Witness Reveals Details of the Caravan of Death’s Stop in La Serena


The following is a translation of an excerpt from an article by Sergio Ramírez published January 15, 2002 by the electronic newsletter of Instituto Cono Sur.

In testimony before Judge Juan Guzman (Dec. 26, 1999) former Army officer Pedro Rodriguez Bustos revealed new evidence that incriminates military officers in summary executions in La Serena. That testimony which has been maintained in the magistrate’s confidential file, was leaked to the press in late 2001.

Pedro Rodriguez, former member of Pinochet’s repressive forces, has important information about crimes committed during the dictatorship. Rodriguez was assistant to former CNI (successor to the DINA) agent, Alvaro Corbalán, and collaborated with Corbalan in the fascist movement Avanzada Nacional.

In his sworn testimony, Rodriguez declares that he heard two companions-in-arms, the officers Guillermo Raby Arancibia and Julio Lafourcade, discuss how the group of officers that traveled in the Puma helicopter, shot a group of 15 persons held in the La Serena jail, on express orders from now retired general Sergio Arellano Stark. The revelations begin when the helicopter lands in La Serena in early October 1973, with Arellano, Pedro Espinoza, Armando Fernandez Larios, Marcelo Moren Brito, Sergio Arredondo and Mayor Juan Chiminelli aboard.

According to Rodriguez, Arellano met with Ariosto Lapostol Orrego, commander of the Arica Regiment in La Serena, and ordered him to immediately review the war council proceedings of the persons, who in his opinion were the heavyweights among the prisoners." The order was obeyed and the military prosecutor, "a Carabinero police mayor by the name of Cazanga," turned over the information to Arellano Stark. Conferring with commander Lapostol and members of his Caravan, Arellano decided to bring 15 political prisoners in the La Serena jail to the military base.

Rodriguez recalls: "The prisoners were transferred from the jail to the parking area for light vehicles and to the intelligence department. From there, the prisoners were taken to the firing range, located on the side of the hill."

Arellano Stark convened all regiment officers to this place together with members of his delegation. While regiment officers watched, Caravan members "formed a firing squad and executed the 15 prisoners," Rodriguez states.

"However, Arellano Stark immediately ordered regiment officers (none of whom participated as executioners) to inspect the prisoners and give them the coup the grace if still alive," insists Rodriguez. He names several regiment officers who were forced to give the coup de grace, including Juan Emilio Cheyre, who in March 2002 will become the Army’s new Commander-in-Chief. The bodies were taken to La Serena cemetery where they were buried in a mass grave and covered with lime. The next day, the Caravan of Death continued its route north."


Other Crimes Committed in La Serena

Rodriguez also gives information about the murders of Jose Segundo Rodriguez Torres and Jose Rodriguez Acosta, father and son, executed on November 1 and 8, respectively in the same Arica Regiment of La Serena.

Jose Rodriguez Acosta was arrested October 30, 1973 by members of the regiment Intelligence unit, headed by Captain Fernando Polanco Gallardo, Sargent Silva and First Lieutenant Fernandez. Osvaldo Pinchetti hypnotized the son, Jose Rodriguez.

(Pinchetti, known by the name Doctor Torment, is linked to numerous crimes in the 1980s including the murder of Juan Alegria Mundaca (1983), crime committed to cover-up the assassination of labor leader Tucapel Jimenez. It was in La Serena that Pinchetti launched his career as hypnotist for repressive forces, having been recruited by Captain Fernando Polanco. He subsequently continued his criminal activities in the DINA, and completing his career in the CNI. At present he is serving a 10-year prison sentence for the homicide of Alegria Mundaca.)

The young man was interrogated and executed in the Arica Regiment. Rodriguez adds:

"The explanation given was that he attempted to escape during a transfer to another prison facility and he was shot when soldiers tried to recapture him. It did not happen that way because I saw all the prisoners or had to guard them. I know that all prisoners were taken out blindfolded and with their hands tied."

Rodriguez indicates that it was impossible for prisoners to attempt an escape,and concludes his testimony, with the affirmation that as secretary to the military prosecutor "I can attest to the fact that the young man that was executed did not have anything resembling trial."

But the tragedy did not end there for the Rodriguez family. When the father, Jose Rodriguez Acosta, went to the army base to inquire as to the whereabouts of his son, Army officials imprisoned him. On November 8, 1973 — " in other words the day after he inquired about his son" - intelligence personnel ordered his execution, Rodriguez states. Rodriguez affirms that regiment commander Ariosto Lapostol, Captain Fernando Polanco Gallardo and the aforementioned subofficers participated in these summary executions.

Rodriguez also reveals previously unknown details about the murders of a foreign couple, Argentine citizen Bernardo Lejderman Konoyoica and Maria del Rosario Avalos Castañeda, a Mexican. Thus testified Rodriguez before Judge Guzman:

"An informant came to the intelligence unit of the Arica Regiment in La Serena, claiming this couple had weapons and explosives and were about to leave the country. The alleged terrorists were found in the city of Vicuña. Intelligence brigade members under Captain Polanco carried out the raid. The informant indicated where the couple lived. We learned that no confrontation took place and the couple was immediately shot. The version provided to the press was that they committed suicide."

Their bodies were buried in the same place. The remains of Maria del Rosario were disinterred in 1974, and the same occurred with the remains of Lejderman in August 1990. The criminal responsibility of the regiment commander appears clear, according to Rodríguez:

"These events must disturb the conscience of regiment commander Ariosto Lapostol, as all actions of the intelligence unit and all orders were issued by him."


Covering Up Crimes

Ariosto Lapostol, has repeatedly denied that officers under his command formed part of the firing squad that executed 15 persons perpetrated by the Caravan of Death. Evidence appears to support Lapostol’s statement that he did not participate directly in the Caravan executions, but the veracity of his affirmation that no member of his regiment gave the coup de grace to prisoners under orders of Arellano Stark. His denial of the other four murders denounced by Rodriguez is also very much in doubt. The former commander of the regiment at La Serena states:

"I strictly ordered Cheyre [Juan Emilio], a lieutenant at the time [today, the confirmed successor to the present commander-in-chief of the Army] that no person, either officer or sub-officer, lieutenant, sergeant, or soldier would participate in any way, including any war council, or take orders from general Arellano".

Lapostol does confirm, however, that Arellano selected the persons who were to be shot in La Serena. The Army High Command also attempts to veer criminal responsibility away from Pinochet and other military officers responsible for murders. In an official statement issued in December 2001, Army officials regret the disclosure of Judge Guzman's confidential file. The declaration discounts the information about the involvement of officers still in active service in the illegal executions of the past and issues a warning:

"…the active duty officers mentioned in the account had no participation, either directly or indirectly in the events cited. Therefore, the affirmations have absolutely no basis in truth... the institution and personnel affected (by these charges) reserve the right to present legal actions as may be fit, to restore the honor and prestige of the Army.



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