Reporting/Interview: Lamprini Thoma
She calls him “my dad”. She is now 71 years old. I empathize with her, I understand the tenderness in her words, I share her denial to let him go. He’s still here… She won’t let him go before justice is served.
We met on November 17th, 2021, on our third day in Chile. The day after, Thursday 18th, in a Sydney courtroom, was taking place the last appeal of Adriana Rivas, one of her father’s torturers, against her extradition to Chile.
I am watching the appeal online, thanks to Maria Estela Ortiz, who asked me to interview her after the trial. She’s soft-spoken and sweet, and gives me the link when I ask for it.
Rivas appears on the bottom left of my screen, from a feed inside her cell. She looks resigned and reserved, her hands crossed and her head falling to the right. She looks like a harmless old lady who fled to Australia. In reality, she is a notorious and cruel torturer, member of the elite Pinochet DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional) team. She is in a civilized court, where people speak sensibly and the laws are interpreted and discussed. It is in this civilized court where the case of Maria Estela’s father, Fernando Ortiz, is also discussed. I speak with Maria Estela and we become one.
“The last court date in Australia was yesterday. Rivas’s last appeal. She did whatever she could to not be extradited to Chile. We will know in a few months. It was a long, very long process. For justice, so justice can be served. We are all very touched, because it’s just the people she tortured. It’s about others too, it’s about their families. It’s also about a woman, five months pregnant, and her husband who died of cancer, and her husband gave everything away to find out what happened to his son, before we found out her fate and the fate of her unborn child.” Reinalda del Carmen, the pregnant communist, the tortured, the disappeared, the desaparecida.
Adriana Rivas was a member of the Lautaro Brigade, in which a few select women took part. They were young, educated, and capable of anything. Lautaro Brigade was founded as the personal guard of the second important junta leader –the figurehead of the infamous “intelligence agency,” DINA— Manuel Contreras, and was under his direct command. Their base was the Simón Bolívar barracks, in Santiago’s La Reina. Part of the Brigade was “Team Dolphin,” Grupo Delphin, whose sole objective was to exterminate every high-ranking member of the Communist Party of Chile.
The existence of Lautaro Brigade and Grupo Delphin was the best kept secret of Pinochet and his murderers. Their operation, organization, and doings became known just in 2007, when one of the tortures spoke up. From 2007 to 2010, we found out the Communist Party’s murdered members one by one, like the leader of the party Victor Diaz Lopez, Jorge Munoz, professor Fernando Ortiz, Reinalda; they were disappeared. They become desaparecidos.
“But those trials are now over and this gives us hope; we are full of hope they will extradite her, that this will be the court’s decision. We have been waiting for justice from 1976, now it’s 2021, we will probably have to wait until 2022. It’s been almost 50 years and there has not been a day that passed without us demanding justice. It is this stubborn hope that kept us going. I was 26 when they grabbed my father and now, I am 71. I was a girl. And then my husband was beheaded by the dictatorship. Out of all my children only two met their grandfather. He never met three of his grandchildren. I would have given everything for him to meet them. “
“It has been a long and painful fight, a fight still ongoing unfortunately, even if we have democracy now. Justice is still pending. And we, my family and I, are privileged because we found three fragments of my dad’s bones, thanks to Judge Montillo who wanted to discover what took place in that extermination camp. We never found out what happened to others, and the people who died there were plenty. The biggest atrocities happened there. And yet we are lucky because we know what happened.“
“We ask for justice and we still do not have it. They tell us about the poor 70- and 80-year-old people in jail, the poor [Pinochet torturers], while some other 70- and 80-year-old men and women die without seeing justice. The old [torturers] who die in their houses without justice being served for their victims, without them paying for their crimes; they are cowards who didn’t go to trial and didn’t get punished, who have been free all these years… Because it wasn’t just Rivas in her house, it’s also others who were young back then.“
It was Christian-democrat Eduardo Frei’s government, , in power from 1994 until 2000, that permitted the justice system to investigate Pinochet’s crimes. However, the road to the truth –as much as it could be uncovered—was long and painful.
