Special to Intelligentsiya,
“In January 1979, Bainimarama embarked on the Chilean naval training ship, the Buque Escuela Esmeralda, which spent six months circumnavigating South America. On his return to
in August, Bainimarama was appointed Executive Officer of HMFS Kiro.” Fiji
The passage from the Commander’s entry in the on-line encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is unremarkable, unless one should click on the hyperlink “Buque Escuela Esmeralda” (pictured). Then it becomes interesting.
"That immediately after the military coup of September 11, 1973, the training ship, "Esmeralda" was utilized by the Chilean Navy as a center of detention and torture in Valparaíso harbor has been incontrovertibly demonstrated by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the OEA (report 24/Oct/74), Amnesty International (report AMR 22/32/80), the United States Senate (resolution 361-16/June/86), and the Report of the (Chilean) National Commission of Truth and Reconciliation (Third Part, Chapter I, Section 2 f.2.). The testimonies that the "Esmeralda" was effectively used as a floating chamber of torture are many and in mutual agreement."
Following the military coup on 11 September 1973, the military junta which seized power immediately embarked on a program of systematic and large-scale repression, exerting absolute control over the resources of the State, and using these to commit human rights violations. Constitutional guarantees were suspended through more than 3,500 decree laws and four "constitutional laws" passed over several years. Congress was dissolved, and a country-wide state of siege declared, under which hundreds of people were detained and countless more extrajudicially executed, a state policy of "disappearance" put in place, and torture was used systematically.
In October 1974 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published a report on a visit to
In the course of interviews with prisoners, both in the capital city, Santiago and outside the capital, in the north and in the south, of Chile, the Commission noted that of the large number who stated that they had been subjected to torture, in some cases brutally with visible marks remaining, most of them asserted that the torture was not applied in the establishments where they were or had been detained, but in other places where in the course of interrogations, a wide range of physical and psychological torture was employed. The Commission lists five locations which “[w]ith significant unanimity, in widely-separated establishments” were places used for torture. The fifth in the list is “e) The Navy ship “Esmeralda”.” (A stark white sailing vessel).
Substance was given to those accounts by the fact that “that similar descriptions have been given of those places by prisoners widely separated from each other.” The possibility of collusion and fabrication could accordingly be excluded. Both men and women were tortured, in the case of women in the form of sexual abuse including repeated and multiple rape and humiliation. Although the Commission members had been promised identification cards which would have enabled them to carry out surprise visits, these were not forthcoming. In a number of cases there was evidence of the establishment having been ‘sanitized’ immediately prior to their arrival. Finally when members of the investigation tem expressed their intention to visit the five installations identified as places of torture, they were told that such a visit could not be made, because the installations had recently been declared “military areas”. As the Report noted:
"This refusal prevented completing a task of utmost importance, namely, comparing the descriptions, which agreed with each other, of the alleged torture rooms, with the various locations in the buildings mentioned."
From all of this it is clear that by the end of 1974, that is to say five years before the Commander’s arrival, if the dates in the Wikipedia are correct, the reputation of the “Esmeralda” as a place of torture was well established. The repressive Pinochet regime was to last for sixteen years until 1990. When the ship ceased to be a place of torture is unclear. According to the Wikipedia it continued until the regime collapsed. According to an Amnesty International Report it was not used for that purpose beyond 1973. The second date may be the more reliable.
However, as the second Report of the Commission, dated 28 June 1976 recorded, while there had been some quantitative reduction reflected in a reduction of complaints of human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and other serious human rights abuses continued in substantial numbers throughout the period covered by the report.
By the time of the Third Report dated 11 February 1977, the non-cooperation of Chilean authorities rendered the task of the Commission virtually impossible. The Report noted that although the number of denunciations of homicides imputed to Chilean authorities through an abuse of power had declined, in the cases being processed in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Chilean Government, while not denying the events, contended that the action taken by the authorities had been justified. However the Government did not provide the evidence needed by the Commission to make a judgment identifying responsibility for those deaths, which the claimants impute to the Chilean authorities. The Commission continued to receive denunciations with regard to individuals detained, missing or presumed dead. These findings were confirmed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, (the “Rettig Commission”), set up after the fall of the dictator Pinochet. So much for the country as a whole. It is now time to turn to the specific issue of the “Esmeralda”.
