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Chile Deals With Warrants For Pinochet-Era Figures

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Chile Deals With Warrants For Pinochet-Era Figures

Latin America

Chile Deals With Warrants For Pinochet-Era Figures

Chile Deals With Warrants For Pinochet-Era Figures

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A Chilean judge has issued warrants for more than 100 former Chilean soldiers and agents of the National Intelligence Directorate, known as the DINA. Playwright Ariel Dorfman joins us to discuss the warrants and what they mean for those who survived the "dirty war."


A Chilean judge issued arrest warrants for more than 120 former soldiers and agents who worked for Augusto Pinochet's secret police after the general seized power in a coup in 1973. Government reports conclude that more than 2,000 people disappeared during Pinochet's rule, many during campaigns to crush leftist opposition. The charges include torture and murder.

We want to hear from Chileans in the audience today. How important is it to you to pursue these cases? Now, some - some, now 35 years old - can sometimes very serious crimes be forgiven in the interest of reconciliation? Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email:

Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman joins us now from Duke University, where he's a professor of literature and Latin American studies. His many books include "Death of a Maiden," "Widows" and "Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of Augusto Pinochet." And nice to have you on the program with us again.

Professor ARIEL DORFMAN (Literature and Latin American Studies, Duke University; Author): Thank you, Neal. I'm glad to be here with you again.

CONAN: And we have to mention, you have a personal and political interest in this. You worked for Salvador Allende, the president overthrown by General Pinochet, and could easily have been among his victims.

Prof. DORFMAN: Well, you know, let me be personal about this, as well. Among the victims of those who are been indicted, and those victims, there is - there are three or four or five people who I know. And one of them - let me just tell that story, because it's good to put a face on things, you know?

Fernando Ortiz was a friend of mine, a historian in the University of Chile. We would go underneath the trees and talk about all sorts of wonderful things. I knew his wife very, very well. I know his daughter, whose husband was also murdered and his throat was slit by Pinochet's secret police.

Now, this man, in December of 1976, was walking on the street in the Plaza Egana, a very beautiful plaza in Santiago. He was taken into a car, thrown in there and then taken - according to witnesses that we found out later - to a place called the cuartel Simon Bolivar, where he was brutally tortured for many, many, many days. And then, there are witnesses that say that they saw some sacks full of body parts being taken out from there - from that place, from those barracks. And then he was taken to a place that nobody knew about.

We finally found out many, many years later - it was a hill called Cuesta Barriga, where many, many years later, we found pieces of his bones. And so he was able to give a burial to a couple of his bones, you know, as that(ph). During all that time, his wife never knew where he was. There was never any sense of anything, except that he had been disappeared. And I still don't have a place where I can say good-bye to my friend or to many other of my friends who lived in that situation. And I can give several other stories about that man who walked with me under the trees.

The question is then - you asked that question about, do I have a personal stake in this? Yes. I mean, this man is still inside me, and in some sense, I would like justice to be done in relation to the people who murdered him and then threw his bones into a - under a hill and then kept under the ground for 30 years and then covered it up all that time. Covered it up in all senses, you know? Covered it up.

CONAN: And, of course, there are people whose bones have never been found, and perhaps never…

Prof. DORFMAN: Well, there are. In fact, you know, the 2,000 and so - around 1,300, 1,100, I think - we still don't know where they are.

Carmen Bueno, for instance, is an actress who I worked with in Chile in 1972. And she had just finished a film, in fact, in which she was murdered because she had been - in the film, I mean, you know? It was very strange, because then, she stayed on in Chile and she was really murdered. A very beautiful, wonderful actress. We still don't know where her body lies.

So this is a case of - these are not crimes that happened only once. They happened over and over again in the minds of those who remain behind. And they happen over and over again inasmuch as they really do end up corrupted and soiling and polluting the society that allows these things to happen where justice is not done.

CONAN: And it should be pointed out, though, that the majority of these crimes happened in the immediate aftermath of the coup. That was not all. These kinds of things continued to happen throughout the remainder of the, what, 17 years that Augusto Pinochet remained in power.

Prof. DORFMAN: Well, they kept on happening. But also, you know, we have to think of the fact that they happen all the time. They happen, as I said, in the minds of the survivors and of the victims. But also, if you have kidnapped somebody and you are not giving the body back, you're not at least putting a, you know, close in that - give you some closure to that.

Well, kidnapping is a crime that continues to happen. So, it turns out that the body of Carmen Bueno, or the body of so many of the disappeared victims, continues to happen right now. Unless, of course, the army were to indicate where those bodies are buried so at least, the relatives could know where their loved ones are and have some sense of finalizing this, terminating it. You know what I mean?

