It was a day in spring, December 20, 1973 at about 4:30 pm. that I heard several knocks on the door of my house, which sounded unfamiliar and threatening. My brother had just returned home from his work in the textile industry and had gone to our common bedroom to lie down for his usual short afternoon nap. I went to answer the door and encountered three men with a very cold attitude. One of them asked me in a dry voice:
- „Does Pedro Rojas live here?"
Before answering, an infinity of urgent thoughts passed through my adolescent 16-year-old brain. I knew that my brother had been a member of a political organization of young people who supported the party of the recently overthrown government and that in our neighborhood many of his friends had been detained. For this reason I went through an internal struggle whether to give the government agent an affirmative answer as to the whereabouts of my brother... and for twentyfive years now, I have been living with the regret of having done so. If I had denied my brother´s presence that day, it might have given him a tiny chance of survival.
- „Yes", I said.
My affirmative answer was the result of my rapid calculations, that if I denied his presence the three men would have entered the house using force, finding him and maybe resulting in even worse consequences than those that were to be expected if I let the men in. After all, Pedro had done nothing wrong that would have needed covering up.
When I went to look for him, I found him in the hallway, he had already advanced towards the door upon hearing his name. He was immediately arrested and taken away in a refrigerator lorry, which did not have a number plate, to an unknown destination. It was the last time I saw my brother alive.
That same afternoon and also the following day (Friday), my sister asked the priest Guido of the church of San Cayetano for help in finding out where our brother had been taken after his arrest and to initiate the request for his release.
On my way to the bakery the following morning (Saturday) December 22, 1973, I stopped short on hearing my brother´s name and personal data in a radio message through the open window of our neighbor´s house which was being transmitted at that moment by the military police. I couldn´t believe what I heard. It was being „informed" that „Five individuals (amongst them my brother Pedro) had been caught in the act of doing suspicious things under a high-tension tower in Cerro Navia by the military police. Upon finding them, the military police ordered them to surrender themselves, the five answered by opening fire and the FF.AA. found themselves forced to overpower them, resulting in two wounded soldiers and the death of the five extremists, the latter of whom carried numerous packs of dynamite and soviet weapons. In one of the pockets of the extremists a manuscript was found with details on an operative system for subversive action named Plan Leopardo."
Our family appealed to the priests, whom we had already contacted to find out the whereabouts of Pedro and to initiate his release. The Secretariat of the Archbishopric also had information on the detention of Alejandro Gomez, another of the young people involved in the plan mentioned on the radio. This youth had good connections to the Catholic Church. The Archbishop was dumbfounded on receiving the news and the priest Luis Diaz managed to retrieve the corpses of the five youths from the morgue of Santiago for us. Luiz Dias witnessed the state in which the dead bodies were in and I also saw them personally. Here is my account of their condition along with details on the arrest of the other four youths which I was informed about from their families and friends.
Pedro Rojas Castro, 21 years of age: His swollen hands had no fingernails and all bodies carried deep lesions and erosions as if wrists and feet had been bound by wire or cords. His wrists showed circular marks and there were large burnt holes in the skin, his right arm was broken and his head had been squashed, leaving a concave lesion on the back of his head. The death certificate, which was handed over by the functionary of the institute for forensic medicine, stated „lesions from multiple shots" as having been the cause of death. However, upon examining Pedro´s dead body, we were unable to locate any signs of wounds that could have been caused by shots.
Some of our neighbors also witnessed the arrest of my brother and were conscious of the fact that he was being taken away against his will.
Luis Orellana Perez, 25 years of age: His body showed numerous hematomas and his skin showed deep lesions caused by burning. Orifices were visible on his temple and the lower jaw, obviously caused by a shot which had gone right through to the lower jaw. His wrists and knuckles showed circular erosions and cuts.
Luis O. P. had been employed by the Embassy of Tschecoslovakia and was working for the Cooperative Pinacoop at the time of his arrest.
He was arrested together with his girlfriend on Wednesday 19 of December 1973 at the house of an aunt of his girlfriend, where they were staying as a measure of precaution because they knew that the state police were looking for them. The arrest took place when the agents of the state police came to the aunt´s house with Luis´girlfriend´s sister as a hostage, who had finally told them where to find the two of them after having witnessed how the state police had mistreated the children in the house where the hostage lived and after the state police agents had threatened to kill the hostage´s mother.
