Chilean political refugees in Britain have reacted with outrage at the decision to allow the Chilean navy ship Esmeralda to dock in London.
Following Chilean dictator general Augusto Pinochet’s military coup in 1973 the Esmeralda was used as an “interrogation centre”.
Refugees have dubbed it a “torture ship” – and are organising a protest for this Saturday (details below).
Carole Concha Bell is the daughter of a refugee and is helping to organise Saturday’s protest. She told Socialist Worker, “The refugee community is really upset and angry that it’s been allowed to dock in London.
“We’ve organised the demonstration to raise awareness of the horrors of Esmeralda. We’re going to mount a campaign to demand that the government doesn’t allow it into British waters again.”
The Esmeralda has since been used for diplomatic and pleasure purposes. Carole said, “It came to Europe to take part in the Sail nautical festival in the Netherlands.
“Tour ships take part in a regatta – that really got to refugees in the Netherlands. When one survivor of the ship tried to board he was refused access.”
Following the US-backed coup against Salvador Allende’s left wing government, the Pinochet regime unleashed a brutal war on the left and the workers’ movement.
It dissolved parliament, banned political parties and trade unions, and turned Chile into a laboratory for neoliberal economics. Pinochet was a key ally of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government.
Tens of thousands of political opponents were rounded up in detention centres across the country and the national football stadium in the capital Santiago was turned into a mass prison.
The campaigners also want to highlight the case of Catholic priest Michael Woodward, who was one of more than 3,000 people “disappeared” by the regime during the 1973 coup. Michael had been part of groups such as Christians for Socialism.
His sister Patricia Bennetts has written a previously unpublished account. It said, “Michael had been taken first to the Federico Santa Maria University, used by the Navy as barracks.
“He was tortured in the swimming pool, dunked in and out of water and sent to the Naval War Academy.
“Michael was severely tortured … In a comatose state Michael was driven to the Esmeralda. There was no doctor at the ship’s infirmary so Michael was taken to the Hospital Naval where he arrived already dead.”
Michael’s body was never found and the Chilean Navy is still refusing to accept responsibility for his death.
It is an outrage that prime minister David Cameron has allowed the Esmeralda to dock in London.
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