Friday, May 24, 2013

Five former DINA agents sentenced for the detention of MIR militant Alfonso Chanfreau Oyarce

Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, Marcelo Moren Brito, Ricardo Lawrence Mires were yesterday sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the detention and disappearance of MIR militant Alfonso Chanfreau Oyarce. Basclay Zapata Reyes was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for complicity in detention and torture while another indicted agent, Gerardo Urich Gonzales, was absolved.

Alfonso Chanfreau, a philosophy student and MIR militant, was detained on July 30, 1974. At approximately 11:30pm, a  number of agents surrounded Chanfreau's dwelling - orders came directly from Contreras. His wife; Erika Hennings, and their daughter were transferred to her parents' home. Chanfreau was taken to Londres 38 and tortured, in an attempt to garner information about other militants. Enraged by Chanfreau's silence, DINA agents detained Erika, taping her eyes shut as the vehicle passed the Mapocho river in order to render oblivious of her surroundings. She was transferred her to Londres 38 and tortured in the presence of her husband in order to force him to collaborate with the dictatorship.

Marcia Alejandra Merino, a former MIR militant turned collaborator, was instrumental in the detention and subsequent torture of Chanfreau. It is reported that while at Londres 38, Merino sought out Chanfreau, pleading forgiveness for his plight and stating that she had collaborated with DINA to avoid further torture. Luz Arce Sandoval, another militant turned collaborator whose testimony proved vital for the Rettig Commission, declared that she was forced to witness Chanfreau being tortured.

On December 17, 1974 ,the Interior Ministry gave orders regarding Erika Henning's exile, while denying that Chanfreau had ever been detained. Chanfreau's name later appeared on the list of the 119, also known as Operacion Colombo - one of the dictatorship's fabrication of memory in which it was claimed that certain MIR and Communist Party militants had died as a result of infighting while abroad.

Testimony from witnesses indicate that Chanfreau was intensely tortured, as DINA believed he had access to fundamental information which would aid them in the destruction of MIR.

As in other cases, justice continues to be seriously hampered owing to impunity laws. The former agents will serve their sentences in Penal Cordillera, described by many as a luxurious five start dwelling, while dictatorship survivors and relatives of the desaparecidos remain entrenched within a fragment of mangled memory which is temporarily alleviated by judicial sentences long due. Former agents still retain their oath of silence about the the systematic disappearance of detainees, which makes a further recovery of memory an improbable accomplishment.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

El Doble Asesinato de Neruda

In light of the recent news regarding the investigations into Pablo Neruda’s death, the much maligned testimony of Neruda’s personal assistant and chauffeur Manuel Araya, is of significant importance. Denounced by the Chilean right as a leftist conspiracy, Araya’s declaration in the Mexican publication Proceso accusing the dictatorship of having assassinated Neruda by a lethal substance injected into his stomach created a furore and Chilean courts opened investigations into Neruda’s death, following a petition filed by Partido Comunista.  

