A Priest of the People

The Arrest and Search for the Missing Priest


"That one's not a priest; he's a Marxist"

Case History


A Priest of the People

Antonio Llido Mengual was born April 29, 1936 in Valencia, Spain. When the Republican government transferred from Madrid to Valencia, Valencia came under severe attack by Franco, forcing the fall of the democratic government. Llido grew up and was ordained a priest in 1963 under the authoritarian regime of Franco that killed 23 priests in the Basque country alone. His working class family instilled democratic values in him, and his social commitment was already evident as a young parish priest in the villages of Balones and Quatretondeta, a poor community sustained by subsistence agriculture.

Fr. Antonio Llido arrived in Chile in 1969, sent by the Episcopal Commission for Missions and Cooperation between Churches. His work as a priest was conducted in Quillota, Valparaiso Diocese, and a poor farm working community much like the villages he left behind in Spain.

Fr. Jesus Rodriguez arrived in Chile in 1965 also from Spain, and was parish priest in the poblacion of La Victoria from 1993 until his retirement in 2002. Rodriguez, one of seven plaintiffs who filed the Antonio Llido case, during a conversation with Memoria y Justicia on June 19, 2003, recalled:

"From the moment he arrived in Chile, the poverty, misery, and the anguish of the poor the deeply affected him. Such was the situation he observed throughout the Valparaiso area. He lived very modestly, eating what the poor ate, living from his earnings as a French teacher. During the harvest season, He joined the humble farm workers working with them, and worked as an unskilled laborer."

"Chile was highly politicized in those years. Working classes had a great yearning for justice. And with reason, because many social abuses existed. Antonio Llido's life was closely tied to groups of the poorest workers. Within that world of working people, various political groups advocated changes for a new society. He associated with many of them and had good relations with these groups that had such a strong yearning for justice."

The abysmal conditions of Quillota farm workers deeply affected the new Spanish priest, forming a base for a strong social and political commitment. Antonio Llido belonged to "The 80," a group of Chilean and foreign priests, who participated in the organization Cristianos por el Socialismo, that supported presidential candidacy of Salvador Allende.

In a letter he wrote to a friend on March 9, 1971, Llido described his vocation (from the book Antonio Llido: Epistolario de un compromiso):

"Faith in a distant, ephemeral God, solver of problems by house call, has also been left behind. Increasingly I come to understand my religion and priesthood as a commitment to the society in which I live. A commitment to men and women who struggle for a new social order where slavery has no place, that prepares people to fully realize themselves, in which injustice and exploitation cease to be our daily bread. I understand Jesus Christ as very related to this matter. I understand Jesus Christ as each one of my brothers and sisters. I understand that in uniting with them in this struggle, perhaps I will be capable of overcoming the small and large personal needs that are only relevant because they impede me from fully giving myself to this task."

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The Arrest and Search for the Missing Priest

Father Rodriguez again takes up the story:

"After the military coup, he was advised to return to his native land. He responded that he would not leave. In the hour of such hardship, he would not abandon the modest people with whom he had lived. He wished to share their lot. Still, shortly after the coup he was forced to leave the area because the military were looking for him, to kill him just as they looked for so many people. All of us who lived in Chile in those years bear witness of that fact. He went to Santiago, where he continued helping people who were fleeing. He fled with those who were fleeing. Even though he himself was in danger, he continued helping others who were persecuted. Once more, he was counseled to leave Chile, and once more he chose to stay and run the same fate shared by the poor and persecuted."

After the military coup, the military regime's security forces looked for him in Quillota, forcing him to leave the area. Llido was hidden first in Valparaiso, and then in Santiago, where he was arrested.

The last letter his family received, dated September 1974 and signed with the alias "Teresa Vazquez," indicated that Llido was aware of the risks he faced:

"I do not wish to be melodramatic, but at some point I have to say it. If something bad should happen to me, I want you to know that my commitment to what I am doing has been freely contracted, with the joy of knowing that this is precisely what I should be doing at this moment. Fear is constantly present in each one of us, because none of us are movie heroes. But we refuse to accept that fear must condition our actions and prevent us from doing what with a cool head and fervent heart we understand should be done."

On October 1, 1974 Antonio Llido was arrested in downtown Santiago.

Father Jesus Rodriguez attempted to intervene for many people after the coup. He was also very concerned about the situation of Antonio Llido. Accompanied by another Catalan priest, several times he visited Valparaiso Bishop Emilio Tagle who had good relations with the military.

"In March 1975, I remember he told us: "I have just spoken to a Minister of State who says Llido is under arrest but he is well." We visited him again during the month of May, and once more he told us, "I have spoken to a very high official. He tells me that this situation will be resolved well." We doubted everything he told us, but never did we tell him, 'You are very na•ve.' In June we visited him again, and this time, he was indeed disturbed. He got up, nervously pacing his office, and said, 'Now, I can't understand it. A n important Minister of State has just told me that this young priest was being transferred to another place of detention, and en route, he escaped.' He was very nervous. On our previous visits, he thought what they were telling him was true. But this time, he could not believe it."


