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Chile honors victims of Pinochet coup

September 14, 2015

Activists have demanded justice for victims of Pinochet's regime and closure of a special "luxury" prison for ex-officials. The South American country is still struggling to bring ex-officials to justice.

Chile Demonstrationen zum Pinochet Putsch Jahrestag
Image: Getty Images/AFP/C. Reyes

Chileans took to the streets Sunday to honor the victims of the Pinochet regime and demand the repeal of laws set during the period of the 1973-1990 dictatorship.

"The wound remains open because the truth has not been told, and justice has not been served," 52-year-old Tania Nunez, who marched with a poster of some of the more than 3,200 people -- mostly leftist activists -- slain during the dictatorship, told the AFP news agency.

It was on September 11, 1973 that Chile's military toppled the elected socialist government of president Salvador Allende.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 42nd anniversary of Chile's military coup, President Michelle Bachelet said on Friday that the truth must still be told and justice still needs to be served for the thousands of victims.

"We need to tear down the walls of silence that block us from advancing ... I will make sure justice is the same for all. It's a personal commitment," said Bachelet, who was held herself and forced into exile under the military regime.

Her father, Air Force Gen. Alberto Bachelet, died in 1974 following torture in prison for opposing the coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who died in 2006 without ever answering for his brutal legacy.

'A brutal legacy'

Chile Augusto Pinochet
Gen. Augusto Pinochet died in 2006 without ever facing trial, despite a string of international attempts to bring him to justice.Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Sunday's procession made its way by La Moneda, the presidential palace that was bombed by air force jets during the coup, and ended at a cemetery where regime victims are buried.

Recordings of ousted leader Salvador Allende's speeches blared Sunday from loudspeakers carried by the marchers.

Demonstrator Jose Dalquin, who at 24 was born after Pinochet left office, said he was outraged by the "pact of silence" between Chilean influential conservatives and the military that "prevents us from obtaining justice."

While the military denies any such "pact," outrage is mounting over Punta Peuco, a special prison built 20 years ago for those convicted of crimes during the dictatorship.

Nestled in a bucolic setting with sweeping views over the snowcapped Andes, the prison currently holds 104 ex-members of Pinochet's security forces serving time for kidnap, torture and murder. The facility offers the inmates individual rooms, tennis courts, terraces and barbecues.

Visits are allowed all day long inside the cells -- a level of privacy the rest of Chile's 54,000 inmates can only dream of, in a country whose prisons are 70 percent above capacity.

"Punta Peuco should vanish, there should not be special jails for assassins," 54-year-old Patricia Abarca, who shed tears of anger, told AFP.

The government of President Bachelet denies that it is a "luxury" prison, as critics charge, and said that plans are underway to close the site.

The coup anniversary is often marred by violence. This year, vandals set up fiery barricades overnight, and police responded with water cannon and tear gas. At least one police officer was injured by a bullet that grazed his ankle. But officials say this year's incidents have been less violent than past anniversaries.

jar/bw (AP, AFP)