El Doble Asesinato de Neruda (Ocho Libros, 2012) presents a compelling case based upon Araya’s testimony and the Fundación Neruda’s insistence upon adhering to the official version, which related the cause of death as happening from advanced and metastatic prostate cancer. The recent forensic investigations, partially completed since laboratories still have to test for toxic substances, have determined that Neruda was indeed suffering from advanced and metastatic prostate cancer, yet the authors Francisco Marín and Mario Casasús insist that medical records were void of such grim diagnosis and radiology reports did not specify the presence of metastatic cancer.
The book is described as 'a reference to a biological and ideological crime' - befitting the irregularities and contradictions which evolved through the years, as well as a possible manipulation of Chilean history. Prior to Neruda's exhumation, the Foundation expressed its objection to the investigation, endorsing the dictatorship's official statement and reiterating that there was no doubt that Neruda's death had occurred due to natural causes. Despite the ambiguous statement indicating a lack of interest in constructing a vital segment of chile's recent history, Marín and Casasús discover a more sinister network of contacts which may shed light upon why Neruda's wish to bequeath La Isla Negra as a retreat for artists and intellectuals was disregarded. A betrayal of ideals ensued with the foundation became economically aligned with Cristalerías Chile - an enterprise owned by Ricardo Lagos, a torture coordinator as well as a financial supporter of Pinochet's dicatatorship.
Prior to Neruda’s return to Chile from France where he was serving as ambassador, Araya was summoned to Santiago by leaders of the Communist Party and asked by Victor Díaz and Luis Corvalan whether he would accept the role of personal assistant and chauffeur to Pablo Neruda – a job which entailed a magnitude of commitment and responsibility. Araya describes Neruda as brimming with plans to strengthen the Communist Party in Chile, seeking ways to mobilise further support for Salvador Allende and concerned with establishing a cultural foundation for writers and intellectuals. Far from retiring to his home at La Isla Negra due to consuming illness, Neruda maintained an active political stance and frequently denounced US imperialism and interference in Chile, considering his role ‘a poetic, political and patriotic duty’ to prevent a right wing insurgency in the country. Among the frequent visitors to La Isla Negra were Salvador Allende, Voloida Teitelboim and Cardinal Raul Sílva Henríquez. The latter would attract the ire of the dictatorship and Vatican officials, who instructed the clergy to maintain a perfunctory role restricted to religious duties instead of campaigning against human rights violations and clamouring for investigations into the cases of Chile’s desaparecidos.
Pablo Neruda
Considering Pinochet's fear of leftist intellectuals destabilising the dictatorship from exile, the assassination scenario fits in perfectly with the later powers allocated to DINA and the deadly targeting of militants. In the aftermath of the coup, Neruda expressed the conviction that Allende had been murdered, despite the dictatorship's proclamation of alleged suicide. The Tejas Verdes contingent paid their first visit to La Isla Negra on September 12, 1973, while Neruda fretted incessantly about the fate of his compañeros, sentiments fluctuating between the despair of abandonment and futility of defence. Knowing that the military would detain and torture Neruda for his involvement in the Allende government, discussions about the possibility of exile heightened, which would safeguard Neruda's life and also provide him with the opportunity to initiate a formidable resistance.
Meanwhile La Tercera, a newspaper which was closely affiliated to the dictatorship, had started spreading rumours about Neruda’s allegedly debilitating illness. In an attempt to quell opposition suspicions of assassination, Pinochet issued a statement through Radio Luxemburgo. “Neruda is not dead. He is alive and free to travel wherever he likes, as befits other people of old age and struck with infirmity. We do not kill anyone and, if Neruda dies, it will be of natural causes.” The book translates this ubiquitous statement as proof of constructing Neruda’s imminent annihilation.
Having left La Isla Negra to avoid the possibility of torture, Neruda, accompanied by his wife Matilde, and Araya, sought refuge at the Clínica Santa María. The exile offer by the Mexican government was at first repudiated, with Neruda vehemently declaring he would not assume a traitorous stance and betray his compañeros. After being briefed about the atrocities committed by the military, Neruda assumed a resilient stance, stating that he would lead the struggle against the dictatorship from exile in Mexico. On September 23, the newspaper El Mercurio contributed to the rumours by stating that Neruda had experienced a deterioration of health, coinciding with the injection administered by a doctor at the clinic at a time when the poet was alone, having sent Araya and Matilde on some errands prior to exile. Upon their return to the clinic, having been alerted of the suspicious circumstances by an employee, Araya was sent to buy medicine which, according to the doctor, was not available at the clinic. Upon his departure, Araya was ambushed and detained in Estadio Nacional. “I lost all contact with Neruda forever, I never saw him again. I believe it was a plot to detain me.”
Araya’s version of Neruda’s final hours has been discredited by the Fundación Neruda, despite the fact that all ‘official’ testimonies which have been endorsed by the foundation come from sources who had no access to the poet during his final days. Araya was beaten, subjected to electric shocks and asked to reveal the identities of Communist Party Leaders. He was released 45 days later following intervention by Raul Sílva Henríquez.
Matilde’s reluctance to denounce the alleged assassination was reciprocated by the foundation in later years. A solitary figure searching for ways to open an investigation, Araya’s efforts were shunned and the official version assumed the emblem of truth. The existence of the lethal injection would have been eliminated from collective memory, had it not been for Araya’s determination in maintaining his testimony. The official medical and death certificates obliterated its existence, citing cardiac arrest as the cause of death. Only when El Mercurio reported Neruda having been given ‘a tranquiliser’, did the injection suddenly spring into existence.
The possibility of Araya having invented his testimony in order to create a controversy fades when faced with the various contradictions and reluctance to properly investigate the cause of Neruda’s death. The authors hold Matilde responsible for the ensuing silence – it is reported that she had even tried to reach a compromise with Araya in return for relinquishing the quest for justice. She is also deemed responsible for the foundation’s betrayal of Neruda’s wishes, having entrusted the administration to individuals responsible for maintaining the dictatorship’s atrocities.

