Report: Pinochet covered up burning death of US resident

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Posted: Jul 31, 2015 5:13 PM
Report: Pinochet covered up burning death of US resident

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — U.S. documents published Friday indicate Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet covered up the military's role in the burning death of a 19-year-old U.S. resident during a 1986 protest, a case that drew worldwide condemnation and strained the regime's relationship with Washington.

Declassified State Department cables from July 1986 cited a source within Chile's national police force as saying a police report identifying those responsible for the attack on Rodrigo Rojas and another teen, Carmen Quintana, was presented to Pinochet, who refused to take it and rejected ordering an investigation. The cables were posted Friday by the National Security Archive, a nonprofit organization based in Washington.

The attack on Rojas, a photographer from Washington whose mother was exiled from Chile, and the 18-year-old Quintana came during a street protest on July 2, 1986. Witnesses said soldiers doused the two with gasoline and set them ablaze, before abandoning them in a ditch on the outskirts of Santiago. Rojas died four days later and Quintana, a university student, suffered severe burns.

Pinochet accused Rojas and Quintana of being terrorists who were burned by firebombs they planned to use against barricades. Chile's army denied any involvement.

At the time, the burning attack drew broad condemnation from governments and rights groups. The administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan demanded a full investigation and judicial action.

Cables published by the National Security Archive cited "a reliable source within the Carabineros," referring to Chile's national police, as saying its investigation indicated "members of a Chilean army street patrol unit were involved in the burning of the two Chilean youths and the dumping of their bodies."

The documents said that witnesses reported soldiers deliberately set Rojas and Quintana on fire and that the director of the central hospital blocked Rojas from being transferred to a clinic better equipped to treat him.

Quintana, whose disfigured face became a symbol of the atrocities committed by Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship, said the documents vindicated her account of the attack.

"The confidential files from the United States ratify what I have been saying, along with my parents and lawyers, for 29 years: that all of this was orchestrated from Pinochet on down," Quintana told reporters Friday.

"The cables reveal the existence of an institutionalized system of lies in crimes against humanity and the systematic policy of the army to cover them up until now."

The attackers long enjoyed impunity. But a local judge recently charged 12 former soldiers in the crime, after another former soldier testified about the case, breaking a nearly three-decade pact of silence.

"Carmen Quintana and Rodrigo Rojas, who I watched grow up in Washington, deserve legal and historical justice," said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive and author of "The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability."

Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said Friday that the declassified documents would be translated into Spanish and handed over to authorities as part of the current investigation.

"For several weeks, we have been talking with the U.S. State Department about lifting the redactions on blacked-out paragraphs in the declassified cables, including these, and, in addition, about completely declassifying the rest of the documents still classified by the United States related to this period," Munoz said.

In all, 40,018 people were killed, tortured or imprisoned for political reasons during Pinochet's dictatorship, according to official figures. Chile's government estimates 3,095 were killed.

Pinochet died in 2006 under house arrest without ever being tried on charges of illegal enrichment and human rights violations.

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Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao