La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Chile

List of Chile dictatorship victims grows, sparking controversy

Lorenza pizarro victims chile Chile's government has expanded its official list of victims of the Pinochet dictatorship to more than 40,000, but among the new names are victims of torture who later became torturers themselves, as well as a torture victim who fled and later returned to Chile to kill a right-wing leader.

Opposing interests contended this week that such names should be removed from the list.

The new report by the so-called Valech Commission (link in Spanish), in adding more names of recognized victims, has sparked debate over who can claim monetary compensation from the government. Victims are entitled to $256 a month as well as healthcare and other benefits.

The government now recognizes 9,795 more victims of torture or political imprisonment and 30 more people killed during the military regime led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

The dictatorship ruled Chile between 1973 and 1990. The new figures bring the total number of recognized victims during the period to 40,043.

But among those are victims who broke under torture and collaborated with the regime. One, Miguel Estay, became a notorious military torturer known as El Fanta. Another, Luz Arce, also collaborated with the dictatorship after suffering torture. Figures in the victims' movement are demanding that Estay and Acre be removed from the new list.

Lorena Pizarro, leader of a survivors organization, called the inclusion of Estay and Arce "an offense to the victims" (link in Spanish) and said the new Valech report loses legitimacy because of it.

Separately, the right-wing party Independent Democratic Union is protesting the inclusion of Galvarino Apablaza, a torture victim and later guerrilla leader who is wanted in Chile for the assassination of the party's founder, Jaime Guzman, after the return to democracy. Apablaza was granted asylum in Argentina, reports said.

A spokesman for the administration of President Sebastian Pinera -- the first conservative leader elected since the end of the dictatorship -- said the commission was independent and free to make its own findings. The commission sought only to establish who suffered violence or human rights abuses under the regime and did not take into account what a victim might have done later, the government said.

Other questions have been raised about the Valech report. Victims are being named, but what about the torturers and agents of the regime? Many are jailed and face charges for human-rights abuses, but many more remain free, critics said.

"I was tortured, and therefore someone tortured me. Where are those persons?" said Manuel Guerrero Antequera, son of one of Estay's victims (link in Spanish) and a now councilman for the Ñuñoa district of Santiago. "Today they are active in society. The Valech report has no path to justice."


Ghosts of Pinochet regime haunt Chile's president

Pablo Neruda's death to be investigated as Chile exhumes its past

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Lorena Pizarro, leader of a dictatorship survivors movement in Chile, denounced the inclusion of some new names on a list of victims. Credit: El Mostrador

The week in Latin America: Unrest continues in Chile

Chile national strike

Here are stories that made headlines this week in Latin America, and highlights from our coverage of the region by Times reporters and your blogger here at La Plaza:

1 dead in Chile national strike

A two-day national strike in Chile led to hundreds of injuries, more than a thousand arrests and the death of a teenage boy after violent clashes between workers and students and Chilean police. The strike was the latest large-scale demonstration challenging the conservative government of President Sebastian Pinera, Chile's first non-leftist leader since the return to democracy.

What started as a student movement for education reform has grown into calls for a reshaped constitution aimed at what demonstrators call an unequal distribution of wealth in Latin America's most stable economy. Pinera on Friday invited the movement leaders to a dialogue to discuss their demands (link in Spanish). The president's approval ratings have tanked since the demonstrations started.

Casino attack leaves Mexico in mourning

The deadly casino attack in Monterrey on Thursday shocked a nation already too accustomed to narco-related violence. Most of the 52 identified victims were women in their 40s and 50s, demonstrating that gambling in Mexico is a middle-class diversion in a country where the term "terrorism" is now shifting closer to everyday life.

Presidents Barack Obama of the U.S. and Felipe Calderon of Mexico both issued statements condemning the attack, while disdain, sadness, and outrage with the current drug war lit up social networks in Mexico. Read more in recent posts here at La Plaza and in the print version of The Times.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A demonstrator aims a bottle at an armored vehicle in Santiago, Chile, August 25, 2011. Credit: Associated Press

The week in Latin America: Allende suicide confirmed

Allende archive suicide

Here are stories that made top headlines in Latin America this week, and highlights from our coverage of the region by Times reporters and your blogger here at La Plaza:


Salvador Allende's death confirmed as suicide

Nearly four decades after the violent military coup in Chile, results of a judge-ordered autopsy on the remains of ousted President Salvador Allende confirmed that he killed himself and was not slain by soldiers attacking La Moneda, the presidential palace, on Sept. 11, 1973.

The inquest results, which were received with "great peace" by Allende's survivors, put to rest a significant historical mystery of the 20th century and a lingering wound on the Chilean national psyche. Allende was the first democratically elected socialist in Latin America, but his presidency was cut short by the coup that brought to power the brutal U.S.-backed dictatorship in Chile under Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

The death of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, shortly after the coup, is also being investigated in Chile, as well as hundreds of other deaths presumed to be tied to the dictatorship.


Another high-profile corruption case fails in Mexico

An operation targeting officials in Michoacan collapses. Jorge Hank Rhon walks free in Tijuana. Now, the ex-mayor of Cancun is the latest high-profile corruption suspect to be released in Mexico after authorities failed to build a solid case against him, reports The Times.

Gregorio Sanchez, arrested in May, 2010, walked free on Wednesday, but was ordered to wear a tracking bracelet while prosecutors attempt to build another set of charges. Sanchez was campaigning for governor of the state of Quintana Roo at the time of his arrest on suspicion of cartel ties. Supporters claim he was targeted for political reasons, an allegation also raised against the similar failed cases in Tijuana and Michoacan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced in Washington this week a "surgical strike" against La Familia cartel operations north of the border, with 1,985 arrests. The 20-month investigation "stripped La Familia of its manpower" in the U.S., authorities said. La Familia is based in Michoacan.


Buenos Aires mayoral election heading to runoff

The capital of Argentina looks to remain a center-right counterweight against the leftist-populist government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner after mayoral election results in Buenos Aires.

A runoff is scheduled for July 31 between conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri, who won 47% of the vote on July 10, and leftist Fernandez ally Daniel Filmus, who won about 28%. The election results left one rock-pop singer in "disgust," a comment that exposed deep social and class rifts in Buenos Aires.

Fernandez seeks to be re-elected in October.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: An archive image shows the body of Chilean President Salvador Allende being removed from the presidential palace in Santiago on Sept. 11, 1973. Credit:

La Plaza comments switching to Facebook

La Plaza today is switching to a new commenting system.

The system requires commenters to sign in through their Facebook accounts. People without Facebook accounts will not be able to leave comments.

Readers will have the option of posting their La Plaza comments on their Facebook walls, but that's not required.

Readers are welcome to express their opinions about the news -- and about how the new Facebook comments system is working.

Jimmy Orr, the Los Angeles Times managing editor in charge of, discussed our online comments and the Facebook system in greater depth in a March entry to the Readers' Representative Journal.

We hope to see your comments on Facebook.

-- The Foreign Staff of the Los Angeles Times

Chile volcano keeps spewing ash, grounding flights across South America

Chile volcano ap june 12

The Puyehue volcano on the border between Chile and Argentina continued to spew ash over the Andes and Patagonia regions of South America on Tuesday. The eruption is now entering its 11th day and shows no sign of stopping.

Flights were grounded from Argentina to Australia and New Zealand as ash clouds that could harm jet engines blanketed the region and moved west across the South Pacific. Flights were also being canceled in Santiago, Chile's capital (link in Spanish), as well as in Brazil and Uruguay.

The Associated Press said "booming explosives echoed across the Andes" on Monday as ash and lightning rose from the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex, which is in southern Chile just west of the border with Argentina. Activity at the volcano began on June 4. Thousands of nearby residents have been evacuated.

