Chile’s struggle for memory against a dictatorship-imposed oblivion has braced itself for another sliver of discovery. On July 28, water works-related excavations in Las Brisas led to the discovery of human bone fragments. Buried just 10 kilometers south of the town of Santo Domingo, the location corresponds to the vicinities of the first dictatorship era torture and extermination center known as Tejas Verdes.
The discovered remains pertain to Chile’s “detenidos desaparecidos” — the disappeared victims of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. From 1973 to 1990, it is estimated that around 3,200 Chileans were murdered at the hands of repressive state bodies, namely the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) and, in the years following the dissolution of DINA, the National Information Center (CNI).
Upon notification of the discovery, Marianela Cifuentes Alarcón, a visiting minister investigating human rights cases, issued an order to the San Miguel Court of Appeals in Santo Domingo for further investigation into the discovery of human remains, with the aim of obtaining further evidence. Patricio Bustos, director of Chile’s Forensic Medical Service (SML), exhibited caution in confirming the remains as pertaining to Pinochet’s murdered opponents.
Both the SML and the Investigations Police of Chile (PDI) quickly confirmed the initial suspicions, stating that the remains indicate the presence of several dictatorship era victims. The area is now heavily guarded to ensure that exhumations can continue unhindered, and the Forensic Medical Service will commence the laborious task of identifying victims.
Understating Tejas Verdes
The recent discovery has been hailed as a “positive surprise” by Chilean researcher and author Javier Rebolledo, who specializes in uncovering crimes pertaining to the dictatorship era. Speaking to Cambio 21, Rebolledo stated that “it is a positive surprise to have discovered new remains; however, it is a surprise that coincides with historical narratives indicating the people who were executed there.”
Rebolledo added, “Tejas Verdes was the place where DINA was born — people were transferred from Londres 38 to San Antonio, to the Tejas Verdes prison camp which was the main detention and torture center … The place symbolizes all repression that was applied to the entire country.”
Under the supervision of former DINA chief Manuel Contreras, Tejas Verdes operated as the first of more than 1,200 torture centers in Chile. The brutal military coup on Sept. 11, 1973 was only the initiation of a macabre aftermath, in which opposition to Pinochet was rooted out, thus destroying the socialist process embarked upon by ousted President Salvador Allende.
Upon the pretext that the Cuban Revolution could potentially spread across South America, widespread oppression against Pinochet’s opponents was carried out, targeting, in particular, militants of the Chilean Communist Party and the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR).
Until recently, Tejas Verdes’ notoriety was relatively understated, with research focusing on other infamous torture centers such as Villa Grimaldi,Londres 38 and, in recent years, the horrors divulged with regard to Simon Bolivar Barracks — an extermination center where MIR and Communist Party leaders were taken. Read more.