Unfulfilled expectations linger 30 years after report on Pinochet-era crimes

By Sebastian Silva

Santiago, Mar 4 (efe-epa).- The Chilean state apologized 30 years ago for the brutal repression of suspected political opponents during Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship and spearheaded a process of democratic transition and national reconciliation, although rights organizations say key recommendations of a truth commission’s report on that era have gone unfulfilled.

On March 4, 1991, the country’s first president after the restoration of democracy, Patricio Aylwin, delivered an impassioned, nationally televised address presenting key aspects of the so-called “Rettig Report,” which for the first time officially recognized systemic, dictatorship-era human rights violations perpetrated by state agents.

During that same address, he said all of Chilean society bore responsible for those violations, either by action or omission, and asked forgiveness of the relatives of Pinochet’s victims in the name of the Chilean state.

Aylwin also called on the armed forces and “forces of order” to make “gestures of recognition of the pain caused and cooperate in diminishing it.”

The report was the work of a truth commission chaired by Raul Rettig, an ambassador to Brazil during the 1970-1973 administration of socialist President Salvador Allende, whose government was toppled in a United States-backed Sept. 11, 1973 coup.

Created on April 25, 1990, in less than a year the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation compiled testimony and other evidence that helped bring the dictatorship’s atrocities to light.

The commission detailed 3,920 cases of individuals – the vast majority of them political dissidents – who were tortured to death, assassinated or forcibly “disappeared” by state security agents.

But 30 years later, different Chilean organizations say unfulfilled expectations continue to surround the report and its recommendations.

One pending issue has been the state’s failure to carry out the security force reforms suggested in the report, particularly in light of police actions to quell a recent wave of anti-government protests that the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say constituted excessive use of force.

The three-volume Rettig Report is important because of its official acknowledgment of rights violations committed by state agents, the president of Chile’s Human Rights Commission, Carlos Margotta, told Efe.

He added that until then “agents of the dictatorship and the armed forces as a whole” had denied the very existence of those crimes.

But a chapter in the report titled “Recommendations” has been largely ignored ever since it was first published on Feb. 8, 1991, Margotta said.

In its bid to ensure the dictatorship’s crimes would never be repeated, the Rettig Commission, among other things, called for a complete restructuring of the armed forces and other security agencies to guarantee respect for human rights and a thorough overhaul of the judiciary.

The idea was for the army and other branches of the state apparatus to “abandon the National Security Doctrine that underpinned the policy of eradicating political dissent,” and to reform a judicial branch “that acted as an accomplice by not fulfilling its duty and by safeguarding impunity,” Margotta said.

He added that the failure to undertake these transformations partly explains the rights violations the Carabineros militarized national police force has committed against protesters since October 2019.

The information contained in the Rettig Report also has served as a key source for the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, located in the heart of the Chilean capital, the president of that museum’s foundation, Maria Luis Sepulveda, told Efe.

“The purpose of our work is to (ensure) that the collective memory of Chile society never forgets what happened,” Sepulveda said. “So that we learn to coexist, to respect one another in our dignity as human beings.”

The Rettig Report was never properly discussed publicly, according to Sepulveda, who said that a month after it came to light it was “buried by the circumstances of that era.”

She recalled that Sen. Jaime Guzman, a close adviser of Pinochet and his dictatorship who played a key role in drafting the 1980 Chilean Constitution, was assassinated in April 1991, noting that his murder at the hands of a communist urban guerrilla group brought an abrupt end to public debate on the Rettig Report.

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