Execution has transformed itself from a punishment into a relief for the hundreds or thousands of Chilean women, old people, and even children who are brutally tortured every day.
In early November 1973, some peasants traveling over the Las Tejuelas bridge, which crosses the Ñuble River about a mile and a half from Chillán, noted that, as usual, the water level was beginning to drop with the end of the rainy season. Along with this phenomenon, they noticed another one, new and horrifying: the appearance of dozens of headless cadavers with their arms tied behind their backs. Some of the bodies were half decayed. When the peasants notified the military police post at the city gates, they were told curtly: "You saw nothing. If you say anything, we will arrest you and cut your throats, just like those corpses."
Those bodies were the leftovers from the "extermination" operation in Ñuble Province, resembling the "leftovers" in any other province in Chile after September 11, debris left by bayonets, machine guns, and torture devices of the Chilean Air Force, Navy, and Army.
Shortly before this incident at the Las Tejuelas bridge, the Arauco Fishing Association, which produces canned seafood in the port of Talcahuano, had to halt work for several days. The fish they were receiving were full of bits of human flesh from bodies the Chilean Navy had tossed into the ocean after they came out of the naval base's torture chambers
One journalist, still in Chile, whose name I must withhold, told me how corpses of people who had been tortured and later shot appeared in the Mapocho River, which runs through Santiago:
During the first weeks of October I had to cross Bulnes bridge to get over the Mapocho very early every morning. The first time I could not believe my eyes. It couldn't be true. From a distance I could see lots of people gathered along the bridge's railing and the riverbanks. They were looking at the half-floating corpses, four men's bodies. I still remember, one was wearing a red shirt. Farther off, there was a fifth body which had been dragged ashore. This scene went on every day, and not just at this bridge. You could see them at Pedro de Valdivia bridge too. Dozens of women would station themselves at the bridges every day, in hopes of seeing the body of a husband or son who had disappeared after being picked up by the soldiers. One day I saw nine corpses, all with bare chests, hands tied behind their backs. The bodies were perforated by bullet holes. And with them was the body of a girl, apparently fifteen or sixteen years old.
Children were not spared. On September 18 a military patrol went to pick up José Soto, a maker of wrought iron furniture, in his sixties, president of the supply and price control junta in his district, Quinta Normal. Soto wasn't home. His fourteen-year old son was alone in the house. The military patrol seized the boy. Afterward they threw the boy's bullet-riddled body on Soto's doorstep - "so the sonofabitch won't be a faggot and will turn himself in," the soldiers shouted to his neighbors. (José Soto and his family are now out of Chile, so I am able to tell his story.)
During September and part of October, in the Santiago communities around the industrial areas, the soldiers would leave bodies in the streets. When their relatives came to pick them up, they were arrested. The bodies generally had fingernails pulled out, or legs broken, or testicles smashed. Several had their eyes burnt out, apparently with cigarette butts.
In January 1974, Chilean Air Force troops deposited the body of a seventeen-year-old boy, an MIR party member, in a town south of Santiago. Part of the boy's abdomen had been subjected to vivisection. Both his legs were broken, and also his left arm. His entire body was covered with holes made by cigarette burns. He had also been castrated. The coroner later cited as cause of death "acute anemia."
Other common forms of torture practiced by the Army's SIM and military police intelligence officers were to extinguish cigarettes in the victim's anus and to apply electric current to the ears, anus, and testicles. For their part, the officers of Navy infantry appeared to have developed other tastes: seven members of the Valparaiso harbor patrol turned up dead, their legs broken and their testicles smashed.