One of the first ten civilians to be exiled out of Chile by Pinochet, Leopoldo García was arrested in the centre of Santiago, handcuffed and repeatedly beaten on the head the entire night. He could have been killed. His forehead now bears the scar of being hit by the base of a rifle. There were plans to televise his arrest but his bloodstained face led to a change of mind.
Since Pinochet’s dictatorship, close to 80,000 Chileans are still living in exile in Europe. After 40 years, many victims are demanding responsibility and justice from a Chilean government who wishes to wash its hands of the matter.
Leopoldo García Lucero’s expression reflects the sorrow of his past. The scars on his face, missing teeth and hearing problems are all permanent reminders of the torture that he suffered 40 years ago.
He arrived in the UK together with his wife and three daughters. His friendship and close relationship with Salvador Allende led to his life taking a radical change in direction when Pinochet took power.
He is one of the million individuals who have sought refuge abroad since 1973, all of whom fled to escape the deaths, violence and disappearances that the dictator inflicted on this South American Country.
At 79 years old and from his current country of residence, the UK, he asks for justice. With help from REDRESS, an NGO which seeks justice and reparation for survivors of torture, appeared before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on 20 and 21 March to seek justice and adequate reparation for the harm that he and his family suffered.
“I am falling apart and, even though I am still alive, I might as well be dead”, these are the words that García uses to describe his emotional state. “I think the man above (alluding to God) got it wrong, there are some things that should never occur. The world should know what happened”.
Prior to his arrest in September 1973, he led a normal life. He had a well paid job, was happy, had a home and his future was stable. His media appearances and his affiliation to left wing politics closely linked him to the former president.
The world needs to know
Due to his political preferences and social significance, he was arrested five days after the coup. This signalled the beginning, for both Leopoldo García and his family, of a life filled with obstacles and injustices.
“I was arrested in the centre of Santiago, they handcuffed me and hit me in the head all night long, I could have died. They used the end of their rifle to give me the scar on my forehead. They planned to televise my arrest but my bloodied face made them change their minds”.
Like thousands of other prisoners, Lucero passed through the various concentration camps that began to appear across the country. He remembers the screams of those restrained by force and the whistling sounds in the air caused by bullets as they were shot.
During his conversation with The Prisma, he recalled the hard labour that he was subjected to along with his time in the National Stadium, a sporting arena which was converted into a prison and whose stands hid from the entire world, the torture and horrors that took place inside.
He was forcibly exiled from Chile in 1975 but suffered in four different concentration camps during 20 months.
“I was one of the first people to be expelled by Pinochet, our way of thinking meant that we were seen as a threat. I have never done anything wrong, helping people in need has never been a crime”.
He left his birth country, together with his wife and three daughters, “with great bitterness”. He speaks of how his life in the UK has not been easy. He was faced with a new language, racist experiences and furthermore, his disability has meant that he has been unable to work in order to adequately support his family.
During his exile he has felt guilty, both psychologically and emotionally, for the future that he has forced upon his wife and children. None of them were able to go to university or fulfil many of their dreams.
Despite being optimistic, Leopoldo states that “there is no rule of law or justice in Chile because this matter should have been settled 40 years ago and the Chilean government has never really shown any interest in my case”.
“I am not asking for any money even though it is necessary in order to be able to eat and live. I have never been able to pay for a lawyer. All my savings disappeared. I believe that with this organisation’s help we will win this case”, he adds.
“I feel frustrated”
Leopoldo or ‘Felistoque’ as he was nicknamed by Allende, assures The Prisma that despite all the problems and injustices that he has had to endure, the treatment that he has received from the UK as a political refugee has been “excellent”.
Leopoldo finds it unfair that Chile has turned its back on his case under the pretext that Chile already has a reparations program for victims of the dictadorship from which he has partially benefited.
From afar, this man dreams daily of returning to his country but in his dreams or anywhere else, he can never forget his tragic past. He believes that without Pinochet, Chile would have had a “marvellous” future and undoubtedly, he himself would have led a very different life.
(Translated by Rebecca Hayhurst – E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)