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The terrible truth that the anonymous high official of State concealed from Bishop Tagle was that DINA agents had taken Antonio Llido to the interrogation and torture center at 1315 Jose Domingo Cañas Street in Santiago, known as Ollague Barracks. During the second week of October, he was transferred to cell 13 at Cuatro Alamos, a detention center where prisoners were held incommunicado. He remained there until October 24, when he and other prisoners were taken to an unknown location. Since that day, the Spanish priest Antonio Llido became one of hundreds of persons forcibly disappeared in Chile.

Numerous witnesses, who like Llido, were prisoners at Jose Domingo Cañas have testified in court that the priest was severely tortured. We highlight the testimonies of Julio Laks Feller and his wife Rosalia Martinez Cereceda, who shared a prison cell with Antonio Llido.

Testimony of Julio Laks Feller and Rosalia Martinez Cereceda

Julio Laks testified before the Spanish consulate on November 27, 1977. [ Laks recognized that "the conditions of detention made it difficult to measure the lapse of time," accounting for the discrepancy in dates.] His testimony forms part of the criminal complaint, as cited below:

"Between September 26 and 30 of the same year [1974] Fr. Antonio Llido Mengual was placed in our cell. Over the course of two or three days, Fr. Llido was taken from the cell many times for interrogation. Each time he returned in worse physical condition. After three days he moved with great difficulty due to the pain inflicted in torture. His shirt was stained in blood and he apparently had internal hemorrhages and torn muscles. On one occasion a doctor who worked for the DINA examined his vital signs and recommended immediate hospitalization. In response to the doctor's urgent recommendation, the official whose last name was Morel [Marcelo Moren Brito] responded that this was impossible, as the interrogations had not finished. The doctor insisted in vain, expressing his sense of powerlessness and indignation."

"Despite his physical state and the abuse inflicted by DINA agents, who grossly mocked his condition as priest, he found strength to console his cellmates, sharing his crusts of bread or fruit peels to help us survive."

Concerning her detention with Antonio Llido, Rosalia Martinez Cereceda stated in her own sworn testimony of December 19, 1999:

"There I also met the Spanish priest Antonio Llido. He was accused of having hidden and protected people of the MIR who were persecuted. Antonio Llido never denied this, saying that he could not lie to them. The guards would laugh at him, and commented that when Antonio Llido was being tortured he was asked to name people, and he would say that he could not give them the names. 'And why not?' the guards asked. 'Because of my principles,' Antonio replied in his Spanish accent, which the guards imitated."

In the second week of October 1974, Julio Laks was transferred to Cuatro Alamos. A few days later, from the window of his cell, he saw Antonio Llido arrive and placed in the adjoining cell (number 13): "His state of health was somewhat better, but he suffered great pain, as Icould note from his gestures." Julio Laks never saw him again.


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"That one's not a priest; he's a Marxist ."

On November 13, 1974 General Augusto Pinochet granted a rare interview to an interfaith group of clergy, members of the Pro Paz Committee founded in the weeks following the coup to aid people in detention. Monsignor Fernando Ariztia, Lutheran Bishop Helmuth Frenz, the Jesuit priest Fernando Salas and Rabbi Angel Kreiman had requested the interview to express their concern for 11 persons who had disappeared after detention. General Pinochet received the ecumenical delegation in his office in the Diego Portales building, and to the surprise of his visitors, he received them alone, without the presence of any assistant.

The clergy were especially concerned about the situation of David Silberman, CODELCO director who had been abducted from the Penitenciary in Santiago, and the case of Fr. Antonio Llido who they knew had been arrested by the DINA and was held in the Jose Domingo Cañas detention and torture center.

Helmut Frenz, today Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, testified on June 30, 2003 before Judge Jorge Zepeda regarding the interview with Pinochet. Frenz recalled:
"I wondered how the General would justify or evade the crude problem we would pose. That is, whether he would diminish it or simply deny that it was taking place. We wanted the General to know that we knew what had happened to these people because we thought it would help the victims."

They handed Pinochet a photograph of Llido and a list of people whose whereabouts had been lost after arrest.Glancing in silence through the list, the General pointed to one name and told his visitors:

"That one is not a priest; he's a Marxist. Marxists have to be tortured to make them sing."

These words, spoken in reference to Fr. Antonio Llido, striking for their unusual candor, reveal that General Pinochet had knowledge of the Spanish priest's arrest. The statement constitutes admission - possibly the only one - of the Military Junta's practice of forced disappearance and use of torture, as well as the specific case of Father Antonio Llido.