“If it wasn’t for that stubborn hope, we would have never known what happened, because we found out in 2006. Rivas was already in Australia, with her [Australian] husband. She came to Chile in 2006 and she was arrested based on what has become known. It was us who had gathered all evidence and it was us who had to publish them so they could catch her. But they let her walk away, under the condition to report to a police station once a week, if I’m not mistaken. And she left and went back to Australia. This shows how Chile’s national security agencies still work in the same way, because it was them who took her out of the country, didn’t stop her, allowed her to board the plane.“
Fernando Ortiz, university professor and well-renowned member of Chile’s Communist Party, was abducted on the street, in Santiago’s La Reina, on December 15th 1976, from Pinochet’s secret service, DINA. There was no crime, no warrant, no charges. And yet, he had been hiding for months. He knew that just the word “communist,” which he considered an honor, was enough for them to decide his extermination.
“For many years, I didn’t allow myself to cry. My children asked me not to when they [junta members] decapitated their father, they asked me to stop crying because I had them. But now that I have grandchildren, I feel like I have the right to express my feelings again.“
Maria Estela Ortiz with teary eyes
“We were not an ordinary family. Both myself and my brother were communists and we decided to stay in Chile, like our father. I speak about my father because he was convinced, we should not abandon our country, he was always telling us that. He said we had to stay in Chie and do whatever we could to take down the military junta. We knew we were constantly in danger because he and my mother-in-law were leadership members of the Communist Party: my father was in the central committee and he was a respected public figure, he was one of the first to be hunted down. We know the danger. So many times, we were arrested and interrogated –in different places each time—and when we were [secretly] working to restructure the party [since its leadership had “disappeared”] they were searching us, they searched our houses and ourselves, they treated us in the most atrocious way.“
Fernando Ortiz, university professor and well-renowned member of Chile’s Communist Party, is one of the thousands desaparecidos, people who disappeared under Pinochet.
“That day, when they got him, it was during the weekend and I had gone with my sister and our kids to the beach, only my brother was home. He called us on Sunday to tell us he was informed our father was taken and that the abduction details were horrible. We believed they would kill him; he always said they wouldn’t let him live, if they caught him, they would kill him. We immediately left for Santiago and we planned our next steps. My partner, Jose Manuel [who later got decapitated], was responsible for the solidarity network. He was speaking with people from other parties and organizations, and thus came about an open letter asking for his release. All of this happened on Sunday. We knew we had to act immediately so they didn’t have time to kill him; we were acting against time and we knew it.“
The professor was moved to the dictatorship’s black ops site, the extermination camp Simón Bolívar where only the most hardened people were stationed, where they were tortured beyond any stretch of the imagination “because those communists never spoke” and some of them “just did their job,” as Adriana Rivas said in an interview, with no remorse but a lot of anger. Adriana Rivas, one of professor Ortiz’s torturers, then an Australian resident and inmate, today, could “arrive at the most luxurious hotels by limousine and visit the Chilean embassies all over the word,” thanks to his role in the camp, with his bloody hands clutching champagne glasses. The hands of a “middle class daughter with a mediocre education,” who became a torturer and a murderer to climb up the social ladder.
“I, my sister, and my brother were all members of the party. We had reasons to believe, and we believed it, that they were going to kill dad. However, we didn’t know about them. And so, we started arranging meetings, to get together with people and families who shared the same fate. Most of them were our friends, or family of them, whose relatives had disappeared or were executed, and we started to hope that maybe he is alive. It’s a strange emotional change. I lived it with the other women. We were saying they may be alive and ended up believing they are alive. Maybe they won’t kill him, they won’t kill him, maybe he’s alive, he’s surely alive…“
The fate of Simón Bolívar camp victims was mostly decided by Pinochet and Contreras themselves. This always happened with the dictator’s knowledge who “was personally interested in the fate of the communist leaders.” Diaz Lopez received a “visit” by Pinochet himself, when he was being tortured, and he congratulated the torturers on their work.
