50 Years After the Coup Human Rights NATIONAL

Chile to search for detainees disappeared during Pinochet years

The Chilean government is embarking on a new search for those disappeared during the Pinochet era, something that President Boric has been advocating since the start of his election campaign. The initiative includes fresh investments in technology, professional personnel, and collaborations with the country’s armed forces. Chile’s Minister of Justice is hopeful that under Boric the program will finally have the financial-backing needed to get the job done.  

The Chilean government is launching a new search program for hundreds of people “disappeared” during the 17-year Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.  

One of the primary planks in Gabriel Boric’s presidential campaign was achieving reconciliation and closure for the disappeared. During his national speech on June 1, he reassured Chileans that his administration is “going to continue searching tirelessly for the disappeared through a National Search Plan.”  

The Ministry of Foreign Relations released a report which details the exact numbers of disappeared persons. The report describes their disappearance as “a product of the serious and systemic human rights violations committed by the military dictatorship between 1973 and 1990.” 

The current list consists of 1,469 people: 1,092 detainees who disappeared and 377 politicians who were executed but their bodies were never released.

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Prior to this report, there were many discrepancies in the number of individuals different national organizations believed were missing. Compiling a unified list was an essential first step, which involved the work of 41 people. These individuals represented relatives of victims, memory sites, study centers, public institutions, services linked to the issue, and others.

From the list of 1,469 individuals (77 female and 1,392 male), only 307 bodies or skeletal remains have been identified. The rest are still missing. The largest number of victims (775) are from the Santiago Metropolitan Region. 

In a recent episode of CNN Chile’s Zero Tolerance, Chile’s Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Marcela Ríos, talked about the government’s plans to follow through on its commitment. She said her department will be collaborating with the country’s armed forces, as their support is essential for this initiative. “We have been informed that in some cases there may still be the possibility of searching land owned by the Armed Forces and it is very important that we be able to do so,” said Ríos.   

As reported by El País, Boric wants to increase the range of technology Chilean officials have access to for this initiative. The Ministry of Justice has also extended the campaign for “A drop of blood for truth and justice.” This campaign aims to take blood samples throughout the country to generate a database of genetic files, which will be used to analyze data that has already been collected. 

Alongside increasing access to technology, Boric’s administration is also working to increase the headcount at the Human Rights Program Unit so the search will have enough dedicated staff.

Of course, Boric’s administration is not the first to search for Pinochet victims. This has been an ongoing effort since 1990, when Pinochet’s reign ended. However, as Ríos explained during the Zero Tolerance episode, “many times what has happened is that the courts have requested that certain procedures be carried out, and they have not been completed as a result of limited budgets.”

When asked about implications for those involved in these disappearances, Ríos said that she thought it was important for the government to obtain testimony from those who played a part but she provided no further details. 

Pinochet was never brought to justice

September 2023 will mark 50 years since the coup in Chile when Augusto Pinochet’s military overthrew President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. Pinochet was named head of the military governing council, but did not assume the title of President until 1974. 

During Pinochet’s reign he pushed to remove his liberal opposition within the country, through acts of tourture and imprisonment. In only the first three years of power his regime arrested 130,000 people.  

Pinochet’s legal challenges with Chilean authorities began in 2000, when he was stripped of his immunity from prosecution. The charges placed on him that year were for human rights abuses, but those were dropped two years later when the court determined that he was mentally incapable of defending himself in court. 

In 2004, the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture issued a report which confirmed 35,000 cases of torture that took place during Pinochet’s regime. 

In 2005, the Chilean Supreme Court removed Pinochet’s immunity and ruled him fit to stand trial for these charges, but he passed away the following year without facing any legal judgment.  

Cesar Cerda, one of the missing Chileans 

In 2019, The Guardian covered the story of Cesar Cerda, a 47-year-old father of three. Cesar was a member of Chile’s Communist Party, and on May 19, 1976 he was arrested as part of the Pinochet dictatorship’s effort to prosecute Communist party leaders. 

Cesar’s daughter and mother were interviewed by reporters at the general cemetery in Santiago, in front of a memorial to those who died or disappeared during the dictatorship. “Where is he? Where’s his body? We’ve spent our lives asking those questions,” said Juana Cerda, Cesar’s 62-year-old daughter. 

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