Chilean dictator Pinochet covered up 1986 burning of activists, report shows
Declassified US documents indicate Pinochet suppressed police report that fingered military officers in burning alive of Rodrigo Rojas and Carmen Quintana
Jonathan Franklin and agencies in Santiago
Friday 31 July 2015
Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet buried a police report which accused military officers of burning two pro-democracy activists alive, according to newly declassified US government documents.
The documents, published on Friday by the Washington-based National Security Archive, show that Pinochet rejected a police report which identified army units that doused Rodrigo Rojas and Carmen Quintana with gasoline and set them ablaze.
Rojas, a US resident, died in the 1986 attack, while Quintana was disfigured by burns that affected 63% of her body.
After nearly three decades, 12 ex-military officers have been arrested over the attack after former military conscript Fernando Guzmán changed his previous testimony.
Earlier this week a second retired soldier, Pedro Franco Rivas, also recanted his original testimony.
Official accounts had long held that the two victims accidentally set themselves ablaze, but Guzmán said the officers deliberately set the two on fire and then abandoned them in a ditch on the outskirts of the capital.
According to the documents published on Friday, an investigation by Chilean police at the time found that an army patrol was involved in the burning of the two youths, but Pinochet buried the findings.
“According to [name redacted], an investigation by the Chilean intelligence service has fingered Army personnel as clearly involved,” a 1986 secret briefing for the US president, Ronald Reagan, said.
“Nevertheless, the Chilean government, following Pinochet’s lead, is trying to publicly brand Rojas and Carmen Quintana … as terrorists, supposedly victims of their own molotov cocktails.“
A report for the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) dated 26 August 1986 said that intense pressure was put on witnesses to maintain the official version of events.
“One eyewitness was briefly kidnapped, blindfolded and threatened if he did not change his testimony,” read the report. “Members of the government will quite likely continue to intimidate the witnesses in order to persuade them to change their testimony, thereby clearing regime of any responsibility for the crime.”
The heavily redacted document has never been fully released, leading historians and writers to petition for a special declassification.
“Pinochet was intervening to protect his men from the Pandora’s box of a successful human rights prosecution,” argued Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File, who works at the National Security Archive. “Full declassification of this document would reveal the contours of the cover-up, and how the military manipulated and coerced the judicial system to sustain impunity.”
On Tuesday, Quintana filed a civil lawsuit against Pinochet’s widow, Lucia Uriarte, who earlier had mocked Quintana saying: “Why does this girl so complain? She was hardly burned.”
Quintana’s call to break the Chilean army’s ongoing “pact of silence” regarding human rights abuses has ignited a huge debate in Chile. “It is the moment for the armed forces to break with their past, to come clean and hand over all those responsible [in human rights crimes],” said Quintana. “Not just the [low-level] conscripts and those who carried out the orders.”
On Thursday, Quintana met Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet,
who later reiterated her call for army commanders to end the “pact of silence” to protect human rights abusers in the ranks.
Within hours of Bachelet’s call, the Chilean army issued a communique in which it announced “a promise to collaborate with justice” and ejected two military officers connected to the Rojas murder.