Friday, August 21, 2015

After torture, facing awful realities

Here's a heartening note: the Chilean ship Esmeralda can't take part in an Amsterdam naval festival this month without provoking protest.

The presence of Chilean school ship Esmeralda, used for the torture of political opponents under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), has brought controversy to the family event.

An association of Chilean exiles has said it would hold a vigil next to the four-master on Wednesday.

"At least 100 people were tortured or raped on board," the association said in a statement, expressing disappointment that "the boat's dark past is still taboo."

In addition to serving as a training vessel for the Chilean Navy, the Esmeralda roams the oceans acting as a kind of floating embassy for the South American nation.

I remember protesting the Esmeralda on one of its visits to San Francisco in the 1970s when its reputation for horrors was more fresh. In trying to confirm my recollection, I came across this letter published in the Baltimore Sun from a William A. Yankes:

While I was a cadet in the Chilean Naval Academy, I and everyone I knew viewed the Esmeralda as the symbol of all that was bright and good about my country. I was eagerly looking forward to sailing with my graduating class as a midshipman in 1973.

But before that happened, my family fled to the United States to avoid President Salvador Allende's Marxist regime. At 17, I was forced to leave with them.

I first heard about torture on the Esmeralda from protesters while visiting the ship in San Diego, Calif., in 1997. I dismissed the charges as absurd. I was sure it was just another attack by extremists determined to besmirch her unimpeachable reputation.

When I asked a Chilean naval officer, a former classmate of mine at the naval academy, whether civilians had been tortured on the Esmeralda, he looked straight at me and said, "We were at war." My heart sank, but even then I couldn't bring myself to believe it.

But while traveling in Chile in March [2000], I interviewed several Chilean writers, some of whom told me they had been tortured. They said that it was well known that people had been tortured on several ships, including the Esmeralda, during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Finally, I had to accept that it was true.

After speaking with some who were tortured, I now understand why protesters have expressed outrage against the presence of the Esmeralda at various foreign ports and why she was turned away from San Francisco in 1974. ...

Mr. Yankes chose to face unwelcome truths. As I always say about the probable course of any effort to repudiate torture, this takes time. We don't want to look, to know. But looking is how a turn away from wrong begins. Looking is hard, but necessary.


tina a Lebanese in Beirut said...

"Looking [into the US foreign policy] is hard but necessary."

When one is a citizen with the right to vote, it is a question related to ethics to ask a candidate who wants to head the Empire, about his/her future foreign policy and to vote accordingly. We, in my part of the world who are victims of the Empire have no right to vote for the POTUS who decides/covers-up the wars on our land.

You, the citizens, have power in your hand now; demonstrating and protesting once the elections are over is useless.

Yes it is easier to be an underdog than to be a US citizen.

Hattie said...

Yes, we have choices. We can use what power we have against injustice.

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