General Augusto Pinochet ruled over Chile as a dictator from 1973 to 1990. When he died in 2006, he was facing over 300 potential criminal charges for human rights violations, tax evasion, and embezzlement. The 40th anniversary of the coup d’état that brought him to power was passed on September 11. For many, it was a day to remember Pinochet intolerance for political opposition and the tens of thousands of people who were killed, tortured, or interned during his reign. To date, Chile has officially recognized 40,018 victims of the dictatorship; 75% were killed.
Penal Cordillera is a luxury prison that was built in the capital city of Santiago in 2004. It currently houses only 10 inmates: eight generals and two colonels from Pinochet’s military. The inmates have “an assistant, three paramedics, two cuisine teachers, and a nutritionist to supervise their meals.” The convicts live in small cabins with hot showers, share a pool, tennis court, and barbecue, and are allowed to visit home. It is known as a “golden prison.” It is very different from the Chilean prisons I recently posted about where substandard sustenance, sanitary conditions, and overcrowding has incited various long-lasting hunger strikes.
On September 26, President Sebastián Piñera announced his decision to close Cordillera. He pointed to the importance of “equality before the law” as his reasoning. Piñera announced the inmates would be moved to Punta Peuco, a less luxurious jail also intended for human rights offenders. Two days after his statement, the head of Pinochet’s feared intelligence agency, General Odladier Mena, left the prison for the weekend and killed himself outside his home.
The director of Chile’s official Human Rights Institute called the closure of Cordillera a milestone. Michelle Bachelet, former president and front-runner for the upcoming November election, was detained and tortured during Pinochet’s dictatorship. She praised the decision.
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Photograph: Mario Ruiz/EPA