Chile: 40 years on, the full story still hasn't been told

Carlos Reyes-Manzo is a photojournalist who was 'disappeared', detained and tortured by the Pinochet regime. This is his story.

In 1973 I was a member of the Socialist party's national council and worked as a photojournalist and for Chile Films, which focused on social issues. We feared a coup at any time. You couldn't travel between one town and the next without encoutering armed right-wing groups.

On 11 September the armed forces took over with the brutality of an army of occupation - I went underground. Some friends and family were too scared to allow me to stay with them. My wife Mercedes and I hads two young children, no money and didn't know how we would survive but there was a great sense of solidarity which kept us going.

After six months working underground I was detained by the SICAR (the police intelligence services) in front of my family. All of my work was confiscated.

I was taken to a car park under La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, where i was interrogated. People were being tortured and killed indescriminately. I thought I would be killed too. I anted to die with dignity - I wasn't going to give names.

After a month I was moved to Londres 38, a former Socialist party office that had been turned into a detention centre. They knew I was connected to the Socialists, but couldn't quite link me. I was there for two months before moving to two other centres, where I managed to get information out to my family to say I was alive. I hid a note with my name on it under the collar of another detainee's shirt, which (along with the clothes of other prisoners) was sent out by the Red Cross to be washed by family members. My wife got the message and passed the information to the UN. 

The Pinochet regime was forced to acknowledge that I was being held.

There was an international campaign for Chilean prisoners, and after being moved through different torture centres and concentration camps, I was expelled from Chile under a drcree signed by Pinochet, and sent to Panama with 98 other prisoners.

In Panama I kept campaigning and working, but it was hard. In 1979 Chilean agents tried to kill me in an 'accident' - a lorry, waiting outside my home, drove at my car. A few days later on my birthday, I was kidnapped at home in front of my family and 'disappeared', taken to a military base and interrogated - we know as part of Operation Condor, where thousands of people in Latin America were killed and ‘disappeared’.

The next day I was put on a plane for Santiago, where a journalist from the Spanish news agency EFE, who I worked for, spotted me at the airport and alerted the Catholic Church. At Santiago, members of the church were there to meet me and protect my, but I was taken back to Panama, kidnapped again, and the next day put on another plane back to Santiago via London and Paris.

Suddenly, I saw an opportunity. My two guards had a bottle of whiskey and had been drinking heavily throughout the flight to Heathrow, and when we landed they were fast asleep. As the doors opened I ran out towards immigration. I didn’t speak English then but tried to explain that I was a political exile, and that they were trying to take me back to Chile where I would be killed.

The guards arrived, claiming I was a criminal. The immigration officers questioned me but decided I didn’t have a case, and I was taken to Harmondsworth detention centre for the night and allowed my one phone call. I called EFE, who called Amnesty. They alerted Lord Avebury who tabled an urgent motion in parliament to stop me being deported.

40 years on from the coup, the full story of what happened in Chile during the Pinochet regime still hasn’t been told. I still can’t return to Chile – and nor can many others – because when Pinochet was detained in London I campaigned for him to be tried for crimes against humanity.

See pictures of protest against Pinochet's Chile at an exhibition at the Amnesty UK offices, until 23 September

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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