Concerns rose this week that the eruption could harm the region's tourism industry as the high winter ski season approaches, reports said. Here's a fresh video report (in Spanish) on the eruption from the Argentine news source Clarin.

See more photos of the ongoing eruption at our sister blog Framework.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: The Puyehue volcano emits ash and lightning on Sunday. Credit: Associated Press

Pablo Neruda's death is next to be investigated as Chile exhumes its past

This post has been corrected. See the note at bottom for details.

 Pablo Neruda 1971 getty images

Was Pablo Neruda poisoned?

A judge in Chile has opened an investigation into the death four decades ago of the Nobel Prize-winning poet in response to allegations by his former driver that Neruda was poisoned by agents acting for Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The general led the military junta and coup that toppled President Salvador Allende in 1973.

Neruda's estate has long maintained that the poet's death on Sept. 23, 1973 — just 12 days after the Sept. 11 coup — was due to prostate cancer. Yet Neruda's former driver and associate, Manuel Araya, has repeated claims recently that Neruda was assassinated for his activism as a Communist Party member and supporter of Allende, a democratically elected Marxist.

Days before his death, Neruda published an impassioned critique of the coup. Araya told reporters Neruda was probably poisoned to prevent him from traveling to Mexico, where the poet could position himself safely as a vocal opponent to the dictatorship.

Judge Mario Carroza ordered the investigation last week after a request filed by the Communist Party. The investigation could lead to the exhumation of Neruda's body from his grave at his beloved Isla Negra residence (links in Spanish).

The Neruda Foundation repeated its belief last week that Neruda died of cancer. Yet Communist Party members have pointed to press reports from the days after Neruda's death that said the 69-year-old went into "cardiac arrest" on Sept. 23, 1973, after a "calming substance" was injected into his stomach, contradicting the cancer story, the daily La Tercera reported.

Carroza has ordered press reports from the era to be located and examined (links in Spanish).

Neruda's case is the latest rattling of skeletons in Chile's history since the end of the dictatorship in 1990. Last month the government ordered Allende's body exhumed to determine once and for all whether he committed suicide on Sept. 11, 1973, or was assassinated. Read The Times' report on that investigation.

Carroza is also overseeing the Allende case and those of hundreds of other "disappeared" Chileans during the regime. Neruda, in fact, died in the same Santiago clinic in which a former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei, was allegedly poisoned in 1981, also by Pinochet agents.

Chile's current president, Sebastian Pinera, has supported inquiries into extrajudicial killings, disappearances and human-rights violations committed during the military dictatorship. He is the first conservative to be elected president in Chile since military rule ended.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda in 1971. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

[For the Record, 1:50 p.m. June 6: An earlier version of this post had the Chilean dictator Pinochet's first name as Agustin. It is Augusto.]

A growing list of Latin American nations moving to recognize a Palestinian state

Sebastian Pinera Mahmud Abbas gob chile

Joining a widening trend across Latin America, Chile and Paraguay are poised to recognize a Palestinian state based on borders before the 1967 Middle East War, reports in Israel and Latin America said.

In recent weeks, several countries in the region have declared their recognition of a Palestinian state half a world away. Led by the rising global player Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Venezuela have all done so, reports the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The move by these governments to recognize a Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders appears to be an uncoordinated response to requests that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made to Latin American leaders, reports said. "There is no obvious coordination but quite a few Latin American governments are suddenly recognizing the Palestinian state in a very short amount of time," notes the Latin America-focused blog Two Weeks Notice.

On Saturday, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera met one-on-one with Abbas in Brazil during the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff as Brazil's first female president. Abbas attended the inauguration in Brasilia to "thank the presidents" that have recognized the Palestinian state, reported the Chilean daily La Tercera (link in Spanish).