As we await the final results regarding the presence of toxic substances in Neruda’s remains, it is evident that, whatever the forensic verdict decrees, Neruda’s death will continue to hover within the confines of Chilean memory. The measures of impunity imposed by Pinochet to protect the network of torturers and murderers has rendered investigation a source of controversy and a means through which truth will remain eternally shrouded with a pervading negotiation of privilege over human rights violations.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Additional prison sentence for former DINA agent Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko

Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko
The Santiago Court of Appeals has sentenced former DINA agent Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko to 541 days in prison for the torture of MIR militant Guacolda Rojas Pizarro during her detention at Villa Grimaldi.

Krassnoff, who is already serving a 144 year prison sentence for his role in torture and disappearance of leftist militants and sympathisers, has been condemned by Judge Mario Carroza for subjecting Rojas to beatings, various forms of sexual torture and applying electric current to sensitive parts of the detainee's body. Rojas was later transferred to Tres Alamos and Cuatro Alamos, finally being released from her ordeal.

In a previous conviction for torture and disappearance of Maria Cecilia Labrin Saso, Krassnoff sought to reinvent his image of notorious torturer who never bothered to shield his identity from detainees, into that of a researcher employed to study the dynamics of 'terrorist groups like MIR'.

Human rights supporters and groups concerned with furthering the struggle for memory in Chile do not deem the judicial ruling as particularly effective, considering the luxurious incarceration epitomised by the Penal Cordillera - a military building bequeathed to Augusto Pinochet's convicted agents. Apart from the privileged surroundings, including the use of lavish recreations areas, the torturers have also been entitled to benefits and pensions depending upon their rank during the dictatorship.

Chile's right wing, however, still hails Krassnoff as 'innocent' and patriotic. Gabriela Silva Encina's book 'Miguel Krassnoff: Preso por Servir a Chile' (Miguel Krassnoff: Incarcerated for serving Chile) remains touted as a knowledgeable treatise amongst neoliberal circles, despite the fact that the historian denies any human rights violation during Pinochet's dictatorship.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The disappearance of priest Miguel Woodward Iriberry - torturers escape justice
Miguel Woodward Iriberry, priest and MAPU activist
Justice has once again favoured human rights violators. The Court of Appeals in Valparaiso, investigating the disappearance of British Chilean priest and MAPU activist Miguel Woodward Iriberry, has determined that the agents involved will not serve any prison sentence.

José Manuel García Reyes and Héctor Fernando Palomino López were sentenced to three years and one day in prison but granted the benefit of probation.

Manuel Atilio Leiva Valdivieso was acquitted on grounds of dementia. The remaining agents, Carlos Alberto Miño Muñoz, Marcos Cristián Silva Bravo, Guillermo Carlos Inostroza Opazo, Luis Fernando Pinda Figueroa and Bertalino Segundo Castillo Soto were absolved due to lack of evidence of participation.

The Navy’s training tall ship ‘Esmeralda’ where Father Woodward was allegedly repeatedly tortured
The torture and detention ship, Esmeralda
Woodward was arrested at his home in Cerro Placeres, Poblacion Heroes del Mar, in the aftermath of the military coup, according to the Rettig Report on September 16, 1973 by Navy officials. He was transferred to the University Federico Santa Maria where he was brutally tortured by simulated drowning in the pool until suffocation. Following the almost fatal torture, Woodward was transferred to the Esmeralda - a naval ship which served as a detention and torture centre. According to testimony from the second in command of the Esmeralda, Eduardo Barison, Woodward died on the ship from the excessive torture inflicted upon him. The official death certificate indicates cardiac arrest as the cause of death, while the prosecution argues that Woodward died as a result of internal bleeding from torture.

Attempts to recover Woodward's body for a proper burial were futile in the wake of systematic disappearances. Following testimony about a mass grave given by the former director of the cemetery at Playa Ancha, an excavation order was given in 2006 to exhume the Woodward's remains. However, the excavation was called six days later as no remains were unearthed. According to the cemetery's records the last burials took place in 1979; however an excavation, presumably to remove the remains of the desaparecidos took place before 1989 and the downfall of the military dictatorship.

Relatives and friends of Woodward have stated that they will appeal the ruling by Jolio Miranda Lillo, declaring the ruling unsatisfactory after eleven years of judicial struggle in pursuit of memory and justice. Throughout the years, 33 people have been accused of the torture and disappearance of of Woodward - only eight made it to the courts, with impunity proving to be a formidable opponent against justice. The family is also considering a petition for the dismissal of Miranda's role in deciding human rights violations cases.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Four DINA agents sentenced for the disappearance of María Cecilia Labrín Saso

On April 30, 2013 Judge Leopoldo Lanos sentenced former DINA agents Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, Marcelo Moren Brito and Basclay Zapata Reyes to ten years imprisonment for the detention and disappearace of MIR militant María Cecilia Labrín Saso.

