„Torture is Not Talked About“
According to official figures, approximately 40,000 people were locked up and tortured as political prisoners during the Pinochet dictatorship. More than 3,200 people were murdered by the state, 1,132 are still missing.
Chile had around 1,200 secret prisons and detention centers where people were tortured, of which more than 220 were located in Santiago. Two of those have been declared Places of Remembrance, namely Villa Grimaldi and London 38. Sadly, only those two receive support from the government.
As documented in the case of Borgoño 1470, today’s headquarters of the police, other places of torture have since been used by the military or the police. One of those places 3- and 4 Alamos is still being used as a juvenile detention center.
Many of such places of torture, vividly remembered by many victims, are now in private ownership, such as Venda Sexy in Santiago. Of those Colonia Dignidad is probably the best known and most notorious. Both the Chilean and German governments have only recently began to take responsibility for their actions and inactions, and have initiated measures to begin a reappraisal of the past. It was in the interest of the Chilean dictatorship to remove any traces of imprisonment and torture, hence the disappearance of many – if not most – of those places that served as detention centres. However, the willingness of survivors and family members of victims to retain those centers as memorials for future generations remains unbroken.
Thanks to the tireless work of many groups of survivors and their families it has become possible to protect those torture centers from further neglect and destruction. Today, more than ever, it is up to us all to protect those historic places from complete destruction. My work provides photo documentation of 13 places of murder and torture, ten of them in Santiago, one in Parral (Colonia Dignidad), others in Valparaiso (Silva Palma Barracks) and Punta Arenas (Palace of the Smiles).
The photo documents are further enhanced by portraits of about 20 witnesses and their reports.
I would like to dedicate this project to the people who were murdered and to the survivors of the Pinochet dictatorship. I am indebted to the many courageous men and women who for more that 45 years have been fighting for justice and recognition by the government and by the general public.
The fate of all victims should never be forgotten.
In November 2015 I received an e-mail from the Chilean publishing house Catalonia requesting to purchase a photo I had taken in September 1988 in Santiago, Chile.
The photo shows a human rights demonstration, and Carmen Gloria Quintana holding up with her bloodstained hands a cardboard figure that read, „Rodrigo Rojas, me olvidaste? SI – NO“ (Rodrigo Rojas, did you forget me? YES – NO).
Catalonia used the photo as cover for the new edition of the book Burnt Alive by journalist Patricia Verdugo, who has since passed away. Having made contact with the publishers, I began reading the books written by Patricia Verdugo and others, receiving in the process, 43 years after the military coup d’état, much new information on some of the most horrific crimes of the Chilean dictatorship.
In 1973, and with the help of the Committee for Peace (an organisation which helped Chileans who were under threat to escape the dictatorship), I managed to leave Chile. Many years later, in 1986 for the first time, I returned to Chile as a photojournalist and travelled around the country many times in the following years. Back in Berlin, where I’ve been living since 1974, and on the 40th anniversary of the military coup, I organised an exhibition entitled Images of a Dictatorship. We showed photos of the dictatorship and of the resistance against it in Santiago of the 1980s. By offering the images to the general public I dealt with my personal memories of the times, and with what the Pinochet dictatorship did to Chile and its people.
In April 2016, as part of a ceremony in the German Foreign Office, Frank Walter Steinmeier, the then Foreign Secretary of Germany, apologized for the errors of judgement of the German diplomats regarding the crimes of the Colonia Dignidad.
In that same same year, I accompanied the German President Joachim Gauck on his official visit to Chile. While in Santiago, we visited the Museum of Remembrance and Villa Grimaldi.
It took Chile 30 years to be able to publicly talk about torture during the dictatorship, and it took 40 years to bring the first cases of torture to the courts. During those years Patricia Verdugo’s book Torture is Not Talked About was published.
As a result, I felt motivated to start a new project on the topic of torture. I am very grateful to Catalonia who gave me permission to use the headline We don’t talk about torture for my new project.
José Giribás Marambio