Santiago, Chile — Hundreds of former military draftees rallying outside Chile’s presidential palace were asked Sunday to come forward and reveal crimes they committed and witnessed during Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
The draftees have long feared that if they name names and reveal where bodies are buried, they will face prosecution by the courts or retaliation by those who ordered them to torture and kill.
But now the information they once promised to carry to their graves has become both a heavy psychological burden and a bargaining chip. By offering confessions, some of these now-aging men believe they can improve their chances of getting government pensions and mental health care.
“Perhaps today is the day when the moment has come, for us to describe what we saw and what we suffered inside the military bases, the things that we witnessed and that we did,” said Fernando Mellado, who leads the Santiago chapter of the Former Soldiers of 1973.
Mellado told his fellow former soldiers that he’s made little progress with lawmakers as he lobbies for military draftees to be recognized as victims of the dictatorship, in part because no one understands what they went through.
“Our human rights were also violated,” he declared. “The moment has come for former military draftees to tell our wives, our families, the politicians, the society, the country and the whole world about the brutalities they subjected us to. I believe the moment has come for us to speak, for our personal redemption.”
Mellado has been working with similar groups across Chile to figure out whether and how to turn over the information. He urged those in the crowd to provide their evidence to him, and promised to protect their anonymity.
Of the 8,000 people drafted as teenagers from Santiago alone in the tumultuous year when Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende’s government and cemented his hold on power, Mellado believes “between 20 and 30 percent are willing to talk.”
A small crowd among the former draftees was inspired enough by Mellado’s call to immediately approach Associated Press journalists at the rally.
“They made me torture — I am a torturer — because they threatened me that if I didn’t torture, they would kill me,” volunteered Jorge Acevedo. He said several prisoners died when he applied electricity during torture sessions, and that their bodies may have been dumped in abandoned mines at the Cerro Chena prisoner camp.
Chilean security forces killed 3,186 people during the dictatorship, including 1,197 who were made to disappear, according to an official count.
In nearly two decades of democracy since then, less than 8 percent of the disappeared have been found, said Viviana Diaz of the Assembly of Family Members of the Disappeared Detainees.