The torture took many morphs, so the people “who never speak” would speak up, from beating them up to electrocuting them, and methods such as, in Ortiz’s case, left “the meat all torn up and you could see his broken bones peeking out,” as was said by a first-hand witness, Mocito. He was the fifteen-year-old server brought in to serve coffee and sandwiches to the torturers, when they took a break, and he found the courage to speak up.
Then, they murdered them, in various ways. They choked Victor Diaz Lopez to death with a plastic bag, some were choked by Chilean sarin gas, under the watchful eye of Contreras, some, like the professor, were murdered with a cyanide injection, usually administered by the nurse Gladis Calderon. If she was not there, she was replaced by another “Dolphin”: in the professor’s case his executioner was Adriana Rivas.
“They abducted my dad just because he was a communist. He was a history professor at the university, he taught socio-economic world and Chile’s history, and he was one of the most renowned academics in the country. He was also a member of the university council responsible for deciding the course of studies, the university policies, everything happening there. He was loved by everyone, he wanted to persuade people, not to disagree, but to achieve consensus. It was impressive that the university rector, who was a Christian-democrat, was right beside us from the first moment and told us ‘I would do anything for Fernando.’ We found things about our father from people in different political spaces. Even our lawyer, a former member of the student movement [non-communist] came by himself, he said he wanted to do something for Fernando, to defend him. Nothing of the above was a given for the children of disappeared communists.“
The corpses of murdered communists were wrapped in big, paper bags, tied with wire and a metal stick, so the body would be kept in shape, and were transported by truck or Puma helicopters to be dumped in the sea by the Caravan of Death –with the infamous death flights— or to the lime kilns in Lonquén.
The Ortiz family is among the lucky ones, so to speak. The professor’s remnants were tossed in the kilns. Maria Estela Ortiz waited there to “find his remnants” but, after 35 years, they only found, identified with DNA, and buried only some tiny bone fragments. At least, they had something to bury.
“It’s important to not let the hate fester inside you. To be completely honest, in the beginning I felt this terrible rage, it’s human, we are only humans. However, even if I was feeling rage as a daughter and a wife, I had a big fight ahead of me as a mother, especially with my son. The biggest challenge was for them to have a happy life and for me not to mark them with my hate. And I think I achieved that. We never wanted anyone’s death, especially for political reasons. We are consistent. We are against torture and against arresting someone just because they think differently. Their father, Jose Manual [Parada], was one of the three decapitated, and that crime was one of the last but also the most horrible and cruel in Chile. And when the time came, we could even demand the death penalty. But we discussed it, my children and I, and decided, however cruel it might have been, to not ask for the death penalty, neither us not the relatives of Manual Gerero and Santiago Nativa. And we knew in 20 years they [the murderers] would be out because, back then, a life sentence was 20 years.“
Jose Manuel Parada, Manual Gerero, and Santiago Nativa, communists and high-ranking members of Chile’s Communist Party were decapitated in 1985. However, it was Parada’s case that mobilized every activist in the country, regardless of political affiliations. And that was because, apart from being a Party member, he also belonged to the Vicariate of Solidarity (La Vicaría de la Solidaridad), a human rights organization created by the Chilean Catholic Church. It was that membership that made him more prominent and the reason everyone thought he was protected. He confessed to his family that he had the feeling he was being watched by members of Pinochet’s death squads on March 26th 1985. Four days later, his decapitated corpse was found in a field near Santiago’s airport along with the two, also decapitated, corpses of his comrades.