So, a crime happens forever, and happens in many, many different ways forever, unless those who have done the slaughter are ready to repent on that and help us to reach that closure.

CONAN: And we think two examples like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that happened in South Africa after the end of Apartheid. And, obviously, you don't want to start comparing, this is more horrible than that. Horrible things…

Prof. DORFMAN: No.

CONAN: … happened in South Africa, horrible things happened in Chile, and let's leave it at that. Nevertheless, there was a process by which people came out, admitted their crimes. And there was a way they could be reconciled, Truth and Reconciliation. There has been…

Prof. DORFMAN: True.

CONAN: …no process like that in Chile?

Prof. DORFMAN: Well, there has been. But the South Africans created, under Bishop Tutu and because Mandela was so smart about this, a public process in which those who have committed crimes could ask for - they did not ask for forgiveness because nobody can force you to ask for forgiveness. But they had to recognize what the crime had been, whereas in Chile it has been a constant process of trying to, sort of, take the truth from the army - you know, force the army to tell the truth. And Pinochet died, you know, a couple of years ago without ever telling the truth about what he had done or how it had been done.

So, reconciliation is very, very difficult if the people who have done the terrible things are not willing to recognize that they did them, are not willing to give some sort of relief to their victims. And, especially from my point of view, reconciliation is not possible unless those who have committed crimes say that they're not going to commit those crimes again. Because you can't ask me to forgive and forget.

First of all, I have to know who I have to forgive. I mean, now I know the name of some of these people. Some of these people are - 70 names of these have never appeared before. So, how am I supposed to forgive people? You don't forgive people in general. You forgive people one by one, and in as much as they come to you and say, I'm very sorry for what happened.

You know, when people come to me and say, I'm so sorry for something that I did to you. My tendency - like that, I think the 99 percent of human beings will say, of course, I forgive you. Of course, I understand. I mean, our heart opens with compassion. I have compassion for the perpetrators as I do for the victims in that sense.

CONAN: We're…

Prof. DORFMAN: But this is something we have to think about in our own country. You know what I mean? What's happening here in the United States as well, because we have our own torture victims and we have our own torturers among us. And I've sent a letter to President Obama about that, thanks to Amnesty International.

So, it's something we have to think about. What this does to a country that does not find a process of justice as part of the process of reconciliation.

CONAN: We're talking with Ariel Dorfman at Duke University. We're at 800-989-8255. Email us

And let's go to Adam. Adam calling us from Wisconsin.

ADAM (Caller): Yes. First of all, I'd like to thank you very much for having Ariel Dorfman on. He's a tremendous fighter for human rights. I am a survivor of the Santiago National Soccer Stadium.

I and my ex-wife witnessed the execution of - between five and six hundred people over a four-day period. I testified in 2002 before Judge Guzman. He ordered a documentary reconstruction of the scene of the crime as it was called. It was filmed by a police filming crew. And then, it was put away in a box and nothing happened. I was down there. I've talked to people who were in the resistance. Right now, they know murderers and torturers - they see them on the streets. There's never been an accounting.

I agree with the idea of reconciliation or I would like to call it at least suspended sentence, where you agree not to go to trial if the person confesses before the judge. So that everyone in the community knows the Chilean political establishment, the post-Pinochet establishment, has taken a cowardly course and decided, well, let's not pursue it. Let's reconcile without the truth coming out. And from what I understand, Professor Dorfman, he disagrees with this and I support him on that. There is no truth.

I'm going back to Chile at the end of the year to help dedicate a memorial at the soccer stadium. There's a group working on that. I'm also going to the south of Chile with ex-companeros who confront a major that was in the air force that I saw drag a 15-year-old across the dirt stadium floor underneath the bleachers to be shot. I saw him beating - ordering the beating of people, savagely. He was one of my interrogators. I have a couple of broken ribs. And I intend to confront the man. He's now in the Rotary Club. He flies a Piper Cub. I found out all this information.

Until these people are confronted and dealt with in a public way, and in effect, have to face public shame and moral condemnation for what they did, I don't think there can be reconciliation. The murderers and assassins are walking among us.

CONAN: What do we know? And Adam, thank you for that. Ariel Dorfman, what do we know about these people who have now been named? You mentioned many scores had not been named before.

Prof. DORFMAN: Yes. I want to thank Adam as well for that. And I'm sorry for what he went through in our national stadium. I'd like to say - just one thing I'd like to clarify, that Chile, in fact, has condemned many, many of the murderers. We have many of them in jail. And many of them had been indicted. It's insufficient and there are many other people who haven't.

For instance, one of the people who Judge Montiglio has named as - as being indicted now, has been in fact - is paid by the army for consulting services.

