Monday, 29 December 2008

Chile: Casting Doubt on the Disappeared

My heart sank a bit just from seeing the headline "In Chile, 3 more false dirty-war victims found" pop up in my reader. "Great", I thought, "now the right will have another reason to say that the disappearances were just faked". At least the article does bring up this crucial point itself.
Three more people listed as missing victims of the nation's dictatorship have either been located or died under unrelated circumstances.
Activists on Sunday said the cases — now four in all — threaten to tarnish efforts to faithfully document abuses under dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 regime.

That's four, people. Four from about 3,000. Obviously among such a large number, bearing in mind the confusion and lack of documentary evidence at the time, it's likely that a few were falsely recorded. It's even MORE likely, and widely acknowledged, that there are more victims who were not included in the official investigations.
Opposition congresswoman Karla Rubilar, president of the congressional human rights commission, said the reappearances could plant unwarranted doubts in the public mind about human rights abuses under Pinochet.

Well, yes. People have a natural tendency to select the evidence that supports the view they already hold. I don't think there's much chance that any human rights activist will suddenly start thinking that the disappeared just moved to Europe without letting their families know, as some Pinochet supporters sometimes claim. Naturally, the latter will latch onto the story as confirmation of their point of view and may be more vocal as a result. And the people in the middle, without any particular affiliation? Perhaps this is the main issue. I would speculate - and it is pure speculation, I have no evidence - that it must be difficult to be a Chilean without a particular opinion on the matter of the disappeared (even if your opinion is "won't those relatives just shut up and get over it already"), and I would guess that these views won't be particularly swayed by one story. Nevertheless, a flurry of such articles gaining momentum would be a concern.

In Chile, 3 more false dirty-war victims (AP)

Here's an article, which I missed the first time around, about the first 're-appeared':

Chile probes Pinochet disappeared back from the dead (Reuters)

So, I looked at two Chilean newspapers from different sides of the political spectrum this morning. Both have stories about one of the 'false disappeared', Carlos Patricio Rojas Campos, on the main page of the website. La tercera's main headline claims that a local human rights organisation was aware as early as 2005 that Rojas Campos had not died during the dictatorship, but was living in Argentina. Obviously, such a headline does not make the organisation look good. In the article, the former President of the group, Victoria Saavedra, relates that the wife of the disappeared man came to her in 2005 and said that she had found out that he was still alive. Saavedra claims that she informed the Ministory of the Interior of this fact but that they were already aware of it.

El mercurio focuses on the financial aspect; namely that the victim's family was receiving a special pension for the relatives of the disappeared. The government is saying that this payment has now been suspended. According to the newspaper, however, Rojas Campos' 'widow'/wife says that she is still being paid.

Agrupacion de DD. HH. de Calama sabia que falso notificado estaba vivo desde 2005 (la tercera)

Esposa de falso desaparecido revela que nunca dejaron de pagarle pension (el mercurio)

My initial reaction was to roll my eyes a bit at this story and trust to people's common sense that it wouldn't affect general views of the disappearances. But in fact, taking into consideration the persistent attempts to discredit human rights organisations that go on in many Latin American countries, often with the participation of government, it is a real concern when such stories arise. If mistakes are made in the listing of the victims of state terrorism, they should obviously be clarified - for the sake of the families if nothing else. And as I said, with this kind of situation a few mistakes are pretty much inevitable. But to cast doubt, yet again, on the essential truth of torture, illegal detention, disappearance, and extrajudicial execution in Chile during the Pinochet regime is worrying indeed.

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