Chile is home to a significant population of about 350,000 mostly Christian Palestinians (link in Spanish). Like many of its neighbors, Chile also has a large Jewish community. A Jewish leader in Chile called the decisions to recognize a Palestinian state "imprudent" (link in Spanish).

Continue reading »

Chile sought U.S. help over 'radicalized' Mapuche Indians

Mapuche wikileaks chile upi

The "increasingly radicalized" Mapuche Indians in Chile became a growing domestic concern for the government of former President Michelle Bachelet, new leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show, prompting Chile at one point to seek help from the United States in investigating whether the indigenous group was receiving funding from "foreign terrorist groups and/or Venezuela."

In a batch of cables from the U.S. Embassy in Santiago released by WikiLeaks and published this week by several websites, the "Mapuche situation" and "Mapuche conflict" clearly worry Chile's government. The Mapuche have sought greater autonomy in recent years over what are claimed as ancestral lands in the Araucania region, about 400 miles south of the capital.

The "low-level conflict" has sometimes resulted in protests, violent confrontations and small sabotage-like attacks against the government and private landowers, the cables said. The indigenous group, Chile's largest, remains mostly marginalized in the broader society.

One leaked cable, dated February 2008, tells of a meeting between U.S. Ambassador Paul Simons and Bachelet's interior minister, Edmundo Perez Yoma, in which officials discussed the possibility that the Mapuche might be receiving aid from the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, or the FARC guerrilla army in Colombia, or even the ETA, the Basque separatist group in Spain.

Continue reading »

Landlocked Bolivia to get gateway to sea in Peru

Evo morales and alan garcia

Peru has decided to give Bolivia access to a Pacific port, allowing its landlocked Andean neighbor a stretch of coastline for the first time in more than 120 years.

Peruvian President Alan García and his Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales, signed an accord last week in the Peruvian port of Ilo that will allow Bolivia eventually to build its own small dock on a parcel of coastline that's 1.38 square miles. Bolivia, landlocked but still operating a navy, lost its Pacific coastline to Chile during the War of the Pacific, in which Chile fought both Peru and Bolivia from 1879 to 1884.

The war is still considered a sore spot in Bolivia, the result often blamed for some of the country's economic troubles. With a strip of sea, Bolivia could open itself more to global trade and markets, as it currently requires an OK from either Peru or Chile to move its exports across land.

Trade between Bolivia and Asian markets is expected to see a boost, a trade news agency said, but the governments did not provide details on when a Bolivian port at Ilo might be completed. García welcomed Morales to Ilo on Oct. 19 for the signing of the pact, which was first agreed upon in 1992 but never implemented.

"It is unjust that Bolivia has no sovereign outlet to the ocean," García said, according to reports. "This is also a Bolivian sea."

The Ilo agreement signals a warming of relations between García and Morales, who often have traded barbs, and a diplomatic jab at Chile, a country still distrusted in Bolivia. The news was not met with cheers in Chile, reports Los Tiempos (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Bolivian President Evo Morales and Peruvian President Alan García in Ilo, Peru, October 19, 2010. Credit: Los Tiempos

35 miners have died in accidents in Chile this year

As of today, Oct. 15, 35 miners have died in accidents in Chile this year, reports the Chilean daily La Tercera (link in Spanish), two more than those rescued in the successful operation this week at the San Jose mine.

The paper cites data from Chile's geology and mining service, noting that the 35 deaths occurred in 32 accidents. In the latest, a miner died Thursday in a fall near Valparaiso.

The figure is a bleak counterpoint to the euphoria felt in Chile and worldwide over the 33 miners' spectacular rescue. La Plaza reported Thursday that dozens more have died in mining accidents across Latin America since 2006.

Meanwhile, La Tercera reported, the second miner rescued from the San Jose mine is undergoing a psychological evaluation. Mario Sepulveda had electrified global viewers with a jubilant "Chile!" cheer after emerging from the rescue capsule. Several miners have already been released from the hospital where they were being evaluated, The Times reports, and more are expected to be sent home today.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City


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