Los Quemados: Chile’s Pinochet Covered up Human Rights Atrocity

Washington D.C., July 31, 2015 – General Augusto Pinochet refused to accept a police report identifying his own military as responsible for burning two teenage protesters alive in July 1986, according to declassified U.S. documents posted today by the National Security Archive. Pinochet’s action initiated a high-level cover-up of the infamous human rights atrocity known as the case of “Los Quemados” – the burned ones – which killed 19-year old Rodrigo Rojas de Negri and severely disfigured 18-year old Carmen Gloria Quintana.

The cover-up, which lasted almost three decades, included kidnapping and intimidation of witnesses and pressure on Chilean judges and lawyers, according to top secret White House, CIA and Defense Department records.

Yesterday, a Chilean judge ordered the arrest of an Army officer and four members of his patrol, in addition to seven others detained last week, for dousing Rojas and Quintana with a flammable liquid, setting them on fire and dumping them in a ditch to die, following a street protest against military rule on July 2, 1986. Both initially survived; but Rojas, sequestered by the military in a clinic with inadequate facilities, died from burns over 60 percent of his body four days later.

Only five days after Rojas died, according to a detailed State Department cable, General Rodolfo Stange, chief of the Chilean police and also a member of Pinochet’s ruling junta, presented him with an investigative report identifying the army units responsible for the atrocity. “President Pinochet told General Stange that he did not believe the report, and he refused to receive the report,” according to the declassified cable.

Stange subsequently provided the report to one of Pinochet’s deputies, Army vice-commander Santiago Sinclair, who promised an investigation “within 48 hours.” Instead of acting on the report, however, Sinclair oversaw intense efforts to silence witnesses and bury evidence, according to a soldier who recently broke his years of silence..

“One eyewitness was briefly kidnapped, blindfolded, and threatened if he did not change his testimony,” the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency reported in an intelligence assessment classified TOP SECRET RUFF UMBRA. “Some members of the government will quite likely continue to intimidate the witnesses in order to persuade them to change their testimony, thereby clearing the military.” According to a heavily censored CIA intelligence report, titled “Government of Chile Pressure to Drop Investigation and Prosecution of Rojas Case,” regime officials intimidated judges and lawyers and intervened to stall legal efforts in the courts to bring those responsible to justice.

The case of Los Quemados received significant attention in the United States because Rojas was a resident of Washington D.C., where he lived with his exiled mother, Veronica de Negri. President Ronald Reagan received a secret briefing paper on the atrocity, which stated that Chile’s own intelligence service “has fingered Army personnel as clearly involved.” The murder of Rojas “drove the final wedge between Washington and the Pinochet regime,” according to The Pinochet File, written by National Security Archive analyst Peter Kornbluh, and contributed to Reagan’s decision to withdraw support for the regime and press for a return to civilian rule.

According to Kornbluh, who obtained the Rojas documents for his book, the U.S. records could bolster the testimony of witnesses in Chile and provide evidence in the upcoming prosecution. “Carmen Quintana and Rodrigo Rojas, who I watched grow up in Washington, deserve legal and historical justice,” he noted. “The declassified U.S. records can advance both international memory of the victims and, after so many years, legal accountability for the atrocity committed against them.”

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