Stories still emerge of the horrors after Chile’s coup
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The marine commander gave an order to Chief Petty Officer Pienovi, who moments before had obeyed an order to help send his own wife to a torture center.
“Take her!” he demanded — referring to the couple’s frantic and shouting 9-year old child. And so he did, the daughter now recalls, raping his own child on the spot.
Forty-five years after the Chilean coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, there are still stories emerging of the horrors that followed the Sept. 11, 1973, overthrow of Marxist President Salvador Allende.
Many accounts have come from the testimony of soldiers prosecuted for human rights violations, and others from those who endured kidnapping and torture, from those who watched the murder of friends. But other memories have remained repressed, rarely shared, such as those of children abused in their own homes by parents who were agents of the dictatorship.
That repression is still stamped on the mind of Vittoria E Natto, a 54-year-old teacher who uses that pseudonym to write and speak about her history. A strong noise, the sight of a soldier, still can shake her.
“Even today, I see a uniform and I freeze,” she told The Associated Press.
The coup set off a campaign of repression against suspected leftists across Chile, with tens of thousands rounded up and tortured, often raped. The navy even took over several private vessels to help hold the sudden wave of prisoners. Among them was a ship known as the Lebu that held hundreds of captives at a time.
One of those on the black lists of suspected leftists was Vittoria’s mother, Matilde. Her husband — who had been a member of naval intelligence — was summoned by superiors. He later recounted the conversation to his daughter:
“If you are not capable of maintaining order, that’s treason,” he said he was told. “So either all of you will go to the Lebu tonight or we will do what must be done.”
Vittoria said her mother was no millitant, but had worked with left-leaning Catholics to collect food for the poor, and had organized Masses in her apartment with leftist priests, a class of person often targeted by the dictatorship.
Vittoria’s 9th birthday fell that Sept. 22, and when she heard a knock on the door, she thought someone was bringing a late-night present.
Instead, two armed marines entered and pointed guns at her.
They shouted for her mother, and Vittoria watched her father hand Matilde over to them. The child began to shout and kick, angering the officer overseeing the arrest. “Take her!” he shouted to Pienovi. And he did, she recalls with tearful eyes.
Many prisoners of the dictatorship, which continued until 1990, suffered sustained and barbaric sexual assaults, sometimes including animals. Vittoria says her mother received “special treatment:” Because her husband was in the service, she was allowed to go home two days after being raped by three officers.
“The woman they returned was a broken woman, changed, totally destroyed, totally destroyed, devastated. Me too. Me too,” she recalled.
For a long time, she said, nobody spoke of those days, though nine years later, Vittoria threw her father out of the house. For 20 years, neither mother nor daughter sought psychiatric help. The memories were an emotionally charged jumble.
Then in 1998, she was told that Pinochet had been arrested in Britain on a Spanish warrant for human rights violations.
“I remembered everything at a stroke,” she said. It set off a wave of memories that sent her into depression and eventually led her to seek medical help.
She married, had two children and divorced. Her mother came to live again with her. Today she’s a teacher and has made contact with several groups of victims of the dictatorship through social media, though she has stopped attending the meetings of some.
“It’s powerful, strange for them,” she said, referring to people who were victimized by military men like her father. “It’s strange for me too, because I am from the other side, but not from the other side. I’m from no side at all. I’m from no side: I’m the daughter, but I disagree with what my father did.”
The father retired after rising to the rank of lieutenant commander and died in 2006. Unlike scores of other former military officers, he was never prosecuted for abuses committed under the dictatorship.
Officials say more than 3,065 suspected leftists were killed under the dictatorship, and many their bodies were never recovered. As of this month, 174 people — most former soldiers — have been sentenced for abuses and hundreds more have been charged.
Among those not counted in those statistics are people like Vittoria and her mother.