Abuse of Human Rights by the DINA

Human rights' abuses in Chile began shortly after Pinochet and the other military leaders of the coup took power. Between September 12th and 13th, just days after the take-over, the National Stadium in Santiago was turned into a large detention center. The Red Cross estimated that on September 22, 1973 there were about 7,000 prisoners being held there, 200 to 300 of which were not Chilean citizens. Many of the people detained complained to the Red Cross of torture and produced evidence. There were other detention/torture centers spread throughout the country.

In Chile, a few groups were organized to protect people from the wrath of the DINA. The Comité para la Paz, established in October of 1973, and the Vicaria de la Solidaridad, established in January of 1976, were two such groups created by the Catholic archbishop of Santiago with Protestant and Jewish leaders. These groups gave legal and emotional support to victims and their families. Another, more clandestine activity was to take victims and potential victims to foreign embassies where they could seek asylum. The Catholic church did not take a collective stance on Pinochet's rule. A high-ranking Catholic official, Cardinal Silva, was at first reluctant to anger the government, but became more critical as the violations increased.

Contreras saw Silva as one of his major opponents and attempted to blacken his name and his activities as being "Marxist infiltrated." In one instance, the DINA left an injured victim outside of the headquarters of the Comité para la Paz. Silva took the doctors report, which showed that the man had been tortured to Pinochet himself, and asked him to take steps to curb the DINA. This had no effect and the DINA continued to "disappear," kill and torture people.

Under Pinochet, the government instituted a curfew the purpose of which psychologist and activist Elizabeth Lira explained, saying, "If you were trapped at home, it was easy to deny what you couldn't see." While many people were content to deny the violence that was taking place or were too afraid, some people protested. Protesting only intensified the pain brought on by not knowing what had happened to relatives and friends.

Terror Abroad

Within Chile, the DINA's activities did not just include Chilean citizens. Charles Horman Jr., an American expatriot and Allende sympathizer was among other non Chileans who were detained, tortured and executed.

The DINA extended itself outside of Chile to include exiles who were anti Pinochet. In September of 1974, General Carlos Prats and his wife were killed in Argentina. Prats had been suspected of attempting to oust Pinochet. A little over a year later, Bernardo Leighton, a Christian Democrat, and his wife were shot in Rome. Both survived the attack.

A memo dated September 16, 1976 from Contreras to Pinochet provides one answer for this violence. In the note, Contreras requested $600,000 "for reasons that I consider indispensable," including, "the neutralization of the [Chilean] government junta's principle adversaries abroad, especially in Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, the USA and Italy." Later, these countries would witness assassination or assassination attempts linked to the DINA.

On September 21, 1976, the DINA carried out, what may be considered, its most "audacious" act of terrorism yet. Acting under direct orders from Contreras, DINA agents detonated a bomb in Orlando Letelier's car, killing Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffit. Letelier, who had worked as foreign minister and ambassador to the US under Allende, was seen as one of Pinochet's staunchest critics abroad. At first, US officials could not believe that the Chilean secret police would undertake such an overt attack on American soil. As they scrutinized the evidence, though, they could find only one explanation - the DINA.