Chile: Where The Rescued Now Live,
Remember the "Disappeared"
How the safe recovery of 33 miners may help heal a nation

Frederic A. Moritz

When Chile Became a Battleground
Between the CIA and the KGB

Executed American Journalist
Charles Horman, 1942-1973

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every
man is a piece of the continent, a part of the
main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory
were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or
of thine own were: any man's death diminishes
me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bells
tolls; it tolls for thee."

John Donne
1624 (published)


The YouTube  portrayal above is a vivid account of  the events which left unknown numbers of  summarily executed Chileans tossed in dark copper mines.  This video tells much of the indirect America involvement in the military coup which overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973.

Copiapó, where the 33 miners were rescued in October, 2010, was one area where Chile's military carried out summary executions -- then often hid the bodies.

Ironically it was an American driller from Afghanistan who helped make the rescue -- where American policy had once consigned thousands to their deaths.

Conservative but philathropic President Sebastián Piñera noted his nation had symbolically emerged into the light.

The wealthy Harvard educated academic/businessman turned politician pledged tighter safety controls to protect the nation's miners.
He has pledged to help move Chile's labor standards from those of a "third world" past to those of a modern "first world" nation.

The mine rescue is testament to how far Chile has come toward more modern unity from its polarized Cold War past.

For years stricken relatives of those killed by the military had searched the mines, caves, and rivers for bones.

Relatives were often barred from viewing bodies buried in cemeteries.  To cover their tracks, the military often later disinterred bodies and dumped them in unknown locations.

This process of arbitrary execution triggered by a roving delegation of military dispatched from the capital city of Santigo has been labelled the "Caravan of Death."

Thousands succumbed to execution and torture in the years of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).  That was the price for the September 11, 1973 American backed overthrow of democratically elected Cuban/Soviet backed socialist President Salvador Allende.

That overthrow confirmed the contention of Fidel Castro and the Soviets that socialism could not come to power by peaceful means -- unless the forces of the Left first abandoned the constitution and used violence to disarm the enemies waiting to overthrow it.

The tragedy of Chile became one foundation of President Jimmy Carter's enshrinement of human rights protection as a major part of U.S. policy with the establishment of an Office of Human Rights Reporting in the State Department.  Chile became an important milestone in the evolution of how overseas human rights are viewed in the U.S.

Documents  released in 2000 have revealed the indirect and direct involvement of the CIA in the repression following the coup. For more disclosures on American involvement in the overthrow of Allende, see these documents which also bear on the execution by the military of American journalist Charles Horman.

Chile had become a battleground between the American CIA and the Soviet KGB.

Horman was the subject of the 1982 film
Missing, directed by Costa Gavras and starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. Chilean investigators re-enacted Horman's execution in May, 2002, as reported with a predictable slant on this World Socialist Web Site.

Charles Horman was not the first or last American journalist to be killed after becoming caught up in murky plots and intelligence operations. It seems unlikely that U.S. authorities knowingly encouraged his execution after the military coup. However he appears to have uncovered evidence of U.S./Chilean military cooperation in the planning of the coup.  U.S. officials may have indirectly or unknowingly encouraged his execution in Santiago's National Stadium.

The execution of Horman was part of the same pattern that led to the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002. An ambitious, idealistic but somewhat naive journalist ventures into or is lured into unpredictable "enemy territory."  He is then killed either to silence him or to publicly make a political point. With Horman the Chilean military sought desperately to hide their crime.

The Muslim extremists who killed the Jewish Pearl wanted it publicized to make a point, so they released video of his death. Horman became a forgotten footnote. Pearl a much sung hero.

Daniel Pearl

Long before Horman and Pearl was George Polk,  the 35 year old CBS reporter found floating in Greek waters in 1948 with a bullet in the back of the head.  Every spring for the past 45 years, the most distinguished names in journalism have gathered in New York City for the George W. Polk Awards, commemorating this American reporter murdered during the Greek civil war.

Polk had made enemies on all sides by writing critically of Greek communists, the Greek right wing government fighting the communists and the American government which supplied arms to the Greek government.

Who killed him and why? Was it revenge or because he "knew too much?"  The question is still debated.

