Monday, October 2, 2023

Sticks with blood and piscolas: the pact of silence that hid the gross secrets of the “Laja massacre”

A few days after the coup of September 11, 1973, a pact of silence sealed the terrible crime committed by 19 forestry workers. Who were the victims? Farmers and forestry workers from San Rosendo and Laja in the Biobío region.

According to the history, between September 13 and 17, the day the country was under siege, employees of the Carabineros de Laja office arrested the following people without appropriate judicial or administrative orders: Fernando Grandón Gálvez and Jorge Lamana Abarzúa, Rubén Campos López, Juan Carlos Jara Herrera, Raúl Urra Parada, Luis Ulloa Valenzuela, Óscar Sanhueza Contreras, Dagoberto Garfias Gatica, Luis Araneda Reyes, Juan Acuña Concha, Juan Villarroel Espinoza, Heraldo Muñoz Muñoz, Federico Riquelme Concha, Jorge Zorrilla Rubio, Manuel Becerra Avello, Jack Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Mario Jara Jara, Wilson Muñoz Rodríguez and Alfonso Macaya Barrales.

As was confirmed decades later, the detainees were transported in vehicles belonging to the CMPC paper mill (the company where some of them worked), which would have been provided by some superiors.

Why were they stopped?

All prisoners were arrested for political reasons, as part of the two unions of the above-mentioned company demanded nationalization.

Eduardo Cuevas, former CMPC Laja employee, acknowledged that “although the paper mill was not among the companies that the (Popular Unity) government wanted to nationalize, we began to demand it due to pressure from the workers.”

In a CHV report on the Laja-San Rosendo case, the former official explained that the support was granted because “we thought it was an important company for the country’s economy and for the workers.”

As soon as the 19 people were brought into the Laja cell, long hours of uncertainty began. It was only on the night of September 17 that their future seemed to become clearer when they were informed that they were being transferred to the Los Angeles City Regiment. They were loaded into various vehicles but never reached that destination.

The massacre

While traveling on Route Q-90, the Carabinieri delegation entered a side road at the level of the Perales Bridge, about 500 meters to the south, and entered the so-called San Juan Farm in the municipality of Yumbel.

At this location, the police armed with rifles and carbines forced them to get out of the cars and forced them to lie side by side, face down on the ground, and tied their hands, just as the uniformed officers drove with them continue to position himself behind them.

Immediately afterwards, Alberto Fernández Michell, the officer in charge, stood to the side and, armed with his revolver, gave the order to shoot them, which was carried out by the police officers present, who stood in the line of fire and struck the bodies of the victims with the balls. The prisoners caused injuries that resulted in death.

According to the statements of the protagonists themselves (who remained silent for almost 40 years), within a few minutes they dug a grave 60 centimeters deep, into which they threw the corpses, which they covered with a layer of earth. After completing this operation, they returned to Laja’s possession.

Days later, Carabineros officers returned to the sector to cover the bodies with lime of the type used in the CMPC, which would have been provided by officers of the same company.

Pact of silence

Samuel Vidal, a former police officer from Laja who was involved in the massacre, was the first to break the pact of silence agreed by the officers.

“They made us take an oath where we couldn’t tell anyone. “Whoever broke the pact of silence, the family or one of them would have problems,” the man said in the above report.

The former uniformed man not only transferred the responsibility of command to Lieutenant Michell, but also confirmed that it was he who “ordered them to dig a grave, bury them and get out of there.” A few days later he brought us to Puente Perales, on the way to Río Claro, and some civilians arrived, I don’t know who they were, but they forced us to take an oath not to tell anyone.”

The man also stated that they had drunk alcohol before the massacre. As he explained, the lieutenant forced them to drink Pisco with Coca Cola.

“It was as if they had ordered us to have a drink. Back then you had to follow the bosses’ orders. This (alcohol) was apparently brought from one of the casinos at the paper mill,” he explained.

For his part, Sebastián Cifuentes, who worked as a truck driver transporting wood from the forests to the paper mills, referred to the discovery of these bodies a few weeks later.

“We met the forestry chief, Don Guillermo Reyes, and we told him: ‘Chief, we are out of wood.’ He told us: ‘Now I will give them from there, from very close to here.’ And there he gave us the San Juan Farm. “You’re in for a surprise,” he told us and started laughing,” he revealed, not realizing he was referring to the bodies.

“There were safety shoes, sticks with blood on them, denim jackets and five graves lying there with the bodies. One person suspected that people were killed there. They were about four inches from the surface,” he added.

Anonymous message

Weeks later, after dogs from the sector found the remains, they were buried (without following any protocol) and transferred to Yumbel Parish Cemetery for burial in a common grave. However, the families of the then “disappeared prisoners” continued their search for six years. Nobody spoke!

Already in 1979, at the request of the Vicariate of Solidarity, the Court of Appeal of Concepción appointed José Martínez Goensly as visiting minister to investigate the case. In this context he received an anonymous message.

“Mr Minister: Anonymous people are ugly, but sometimes they are useful. I apologize, but I cannot give my name. The 17 missing people from Laja were killed in the days after 9/11. I don’t know where, but they were buried at a shallow depth in a place not far away. The dogs smelled and began to dig where the bodies lay. The neighbors were alarmed and warned, so they came at night in uniform, took out the bodies and buried them in a cemetery, perhaps a parish church in the area. There are people who know more, but they keep their mouths shut out of fear,” says the letter that made the remains possible to be found in October of the same year.

Justice is delayed

Despite the efforts and incessant struggle of the families affected by the murders, the investigation remained unsuccessful.

It was only in 2010 that the Laja-San Rosendo case was reopened thanks to the complaint filed by the group of relatives of politically executed people, the crime scene was reconstructed and the suspects spoke out. Of course, the wait continued for another 10 years.

In this way, in January 2020, Carlos Aldana, Minister of Human Rights Violations Cases at the Court of Appeal of Concepción, convicted nine retired police officers of qualified homicide.

While Alberto Fernández Michell received a life sentence, Gerson Saavedra Reinike, Pedro Parra Utreras, Víctor Campos Dávila and Nelson Casanova Salgado were given an effective prison sentence of five years and one day.

Likewise, he sentenced Anselmo San Martín Navarrete as an accomplice to an effective sentence of five years and one day in prison and José Otárola Sanhueza, Mario Montoya Burgos and Manuel Cerda Robledo as accomplices to five years in prison each, thereby granting themselves freedom from supervision.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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