The Chilean government will close a detention center called Penal Cordillera, known for being a “golden prison” for Pinochet-era military officers who were jailed for human rights abuses during the military regime.
This important development has occurred less than a month after the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought GeneralAugusto Pinochetto power (September 11, 1973).
The closure of the Penal Cordillera is a positive step in bringing more just punishments to individuals that committed human rights abuses during the Pinochet era. Hopefully this model will be followed by other Latin American nations that have their own “golden prisoners.”
Life in a “Golden Prison”
For years, human rights organizations have complained that Chilean military officers imprisoned for having committed abuses were receiving a golden treatment at Penal Cordillera (full name:Centro de Cumplimiento Penitenciario Cordillera).
The center only has ten inmates, which include: Marcelo Moren Brito, a retired army Colonel and member of the DINA (Pinochet’s dreaded intelligence service), José Zara (accused of killingGeneral Carlos Prats and his wifein 1974) and Pedro Espinoza (a DINA agent accused of being part of a death squad that killed dissidents such as Orlando Letelier).
It has been widely reported that the ten inmates enjoyed a lavish lifestyle during their stay in Penal Cordillera. Media reports reveal that the inmates had 35 guards that took care of the center’s security, as well as an assistant, three paramedics, two cuisine teachers, and a nutritionist to supervise their meals.
The one recent incident that appears to have been the boiling point for Chilean society was a proposed dinner in honor of General Miguel Krassnoff, another inmate of Penal Cordillera.
Namely, Chileans were outraged that prison inmates were planning to organize a dinner (a barbeque, to be specific), in honor of another inmate, particularly someone like Krassnoff, who was a member of DINA and is serving a 120-year prison sentence.
It has been reported that these inmates will be moved from the Penal Cordillera to a detention center called Punta Peuco, which also harbors Pinochet-era officers.
Asjournalist Jorge Molina Sanhuezaexplains, “At the Cordillera prison, there weren’t cells, there were cabins that held 1 or 2 people each. At the Peuco prison, each will have his own room in a cell. Peuco is actually a prison […] and it’s also further from Santiago rather than right inside it.”
After news became public of the government’s intention of closing down Penal Cordillera, a bizarre event happened: one of the inmates, General Odlanier Mena, committed suicide on September 28th. Preliminary assumptions hint that Mena took his own life upon learning that the Penal Cordillera will close and its inmates will be transferred to another detention center.
The officer was the director of the National Information Center (the successor of the DINA) from 1977 to 1980 and was sentenced in 2008 to six years in jail for the murder of three socialist militants.
Contrary to orthodox prison protocol, Mena was allowed to leave the detention center on weekends, and he used this opportunity to kill himself in his own apartment in Los Condes district of Santiago this past weekend.
And Justice for All?
The decision to close Penal Cordillera and end the luxurious lifestyle that its inmates have been enjoying will give some popularity points to the outgoing SebastianPiñera presidency (and which may help him win the presidency again in 2017).
But this development should also be placed in a more regional context, namely that other Latin American nations have their own “golden prisons” for high-profile individuals.
One prominent example is former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). The former head of state is the sole prisoner of a detention center on the outskirts of Lima, which also serves as the headquarters of the Peruvian police’s special forces (DIROES).
According to reports, which embarrassed the Peruvian government when they became known worldwide, Fujmori has three nurses who take care of his health, as well as a hospital-style bed and a telephone.
But perhaps the most shocking aspect of Fujimori’s prison lifestyle is that he owns a private 375 square meter garden, in which he grows roses and other plants. As means of comparison, the capacity of Peru’s overcrowded prisons is around 28,900 inmates, but they currently have about 64 thousand prisoners.
Even more shocking, in the past months, Fujimori and his supporters have been lobbying so that the government will allow the former head of state to leave his “golden prison” and fulfill the rest of his 25-year sentence under house arrest.
This initiative has sparked wide outrage amongPeruvian policymakers and societyin general, and so far it seems that (hopefully), the former dictator will remain behind his golden bars.