Chilean military officers charged in 1986 murder of U.S. student

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 24, 2015 12:14 PM

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Six former Chilean military officers will be charged with murder over the killing of a U.S. student during a Santiago labor strike in 1986, and a seventh will face charges of helping them, a judge said on Friday.

The officers, who were detained earlier this week, are suspected of using gasoline and a lighter to burn and kill 19-year-old U.S. student Rodrigo Rojas and seriously injure Carmen Gloria Quintana, a Chilean then aged 18, at a protest during the country’s 1973-1990 dictatorship.

Official accounts of the incident held that the two victims accidentally set themselves ablaze when constructing a flaming barricade to repel law enforcement.

Judge Mario Carroza reopened the case in 2013 and ordered the arrests of the ex-officers after a military conscript, Fernando Guzman, changed his previous testimony. Guzman said the officers intentionally set the two teenagers ablaze before abandoning them in a ditch in the outskirts of the capital.

“There are precedents, facts that allow us to prosecute them for homicide,” Carroza told reporters on Chilean television on Friday. “Six of the accused will be charged as leaders of the attack and one as an accomplice,” he said.

In recent days, government officials, human rights groups, and victims of government repression have called on former members of the military to break what they called a “pact of silence.” Many allege that thousands of conscripts and officers are complicit in covering up widespread abuses that occurred during Augusto Pinochet’s rule.

Although support for Pinochet in Chile has declined in recent years, the country still remains deeply divided by the events of the 1973 coup and the repression that followed.

On Thursday protesters attacked Julio Castaner, one of the former officers, as police escorted him to a waiting plane in the southern city of Punta Arenas. He was headed for Santiago for questioning by a judge.

Pinochet left office in 1990, but arrests and prosecutions of former government officials remain commonplace.

"Justice had been denied, but I never lost confidence that there were decent judges," Veronica de Negri, the mother of Rojas, told reporters on Chilean television on Friday.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Bill Rigby)