Chilean ex-military sentenced for burning students alive in 1986

  1. Convictions return to the public eye one of the most “emblematic” crimes of the Pinochet dictatorship
  2. Surviving victim and family have “mixed emotions” about the sentence

Justice Mario Carroza ruled on Thursday, 21st March 2019 the conviction of 11 former army officers accused in the so-called “Caso Quemados” [“Burn victims case”] occurred during the military dictatorship in Chile.

On July 2, 1986, photographer Rodrigo Rojas and student Carmen Gloria Quintana were burned alive after being detained during an anti-regime demonstration. Rojas died a few days later while Quintana survived, her body severely deformed.

At the time they were 19 and 18 years old.

Although the 1978 amnesty law in the country has been enforced in recent years, Justice Carroza’s judgment was based on international human rights laws, which consider this as a crime against humanity case (torture, kidnap, murder) with no possibility of amnesty or time-bar.

The average sentence was 10 years.

Quintana’s lawyer Héctor Salazar said he was pleased with the decision and wants it “to be taught” at the country’s military academy. Rodrigo Rojas’s mother, Veronica de Negri, considered the decision positive but belated, and the sentence too benevolent considering the extent of the crime.

“Even so I’m glad these criminals cannot keep lying,” de Negri said.

At the time, President Gen. Augusto Pinochet — the dictator who dominated Chile from 1973 to 1990 — said the victims burned themselves accidentally with a homemade bomb they had taken to the protest.

Negri was an opponent of the regime who exiled in Washington in 1977 with her son Rodrigo. The boy, however, was eager to return to Chile to document popular discontent with the dictatorship.

It was in one of these rallies where he was arrested with his friend Quintana.

Although there were witnesses who saw them both taken to a backyard and burned there, the military involved agreed to a pact of silence, thus making the identification of participants in the action impossible.

The case could be reopened in 2014 when one of the officers, then a private, decided to break out of the pact by claiming guilty conscience.

Fernando Guzmán stated he participated in the action and named his colleagues and the commander of the operation.

“After we beat them up, it was Lieutenant Pedro Castañer who decided that they should be burned, and he set them on fire himself,” Guzmán told the court.

Upon hearing Justice Carroza’s ruling, activists Group of Family Members of the Politically Executed in Chile (AFEP) announced that they will appeal the decision due to the lukewarm sentences and scarce amount of the compensation.

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