Chile Leader Visits Site of Her Torture

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 14, 2006; 11:09 PM

SANTIAGO, Chile -- President Michelle Bachelet paid an emotional visit Saturday to a torture center where she and her mother were abused three decades ago, and said her government will move to repeal an amnesty law that has prevented prosecution of human rights violations.

Michelle Bachelet, then a 22-year-old medical student, and her mother, Angela Jeria, were held on the Villa Grimaldi farm for several weeks in 1975. After their release, they were allowed to go into exile, first to Australia, then to the former East Germany.

The president said the Inter-American Human Rights Court recently ruled that the 1978 amnesty law issued by the regime of ex-dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet violates the international law that bans the amnesty of crimes against mankind.

"The government will soon announce measures that will ensure that the Chilean state will act in accordance to international law," she said, referring to the decision by the human rights court.

"There is no place more appropriate than this one to announce this," Bachelet said.

Since the end of the Pinochet regime in 1990, the right-wing opposition in congress has blocked efforts to repeal the amnesty law. Pinochet, 90, is currently under indictment on torture and kidnapping charges for the abuses occurred at Villa Grimaldi.

The one-time detention center where Bachelet was abused in southeastern Santiago has been turned into a memorial for the 4,500 people who were held there between 1973 and 1978. Most were tortured, many were killed and more than 200 were never heard from again.

According to a report by a commission appointed by the first post-Pinochet civilian government, 3,197 people were killed for political reasons under the 1973-1990 dictatorship, including 1,197 who were made to disappear.

Chile's first female president appeared tense as she arrived at the former prison, but looked relaxed as she toured the area. At one point, she entered the "Tower," a tall wooden structure where the worse tortures occurred, according to victims' testimonies.

"That was a place of death," Bachelet said.

"Terror did not prevail," she added. "Life and peace have been stronger."

© 2006 The Associated Press