Both Luis and his girlfriend were taken away in a refrigerator lorry without a number plate. Luis´ girlfriend, was released on Thursday December 20, 1973, after having been horribly mistreated. That same night her brother came over to our house to warn us that my brother Pedro should go in hiding, because his sister had heard Pedro´s name mentioned by her captors. Unfortunately, the warning reached us too late, as my brother had been arrested several hours before.
Alejandro Gomez Vega, 22 years of age: His body showed hematomas and cuts, his eyes had burst in their sockets and his chest showed at least ten orifices resulting from shots. There was a red circle painted on his chest, his wrists and knuckles carried circular cuts.
Alejandro worked as a salesman and was a member of the Juventud Obrera Catolica (group of Catholic Working Youths). According to witnesses he was arrested on Tuesday 18 of December 1973 on a public street by people in civilian clothes who threatened him with fire arms.
Carlos Cuevas Moya, 21 years of age: His body showed hematomas and wounds, deep lacerations (from wire or strings) around his wrists and his hands had no fingernails, one of his eyes was missing and his skull was deformed.
Carlos was a student of Geology at the University of Chile and of member of the Young comunists.
He was arrested on Thursday 20 of December at his mother´s house in the presence of his mother and other witnesses.
Luis Canales Vivanco, 27 years of age: His body was covered with hematomas and his face and head were a mass which could hardly be recognized as a part of a human being. His wrists and knuckles had circular erosions.
Luis C. V. was employed at Industrias Hucke, selling cookies and sweets, he was a member of the Young comunists.
On Thursday December 20, 1973 when Luis became aware that he was about to be arrested, he tried to escape from his home via a neighbor´s house, but he was finally caught and taken away in the presence of witnesses in a refrigerator lorry with unknown destination.
The above-mentioned cases are evidence, that the five youths became victims of a grave violation of human rights, having been arrested, tortured and executed. It was intended by the governement to bring them in connection with the participation in a so-called terroristic act, to justify the execution of five opponent.
The Archbishopric of Santiago addressed the government with a letter from the Archbishop in the name of Cardinal Raul Silva Enriquez, saying that there is reason to believe that the five youths had been in the hands of the State Agents, that there is evidence that the corpses showed clear signs of torture and that some of them had no signs of wounds originating from shots, which contradicts the official version of the military which stated that the youths had died in an exchange of gunfire.
It is worthwhile mentioning that the Ministry of the Interior of that time answered the letter of the Archbishopric and stated that the „extremists" actually had been under arrest, but that they had been set free several days before the supposed „Plan Leopardo".
This cannot be true, because the five youths were arrested very shortly before the so-called „Plan Leopardo" – three of them, one day before!
Apart from that, the Catholic Church had asked for an official autopsy, which was denied with the excuse, that „the word of the Armed Forces should not be questioned."
The Archbishopric was worried about the safety of the victims´ family members following the death of the five young men and had mentioned this in his letter to the government. The government assured that the family members of the victims would not be harmed. This proved to be untrue, as later several of the victims´ family members were taken captive, among them the Luis´ girlfriend, who was imprisoned for several years, and only due to the intense activities of human rights organizations she was set free and was forced to leave the country.
My sister and I sought refuge in the home of friends. This way we managed to avoid persecution and arrest by the state police. The government agents called at our house on repeated occasions. They used force on our parents in order find out about our whereabouts, injuring them and threatening my mother, who was in a wheelchair, that they would arrest my parents unless they told them where my sister and I were hiding. It was during this dramatic scene of events that the four of us were able to leave the country, thanks to the „Vicaria de la Solidaridad", an organization of the Catholic Church which supported victims of the dictator regime.
Chronologic account of the events
- Tuesday 18.12.1973: Alejandro Gomez V. is arrestred on a public street
- Wednesday 19.12.1973: Luis Orellana P. and his girlfriend are arrested
- Thursday 20.12.1973: Carlos Cuevas M., Luis Canales V. and Pedro Rojas C. are arrested at their homes
- Friday 21.12.1973: The families of the five youths take measures to find out the whereabouts of the youths and to try to get them released
- Saturday 22.12.1973 The government gives „notice" via the press media, that the youths mentioned above were riddled by shots the night before in an exchange of gunfire.