SANTIAGO – Today, on September 30, it is exactly 45 years ago that Pinochet send his notorious death squad, who got the name the Caravan of Death, started their bloody campaign. While members of the death squad keep getting convicted, the group of militaries became symbolic for the human rights violations under Augusto Pinochet.
The Caravan of Death was a Chilean military squad that carried out, or ordered, a series of executions against political opponents. Most of these opponents were members of the democratically elected party Unidad Popular (UP), which was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup d’etat lead by General Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973.
Three weeks later, on September 30th, the Caravan of Death began traveling throughout the country, executing political prisoners and burying their corpses in secret. For this reason the exact number of assassinations is unknown, but, according to NGO memoria y justicia, the Caravan of Death killed a total of 97 prisoners, 26 in the south and 71 in the north.
Amnesty for those involved
As the story goes, Pinochet unleashed the squad after finding out that commanders in provinces were being soft on the prisoners and claimed that extremists would receive no mercy; and his direct order to General Sergio Arellano Stark, commander of the squad, was to unify “criteria in the administration of justice to prisoners.”
In 1978, after Arellano had retired, Pinochet established an amnesty law which protected any officer involved in the military coup from being prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
Two decades later, in 1999, in an attempt to bypass the amnesty law, a supreme court judge ruled that missing bodies would be considered as unresolved kidnappings and thus prosecuted both Pinochet and Arellano and sentenced them to house arrest.
“To inflict the maximum pain instead of instant death”
Pinochet died in 2006, while still being prosecuted for human rights violations, one of the biggest charges being his direct involvement with the Caravan of Death.
In 2008, Arellano was sentenced to six years in prison for his involvement in the execution of 14 prisoners in Antofagasta. Regarding that case, a high official commander from Antofagasta region at the time, General Joaquin Lagos Osorio, stated on television that he was ashamed of the state in which the prisoners’ bodies were left, and that this is why they weren’t returned to their families. He described the gruesome ways in which the executions were committed, many times with the intent “to inflict the maximum pain instead of instant death.”
Ultimately, over 3,000 people were killed or disappeared during Pinochet’s dictatorship, most during the first year of his 17-year reign.
Nicolás is a Bolivian social communications student. He currently lives in Santiago while he attends Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He has contributed on a number of Bolivian newspapers and also on many online magazines.