Cerro Chena, possible great clandestine cemetery of the dictatorship

By Sebastian Silva |

Santiago, Chile (BLAZETRENDS) detention and torture of the dictatorship (1973-1990) that 50 years later has hardly been investigated.

Located 25 kilometers from the heart of Santiago, various testimonies claim that it is a “clandestine cemetery” that “occupies the space of two soccer fields and is just 300 meters from the south longitudinal highway, on the west face of Cerro Mayor ”, as the magazine “Análisis” wrote in its number 217 in 1988.

An article that included the confession of a former agent of the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) -oppressive arm of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship- where he portrays the horror of the crimes committed on the aforementioned hill, a dry promontory of just under 1,000 meters height visible from one of the highways that surround Santiago.

“The first corpses began to arrive at the clandestine cemetery in November 1973, a few months after the military coup. The first executed departed from the National Stadium,” the former agent, identified as Ricardo Emilio Guzmán Bousquet, told journalist Mónica González at the time.

“In the wee hours of the morning, Army trucks made by Ford, Toyota or Mack, transferred their cargo covered with resistant canvas to the San Bernardo military compound,” he added.

According to his testimony, “while some watched the action with submachine guns in hand, other soldiers dug the graves. At first, due to the number of deaths that arrived, graves were made one meter deep. Later, orders were given that the graves were at least four meters long, ”he described.

The forgotten boxes of Cerro Chena

In 2002, 17 years before it was declared a Historical Monument and thanks to the work of magistrate Cecilia Flores, the first remains appeared that revealed its repressive past. Small skeletal remains brought to court, classified and stored in paper envelopes and in boxes labeled “Cerro Chena”.

From there the history of the remains becomes entangled. The new person in charge of the investigation, Judge Juan Guzmán, orders the transfer of the boxes and the remains to the University of Chile. There they are piled up and forgotten in a warehouse that was flooded in 2014.

Last February, groups of relatives of victims of the Chilean dictatorship learned, with horror, that for almost 23 years these skeletal remains remained piled up without being subjected to identification tests.

In total, 89 boxes with the remains of 300 alleged victims were taken into custody at the University of Chile in 2002. In 2019 they were transferred, also without being examined, to the Legal Medical Service (SML), including the one labeled “Cerro Chena”, explains Mónica Monsalves.

“These boxes once again demonstrate a horror, a lack of humanity, a contempt. This has affected us a lot, I was a witness to this, the boxes exist and were forgotten in time. There is no word to be able to represent the damage that was done, negligence is not enough”, he added.

Some of the boxes sent to a laboratory in Austria for an identification that relatives are eagerly awaiting.

One hundred executed and 17 disappeared

Official reports such as the one signed by the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture. As well as judicial processes, they accredit what the Army insisted for years on hiding. In Cerro Chena, at least 100 people were executed. Among them peasants and railway workers from the Maestranza de San Bernardo, and the father of Mónica Monsalves.

According to the list provided by the former head of the DINA, Manuel Contreras, 441 people were imprisoned there: 353 men and 88 women. Some of them shot and taken in trucks to the SML. But 17, according to the records of the Memorial Corporation, are still missing: 14 peasants from Paine and 3 from San Bernardo.

The priority of the human rights organizations is, now, that this site appears in the Search Plan for the Disappeared Detained that the Government of Gabriel Boric is still preparing, which foresees deployments on the ground to re-check places with possible clandestine graves.

“The trust we placed in this system was a mistake, because we handed over all the background information, all the names, and the Judiciary denied us knowing the truth regarding the findings that were made in 2002 with the help of relatives and the collaboration of the judges” Monsalves complains.

“We trust them and that trust was betrayed with oblivion,” he stresses.

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