This week we shine the spotlight on Chile:
PACT OF SILENCE
Testimony provided by a former army conscript has turned national attention to a nearly three-decade-old human rights case and prompted Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to demand an end to the shroud of secrecy that has covered this and other crimes committed during the 17-year Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990). "Enough with the silence," the center-left President said during an event earlier this week.
The events of the so-called "caso quemados" (case of the burned people) took place on July 2, 1986 during a pro-democracy protest in Santiago, where soldiers seized two young participants — Carmen Gloria Quintana, a university student, and Rodrigo Rojas, a photographer — allegedly doused them in gasoline and lit them on fire. The soldiers then loaded the victims into a truck, drove them out of the city, and dumped them in an abandoned lot. Passersby discovered the pair and helped get them to a hospital. Quintana somehow survived, despite extensive second and third-degree burns. Rojas died.
Military officials have long claimed that the burning happened accidentally. But in testimony given late last year — and made public earlier this month — ex-conscript Fernando Guzmán said Quintana and Rojas were intentionally torched. Guzmán's testimony prompted the judge overseeing the case to order the arrests of a dozen former soldiers, including the commander of the patrol, Pedro Fernández Dittus, who was charged Thursday with both aggravated and attempted homicide.
Spectators in Chile will have an opportunity Sunday to take a first peek at Hollywood's big-budget rendition of the 2010 horrifying ordeal and miraculous rescue of 33 Chilean miners who spent more than two months trapped deep underground. The 33 (Los 33 in Spanish), starring Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche and Lou Diamond Phillips, doesn't hit theaters in the United States until Nov. 13. A first trailer for the film was released this past week.
The movie premiere coincides with the fifth anniversary (Aug. 5) of the mining accident, which drew media attention from across the globe as millions worldwide watched the events unfold live on television.
Recalling what was arguably his finest hour as president, Chile's then leader, billionaire Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), said in a recent interview that "it occurred to me," at one point, to go down personally in one of the Fénix capsules, the specially fashioned devices used to rescue the miners. "At any rate, my wife, who knows me well â€¦ said, â€˜Don't even think about it,'" he was quoted as saying by the daily El Mercurio. Piñera, a possible 2017 presidential candidate, also took the opportunity last week to publish a special Los 33 video address.