In Chile, Hope Is Reborn in 30-Year Quest for Justice
By Jen Ross
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page A22
SANTIAGO, Chile --
Michele Drouilly circled the towering Ombu tree at Villa Grimaldi, an
idyllic park in the foothills of the snow-capped Andes mountains. The
sound of chirping birds and playing children disguised a sense of
"You look at this place today and it's a beautiful park, but you wouldn't imagine what happened here," said Drouilly.
Villa Grimaldi was the site of a secret police
detention center in the 1970s during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto
Pinochet. Two hundred people died there, according to Drouilly and
other family members, who say many more disappeared. Their relatives
have turned Villa Grimaldi into a memorial to those who died.
Drouilly's sister was one of them.
Drouilly stopped at a black marble wall that stands more than 20 feet high:
"My sister is there," she said, pointing to one of the names engraved on the memorial. "Jacqueline Pollet Yurich."
Drouilly said she was 17 years old when her eldest
sister was arrested and detained for belonging to the Movement of the
Revolutionary Left, or MIR, a militant anti-government group. It was
1973, shortly after Pinochet's military coup overthrew the socialist
government of President Salvador Allende. More than 200,000 people were
detained in a campaign to root out his opponents, according to official
"It took many years for us to realize that we were
never going to see her again," she said. "To this day, my mother still
has a suitcase prepared for her. . . . Justice I think is the only
thing that can heal our wounds."
Now, decisions pending in the Chilean court system
could hold the former dictator and members of his government
responsible for human rights crimes committed during his 1973-1990
On May 28, the Santiago Court of Appeals unexpectedly
stripped Pinochet of his legal immunity. In 1998, a British court
ordered Pinochet's house arrest while he was visiting London, but since
his release for ill health and his return to Chile in 2000, the
families of the dead had all but lost hope of seeing him prosecuted.
Pinochet's attorneys are appealing, and it is not clear whether Pinochet, 88, will ever face trial.
On the same day that the Court of Appeals issued its
ruling, Chile's Supreme Court began considering another high-profile
case involving the general amnesty decreed by Pinochet in 1978, which
still protects the military and police officers involved in the
repression that followed the 1973 coup. An estimated 3,200 people were
killed or disappeared at the hands of the secret police.
Only a few military officers have been jailed for what
the courts have labeled permanent kidnappings, not covered by the
amnesty because they are considered ongoing crimes. The amnesty has
shielded officials suspected of murder or torture.
An estimated 500 people could face prosecution if the
appeal is successful, said Nelson Caucoto, the attorney who is leading
the appeal against the amnesty law.
Attorney Juan Carlos Manns represents one of Pinochet's former officers.
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