By Michael Klam
As the Chilean Navy’s tall ship, La Esmeralda, enters San Diego waters for the fourth time this Sunday afternoon, many will see it as a staunch reminder that political prisoner abuse and torture are not a thing of the past.
Given ongoing investigations into secret CIA extraordinary rendition sites across the globe, the well documented abuses at Abu Ghraib, and on the heels of U.S. government discussions to close Guantanamo Bay, the survivors, friends and family members of those tortured aboard La Esmeralda will protest the ship’s arrival at San Diego’s Broadway Pier. Amnesty International, Survivors of Torture, International, and the International Museum of Human Rights will also be present.
La Esmeralda in Valparaíso harbour on the day it left on its current cruise.
Some background: On Sept. 11, 1973 Gen. Augusto Pinochet and his military junta, funded by the CIA, seized power in a coup d’etat that would lead to decades of large-scale repressions and human rights violations in Chile.
In the weeks after the coup, La Esmeralda (also known as the White Lady, a symbol of Chilean pride that continues as a training ship for young recruits) was used to imprison, beat, sexually assault, electrocute and water torture those who sympathized with the ousted socialist president, Salvador Allende.
The Chilean Navy only recently admitted that detainees were tortured. The navy’s Adm. Miguel Ángel Vergara said in 2004 that the navy “profoundly regrets” the abuses. Vergara did not acknowledge that the navy as an institution was at fault, saying, “Those personal and ethical responsibilities are strictly personal.”
In essence, he suggested that the superior officers were not to blame.
A November 2004 report printed in the Chilean newspaper, La Nación, said the navy “profoundly laments the violation of human rights, in any place and under any circumstance, particularly that which occurred on board the ship, Esmeralda, which is a symbol for all of Chile.”