Written by Caitlin
Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano once said, “The purpose of torture is not getting information. It's spreading fear.” In Chile in 1973 after the coup d’état, General Augusto Pinochet took power as a military dictator. He was strongly against Marxism and Communism, and he wanted power for himself. At the beginning of his rule, Chile flourished, but soon went into a downward economic spiral. Pinochet was afraid of his power being taken away from him, so he used random arrests, disappearances, and torture as a strategy to spread fear amongst Chileans in order to keep them under his control.
The Desaparecidos, or disappeared people, were citizens from Pinochet’s opposing political parties along with anyone who may have seemed like a threat. Pinochet’s military junta in Chile hunted down these people while he was in power from 1973-1990 after the coup. About 40,000 people, or about 1 in 100 Chileans, disappeared during this time to be tortured or killed in Pinochet’s torture facilities. The disappearances were used as a tactic to control Chilean people through terror. Some desaparecidos are still being searched for to this day.
President Aylwin created the Rettig commission to gather more information about the human rights violations under Pinochet at the end of his rule. Their findings were released in the Rettig Report in 1991. Its focus was on the people who committed the crimes of capturing, torturing, or killing political prisoners. There were 76 agents found guilty of these crimes and 67 of them were convicted. This report helped Chileans receive some closure and feel more safe and secure in their home country.
Much later in 2004, the Valech Commission wrote the Valech Report under the instruction of Chilean president Ricardo Lagos. The report documented the people who were abducted, tortured, or killed during Pinochet’s rule. It recorded the victims of human rights violations in order to provide them and their families with financial compensation for the damage that had been done. The creation of the commissions and the proposal of the Valech Report marked the end on Pinochet’s junta military rule.
Isabel Allende strongly showed each of these things in her novel, The House of Spirits. They were the most evident when Alba was taken in the middle of the night, making her one of the many disappeared people. “[Esteban Trueba] saw them push her out and take her at gunpoint to the drawing room…” (401). About a dozen armed men broke into their home one night and ransacked it for any evidence they could find. Alba was brought to one of the torture facilities where she was locked up and tortured along with many other political prisoners. “She tried to keep track of the number of prisoners, but it was almost impossible. Ana Díaz thought there were close to two hundred” (411). These prisoners were all locked in cells and tortured on a daily basis. There were many examples in the text of various types of torture, such as rape, electric shock, and beatings. “... [She] kept repeating a monumental no while they beat her, manhandled her, pulled off her blouse, and she could no longer think, she could only say no, no, and no and calculate how much longer she could resist before her strength gave out, not knowing this was only the beginning...” (407). There were many points when Alba thought she had run out of strength to keep living, but eventually she was able to pull herself through it with help from Ana Díaz, her grandmother’s spirit, and Tránsito Soto. Alba was one of the very lucky political prisoners who managed to make it out alive and without too much physical damage. She would have been one of the people that the Valech Report helped provide financial aid or health care to in order to compensate for her injuries. The Rettig Report was put in place so her torturers, such as Esteban García, would be held accountable for their actions and crimes against her and the thousands of other prisoners taken under Pinochet’s rule.
Many other countries in Latin America besides Chile experienced the force of dictators throughout the century. Fortunately, there comes a time when their rule comes to an end. Pinochet was eventually forced to step down from power and was arrested for all of his wrongdoings. The Archives of Terror, which were discovered in Paraguay in 1992, helped provide evidence of the tortures and killings across South America. The archives confirmed that anyone said to be an enemy of any dictatorship were kidnapped, tortured, or killed. These archives also helped increase recognition of these crimes in order to prevent them from happening again in the future.