Remember 1973. Hold Torturers Accountable.

By Kalaya’an Mendoza, Field Organizer for Amnesty Western Region

On July 15th a group of activists from Amnesty International USA and Survivors of Torture International held a protest on board the Chilean vessel “La Esmeralda” as it docked in San Diego Harbor.

Activist Hannah Bogen in front of La Esmeralda in San Diego Harbor.

In 1973, after former Chilean General Augusto Pinochet seized power in a military coup, the ship served as an interrogation center for political prisoners. Survivors described torture that included beatings, electric shocks and sexual assault.

Currently, the Esmeralda is traveling around the Americas acting as a roving ambassador for Chile on a mission of “goodwill.” The crew invited happy families, wide-eyed tourists and, unbeknownst to them, a small group of human rights activists ready to unfurl signs on board that read: “Remember 1973. Hold Torturers Accountable.”

This protest follows the recent decision by a Chilean judge to drop charges against most of those implicated in the historic case of a priest believed to have died aboard the Esmeralda in 1973. Father Michael Woodward was arrested in September of that year, and taken to the Esmeralda, where he was interrogated and tortured. He was pronounced dead in a naval hospital six days after his arrest, but his body has never been recovered.

Twenty-nine former naval and police officials were initially indicted in the case. Last week, charges were dropped against nineteen of them. The remaining former low-ranking officials facing charges are now being prosecuted only for Father Woodward’s abduction, rather than for his torture and disappearance, which are crimes under international law. Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Deputy For the Americas, sums it up:

“It is bitterly ironic that the Esmeralda is still going from international port to international port as a so-called ambassador for Chile, even as those involved in this infamous case of torture below its decks seem to be getting away with murder.”

Amnesty activists boarded the ship on behalf of the survivors and victims of the torture that was committed beneath its decks over 30 years ago.  We wanted to remind the Chilean government of their responsibility to ensure that all those responsible for these heinous crimes, including those who gave the orders, are brought to justice.

No matter where “La Esmeralda” goes, we shall follow.

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2 thoughts on “Remember 1973. Hold Torturers Accountable.

  1. I’ve just turned 49 Years old this year, I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1974 as a 12 year old American girl a while later the "Military Junta”, took over the country and for the first time I realized the difference between being guilty until proven innocent and innocent until proven guilty. I was a child yet I could feel the fear all around me. Yet this was a civilized society!
    While going to school one rainy morning my Uncle and I found a burnt cadaver still smoking, a smell like barbecue chicken thick in the air. We could not tell if this poor soul was male or female all that was left was some burlap obviously used to transport the person there and set afire under it’s torso. A women whose house we were facing said “ I have been calling the police since 4am this morning the screams were terrible, they do not come on purpose so that the children will see this retched soul. What kind of people have we become, Why? “I can never forget that question or this memory and as much as I loved Argentina and still do, I have never retuned. When the 16 year old brother of my classmate disappeared ( the word that was used often ) everyone new he had become one of “them”. What dose a young boy into soccer and girls have to do with politics? I knew him and there was nothing political about him. He was a child, long and gangly and not to offend his memory or family, he was not that clever, just an average boy. Yet no one said a word, all to afraid of what might happen to themselves. Reading this article about "La Esmeralda” brings it all back and I am still sick to my stomach. The Junta was not held accountable, Pinochet lived to a ripe old age. All in all they got away with the most horrendous crimes of Unimaginable Torture . But to use this vessel as an Ambassador for Chile is so outrages it is almost surreal and in very bad taste. If Father Michael Woodward has tortured there think of how many others. I cannot imagine what this must do to the families and in my opinion its just another way for the Chilean government to let it’s people know that they have the power and can do what they like at any time which is a form of Social Torture. to this day my parents are unset with me for even receiving e-mails like this in fear that some one will get hold of the list and do us harm. Brave are these Amnesty Activist protestors who boarded the vessel on behalf of the families of victims and how painful those memories to the Victims that were able to survive.
    I had always hoped over the years that some day these monsters like Pinochet and his henchmen would be held accountable for there actions and its always the same story all over South America and probably the World they slap the wrist of a few low ranking officers and then do what they please and life goes on. The people have become used to the fact that they must fear there governments instead of the Governments fearing the displeasure of the people. Will this ever change in my life time?
    Thank you Amnesty International for telling it like it truly is, and to it’s volunteers your bravery puts me to shame but also inspires me God Speed.

  2. I’ve just turned 49 Years old this year, I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1974 as a 12 year old American girl a while later the “Military Junta”, took over the country and for the first time I realized the difference between being guilty until proven innocent and innocent until proven guilty. I was a child yet I could feel the fear all around me. Yet this was a civilized society!
    While going to school one rainy morning my Uncle and I found a burnt cadaver still smoking, a smell like barbecue chicken thick in the air. We could not tell if this poor soul was male or female all that was left was some burlap obviously used to transport the person there and set afire under it’s torso. A women whose house we were facing said “ I have been calling the police since 4am this morning the screams were terrible, they do not come on purpose so that the children will see this retched soul. What kind of people have we become, Why? “I can never forget that question or this memory and as much as I loved Argentina and still do, I have never retuned. When the 16 year old brother of my classmate disappeared ( the word that was used often ) everyone new he had become one of “them”. What dose a young boy into soccer and girls have to do with politics? I knew him and there was nothing political about him. He was a child, long and gangly and not to offend his memory or family, he was not that clever, just an average boy. Yet no one said a word, all to afraid of what might happen to themselves. Reading this article about “La Esmeralda” brings it all back and I am still sick to my stomach. The Junta was not held accountable, Pinochet lived to a ripe old age. All in all they got away with the most horrendous crimes of Unimaginable Torture . But to use this vessel as an Ambassador for Chile is so outrages it is almost surreal and in very bad taste. If Father Michael Woodward has tortured there think of how many others. I cannot imagine what this must do to the families and in my opinion its just another way for the Chilean government to let it’s people know that they have the power and can do what they like at any time which is a form of Social Torture. to this day my parents are unset with me for even receiving e-mails like this in fear that some one will get hold of the list and do us harm. Brave are these Amnesty Activist protestors who boarded the vessel on behalf of the families of victims and how painful those memories to the Victims that were able to survive.
    I had always hoped over the years that some day these monsters like Pinochet and his henchmen would be held accountable for there actions and its always the same story all over South America and probably the World they slap the wrist of a few low ranking officers and then do what they please and life goes on. The people have become used to the fact that they must fear there governments instead of the Governments fearing the displeasure of the people. Will this ever change in my life time?
    Thank you Amnesty International for telling it like it truly is, and to it’s volunteers your bravery puts me to shame but also inspires me God Speed.