UNESCO had compiled a useful list by country of more recently assassinated journalists.

Click here for an exhaustive survey of the Charles Horman execution and the investigations and litigation which followed. The mystery surrounding his death remains.

According to various reports and investigations 1,200–3,200 people were killed, up to 80,000 were interned, and up to 30,000 were tortured by his regime, including women and children


A Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented much of the 1970's Chile killings in the early Nineties. But the trauma of the "missing" is still etched on this now recovering nation. Efforts to uncover what happened and prosecute those responsible have continued.

The commission estimated 1068 executed in one way or another, with another 957 "disappeared."

It must be remembered that large scale executions, assassinations, massacres and other violence have been the hallmarks of civil war and revolution in many Latin American nations. Political executions in Castro's Cuba from 1959 on have numbered anywhere between 3,000 and 12,000, depending on the source's orientation.  Executions declined in the 1970's, with a moratorium established in 2001.

Amnesty International's 1985 annual report concluded  that in El Salvador many of the 70,000 people killed in the preceding five years had been murdered, by pro-American government forces, who openly dumped the mutilated corpses, in an apparent effort, to terrorize the population.  Massacres and political killings were frequent in the 1980's in both Guatemala and Nicaragua.

For an historic treatment of Spanish  influence on human rights atrocities in Latin America see Jamie Garcia-Rodriguez, Spain in the Americas: Human Rights and Guerrilla War.

Francisco Goya: "The Third of May"


We can see that the killings in the area of mine rescue back in 1973 were relatively few in number, compared to the overall national scene.  A roving delegation of military from Santiago visited a variety of localities, and apparently ordered the killings.

This is one small chapter in a broader story repeated from time to time in the nations of the world. 

Now we have the paradox of the current Chilean president, a conservative, working to contribute to a kind of closure -- after an initial stage of healing in the national investigation cited below.

(Taken from the Report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth and
Reconciliation,  May 1990 to February 1991)

Downloadable in PDF from U.S Institute of Peace


I) Regional Overview
(see below for details on killings in area of mine rescue.)

These executions, which took place in October 1973 are treated
in greater detail in the parts of this chapter dealing with the
various regions. However the overall toll is seventy-two people
killed: four executions in Cauquenes (October 4), fifteen in La
Serena (October 16), thirteen in Copiapó (October 17), fourteen
in Antofagasta (October 19), and twenty-six in Calama (October

We should now consider the relationship between the high level
delegation from Santiago and these executions. The delegation
was physically present in all these cities and at these times. The
reason given for all these executions was that they were killed
"while trying to escape" with the exception of Antofagasta, where
in some instances war tribunals were seemingly invented to
hide the truth and to make the relevant documentation formally
correct. Finally, all the executions were selective: the victims
were members of the Socialist and Communist parties and of
the MIR, with the accent on the first. Forty of the seventy-two
persons executed were Socialists.

From these coincidences, one may conclude that it is very likely
that members of the delegation were involved in those five
groups of executions. However, the Commission has not been
able to come to the conviction that they were involved in
Cauquenes. In this instance there is no concrete proof of their
involvement, the relatively low number of victims is out of line
with the much higher number of executions elsewhere, and the
delegation spent only a few hours at Cauquenes.

On the other hand, the Commission has come closer to being
fully convinced that they were involved in the killings explained
as a response to an escape attempt in Copiapó (although it has
not quite reached complete certainty).

The events in Copiapó are as similar to those in La Serena,
Antofagasta, or Calama as two drops of water.

It is unlikely that whoever among the local officials in
Copiapó was physically responsible for the crimes

acted without orders from above. It is unlikely that the local
commander would give such an order if there were present a
superior who possessed delegated maximum powers or
officers in the delegation who could act in representation of that
superior or who themselves had the same level of power as his.

However, the available evidence makes it unlikely that members
of the delegation in fact were involved on the night of October 16
in Copiapó although the possibility that those locally involved
may have been prompted by them cannot be entirely discounted.

