Following the macabre narration ‘La Danza de los Cuervos: el destino final de los detenidos desaparecidos’, which describes the torture and extermination of dictatorship opponents carried out in Cuartel Simon Bolivar, Javier Rebolledo’s latest book, ‘El despertar de los Cuervos. Tejas Verdes, el origen del exterminio en Chile’ (Ceibo Ediciones, 2013) provides a detailed account of DINA’s formation in Tejas Verdes – the location where experimentation with torture was carried out in the early days of the dictatorship.
The prologue to the book describes perversity as an inadequate term in relation to dictatorship atrocities committed in Chile. With the full truth of horrors still concealed from the nation, the subject of torture, extermination and disappearance is shrouded within various levels of anonymity – the anonymity enforced by DINA upon the disappeared, torturers whose identity is still undisclosed, and tortured victims who are reluctant to disclose their accounts and add to the Chilean collective memory framework.
Alternating between testimonies from torture survivors, information from official investigation documents and critical commentary, Rebolledo’s account of Tejas Verdes validates his earlier statement dwelling on the difference between conventional reporting about atrocities and survivor testimony. The dehumanisation of detainees through various forms of torture, degradation, manipulation of culture and a refusal to acknowledge individual identity of detainees created harrowing narratives vacillating between the need for recognition and the experiences which DINA attempted to mire within a widespread imposition of oblivion in order to consolidate impunity.
The importance of Tejas Verdes has been overshadowed by other infamous torture centres such as Londres 38 and Villa Grimaldi, as well as by operations carried out by DINA involving the extermination of MIR and Communist Party militants such as the Caravan of Death and Operacion Colombo. However, prior to the formal establishment of DINA, political opponents of Augusto Pinochet were already being tortured and disappeared from Tejas Verdes – the primary torture and extermination centre in Chilean dictatorship history.
Tejas Verdes served as the initiation into torture and a focal point for other torture and extermination centres in Chile. The majority of torturers received their instruction at Tejas Verdes – names such as Marcelo Moren Brito, Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, Ricardo Lawrence and Cristian Labbé featuring prominently in dictatorship history. Operating under various brigades, DINA agents were tasked with intelligence operations, specific targeting of MIR and Communist Party militants, security and clandestine operations involving extermination of dictatorship opponents. Of particular mention are Brito’s role in the Caravan of Death and Krassnoff’s torture practices in Londres 38. Brigada Halcón, which operated in Londres 38, was also involved in the kidnapping, torture and murder of Víctor Díaz which occurred at Cuartel Simon Bolivar. The refinement of torture practiced in other torture centres such as Clínica Santa Lucia – an issue discussed by Patricio Bustos Streeter indicates a continuous attempt to obliterate any previous errors and cultivate an elaborate impunity. Rebolledo also discusses the existence of Brigada Mulchén under the command of Cristian Labbé – a relatively unknown brigade involved in clandestine operations but whose complicity has been difficult to prove, apart from the murder of Spanish diplomat Carmelo Soria in 1976.
Rebolledo shows how, despite judicial investigations initiated by Judge Alejandro Solis, it has been impossible to determine the number of detainees held in Tejas Verdes. What emerged, however, were the details of an appalling torture network headed by Manuel Contreras Sepulveda – a testimony of sadism in the name of eradicating Marxism from Chile. Torturers indicted by Judge Solis portrayed themselves as patriots unjustly accused, who had allegedly saved Chile from the grips of a communist dictatorship. Through the exhibited vestiges of dictatorial power during the trials of former DINA agents, such as Contreras’ threats to Judge Solis, it is possible to discern the traits of an organisation which operated with impunity.
The testimonies of Anatolio Zarate, Ana Becerra, Olga Letelier and Feliciano Cerda, supplemented by other narrations garnered from official investigation documents, portray the extent of human rights violations which DINA agents indulged in. The torture sessions were designed to create a barrier of immense magnitude between torturer and detainee, between detainee and humanity. Torture survivors describe electric shocks through use of the parilla, sexual violence and coercion, severe beatings, mock executions, the insertion of mice and spiders in the vagina, genital mutilation, use of dogs in sexual torture, mutilation, amputations and crude cauterisation, violation in the presence of family members, degrading language, as well as forced ingestion of urine and faeces. Pleas for death on behalf of detainees were met with additional bouts of torment.
Former soldiers who testified against Contreras claimed that detainees were lured to Tejas Verdes upon the premise of ‘discussing’ points of contention, which was imparted in an official letter. Prospective detainees usually complied and exhibited no resistance, discovering upon arrival the nature of DINA’s alleged discussion. Some were assassinated upon the fabricated pretext of attempting escape, others who voiced their fears of being murdered, such as detainee Lucho Normabuena, were systematically disappeared. Medical professionals who attempted to inscribe the truth about the cause of death were detained in Tejas Verdes. Detainees were forced to listen or witness their friends being tortured, while DINA embarked upon plans in the hope of extracting information from detainees upon other detained militants. Olga Letelier describes how torture sessions were usually attended by a group of DINA officers, alternating between watching and participating in torture.
The book also expounds upon the network of health care professionals recruited to supervise torture and instruct DINA torturers in recognising individual thresholds to reduce the possibility of murder during a torture session. With most medical torturers still benefiting from impunity, Chilean society has to contend with yet another contradiction – that of entrusting their health to doctors whose complicity in torture and murder is still concealed. A list of former medical torturers still practicing their profession has been circulating on the internet, in a bid to expose further DINA atrocities. The literature dealing with medical torturers in the book explicitly portrays how the dictatorship disfigured the profession. Among others, Rebolledo’s book refers to Vittorio Orvieto Tiplisky, who commenced his career with DINA at Tejas Verdes and later participated in the extermination of militants at Cuartel Simon Bolivar; nurse Gladys Calerdon who administered lethal injections to tortured detainees prior to their disappearance and Roberto Lailhacar, who recently admitted to the disposal of six disappeared dictatorship opponents in wells on his property at Curacaví.
Rebolledo has bequeathed another significant treatise to Chile’s recent history. It affirms a previous statement by Chilean author and survivor of Tejas Verdes, Hernan Valdes, who summarised Tejas Verdes thus: “All I knew about evil until then was only caricature, only literature. Now evil has lost all moral reference.” Pinochet’s plea for oblivion decades later served as a reminder of what leftist opposition had struggled against. Oblivion had already been implemented by the dictatorship prior to any public call, as evidenced from the early disappearances from Tejas Verdes, the certainty of impunity which was flaunted time and again at tortured detainees, the illegal adoptions of babies born to detainees in order to eliminate traces of rape in detention centres, the medical practitioners who worked under assumed names, thus separating their roles as torturers from the role assumed within the wider berths of society. The detailed testimony and commentary in this book prove that Tejas Verdes should be at the helm of any detailed research regarding Pinochet’s dictatorship – it is through an understanding of Tejas Verdes as the primary reference to human rights violation that one can comprehend the extended torture network and state complicity during the Chilean dictatorship.