Chile charges 7 in Pinochet-era death of photographer

July 24, 2015

SANTIAGO, Chile — Seven ex-military men were indicted Friday in Chile over the 1986 killing of a photographer reportedly doused with gasoline and set ablaze by soldiers during a protest against then-ruler Augusto Pinochet.

The crime is considered one of the most grisly committed under the dictatorship of General Pinochet, who waged a brutal campaign against leftist dissenters both real and perceived.

More than 3,000 people died or disappeared under the right-wing regime.

An 18-year-old engineering student named Carmen Gloria Quintana was also set ablaze along with photographer Rodrigo Rojas, 19. She lived, but was horribly disfigured.

Six of the detainees were charged as suspected authors of the crime and the last as an accomplice, said Judge Mario Carroza.

The alleged authors are the former officers and non-commissioned officers that were in charge of the patrol that apparently set the youths on fire. The driver of the truck the others had ridden in is the accused accomplice, the judge said.

All seven were arrested on Wednesday after a former soldier came forward and testified about what happened during the protest march on July 2, 1986.

The case had been closed in the 1990s with just one military man being convicted, of negligence. The court accepted the argument that the two youths were burned after a homemade fire bomb exploded.

“Maybe they were carrying something hidden and it exploded,” Pinochet said at the time.

The case was reopened in 2013 after a new lawsuit was filed by relatives of the two youths.

Rojas and Quintana were arrested that day in 1986 by a military patrol. They were allegedly doused with gasoline and set ablaze, then left for dead on the outskirts of the capital Santiago.

Rojas had just returned to Chile from the United States, where he had been living with his exiled mother. He died after four days of agony from his burns.

Quintana suffered burns to 60 per cent of her body. She now lives in Canada.

“I never lose faith in justice being done,” said Rojas’s mother Veronica de Negri. “But the wounds have not remained in the past.”

Pinochet seized power in 1973 in a military coup that overthrew president Salvador Allende, and ruled until 1990, although he stayed on for eight more years as head of the military, which gave him immunity from prosecution. Pinochet died in 2006.

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