Society’s shock was so big that one of the few independent Chilean judges, Jose Kanovas Rombles, ordered an investigation. Ceasar Mentoza, general and junta official, quit and thirteen police officials were relieved from duty. Ten months later, Chile’s supreme court –manned by Pinochet’s minions— decided there was not enough evidence for any kind of prosecution. The accused went back to work.
“My daughter says, and she’s right, if someone does not Live, with a capital L, then he might as well not live at all. And we lived like that.”
The remains of professor Ortiz were buried in 2012. The Simón Bolívar barracks was long gone and the land was sold to a private investor who built a gated luxury community. Four years later, on the intersection of streets Simón Bolívar and Venezuela, in front of the Chilean Army War Academy, was erected the monument of Simón Bolívar Barracks.
During Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990), beloved friend of Margaret Thatcher, we have evidence of 3,197 dissidents who were murdered and 28,000 people who were tortured by DINA. The number of people in exile is considered to be around 200,000. The number of people who disappeared and we never found out what happened to them is considered to be in the thousands.
“And they [the torturers] got out, free, and whoever was in jail was in the most luxurious one, a privileged prison; although I wish all prisons were like that. When they tell me this prison should shut down, I say no, it should stay open, so we can see [the luxury] and remember that petty thieves should be more comfortable than they are, they deserve them more. And we fight so all prisons are like this and even better.“
Out of more than 3,000 torturers and murderers of Pinochet, only 250 have stood in front of a judge and only 51 are in jail, in the country’s most luxurious prison.
The prison was built under orders of Pinochet himself, after he resigned as head of the government but remained as head of the armed forces, in order to host his allies who wouldn’t escape justice. It’s very comfortable, has no bars on the windows, and each cell has its own bathroom and satellite TV. It was built to hold 100 inmates, more than 60 people work there, and cost $2,7 million in 1995. The first inmate was the secret service general, Pedro Espinoza, and the allocated cost for him was $21,000 per month, as opposed to $800 for any other inmate in the country. Reuters has characterized the prison as “known for spacious cells and more lenient conditions.”
In 2016, Adriana Rivas’s niece, cinematographer Lizete Orosko, started a documentary to prove her aunt’s innocence, who she adored since she was a child. During the research and the filming period, the documentary became a brave testimony to Rivas’s crimes. Its title is El Pacto de Adriana.
Australia, where Rivas found refuge, welcomed many Chileans during the military junta, under the condition they “would not get involved in politics when they reached Australia.”
According to Dr Rodrigo Akunia, member of the Australian organization representing the Chilean exiled in the country, Australia cooperated with the USA and the CIA in the coop against the Allende government and in support of Pinochet’s regime. Australia’s secret service, ASIS, has had its own operational center in Santiago since 1970, and cooperated with the CIA closely after Pinochet was installed. Evidence for the role the Australian government had played in the coup against Allende has been discussed and recognized by the parliament since 1977 (“The Australian secret service is working alongside the CIA to overthrow the elected Chilean government,” was the result).
When the first big wave of people started to leave Chile, about 6,000 of them found refuge in Australia. Most of them were left-wing but among them were also plenty secret service agents, tortures, and murderers. One of them is Adriana Rivas.
Chilean activists in Australia, one of which is also lawyer Adriana Navaro, are still fighting to declassify top secret documents that prove the relationship, cooperation, and role of Australia in overthrowing the Allende government, the surveillance of dissidents, and the “hospitality” they showed to agents in Australian soil.
Instead of a conclusion:
In 2007 Danilo Pedreros Parra published the “Lyrics in Memory of Simón Bolívar,” restoring the name of El Libertador. It went like this:
Stable and secure
Those who understand their history
Do not fear the future
Remember, memory is not malice
It is not vengeance
It is the peaceful restraint
That which love gives us
When the pain goes away
From the violent losses
[Because of who] place a price on life
Always in a foreign currency
Memory does not have a back
She flows in the today
She knows her burden
She walks with the truth
Like a banner and a condition…