By Fran Ellery
SYDNEY — A Chilean naval training ship, used as an interrogation and torture centre during the military dictatorship, will be arriving in Sydney this week.
During the Pinochet regime, the Esmerelda was "non grata" in most international ports because it was known to have been used by the navy to torture and "disappear" opponents of the regime. Most of those taken to the Esmerelda were women, or members of the armed forces who remained loyal to President Allende, ousted in the 1973 military coup.
Since the 1990 elections which ended the dictatorship of General Pinochet and brought Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin to power, Chile has sought to re-establish itself internationally. It is as part of this exercise that the Australian navy will be welcoming the Esmerelda.
Many Chileans in Sydney, however, are deeply affronted at the visit. The Chile Information Office, Chile Solidarity Committee, Pablo Neruda Cultural Association and ADEPU-Chile have issued a joint statement saying that, until those responsible are tried and punished, the Esmerelda should remain unwelcome.
None of those members of the armed forces known to have tortured and murdered thousands of Chileans have been brought to trial. Pinochet himself remains commander in chief of the armed forces.
Among Chileans who lost friends and family or underwent torture themselves, there is widespread anger and frustration at Aylwin's reluctance to bring about the justice he promised in his election campaign.
Chilean women in Sydney are planning to demonstrate against the Esmerelda's visit. It is believed the ship will arrive on Friday, July 12. Details of the demonstration have not been finalised, but the organisers are calling on other women to support them. For more information phone 692 9268.
Meanwhile, Lolo Madaringa reports that 170 Chilean political prisoners recently ended a 23-day hunger strike after left deputies promised to put their case before the parliament.
The prisoners were striking in protest against their unjust imprisonment and continued human rights violations.