II) Detailed examination of executions in Altacama desert,
specifically area of mine disaster Copiapo:

This section presents nineteen cases of human rights violations
that took place in the Atacama Region between September 11
and the end of 1973. All of them ended in death and in all cases
the Commission came to the conviction that the government
was responsible for the actions of its agents or people working
for them. On September 11 the commander of the regiment at
Copiapó took charge of the Third Region, which now covers the
provinces of Chañaral, Copiapó and Huasco, and he acted as
operational commander.

The new authorities brought the zone under control immediately
and without any resistance. Except for a case that will be
described below, it was not until mid-October that anyone was
killed for political reasons or for the sake of public order. There
were no military casualties and the Commission did not learn of
any incident during this period that might be characterized as an
armed clash or one in which the armed forces were attacked.
According to the document titled "Situation of the Country No. 7"
issued by the Ministry of National Defense on September 15,
1973, the situation in Atacama was one "of calm with everything
under control. Casualties: there have been no military
casualties; one civilian killed and 123 prisoners." All indications
are that the authorities had complete control over the province
as soon as they took power.

In the cases of human rights violations examined by the
Commission, the victims had ties to the previous government.
They were people known to be politically active in a leftist party or
movement, primarily the Socialist party, and to a lesser extent
the MIR and the Communist party. Only one of those persons
killed was not politically involved. Generally speaking, these
people had regional or national political positions or served as
managers in state enterprises, or were leaders in student,
labor, or neighborhood organizations. All were males, and most
were young, between twenty and thirty years old.

The arrests were also selective and were concentrated in the
city of Copiapó, although in smaller towns police also held
some officials from the previous government under arrest in
their stations. In Copiapó, which was then the provincial capital
of Atacama, people were generally first picked up by the police
and then taken to the jail. In jail they could receive visitors and as
far as this Commission was able to determine, they were not
subject to mistreatment or violence. While they were being held
in detention, the prisoners were taken to the regiment at
Copiapó for interrogation. The fact that a person was taken to
the military base in this manner was sometimes in effect the
beginning of being brought to trial. People were never held at the
regiment for more than a week. During this time prisoners were
kept in solitary confinement, or at least they were not allowed to
receive visits from their relatives. At the regiment headquarters
they were commonly subjected to torture and other unlawful

No prisoner was executed before October 17, the date when a
military delegation from Santiago arrived at Copiapó. Sixteen
prisoners were killed that day and the next. In the explanations
provided by military authorities, thirteen were shot to death
because they tried to run away and three were executed in
compliance with a sentence issued by a war tribunal. The
Commission finds neither of these accounts plausible or

The authorities acknowledged all the deaths in the region and
there were no cases of people who disappeared after arrest.
Nevertheless, as a rule the relatives were unable to bury their
loved ones, and in some cases they did not find out the exact
location of their graves. Thus in Copiapó the bodies of the
thirteen who were killed in the supposed escape attempt on
October 17 were not turned over; the official communique
indicated that they had been buried in the city cemetery, but the
families were not told where they had been buried. Only in 1990,
partly as a result of a judicial petition on the part of this
Commission, was it possible to determine where they were
buried and to have them exhumed.

After being identified, the bodies were handed  over to the
 families so that they couldprovide them with a dignified
 burial. Those who were executed by a decision of a war
tribunal were buried in the local cemetery by official order,
and were then transferred to burial sites unknown to their
families to this day.

Elsewhere in the region, the attitude of local authorities in this
 regard varied, as will be noted in each case.

III) Here are those killed:

Cases of grave human rights violations in the Atacama Region

On October 17, 1973, during the early morning hours, thirteen
people who were being held prisoner were executed.

Winston Dwight CABELLO BRAVO, 28, a commercial
engineer who was the regional head of ODEPLAN (National
Planning Office) and active in the Socialist party. He was
arrested on September 12, at the governorship and transferred
to the regiment at Copiapó (now called the Captain Rafael
Torreblanca Regiment).

Agapito del Carmen CARVAJAL GONZALEZ, 32, a government
official who was active in the Socialist party. He was arrested at
his home and taken to the Copiapó Regiment.

Fernando CARVAJAL GONZALEZ, 30, an office worker who
was active in the Socialist party. He was arrested on September
22 at his home and taken to the Copiapó Regiment and then to
the local jail.