Labrín, aged 25, was detained on August 12, 1974 in the presence of her family by DINA agents, while resting due to a difficult pregnancy. The supposedly brief interrogation evolved into disappearance as the family sought information about Labrin's whereabouts in vain. Testimony by former MIR militant and torture survivor Erika Hennings place Labrin at Londres 38 and tortured by Contreras, Krassnoff, Brito and Reyes. Other detainees, such as Oscar Armando Alfaro Cordova (detained in July 1974) and Raul Alberto Iturra Munoz (detained in January1974) testify to her presence in Londres 38 and Cuatro Alamos respectively. According to evidence provided in court, it is documented that Labrin was transferred and held in Cuatro Alamos on August 17, 1974, accused of participation in MIR related activities.

Labrin's presence at Londres 38 was also witnessed by former MIR militant turned DINA collaborator Luz Arce Sandoval. Arce's testimony before the Rettig Commission provided a wealth of information about the intricacies of DINA and 'justification' for the betrayal of MIR militants and comrades, which she insists only damaged the 'peripheral' structure of the leftist organisation(Lazzara, 2011).

Questioned about DINA's operations in Londres 38, Contreras stated that he 'knew of its existence' but was not knowledgeable about the objectives. despite the lack of collaboration in behalf of Contreras, the court was able to provide evidence of collaboration in the detention, torture and disappearance of Labrin through testimony by other DINA agents including co-accused Reyes, as well as information and evidence garnered from the Truth and Reconciliation Report, which identified Contreras as in command of all operations pertaining to structure, organisation and detention centres.

Krassnoff sought to reinvent his role as torturer into that of an analyst undertaking intelligence studies with regard to 'terrorist groups like MIR' - a statement contradicted by numerous witnesses, including Erika Hennings as well as co-accused Reyes who gave evidence about the structure of Brigada Halcon and Krassnoff's role in persecuting MIR militants.

Denials by the accused reeked of the impunity and secrecy which DINA availed itself of. To this day, there is no information as to how the disappearance of Labrin was carried out.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Preliminary test results on Pablo Neruda's remains

File:Pablo Neruda (1966).jpgAlmost a month after Pablo Neruda's body was exhumed, initial results published by Chile's Servicio Medico Legal indicate that the poet was suffering from an advanced and metastatic prostate cancer. However, the presence of cancer does not rule out the possibility of assassination by DINA, as claimed by Neruda's personal chauffeur Don Manuel Araya.

Eduardo Contreras, lawyer of the Communist Party of Chile stated that the news of Neruda's illness was not surprising. Results concerning the presence of toxins, which would indicate an assassination, were being carried out in the US.

Araya has questioned the official version of Neruda's death, a mere twelve days after the military dictatorship was unleashed upon Chile. In 2011, his version of events and accusations against the dictatorship were published in El Pais and later evolved into a book entitled 'El Doble Asesinato de Neruda' by Francisco Marin and Mario Cassasus, in which it is argued that Neruda was in fact planning to go into exile and instigate a formidable opposition to the dictatorship from abroad.

The preliminary results have already been hailed by the right wing as proof of 'a leftist conspiracy'. Calling the exhumation a manipulation, the quest for memory has been swiftly ridiculed in a tangle of conspiracy accusations. For the Chilean left, proof tends to be regarded with suspicion after decades of succumbing to the indignities of dictatorial impunity which Pinochet negotiated as part of his brutal legacy.

It should be noted that despite the exhumation of Salvador Allende's body and subsequent confirmation of suicide, many Chileans remain sceptical of this history. Following a historical update on Facebook during last year's September 11, the documented history did not include Allende's alleged suicide. Instead, a statement was issued declaring a strong belief that Allende had been murdered and therefore the historical re-enactment would end prior to the disputed act.

In Asociacion Ilicita: Los Archivos Secretos de la Dictadura (Ceibo Ediciones, 2012) (review here), it is stated that close monitoring of intellectuals and other opponents in exile was carried out by DINA, in order to prevent the possible formation of a government in exile. In light of this revelation, it is indeed suspicious and utterly convenient for the fascist dictatorship that Neruda succumbed to his illness prior to his safe exit from Chile. With such close ties to Allende's government, Neruda would have been a mobilising factor for the Chilean left in exile.

EL DOBLE ASESINATO DE NERUDAEl Doble Asesinato de Neruda has been kindly provided to me by the publishers as a review copy. A review of the book - testimony and thoughts of Don Manuel Araya about the alleged assassination of Pablo Neruda, will be published on this blog by the end of next week.