So, the problem is that that when it's all done in secrecy - in other words, when you have a national security state that secures things away, secludes things away - is scared of the citizenry knowing what it is that happened. When there's the idea that there are two sort of citizens, in other words, there a two sort of, really, inhabitants of the land, those who know everything that happened and those who are too, let's say, too irresponsible or not strong or not powerful enough to know - when there's the idea that there are two sort of citizens, we really re sowing the seeds for a lack of democracy and we're sowing the seeds of tyranny.

So we know a lot about many of these people. By the way, some of these people who are being indicted are already in jail at this very moment for other crimes that they already committed.

So that's why we know 60 or 70 new names which will start coming out. And those people, of course, will be shamed. And, of course, by the way, they have not been proven guilty. Many of these may be innocent. I doubt it because the judge in Chile has taken many, many years to find out who these people are. And they will have to, at least, recognize what they did.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Adam.

ADAM: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the phone call.

We're talking with Ariel Dorfman about news today from Chile of indictments. It's not quite the same judicial process there as it is here in the United States. Arrest warrants being issued by a prosecuting judge investigating crimes, some of which happened 35 years ago after the coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende and then happened later in the arraign of Augusto Pinochet, the general who conducted that coup.

And you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Ramone(ph).

RAMONE (Caller): Hi. I'm calling from Virginia. I listen to your program, wonderful program. It's good to bring to the table this kind of situation. According to the - they decided this person - bring to the table and get it prosecute people, that will be so hard to find the truth. You know, in my opinion, it's both - always both sides.

You know, I worked in one side against the (unintelligible) - from the government - I mean from the military. And I'm also from the communist system. Because they are - the young men in those days, I was - 1970, I was 16, with so much hope in my life to get in (unintelligible). But the government, you know, the communist system, you know, they were locking the school. Just wait in long line, just to get a little sack of sugar. Just wheat, you know, just to make a bread. It was so demeaning and so hard what they did bring to us as a human.

Now, if we try one (unintelligible), you know, from the prosecuting who was responsible for this that will be so hard. We will die and we'll never find the truth. And that's my opinion.

It's better to forgive, you know, and especially this person who was talking at you, Ariel.


ROMAN: If he continues with this kind of unkind feeling, you know, for those who abuse his friend. I have relative, they died. They disappeared. You know, I will never know, I mean, what side they were. They disappeared. You know, I was leaving those days in Chile in my hope they will, you know, turn it down, complete turndown, no hope. I was suspecting, you know, sometimes I wish I could make it in my 20 years, or 30 year, you know, and just, or 40 year, I'll be so happy. You know, that's what my hope in my heart. Now, I'm here, I'm 53, listening to this program. In my opinion it's better to lie(ph) for history, you know?


ROMAN: Than prosecute. I know, we always hope to get, you know, the truth.

CONAN: To get justice.

ROMAN: Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. Ariel Dorfman, I wonder how you respond?

Prof. DORFMAN: Well, I mean, you know, there's a lot of things to say. First of all, all that disappeared were opponents to General Augusto Pinochet. There was no disappeared person on the other side, you know, so let's please set that record absolutely straight.

Certainly, during Allende's government, people had to stand in line to get sugar. It's very different to stand in line to sugar, than as Adam did, stand in line to get killed. There are very, very - obviously, there are differences in that sense.

As to whether the truth can be - you know, whether you can get to the truth -yes, in fact you can get to the truth. And we have got to a lot of the truth. In Chile, in fact, there was a truth commission which established the truth regarding all of this. And the truth commission was formed by four opponents of General Pinochet. And four people were sympathizers of General Pinochet. And they reach the conclusions about who had been killed, how they had been killed, without naming any names. So the truth can be received.

As to justice, that's a different question. Because in the process of going towards the transition to democracy, it's a very difficult and complicated process. And very often, you know, if Pinochet was still the commander in chief of the army when we were in our transitioned to the democracy, he was, every day, saying that he would have another 11th of September of 1973. He would give another coup d'e tat if anybody touched even one finger on one of his men. So it was very difficult.

And I think, you know, that we have, in Chile, done everything we can to bring to justice those who have done terrible deeds. Though I think there's still a lot to be done.

CONAN: Ariel…

Prof. DORFMAN: But we still need, you know, to move forward in that sense.

CONAN: Ariel Dorfman, thank you very much for your time.

Prof. DORFMAN: Thank you so much for having me, Neal.

CONAN: Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman joined us from Duke University where he's a professor of literature and Latin American studies.

Tomorrow, Phillip Garrido kept Jaycee Dugard prisoner for 18 years in his backyard. We'll talk about the mistakes and missteps - lessons learned from that abduction case.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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