Manuel Roberto CORTAZAR HERNANDEZ, 20, a high school
student and leader who was a MIR activist. He reported to the
military authorities after being summoned by a military decree
on September 17, 1973. He was held prisoner in the Copiapó
jail, and was taken to the regiment on October 2.

Alfonso Ambrosio GAMBOA FARIAS, 35, a teacher who was
manager of Radio Atacama and active in the Socialist party.
Police arrested him at his home on September 15, and took him
to the prison at Copiapó.

Raúl del Carmen GUARDIA OLIVARES, 23, a government
official who was active in the Socialist party.

Raúl Leopoldo de Jesús LARRAVIDE LOPEZ, 21, a student of
engineering and mining at the Copiapó campus of the State
Technical University who was a MIR activist. He was arrested on
September 12, 1973 on the university grounds and was taken to
the Copiapó Regiment. In late September he was transferred to
the local prison.

Edwin Ricardo MANCILLA HESS, 21, a student of pedagogy at
the normal school who was president of the student center and
regional secretary of the MIR. Police and investigative police
arrested him at his home on October 15 and took him to the
prison in Copiapó and then to the regiment.

Adolfo Mario PALLERAS NORAMBUENA, 27, a merchant who
was a neighborhood leader and a MIR activist. Summoned by
the authorities in a military decree, he decided not to present
himself. He was arrested by police on October 15, and taken to
the Copiapó Regiment and later transferred to the prison.

Jaime Iván SIERRA CASTILLO, 27, a radio announcer who
was active in the Socialist party. Investigative police arrested him
at his home on September 20 and took him to their
headquarters. From there he was transferred to the Copiapó

Atilio Ernesto UGARTE GUTIERREZ, 24, a student of mining
engineering at the Copiapó campus of the State Technical
University who was a MIR activist. He was arrested October 14
at the residence hall where he lived and was taken to the
Copiapó Regiment.

Néstor Leonello VINCENTI CARTAGENA, 33, a teacher who
was the regional secretary of the Socialist party. He was
arrested by troops and taken to the Copiapó Regiment.
Pedro Emilio PEREZ FLORES, 29, a mining engineer and
professor at the Copiapó campus of the State Technical
University who was a government representative at the Elisa de
Bordo mining plant and a Socialist party leader. He was
arrested September 25, 1973 at his home, which was then
searched by investigative police, who took him to the Copiapó

The Commission has been able to verify that several of these
people were subjected to torture and other unlawful

Through an official communiqué published in the newspaper
Atacama on October 18, 1973, the commander of the zone
under state of siege stated that the thirteen people on the list
had been killed. He added that an escape plan had been
discovered among the prisoners at Copiapó. In view of the
insecurity and overcrowding of the prison, the military
prosecutor's office had proceeded to "send a group of the more
dangerous people who were being tried in the military justice
system to the La Serena prison."

The official communiqué goes on to say that they had been
 taken in a regiment truck which developed an electrical
problem just before getting to the top of Cuesta Cardones.

"Taking advantage of the fact that the driver and his assistant
 were trying to deal with the mechanical failure,

the prisoners suddenly took advantage of a careless moment by
one of the guards, and jumped to the ground and started to run
toward the brush. Even though the guards yelled 'Halt' several
times and even shot into the air to frighten them, they did not

The report continues, "in view of this situation, they
proceeded to shoot at the fugitives, wounding thirteen of them
and they died on the spot."

A number of documents such as death certificates and
cemetery registration have confirmed the date and time of their
death. The fact that they left the prison has also been duly
attested. After they were killed, their bodies remained inside a
truck at the Copiapó Regiment and were buried at the local
cemetery by troops in a common grave between the end of the
day on October 17 and early on the 18th. Not even the families
were informed exactly where they were buried. Only on July 31,
1990, as the result of a judicial request made by the
Commission, were the remains of these thirteen people
exhumed. After being identified, they were turned over to their
relatives for final burial.

