Justice catches up to Chile, Ecuador war criminals

A judge in Quito on Oct. 1 ordered the house arrest of three army and police officers in Ecuador's first trial involving alleged crimes against humanity. They are part of a group of 10 former senior officers accused of abducting and torturing three members of an illegal opposition group, the Eloy Alfaro Popular Armed Forces, in 1985. Activists converged on the capital for the opening day of the landmark trial. The events took place under the conservative government of late Leon Febres Cordero, who was elected to a four-year term in 1984. Judge Lucy Blacio turned down prosecutors' request to have one elderly army general detained, on the ground that he is seriously ill; however, he is barred from leaving the country. The three victims—Susana Cajas, Javier Jarrin and Luis Vaca—are to testify in the case next week. The charges were brought by a special Truth Commission created to address rights abuses. (Jurist, Oct. 2; BBC News, AFP via Milenio, Oct. 1)

Meanwhile in Chile,  Gen. Odlanier Mena, former director of the National Intelligence Center (CNI) under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, killed himself Sept. 28, days after President Sebastián Piñera announced that it would close the exclusive military prison where he was being held for human rights crimes. Under pressure from survivors, the government is to close Cordillera Detention Center and transfer the 10 former dictatorship figures being held there to a less privileged detention center. Mena, 87, shot himself at home, where he had been allowed to spend weekends since mid-2011, when he had completed half of a six-year term for the 1973 murder of three leftists as commander of an army regiment in Arica. The slayings were allegedly part of the "Caravan of Death"—a military operation believed to have claimed the lives of more than 100 opponents of the 1973 coup. 

Mena, who was trained at the US Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning in 1970, served as CNI director from 1977 to 1980. The Cordillera Detention Center in Santiago was established on the grounds of the army's telecommunications command center in 2004, when the Supreme Court overturned Chile's 1978 amnesty law for human rights cases.

Mena's attorney, Jorge Balmaceda, blamed the decision to close the Cordillera center for his client's death. "In the last letter he sent me he expressed concern for the eventual transfer, which would cause him serious moral, physical and psychological harm," Balmaceda said in a TV interview. (SOA Watch, Oct. 1; 24 Horas, Chile, Sept. 30; BBC News, NYT, Sept. 28; Al Jazeera, Sept. 27)

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  1. Chile torture survivor in landmark legal victory
    Leopoldo García Lucero, a Chilean exile now living in the UK who was illegally detained and tortured after the 1973 coup of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, on Nov. 2 won a landmark legal case for compensation from the Chilean state before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It is the first time the court has ruled on a living survivor of human rights abuses from the Pinochet era. García was detained for over a year and a half, and the torture he underwent left him permanently disabled due to spinal damage. Chile was ordered to pay damages of $22,000. The case was filed on García’s behalf by London-based human rights group Redress in 2002. (PanAmerican Post, InSerbia, Nov. 4; BBC News, Nov. 2)

    In August, a Chilean court declined to bring charges against any of Pinochet’s family members in a long-running investigation into the origin of the general’s fortune and his suspected embezzlement of public funds. The judge did charge six former members of the military who had collaborated with Pinochet in the so-called Riggs case. Pinochet was charged in 2005 with tax evasion in connection with millions of dollars he held in foreign bank accounts, which came to light after a US Senate investigation into banking irregularities at the now-defunct DC-based Riggs Bank. Judge Manuel Antonio Valderrama decided not to charge Pinochet’s widow, Lucia Hiriart, and her children. (Reuters, Aug. 5)