The Amnesty International Report, ‘Torture And The Naval Training Ship The "Esmeralda"’, published in 2003, confirms that following the military coup on 11 September 1973, the military junta which seized power immediately embarked on a program of systematic and large-scale repression, exerting absolute control over the resources of the State, and using these to commit human rights violations. Constitutional guarantees were suspended through more than 3,500 decrees and four "constitutional laws" passed over several years. Congress was dissolved, and a country-wide state of siege declared, under which hundreds of people were detained, and countless more extrajudicially executed. A state policy of "disappearances" was put in place. Torture was used systematically.
With the return to civilian rule in 1990, two bodies were created at different periods to gather information establishing the truth about "disappearances", extrajudicial executions and deaths resulting from torture by State agents. The combined findings of the two Commissions officially documented 3,197 cases of victims of "disappearances", extrajudicial execution and death resulting from torture. This figure did not include the victims of torture who survived their ordeal. According to the Rettig Report, published in March 1991, aboard the "Esmeralda", a special group of Navy officials "installed a unit for the interrogation of detainees. Such interrogation included, as a general rule, ill-treatment and torture". Over the years, Amnesty International has documented and published the accounts of a number of victims tortured on the "Esmeralda". Torture techniques included the use of electric prods, high-voltage electric charges applied to the testicles, hanging by the feet and dumping head first in a bucket of water or excrement.
It is only recently that the Chilean Navy has admitted that detainees were in fact tortured. The Navy’s Admiral Miguel Ángel Vergara said in 2004 that the navy “profoundly regrets” the abuses. However, Vergara did not acknowledge, that the Navy as an institution was at fault, saying, “Those personal and ethical responsibilities are strictly personal.” However in May 2006, the Navy’s new leader, Admiral Rodolfo Codina Díaz, conceded in an interview with La Nación that it was not just a matter of personal responsibility on the part of those responsible, and that there were orders from direct supervisors. However, he continued to deny that the order came from highly ranked superior officers.
While there is no evidence that such conduct aboard the “Esmeralda” continued up until January 1979, it is likely that at least some of those involved were still serving on the “Esmeralda” at the time of Bainimarama’s claimed arrival, and almost certain that most, if not all of them were still serving officers in the Chilean Navy. It is not plausible that, if he did not know of the reputation of the vessel before his arrival in
A feature of the present coup is the existence of physical and psychological abuse of those unlawfully taken into detention by the RFMF. Few have spoken of their ordeal. Most have not, presumably because of threats of similar treatment of family and associates. This was not a feature of the Rabuka coup in 1987, where there were unlawful detentions, but little if any serious mistreatment of detainees. There has never been any suggestion that Rabuka has been involved in physical mistreatment of any kind. Bainimarama, on the other hand, notwithstanding denials by militarily compliant police officers, remains a person of interest in the investigation of the killing of members of the CRW unit, some of whom had attempted to oust him from command, and possibly kill him in October 2000. There is evidence that he was present in person when at least one detainee was assaulted and humiliated. Far from acting to prevent such abuses by his subordinates, if he has not encouraged them, he has at least condoned them.As a consequence of the making of a recent Canadian documentary, directed by a Chilean refugee from the excesses of the Pinochet regime, titled “The Dark Side of the White Lady”, and featuring interviews with survivors of torture aboard the “Esmeralda”, and relatives of those who did not survive, the vessel’s history and that of its officers is again a live issue in Chile. The events aboard in 1973 are also the subject of a judicial investigation. However, in an interview published in January this year one of the survivors, Professor Sergio Vuskovic Rojo, expresses his disappointment that the Catholic Church has not become more involved in the lawsuit, an omission which he finds particularly puzzling as one of its priests, Father Michael Woodward, was tortured to death aboard the “Esmeralda” He concludes: “I am not very optimistic about the issue of this lawsuit.” As with the events aboard her in