Priest Charged in Chilean Political Murders

A Chilean Catholic priest has been charged with covering up almost 30 deaths during the first few months of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.”It’s good to see that they’re still tracking down people connected to that regime,” said junior Morgan Kerr. “I’m glad that people are still paying attention and doing something about these atrocities that were committed. It’s great that the people that were killed haven’t been forgotten.”

This marks the first time a member of the clergy has been charged with involvement in the abuses that occurred during the regime. The priest was charged along with 11 other military officials in an incident known as the Caravan of Death.

Pinochet took power through a violent coup d’etat on Sept. 11, 1973. The coup overthrew a democratically elected Marxist leader named Salvador Allende. This event has had a major and long lasting effect on Latin Americans.

“Many people were inspired by the leaders of that time,” said Maria Amado, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology. “I became part of generation of strong Latin-Americanists who were looking for justice and equality. Allende was one of those leaders that represented all that.”

Allende’s election as a socialist, in the context of the Cold War, was a disaster for U.S. foreign policy at that time.

“(Allende’s election) gave participation to marginalized groups. It democratized the concept of culture,” in Chile and elsewhere, said Amado.

And while the U.S. government, on paper, was fighting for freedom and democracy in the face of repressive communism, its policies clearly proved otherwise.

During the first months of the Pinochet dictatorship, thousands of leftists and intellectuals were rounded up and detained in torture and concentration camps all around the country.

In October 1973, Pinochet assembled a team of military officers to visit such camps around the country. The group traveled by helicopter to the sites, interrogated prisoners and either ordered, or personally performed, executions on anywhere from 70 to 100 political prisoners. This operation became known as the Caravan of Death.

The priest, Luis Jorquera, was a military chaplain at one of the prisons. He is accused by witnesses of assisting in exhuming the bodies of murdered prisoners and dumping the bodies at sea from an airplane. Jorquera maintains his innocence.

The Caravan of Death has become one of the most poignant examples of the violence that surrounded Pinochet’s bloodthirsty regime. In all, more than 3,000 Chileans were murdered or disappeared.

What is perhaps most disturbing about this entire event, is the unabashed and unwavering support for Pinochet’s coup and murderous regime by the United States government. This fact had a profound effect on people from Mexico to the tip of South America.

“Being under the Western power during the Cold War, it meant that working towards a more just society was seen by the United States as going against their interests,” said Amado. “Which made Latin Americans pay a very high cost. Chile was an example of that.