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Former Army Chief of Chile Sentenced to House Arrest

Former Chilean Army Chief Juan Emilio Cheyre was sentenced to three years and one day of house arrest for his complicity in the deaths of 15 people following Pinochet’s coup d’état in 1973.

Juan Emilio Cheyre  Source: Ivan Alvarado/ Reuters/  Al Jazeera News

Juan Emilio Cheyre

Source: Ivan Alvarado/ Reuters/ Al Jazeera News

Cheyre worked as adjutant to the commander of the infantry regiment for La Serena, a city in the north of Chile where 15 individuals were murdered by the Caravan of Death (la Caravana de la Muerte). Cheyre was not part of the Caravan of Death, but of a military contingent that tried to cover up the incident. Cheyre witnessed and was therefore implicated in the murders of these 15 individuals.  

The Caravan of Death was a military death squad that targeted left-wing sympathizers and opponents of the Pinochet regime during the months after Pinochet’s military coup d’etat.

According to the NGO Memory and Justice, the Caravan of Death killed 97 individuals between September and October of 1973.

Judge Mario Carroza led the investigation and commented to reporters that the conviction and sentencing of Cheyre speaks to the “egalitarian justice, that makes no distinctions and has no privileges” of Chile. However, General Pinochet died in 2006 without ever being convicted of human rights abuses or even standing trial for his crimes against humanity.  

Judge Carroza also commented, “It has been an extensive and complex investigation, above all because we did not have the cooperation of those implicated. It has been difficult to get to the historical truth.”

Judge Carroza was referring to the fact that the armed forces of Chile have been accused of hiding information relating to Pinochet’s human rights abuses and claiming that no documentation of such events exists, when in fact the military later divulged that much of the documentation has been destroyed.

Ana Merino, the representative of the victims, criticized the sentence, stating that it was too lenient and that Cheyre personally participated in the killings.

Alicia Lira, President of the Group of Family Members of the Politically Executed (Agrupación de Familiares de Ejecutados Políticos) stated, “Today we received good news, even though it is not what we had hoped for because a representative of the Civil-Military Dictatorship that was present and actively participated in the ‘Caravan of Death’ and other previous cases, receives three years and a day.”  

Cheyre later worked as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Chile from 2002 to 2006. He was one of the initial voices that asked forgiveness for the military’s human rights abuses during the dictatorship, and played a large role in Chile’s transition to democracy.

Juan Emilio Cheyre  Source: Patricio Fuentes/  La Tercera

Juan Emilio Cheyre

Source: Patricio Fuentes/ La Tercera

In addition to Cheyre’s sentencing, the same court sentenced Ariosto Lapostol, former commander of the Arica regiment stationed at La Serena, to 15 years in prison for the murder of the same 15 individuals. He was named the “sole author of the killing” by the 335-page ruling.

The ruling also offered $3,610,000 Chilean Pesos (approximately $5,278 USD) in compensation to the families of the victims.

Over 1000 formers soldiers, agents and collaborators have been convicted for human rights abuses during Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, in which upwards of 3,000 individuals were murdered and approximately 30,000 were tortured by the government.