Chile converts torture chamber to human rights academy

By Sebastian Silva

Santiago, May 18 (EFE).- Jorge Silva Huerta won’t ever forget the day in March 1975 when henchmen of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s regime took him to a seaside vacation camp-turned torture center south of the Chilean port city of San Antonio.

Only 22 on the occasion of his second arrest since the Sept. 11, 1973, coup that toppled socialist President Salvador Allende and ushered in 17 years of military rule, Silva was targeted for his membership in the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR).

He was bundled into a Chevrolet C10 pick-up truck and taken to the Rocas de Santo Domingo site, one of 16 vacation spots built by the Allende government to serve the needs of working-class people.

Soon after seizing power, Pinochet put the workers’ resorts at the disposal of DINA, the secret police, and Rocas de Santo Domingo became a clandestine prison under the auspices of the army’s Tejas Verdes Regiment.

Silva would spend 34 days at the site, subjected to torture and marathon interrogations about a weapon he says he never had.

“From here we could emerge free or dead,” he tells EFE sitting on the foundations of one of the old holiday bungalows. “We will remember this all our lives, today we are happy to recover this place.”

The Chilean government formally took possession of Rocas de Santo Domingo this week as part of President Gabriel Boric’s Historical Memory initiative.

“This is a milestone of recovery of this property that was administered for many years by the army. A site where horrific things happened, a center of detention, torture, and experimentation in the violation of human rights,” the minister of the national patrimony, Javiera Toro, said.

As was the case with another Pinochet-era dungeon in the northern region of Antofagasta, the Santo Domingo facility will become a memorial to the victims with an educational mission.

“When we remember, not only do we pay a debt to the past, the victims, and survivors, but also to society,” Toro said. “Today we face new threats to democracy, in Chile and in the world, and to say ‘never again’ and promote human rights is also to give back to current and future generations the rights to construct their own future.”

Ana Becerra, another MIR member who was held prisoner at Santo Domingo and is now a prominent human rights advocate, will be part of the transformation of the former jail into a place of learning.

Arrested at 17, Becerra spent a month at Santo Domingo before being transferred to the regime’s most famous torture center, Villa Grimaldi in Santiago.

“This site will be converted into a school of human rights, that is our dream and that is what will be,” she said on accepting from Toro the concession for the San Antonio Memory Foundation to manage the facility.

“This is not only death. This is a site that had joy. It had its dark part, but will be reborn with the two parts together: the history of the site and the laughter of the young people in the school of human rights,” Becerra said to applause. EFE ssb/dr

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