History of Chile Human Rights

Human Rights Activist, Mother of Bachelet, Dies at 93

SANTIAGO – Ángela Jeria, the mother of former president Michelle Bachelet and a human rights activist died on Thursday. After being tortured and exiled during the dictatorship, Ángela Jeria had dedicated her life to defending human rights in South America. Chile Today takes a look at her life and the influence on her daughter.

Jeria was admitted to the air force hospital in Santiago on Wednesday. Having been in voluntary isolation since the onset of the pandemic, her grandson, Sebastián Dávalos, cared for her in her apartment. 

While studying archaeology, Jeria’s life turned upside down after her husband, an air force general who opposed the coup and defended the constitution, died as result of torture he endured after the junta took power.

Early Life

Ángela Jeria was born in Talca on Aug. 22, 1926. When she was 26 she married Alberto Bachelet with whom she would have two kids, Alberto and Verónica Michelle. From 1948, she worked in the publishing house of the University of Chile and in 1958 she moved to the university’s Finance and Budgeting office.

In 1969, after serving as the director of the Finance and Budgeting office, Ángela Jeria decided to get a degree from the same university. She opted for archaeology, but studies ended abruptly in 1973 when the military junta closed the archaeology department.

Military Dictatorship

Until the coup, her husband, Alberto, was secretary of the Directorate of Distribution and Commerce and became a target because he opposed the overthrow of the government.

He was detained on Sep. 11 in his office but released that same night. Three days later, however, he was apprehended again and tortured by air force cadets, many of whom he knew closely. In October, he was released but detained again in December, tried for treason and sent to prison. He died in March 1974 as result of a heart attack caused by torture.

September 11: It Happened Here

After Alberto’s death, Ángela and Michelle became activists helping victims of the dictatorship. Soon they were brought to one of the worst places in the country, Villa Grimaldi, and tortured by agents of the notorious National Intelligence Directorate (DINA). Jeria told Argentine outlet Clarín that she “was one week locked inside a box, tied up, and given no food.”

In 1975, Jeria left Chile for Australia, the Soviet Union, and East Germany where her daughter studied medicine. During this time she made herself heard globally and in 1977 testified in Washington D.C. on the assassination of Orlando Letelier, an Allende loyal DINA agents killed near the White House.

Back in Chile

In 1979, Jeria could return to Chile, where she immediately helped organize protests and support for human rights organizations. She was detained many times but never tortured as before.

In 1990, democracy returned after long popular struggle, enabling Jeria to return to her studies. But she stopped pursuing a degree to support Michelle’s political career. During Bachelet’s first term, Ángela Jeria took on the duties of first lady, because her daughter was being divorced.

During this time, Jeria also discovered that one of her torturers lived next door. She recognized his voice as both were using the elevator. Confronting him, she said, “I don’t hate you, I think it is horrible what you had to do.”

During the investigation into her husband’s death, she defended air force general Fernando Matthei against accusations he was involved in Bachelet’s torture. She said Matthei was serving in London during the coup and returned to Chile only after Bachelet’s death.

Michelle Bachelet publicly thanked her mother several times for supporting her political career.

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