Brisbane 30th June 2012
La Esmeralda: This Tall Ship Has A Bloody, Brutal History
La Esmeralda in Brisbane for a “cultural exchange and good will.”
The ship will surely be a majestic sight. But behind the stately image of one of these ships, La Esmeralda, lies a terrifying history that should not be forgotten.
In 1973, in the aftermath of a bloody coup against the democratically elected government, the Chilean Navy made a special contribution to the new military junta led by Pinochet. They allowed La Esmeralda, a four-masted Chilean naval ship, to be used as a prison and torture chamber. According to testimony collected by Amnesty International and the Organization of American States, at least 110 political prisoners – 70 men and 40 women – were interrogated aboard the ship for more than two weeks without charges or trial.
The former mayor of Valparaiso, where the ship was stationed, described being tied to one of the ship’s masts and subjected repeatedly to electric shock. “I couldn’t sleep for six days because they woke me up every six minutes, night and day,” he told Amnesty International. “We could hear how the others were tortured right where we were.”
According to a Chilean lawyer held on board, military officials stripped and savagely beat the prisoners and shot them with high-pressure jets of water that produced “an unbearable pain in the head, ears, eyes, and lungs” At least one of those tortured on board La Esmeralda, a British-Chilean priest named Michael Woodward, died as a result. His body was thrown into an unmarked mass grave.
La Esmeralda has received angry receptions around the world; we want to make clear that our peaceful demonstration is not against the trainees or crew members, but for what it represents for many Chileans.
More than two decades has passed since the end of the reign of Pinochet, the man who led the coup and ruled the country with an iron fist for 17 years. After losing a plebiscite, Pinochet allowed democratic elections to take place in 1990. In exchange, he received a series of concessions, including immunity from prosecution for his role in more than 3,000 killings and tens of thousands of torture cases
La Esmeralda sails as the representative of a �democratic� nation that is making constant unsuccessful efforts to overcome the horrors of the Pinochet regime and to hold human rights violators accountable.
While Pinochet’s crimes may seem distant to many, for Pinochet’s victims and their family members, the horror remains a part of their daily lives.
Unless the crimes committed aboard La Esmeralda are brought out into the open and the torturers held accountable, the victims will not be forgotten.
Movement for Justice and Peace – Brisbane, Australia