Chile’s ex-army chief defends controversial prison for human rights offenders

SANTIAGO – Chile’s former army chief, Oscar Izurieta Ferrer, has criticized President Michelle Bachelet’s promise to close the controversial Punta Peuco prison, where almost 100 people are serving sentences for human rights violations.

In a letter published by the daily El Mercurio newspaper, Gen. (r) Ferrer, who headed the army from 2006-2010, defended the prison, saying that the segregation of prisoners exists in many countries and special prisons for the military are part of that.

“Punta Peuco is infrastructure that was built to be a prison, it has all the characteristics of a prison and the Gendarmerie administers it as such. The inmates were already discriminated against, when they were tried under the old … system, with all the disadvantages that involves for the accused,” the former military commander said.

“Surely, much of the evidence that was accepted as valid would not be (accepted as such) under the new trial system.

“They are the only ones, among whom several were convicted by resorting to legal fictions, to applying regulations that are retroactive, or just presumptions,” he added.

On Thursday evening, Bachelet had said that she would close Punta Peuco. “I’m going to fulfill all the promises I made and that are in my power to fulfill,” said Bachelet, who ends her mandate on March 11, 2018.

She also said that, although the Justice Ministry is presently responsible for issuing pardons, she believes it is important for relatives of the dictatorship’s victims to be able to say “we know what happened to our relatives, we can now rest peacefully.”

Izurieta Ferrer, who served during Bachelet’s first administration, said it was “inexplicable” that the authorities have decided to close the prison.

On Friday night, about 15 relatives of imprisoned ex-soldiers and other members of the 1973-1990 dictatorship headed by Augusto Pinochet protested the closure of Punta Peuco near the Military School in Santiago.

They carried signs and shouted slogans against the closure of the facility.

Punta Peuco is a prison reserved for human rights violators built in 1995 in the town of Tiltil, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of Santiago and defined by victims of the dictatorship as a “five star” prison, with tennis courts, patios on which to cook barbecue and large dining rooms.