The Esmeralda, the Chilean Navy Ship with a Dark Past Visits Britain (Robbie Wilson/Alborada.net)

[The death on 7 August of the former chief of General Pinochet’s DINA secret police, Manuel Contreras, prompted celebrations outside the Santiago military hospital in which he passed away and across Chile. Contreras’ death once again brought into the international spotlight the painful legacy of Pinochet's 17-year military rule. In the midst of renewed interest in the dictatorship’s human rights violations, the scheduled arrival of the Esmeralda, a Chilean naval ship with a dark past, to Britain on the 26 August seems ill judged.]

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The Esmeralda, the Chilean Navy Ship with a Dark Past Visits Britain

Wednesday 26 August 2015, by Robbie Wilson - www.alborada.net

The death on 7 August of the former chief of General Pinochet’s DINA secret police, Manuel Contreras, prompted celebrations outside the Santiago military hospital in which he passed away and across Chile. Contreras’ death once again brought into the international spotlight the painful legacy of Pinochet's 17-year military rule. In the midst of renewed interest in the dictatorship’s human rights violations, the scheduled arrival of the Esmeralda, a Chilean naval vessel with a dark past, to Britain on the 26 August seems ill judged.

A Chilean Navy training ship since 1953, the Esmeralda has been cited in numerous court cases and NGO investigations as having served as a floating detention and torture centre during the dictatorship. Amongst the ship’s victims was Anglo-Chilean priest Michael Woodward, who was arrested shortly after the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular coalition government. Following years of campaigning by Woodward’s family, a 2013 court case in Valparaiso, led by Judge María Elena Quezada, ruled that Father Woodward had died of wounds inflicted whilst detained aboard the Esmeralda.

The Esmeralda’s repurposing as a site of state terrorism was well documented by opponents of the dicatorship as early as 1976, when the ship’s participation in a Bicentennial flotilla in New York was met with a two-thousand strong protest. Similarly, the vessel’s presence in this August’s Sail Amsterdam festival received heavy condemnation from Amnesty International and Dutch-Chilean exiles association Mapuche, which picketed the welcome event hosted aboard the ship.

The Esmeralda’s official website proudly details the ship’s service history. However, there is no mention of the abuses the ship once housed. In 2000 the Esmeralda’s former Lieutenant Commander (and current director of the Talcahuano Naval Hospital) Rodrigo Márquez Marnich stated “the media likes to manipulate a controversial story that supposedly happened 25 years ago. It did not happen”. The ship’s website also fails to list the specific location at which the ship intends to moor in London between the 26– 30 August, perhaps owing to a previously aborted trip in 2003 after protests were held in Dartmouth.

Following recognition of the Esmeralda’s dark past in Chilean courts, the ship’s continued deployment as a centrepiece of Chilean diplomacy is both surprising and morose, while the notion that its voyages could represent national pride to expatriates is highly questionable. In its present capacity the Esmeralda is obtrusive to the reconciliation process: rather than silencing its past, the ship might better serve the nation were it permanently moored in Valparaiso and used as an addition to Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

A protest at the Esmeralda’s presence in Britain took place on Saturday 28 August in London – for more information visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1035401919827443/

::: Related articles:

Pinochet’s torture ship now flies the flag for Chile around the world (Jamie Doward/The Guardian)

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/29/pinochet-torture-chile-ship

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06718bj/bbc-london-news-29082015

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