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I’m a Torture Survivor in a Country Where Torturers Still Run Free

No one can really understand what being tortured means until that fateful moment when you find yourself naked, blindfolded and tied up at the mercy of your captors. Your entire life is confined to that fragile moment when darkness becomes your enemy; yet at the same time the dark is your only ally, a refuge from madness. There is neither past nor future, only the present of screams, fury and impotence when you find yourself defenceless at the mercy of the torturer’s rage and coldness. You never know when he is going to hit, shout, kick, hang, electrocute or kill you. You wait in darkness, disoriented, trying to guess where the next blow will come from, your heart escaping through your dry mouth hoping that your bones will resist the incessant pounding. You just try to stay alive, breathe madly after every electric shock, because you scream so much and so loudly that you feel that even the earth’s entire air supply will not be enough for you. But you keep on screaming amidst an explosion of a thousand colours that burn your flesh and shake you body. You can’t control electricity, you can’t tame electricity, but amidst the bewildering storm of sparks and death rattles you can dream of green unicorns and the first time you made love right by the sea. Then it becomes somewhat easier to dream of the day when no human being would ever torture another human being just because he thinks differently.

Unfortunately today, 30 years later, I’m not sure this will never happen again in my homeland. Because, although for the first time in three decades it has been officially recognized that thousands of Chileans were tortured by the military dictatorship, not a word has been said about bringing those torturers to justice. So, what will prevent them from doing it again?

After a year’s work, a special commission set up by the Chilean government, after pressure from human rights organizations, issued a report about Torture and Political Prison in Chile during the dictatorship that ruled the country between 1973 and 1990. The truth is that it was an open secret that at least 300 thousand Chileans had been detained and tortured during that period, the report only makes official such a reality, although only 35 thousand people came forward to testify before the commission. Many of those who did not testify are still afraid of their memories or simply did not believe in the commission’s work.

The names of thirty-five thousand people tortured have been consigned in the report, but not a single name of any of the torturers is included. We know their names; we know the places where they tortured; we know which branch of the armed forces they belong to–therefore, there is no valid reason whatsoever to withhold their names. It is an offence to the victims of the repression, to all those defenceless men and women, to the 90 children who were tortured, to those who died under torture and to those of us who survived, to keep silent while the torturers laugh while they read the report. Because there is no doubt that they enjoyed what they did, they rejoiced at human suffering, they enjoyed beating people up, frightening people, executing people. No one told me this, I was there, I know they loved crushing bones and raping women of all ages. They loved the power they held over other human beings for 17 years.

The horror of the torture chamber will never go away, the military did not only torture individuals, but also the very soul of our nation. They did not only torture somebody for a few hours or a few days, they destroyed their life forever. It was a crime against mankind and those responsible for this crime must be brought to justice, anything else simply amounts to impunity. It is not enough for the military to admit for the first time that they did indeed torture, because we already knew that. It is not enough either for them to express their sorrow for what happened or ask for forgiveness – which they have never done ­ for the only acceptable path is for justice to be done. Each and every one of those who tortured must be tried and sentenced to prison.

The government has stated that they value the army’s courage for admitting that torture constituted an institutional practice. How can it be courageous to admit the obvious after 30 years of lies? It is shameful on the part of president Ricardo Lagos to issue such a statement. It is also shameful that the government has proposed to compensate torture victims with a life pension of merely 180 dollars a month. Pain cannot be measured in monetary terms, however, the meagre figure offends rather than compensates for 30 years of suffering. It is even more offensive for the minister for finance to point out that these pensions will cost the government 60 million dollars a year and this will imply “painful budget readjustments”. Or, as the president did, to state that with this amount of resources in 10 years the government could build a brand new highway. So, not only were we tortured, but we are made to feel guilty of the fact that we will receive money depriving our countrymen of a new highway!

Why not compare these 60 million dollars a year with the military budget? The Navy is acquiring 5 new warships from Holland; the Air Force is getting new F-16 from the United States. Are these war machines more important than helping torture victims whose lives were destroyed by the same people that will use them?

The fact is that the report loses a substantial and fundamental part of its historical validity if it reduces compensation to financial help, even if the announced pensions are eventually raised by parliament. The only true and acceptable compensation for torture victims is justice.

TITO TRICOT is a Sociologist and Director of Center For Intercultural Studies (ILWEN) in Santiago, Chile. He can be reached at: tricot@ilwen.cl

 

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