Helmuth Frenz's testimony before Judge Zepeda describes as follows:
"We were surprised that Pinochet responded immediately and so frankly. He very well could have given us an indirect reply, indicating, for example, that he would inform other military of the matter. Upon concluding our meeting, the General told us something that I recall nearly word for word because it was so extraordinary. This is what he told us: 'As clergy you can give yourselves the luxury of being merciful. But I am in charge of this country which is infected with the bacteria of Communism. I cannot give myself that luxury because to cure that bacteria you have to torture sometimes.' "

International concern

Llido's renowned priestly compassion and the tremendous brutality to which he was subjected by the DINA motivated numerous acts of concern from international officials and organizations.

  • The Spanish Foreign Relations Ministry repeatedly requested that military authorities inform it of the whereabouts and situation of Fr. Llido.
    The Vatican filed several international writs
  • On October 30, 1979 the Spanish Senate convened a special session to analyze the situation that affected Father Llido and called for urgent diplomatic actions.
  • The Belgium Embassy, the United Nations High Commission, Amnesty International, and the International Red Cross also intervened on behalf of Llido, demanding a response from the military regime.

    None of these diplomatic efforts, however, were able to penetrate the blind raised by those responsible for the arrest, murder, and disappearance of Antonio Llido to conceal their crimes.



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Case History

On October 10, 2000 attorneys Fabiola Letelier and Adil Brkovic filed a criminal complaint for first degree abduction and torture. The lawsuit was brought in representation of nine Catholic priests: Mariano Puga, Jose Aldunate, Roberto Bolton, Jesus Rodriguez, Oscar Jimenez, Vicente Morales, Modesto Nuñez, Miguel Jorda, and Sergio Torres. Like Llido, several of the plaintiffs are worker-priests and, like Llido, all of them are known for their strong defense of justice.

Founded on article 141 of the Penal Code, first degree abduction is a permanent crime not subject to amnesty or statutes of limitation. The plaintiffs charge two counts of torture, as a crime under article 150 of the Criminal Code, and as a violation of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Genocide ratified by Chile. The Court of Appeals of Santiago accepted the complaint and joined it to the complaint filed earlier by lawyer Hector Salazar on behalf Josefa Llido Mengual, the priest's sister.

Witnesses have testified in Chilean consulates of Germany, France, Spain and Algeria, in addition to the witnessed in Chile who testified before Judge Zepeda. In Chile indictments are based on probable cause.

On May 15, 2003 Judge Jorge Luis Zepeda indicted and ordered preventive custody for the following individuals who comprised the DINA's line of commando for the crime of aggravated abduction:

Former DINA director Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, and operative agents Miguel Krassnoff Martchencko, Osvaldo Romo Mena, Fernando Laureani Maturana and Basclay Zapata Reyes.

The following defendants were also indicted for the crime of aggravated abduction:
Ciro Amerto Torre Saez, Carabineros Police official who at the time of the priest's arrest and abduction was chief of the DINA's detention center at Jose Domingo Cañas 1315

Marcelo Moren Brito, retired Army official who belonged to the DINA and directed torture at Jose Domingo Cañas 1315

Orlando Manzo Duran, prison guard official in charge of DINA's Cuatro Alamos detention center

Francisco Maximiliano Ferrer Lima, member of the Brigada Caupolican, that operated from Villa Grimaldi.

The Antonio Llido case played a vital role in the arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998, in connection with the extradition request of Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon. The trial in Spain against Pinochet was based on the cases of seven Spanish citizens, including Llido, murdered or disappeared during Chile's military dictatorship.

Key Moments in the Case

November 11, 2003
Judge Zepeda declared the investigation closed, and stated:
"On the basis of the facts gathered and the statements [of the defendants], there is sufficient grounds to believe that they participated as authors of the crime of aggravated abduction against the person of priest Antonio Llido Mengual."

May 15, 2003
Judge Jorge Luis Zepeda issued indictments for aggravated abduction against Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Marcelo Moren Brito, Miguel Krassnoff Martchencko, Osvaldo Romo Mena, Francisco Ferrer Lima, Fernando Laureani Maturana, Orlando Manzo Duran, Ciro Torre Saez and Basclay Zapata Reyes.

October 2002
As part of the redistribution of cases investigated by Judge Guzman, the Antonio Llido case was transferred to Judge Jorge Luis Zepeda, magistrate dedicated exclusively to the human rights cases assigned to him.

October 10, 2000
On behalf of nine priests, attorneys Fabiola Letelier and Adil Brkovic filed a complaint for aggravated abduction and torture with Prosecuting Judge Juan Guzman Tapia.

February 1996
Judge Sergio Brunner of the Fourteenth Criminal Court of Santiago ordered temporary dismissal for lack of evidence.

January 14, 1992
Attorney Hector Salazar filed the first criminal complaint for torment and aggravated abduction in the Fourteenth Criminal Court of Santiago on behalf of the priest's sister Josefa Llido Mengual.


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