CONCEPCIÓN – Fourteen retired Carabineros and three former government officials have been accused of having been involved in the massacre of Laja-San Rosendo. During the notorious killing in 1973, 19 campesinos (peasants) were executed by Chilean Carabineros. The massacre is known as one of the biggest human rights violations in the modern history of Chile.
As Chile is still trying to heal open wounds, left by the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, cases such as the massacre of Laja-San Rosendo serve as a reminder of the systematic human rights violations committed by government officials during those years.
Carlos Aldana, judge at the court of Concepción, claimed nine Carabineros were responsible for the murder of the campesinos in the Bióbió region. Four of them had covered up the killing and one had illegally buried them. The other three government officials are being accused of involvement as they were aware of the execution.
The massacre of Laja-San Rosendo
In the days after the coup d’état, Carabineros in the southern city of Los Angeles received a list of workers and campesinos who had alleged ties to the party of ousted president Salvador Allende.
Between the 13th and the 17th of September, 19 working class Chileans were arrested, some of them as young as 17. Testimonies from family say that those arrested had been tortured and attacked by dogs while being in custody.
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Ordered to get drunk and remain silent
On Independence Night, the evening before the dieciocho National Holiday, the officer in charge of the headquarters received an order to “eliminate the detainees”. A group of Carabineros was selected to perform the execution. They were given alcohol and were ordered to get drunk and to swear that they would never say a word about their crime.
The Carabineros brought rifles, shovels, ropes and alcohol and in the early morning, all detainees were brought to a forest near the river bank of the Laja River near Los Angeles. The Carabineros stopped at an open spot in the woods and dug a pit. In systematic order the detainees were executed at the edge of that pit. Later, the police officers returned to the office to continue with the National Holiday festivities.
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Reburied after discovery
As some bodies that hadn’t fallen into the pit, were dragged in there and covered with sand, and as the whole spot was covered with only branches, they were discovered already a month later. A campesino warned Carabineros in a nearby town that his dogs had found human remains.
The local judge ordered to hide the remains and to not investigate the case. Carabineros dug up the bodies a few days later and reburied them at the local cemetery, after curfew.
Family of the detained, who asked the same day about the whereabouts of their relatives, learned that they had been transferred to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, they received the news that the group of 19 had not been detained, and that there were no records of them ever been detained.
In 1979, when Pinochet was still in power but the violence from the dictatorship had decreased, as most opposition had already fled the country, been killed or decided to lay low, the Archbishopric of Concepción held the Carabineros responsible for the disappearance of the group of 19.
All Carabineros questioned by the judge of Concepción declared that they had delivered the detainees to the headquarters in Los Angeles. Officials had prepared the executioners for a possible interrogation. The case was later closed as it was impossible to penetrate the system of impunity that had been set up by the Chilean Carabineros and military.
In 2010, Carlos Aldana, judge in Concepción, decided to reopen the case after questions from the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared (AFEP). The trial to convict all 17 Chileans accused of involvement is estimated to take years, as evidence has been eliminated throughout the years and all accused are already retired.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.