Pinochet torture victims angry at pension

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The Independent US

Thousands of people tortured under Augusto Pinochet's former military regime in Chile were granted compensation yesterday. President Ricardo Lagos made the offer as an official report was published detailing abuses committed between 1973 and 1990 and announced life-long pensions and educational and health benefits for 27,000 victims.

Thousands of people tortured under Augusto Pinochet's former military regime in Chile were granted compensation yesterday. President Ricardo Lagos made the offer as an official report was published detailing abuses committed between 1973 and 1990 and announced life-long pensions and educational and health benefits for 27,000 victims.

He also recognised that torture had been a state policy, an acknowledgement expected to open the way for new legal proceedings against torturers.

"This is not only about recognising the horrors committed 31 years ago," President Lagos said. "It's also about the damage those people continue to suffer until today. It has to do with a truth we owe these families, one that is necessary to complete the justice and compensation we owe them."

The Commission on Torture and Political Prison took one year to interview nearly 35,000 alleged torture victims and compile the report. Human rights organisations estimate that more than 200,000 people tortured during Chile's 17 years of military rule.

Of those questioned, 27,260 victims meet the strict criteria for material compensation. President Lagos said the state will provide life pensions worth 112,000 pesos (£100) a month to the accredited victims.

But the victims had mixed reactions. "The pensions are an insult," said Carmen Gloria Diaz, who was detained and tortured for two years before fleeing Chile. She lived in Britain for 15 years until democracy was restored in Chile in 1990. "Not only are not enough victims covered, but the commission had recommended that compensation be equivalent to what the families of those who were killed or disappeared receive, and that's 300,000 pesos a month. So this is a joke."

President Lagos also made the first public acknowledgement that torture was a state-sanctioned policy, and Ms Diaz said that was to be applauded because it will have a major impact. "It's a recognition that cannot be erased, and it will serve as the basis for us to initiate a rash of new legal proceedings," she added.

Chile began confronting its past human rights abuses with the return to democracy in 1990, when the government of Patricio Aylwin established a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its 1991 report detailed the 2,000 executions and 1,200 disappearances under Pinochet's rule. But the commission never addressed torture by the military.

Hugo Gutierrez, a human rights lawyer, said torture victims had largely been ignored. And no one had been convicted of torture in Chile. But Mr Gutierrez said the report should help change this, given that it will include the names of denounced torturers, and details never before disclosed about places of torture. "It's important because it will establish an official truth," Mr Gutierrez said. "What's missing is that the torture be investigated, and that the torturers be condemned."

President Lagos said the report aimed to bring reconciliation and it would mark the beginning of a healing process, which many say is long overdue. Bishop Sergio Valech, who headed the commission, said the report recounted untold truths that all Chileans need to know, because "without yesterday there is no tomorrow".

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