This Commission rejects the official account that the persons
listed had to be killed to prevent them from escaping in view of
the following circumstances:

* The thirteen victims had been chosen for transfer to La
Serena because they were dangerous, as that official account
indicates, and thus presumably they were under heavy military
guard in a well prepared operation; hence if the vehicle had
developed a mechanical problem that guard would have been
sufficient to prevent them from even getting to the point of
running into the brush.

* This Commission also finds it unlikely that a heavily
armed military patrol would have found that the only way of
recapturing thirteen prisoners fleeing into the desert would have
been to kill them. The physical condition of some of the
prisoners after a number of days of imprisonment reinforces
this point. The Commission also received several consistent
circumstantial witness reports indicating the types of torture to
which many of them had been subjected.

* It does not seem very likely that in order to crush an
escape attempt by thirteen prisoners it should be necessary to
kill all of them on the spot.

* The fact that their families were not allowed to view their
bodies suggests that an effort was made to conceal matters.

* The state of the remains when they were exhumed
indicates that these people were executed in a situation in which
they were utterly under the control and at the mercy of the
soldiers, and that is quite inconsistent with the official account.

The remains of several of them were mutilated, but showed no
bullet wounds and had obviously been cut with knives.

In view of the foregoing the Commission came to the
conviction that these thirteen persons were executed without any
justification by government agents, thereby gravely violating their
human rights. The Commission has heard a variety of
competent testimonies about the individual or individuals
presumed to have been involved in planning and executing
these grave actions, but it has not been able to come to a
conviction on the matter of who was responsible, nor is that its
proper role, and hence it takes no position on the matter.

On October 18, 1973, the following were shot by firing squad:
Benito TAPIA TAPIA, 32, an office worker at Cobresal who was
a national leader of the Confederation of Copper Workers and a
member of the central committee of the Young Socialists. He
was arrested September 17, 1973 and taken to the prison in
Copiapó and from there to the regiment headquarters in the city.

Ricardo Hugo GARCIA POSADA, 43, a commercial engineer
and general manager at Cobresal who was active in the
Communist party. On September 12 he reported to the
authorities in Potrerillos and was held under arrest at the
management office of the company. On September 14 he was
taken to the Copiapó prison and then to the regimental

Maguindo CASTILLO ANDRADE, 40, an office worker at
Cobresal who was active in the Socialist party. On September
12 he reported to the authorities in Potrerillos after having been
summoned to do so by a military edict, and was then released.
Soldiers arrested him at his home September 15 and paraded
him through the streets in the center of El Salvador gesticulating
at him as the head of "Plan Z." He was then taken to the
Copiapó police station. The day before these people were shot
to death, soldiers who were part of a military delegation from
Santiago ransacked their homes.

On October 18, the wives of these prisoners received a
memorandum attributed to the secretary of the war tribunal,
although it bore neither his name nor his signature. It stated that
their spouses had been executed that same day at 4:00 a.m. by
virtue of war tribunal No. 3, and that the sentence had been
approved by the honorable governing junta.

The document makes no reference to the trial or sentence nor
 does it indicate the accusations. The same memorandum
indicated that theremains were to be buried in the local
cemetery at 7:00 p.m. and that only five persons would be
allowed to be present. Troops
buried them in the local cemetery.
Family members were
allowed to enter the cemetery only after
 the burial was over.

At some point in the following years, the remains were moved to
another burial site without the knowledge or the permission of
the families. The judicial investigation carried out in July 1990
noted that their bodies were not in the place where they had
originally been buried.

Their burial site is still unknown.

Despite what is said in the memorandum to the relatives,

consistent and trustworthy evidence lead this Commission to
conclude that military authorities in the region decided to
execute these people, that the delegation from Santiago
approved of the decision, and that there was no war tribunal or
due process. The following considerations in particular support
that conclusion:

 * Despite repeated requests made to the competent institutions,
it has not been possible to obtain documents from the trial.

* The families of those shot were previously told that they
were to be put on trial, and hence they sought legal assistance,
and the lawyer maintained continual contact with the military
prosecutor assigned to the case. However, neither this defense
lawyer nor the family members were told that a war tribunal was
to take place on October 17.

* The Commission received several testimonies from
people, including members of the military, who were unaware of
any war tribunal.

