History of Chile Human Rights

Villa Grimaldi: how a torture center turned into a place for reconciliation

SANTIAGOIn the middle of the Santiago neighborhood of Peñalolen, Villa Grimaldi makes its home, reminding Chileans what September 11 was all about. Inside the building, the museum Parque por la Paz was set up to promote and defend Human Rights, by showing the public about what exactly happened here. 45 years later, Villa Grimaldi still tells a gruesome story.

During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which took place from 1973 until 1990, many human rights were violated. Torture, kidnapping and imprisonment of the opposition to name a few. Over 1,168 centers were built and occupied by members of the armed forces, policemen, torturers, and civilians; doctors, nurses, secretaries, to name a few who worked for the new government. These centers were fundamental for the terror-based government Pinochet implemented during his regime. For the most part, private and public properties adapted for the new government to take in their oppositors. Oppositors, such as political members from the political party Unidad Popular, the party of president Salvador Allende. They were kidnapped, tortured and killed in these centers. Villa Grimaldi was one of them, and probably the most well-known.

From restaurant to prison

The day after September 11th 1973, known to Chile as the Coup or “Golpe de Estado”, the new government, under Augusto Pinochet, began looking for a place to install a big operative center. Once they set their eyes on Villa Grimaldi, serving as a restaurant and vacation home, they pressured and threatened the owners to sell the land. Something they did without hesitation, in order to protect their family. By the end of that year, the repressive activities began taking place as the National Direction Intelligence (DINA) acquired the property.

Manuel Contreras, military colonel in charge of DINA, seized the property to house the Metropolitan Intelligence Brigade (BIM) and named the building the Terranova Cuartel. Still, the Cuartel was more popularly known by its former name, Villa Grimaldi. Here is where one of the most important secret detention, torture and disappearance centers got its base. According to the testimonies, more than 4,500 prisoner came through its doors, where some of them didn’t leave alive, and some remain missing.

Years passed, and when the torture stopped during the final years of the dictatorship, the place got abandoned. It was eventually demolished and sold off to a construction company to become a future housing complex. When news of this came out, citizens of the Permanent Assembly of Peñalolén and La Reina Human Rights, began a campaign to recover Villa Grimaldi. They viewed the possibility of establishing a place of memory, dedicated to promote human rights. After a while, Villa Grimaldi got recovered and opened for the public.

September 11: It Happened Here

Parque de la Paz: Peace in Memory

As the public got a hold of the property thanks to the Housing and Urbanism Ministry, who helped maintain the property as it was, a new corporation was formed around the community of families who were affected by the events in Villa Grimaldi. Parque por la Paz Villa Grimaldi Corporation became a community in charge of maintaining the memory of those still missing, as well as those who were killed and tortured. They came together and built the Parque de la Paz as a museographic project. It was constructed in 1997, using the same facility as the Villa Grimaldi during the regime.

Today it is home to diverse symbolic expressions that call for healing, peace, the coming together of people, and at the same time inform and denounce through its objects about the events that took place there during the years of Pinochet. Monuments such as Jardín de las Rosas, which shows the names of women who were tortured or killed engraved in ceramic plaques. Meanwhile, the Muro de los Nombres represents a room full of objects owned by disappeared detainees. Some architecture has been rebuilt as to what it was during the regime, and other pieces that were donated to Villa Grimaldi have been exhibited in this museum of memory. The park shows contrast between between beautiful fountains and fully kept gardens, versus torture towers and isolation rooms.

Memorizing ´El Golpe´

On Tuesday September 11th, Parque por la Paz Villa Grimaldi Corporation will commemorate with different activities the anniversary of the Coup that happened in 1973. Also those whose human rights were violated during the dictatorship will be commemorated. The Parque por la Paz Villa Grimaldi is now a symbol of historic reference and stands especially to teach and remind everyone about a dark history that took place in Chile. The park serves as a place of memory, a place of teaching, as well as a place to get together, mourn and heal. It is open to the public, and everyone is welcome to come learn and experience why September the 11th is such an important day to Chile. To keep memory alive, is to make sure history is not repeated.

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