Force commanders criticized the Army general and refused to admit an institutional policy of human rights violations. The human rights community, while valuing the gesture, questioned whether the speech was no more than fine rhetoric and called on Cheyre to decisively collaborate with trials underway for human rights crimes.

The public acknowledgement of institutional responsibility for human rights crimes comes a week before the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture presents its findings to President Ricardo Lagos. According to informed sources, Commission members have been divided on this very point. The position adopted by the Army Commander-in-Chief suggests that the Commission report will reflect his view.

It is important to note that the Army Intelligence Batallion (BIE), which Cheyre has now terminated, continued to operate in the post-dictatorship period, with a particularly active function from 1990 to 1995. Among other intelligence operations, the BIE was responsible for the disappearance and murder in Uruguay Eugenio Berrios, a former DINA chemist who had been willing to testify in court. (Translation of full text by Maxine Lowy, for Memoria y Justicia)

Words of Juan Emilio Cheyre,
Commander-in-Chief of the Army
November 4, 2002

The Army Intelligence Batallion (BIE) was recently closed. At the same time, we have created the Military Security Unit. This will be a highly specialized unit with a reduced number of personnel to carry out missions that differ from those of the past, particularly prior to 1990, as a consequence of the national and international situation of the late twentieth century.

A new law that seeks to provide the State with an intelligence body with the capability to produce the information needed for making political determinations mandates the creation of this new unit. It not merely a change in name, faces or workplace. In light of the increasing complexity and the role in military decision-making, Intelligence and Military Security are tasks that require real content, not just cosmetic changes.

Thus, this closure should be viewed as part of a larger, progressive process foreseen by institutional modernization planning, appropriate for the present national and international reality. These are steps that the new paradigms indicate we should take. However, to be precise, the specific changes are not the essence of the innovation; the issue is far more profound. The termination of the BIE is only one step, albeit an important one, within a set of greater and more significant planned actions.

Over the past several years the Chilean Army has adopted decisions with the intention of abandoning a Cold War perspective operational base, which was widespread among various social sectors and organizations nationally and internationally. The result was a radicalization of the conflict and the imposition of a confrontational logic in which any and all procedures and means of fighting were legitimate methods to gain or maintain power. Consequently, a political concept developed that regarded simple adversaries as enemies, while disregarding respect for people, their dignity and their rights. This view shaped our political, social and economic relations, persisting among Chileans during many years, under the influence of the Cold War.

Given the situation I have described, the Army of Chile could not avoid falling into the undertow of this worldview or of events worldwide that stemmed from that view. It became a major protagonist of this premise in our country, acting with the absolute conviction that its actions were fair and that the Army defended the common good of the majority of Chilean citizens. One could justifiably dissent completely from this affirmation. However, it is not equally justifiable to forget either the rationale behind the confrontation of those years or the consequent behavior this induced in Chileans of the time.

Does the context of the global conflict we describe justify the human rights violations that occurred in Chile? My response is unequivocal: no. Violations of human rights can never have an ethical justification, by anyone. For this reason, my words must not be understood as an attempt to temper what happened. Rather, they are intended as one more effort in the quest for truth. As I stated earlier, the truth liberates and brings peace to the spirit. But this truth must be complete and must be understood in the historic context in which these events took place. In our case, the circumstances were exceptional, abnormal y hateful and profoundly divided us.

However, that era and mode of existence, as people and as a nation, has been left behind in the past. For that reason, as Army commander-in-chief I have devoted a significant part of my tenure to bringing the institution in step with the reality of a Chile that aspires for development, and international cooperation and peace. I have also sought to adjust the institution to the reality of a country � our country � that embraces democratic principles and values as a political system and that respects human dignity as an element fundamental to a healthy national and international co-existence.

From this perspective, the closure of the BIE is not an isolated event. With it, a process of gradual and successive changes draws to a close. Noteworthy among those changes is the new Army architecture built on the premise that our neighbors are truly our partners and friends. Other highlights are a human rights educational process and the reformulation of our regulations and procedures and a re-positioning within society, that seeks to diminish the distance between the Army and civil society and foster the sense that the institution belongs to all Chileans.

The Army of Chile has made the difficult but irreversible decision to accept responsibility as an institution in all imputable and morally unacceptable events of the past. Moreover, on various occasions it has acknowledged the misdemeanors and crimes committed by personnel directly subject to the Army command. It has publicly reproached and criticized such actions and has continuously cooperated with courts of justice, to the degree possible, in order to contribute to the truth and reconciliation. At the same time, it has offered condolences for the suffering endured by victims of these violations, recognizing that they were treated in a way that infringes upon the permanent and historic doctrine of the institution. It does not justify such violations and has taken and will continue to take concrete measures to ensure that they never occur again. An expression of this line of conduct was our participation in the dialogue table and the effort to compile useful and relevant information to determine the final destination of disappeared persons, and to help bring these to courts, the only entities vested with ascertaining judicial truth and applying current law. In the same way, more recently, we were decidedly committed to cooperation with the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture, whose contents and conclusions we shall accept with the same serenity and sense of responsibility that characterizes our action thus far. Upon offering this synthesis of the process the Army has undertaken under my command, I can affirm that the institution has evolved from an organization with a logic and form of acting consistent with a Cold War mentality, to the kind of institution that the Chile of today requires.

I believe that the process the institution and the country have experienced, the lessons learned by all, and the capacity to overcome divisions through the route of truth and justice, guides us towards a promising future. This direction will give Chile sufficient societal strength and cohesion to manage a complex, competitive world with heterogeneous threats. Nevertheless, I also believe we can advance even farther in bringing about the democratic society to which all Chileans aspire. One of the ways to achieve that progress is by overcoming prejudices and mistrust that, as in the past, led to either the ostracism of the Armed Forces in the barracks or to a role not keeping with the condition of military. Chileans have the capacity to resolve that dichotomy - as I have referred to on previous occasions � with grace. The middle road between these two deviations will be the virtuous paradigm that we, as members of Chilean society, shall find in order to set limits between a blind self-excluding, protectionism and our role as military custodians.

At the same time, this is a fair middle road that is not for us, as military to forge, but rather all citizens must seek it through their institutions. Our task in this regard, perhaps incomplete, must be limited to the institutional transition away from the views of the past, such as those based on a Cold War perspective, towards other contemporary views in keeping with today�s Chile. To this task we shall continue to devote our best and most sincere efforts as military and as Chileans.


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