* If in fact these people were put on trial in some fashion,
that trial did not satisfy even the minimal requirements for a
defense of those put on trial: their defense lawyer was not
involved and no consideration was given to the previous
blamelessness of their conduct, which for at least one of those
executed was reliably established at the moment of execution.

The only evidence of the accusations against them is what
appeared in the newspaper Atacama on October 20, 1973,
indicating that they were accused of inciting to violence and
attempting to paralyze the Cobresal mining operation. In this
regard, it should be kept in mind that these three were
imprisoned from the first few days after September 11, and
therefore they could hardly have committed any crime in

In view of the foregoing, this Commission has come to the
conviction that these three persons were executed without any
judicial proceeding by government agents who thus gravely
violated their right to due process and their right to life.

Other Places in the Region

On September 11, 1973, Javier Edgardo VALDIVIA ARTAYA, a
worker in the El Algarrobo mine of the Acero del Pacífico
company, was killed. He was shot by civilians who by order of
the military were guarding the Vallenar water tanks. They have
declared that they had to use their weapons to prevent Javier
Edgardo Valdivia from trying to poison the city water tanks.

The Commission has examined the court record used as evidence
on these events and has received many consistent witness
accounts enabling it to come to the conclusion that these
civilians shot him without any action or provocation on his part
that would justify such a measure. His attitude does not seem to
have been of a kind to arouse suspicion; even if such were the
case, however, these civilians could have stopped him or
prevented any action on his part since he was on foot and
unarmed. For these reasons this Commission holds the
conviction that Javier Edgardo Valdivia's human rights were
violated by civilians who were acting on behalf of government

On October 24, 1973, Florencio VARGAS DIAZ, 65, the former
mayor of Diego de Almagro who was an active Socialist, died at
the police station there. He had been arrested by police from
that station the previous day. His relatives, who visited him the
day of his arrest, say that he showed no signs of emotional
disturbance nor of having been mistreated. On October 24 his
body was left at the morgue and his family was told that he had
hung himself from the bars of his jail cell with his shirt. The
death certificate states that the cause of death was "asphyxiation
by hanging as from a suicide." This Commission finds the story
that he committed suicide implausible, and in fact holds the
conviction that the death of Florencio Vargas entailed a violation
of his basic rights by government agents. The following points
support that conviction:

* The nature of the cell in which he was being held, which
his relatives observed when they visited him, made suicide by
hanging practically impossible since the only place from which
he could have hung were some bars in the windows which were
less than a meter and a half high, and the way they were
attached to the wall made such an operation unlikely.

* The Commission has also heard credible accounts
indicating that Florencio Vargas was found dead with his jacket
on, and that fact is hard to explain if he hung himself with his

* Since Vargas was imprisoned and in the custody of
personnel from that police station, and if suicide is ruled out as
implausible, his death could only have been the work of a
member of the police on duty there.

On December 14, 1973, Juan LOPEZ TORRES, a miner and
former mayor of Vallenar who was an active member of the
Communist party, was killed by local police. He had been
summoned by a military decree issued by the operational
commander in Vallenar, and hence he tried to cross over into
Argentina immediately after September 11. According to the
official account provided in Military Decree No. 39 by the
commander issued on December 14, 1973, López Torres is
said to have been killed that day at a place called Mina La
Restauradora as he was trying to run away from a police patrol
which was under orders to capture him. The account claimed
that López Torres was armed and had already run away from
that same patrol once before on September 12.

This Commission finds the explanation that Juan López was
killed while trying to escape of little worth for presumably a patrol
ordered to capture a fugitive is normally able to apprehend such
a person alive if he or she does not resist, as indeed was the
case in this instance.

Reinforcing this conclusion is the fact that the authorities
had Juan López buried at the Huasco Bajocemetery, and they
 set a period of three years during which his

remains could not be exhumed. Had the official account been
true, it is not clear why such a measure preventing an
examination to see the wounds which had caused his death
should have been taken. This Commission has come to the
conviction that Juan López was executed by government agents
in total disregard for the law and that this action was a violation
of his human rights.



Copyright ©2010 Frederic A. Moritz
All Rights Reserved
Citation Permitted Only With Credit


Burlington, North Carolina

Site Meter