Esmeralda in the Bay

Once again, the Esmeralda in “on tour.” She is due to stop in San Francisco on July 23, 2011. We do not want her here!

It has become widely known, although there are still quarters of continuing denial, that after the coup of September 11, 1973, the ship Esmeralda was used as a site of torture and detention while anchored in the port of Valparaiso. This was an ironic move by the military, given the ship’s reputation as the pride of the Chilean navy. For many years, the four-mast ship sailed from Chile to various global destinations, including the United States, Canada, and Europe, only to be met by demonstrators who denounced and publicized the ship’s dark history of torture. Despite the government’s effort to use the vessel as a global diplomatic envoy, among Chilean exiles and other human rights activists, Esmeralda is called the “floating torture chamber” and represents the unfinished business of dictatorship during political democracy. In June 2006, at the San Diego Harbor, one of the last places Esmeralda is still able to dock in the United States, several dozen first- and second-generation exiles and immigrants, including Chileans, Argentineans, Mexicans, Ecuadorians, and Uruguayans, gathered together to protest its arrival. The Chilean exile organizers of the event, some of whom were founders of La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley, had intimate knowledge of this history, since they were former political prisoners and survivors of the Pinochet era. …

Where Memory Dwells book Where Memory Dwells, by Macarena Gomez-Barris, p. 132

The Esmeralda symbolizes a low point in Chilean history, a time when crimes against humanity were rampant, as documented by three national truth commissions. It also represents a recurring theme in US history, one of meddling and manipulation resulting in reprehensible acts, clearly established in the 24,000 declassified documents released by the US government.

Please join Information Services Latin America (ISLA), in collaboration with the Comite de Chilenos Contra la Tortura (CCCT), in protesting the Chilean Navy’s efforts to gloss over crimes against humanity, sending this vessel on tour as a symbol of naval prowess. We are offended by the Navy’s actions.

The Bay Area is home to many Chilean exiles arriving in the 70’s and 80’s, greeted warmly by Father Moriaty in San Jose, California and by the exile community associated with La Pena here in Berkeley. We are proud of this history and honored to continue the longstanding tradition of multiculturalism, respect for human rights and peace activism.

Photos from the 2011 Bay Area Esmeralda protest

Link to previous Esmeralda protests gallery

Crimes against humanity, such as torture, political imprisonment, kidnapping, and disappearances, are acts that affect generations of people, leaving physical and emotional scars while undermining faith in once democratic institutions for decades to come. They transcend boundaries and can be prosecuted anywhere in the world due to their egregious nature. It took many crimes against humanity to get us to this point.

Along that vein, we invite you to write San Francisco’s Mayor Lee, demanding the Esmeralda not be allowed to moor in San Francisco’s harbor. We have included links to mayors’ offices and the dates Esmeralda reaches her ports of call. We encourage you to send a note to the mayor of San Francisco and the Mayor of San Diego. A couple of lines should suffice: identify the Esmeralda, a Chilean ship associated with torture and death due in San Francisco July 20-24, and say you do not want her here. Say more if you like and please participate regardless of your location. All voices are welcome! If you are in the area, join our rally on July 23!

San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee, Esmeralda is scheduled to visit SF from July 20-24, 2011. A protest rally is scheduled for July 23 at noon, at the port.

San Diego, Mayor Jerry Sanders, Esmeralda is coming to San Diego July 12-16.

Survivors’ testimonies

Sergio Vuskovic Rojo, Mayor of Valpariaso in 1973, Amnesty International June 26, 2003

We were a group of seven people from Valparaiso. The seven of us were tortured aboard the Esmeralda for nine days….They applied electroshocks to my scalp, my testicles, my chest and my back. Additionally, the officials who interrogated me must have hit me with their fists at least 50 times. My body turned black with bruising, which the Red Cross managed to see when we arrived at Dawson Island. My name is Sergio Vuscovic Rojo and I was the Mayor of Valparaiso. When they removed me from the interrogation area, taking me blindfolded with a pistol at my throat, they asked me if I knew how to swim. I told them “more or less”. They responded that they were going to throw me off the boat. Later, the number of people held with us grew to 20 or 30, men and women, all dressed in nothing more than their underwear. We could hear them torturing people right there, men and women on the ship. ..

Luis Vega Contreras, lawyer, arrested Sept 11, 1973 and detained for ten days on the Esmeralda, Amnesty International, June 26, 2003

On Sept 11, 1973, police officials arrived at my home, along with other officials, a large number of troops and detectives, all carrying machine guns and in numerous vehicles. They ordered me to accompany them, and to bring important objects of personal use, which I did. My home was searched. They put me in a truck and began picking up other people. We arrived at the port at about:21:20 and they handed us over to the commander of the Esmeralda …At this point, they made us stop in front of the ship where we saw people laying on the dock, or down on their knees, with their hands behind their heads. A nordic looking midshipmen hit one of them with the butt of his rifle without saying a word. Then he hit the prisoner in the right kidney. From then on, hitting and kicking the prisoners in the worse possible way, he made them go into the midshipmen’s dormitory. Between pushes and shoves they were thrown on the floor…They put rifles to our throats and their boots on our shoulders. They tore off our clothing and robbed everything of value. Once we were naked, they put us in front of a high pressure water hose. They tied the prisoners hands behind their backs, each finger tied separately and put in front of the hose again. The pressure from the water caused unbearable pain in the head, the ears, the eyes and the lungs. Wielding spears made from pointed metal-tipped night sticks, the prisoners were forced stay in front of the high pressure hose or be speared ruthlessly.

We were not allowed to sleep for 72 hours, subjected to periods in front of the high- pressure hose and beatings every 15 minutes. The first night there were seven men and one woman. All were naked. At one point, there were 40 men and 72 women…

June 22, 2011, by Jaime Salazar, sailor arrested prior to the coup and currently a resident of Oakland, California. Political prisoner in Chile from 1973-1978.

When the coup took place on September 11, 1973 ,I was already in a Navy prison on a cliff, 100 feet above the docks of Valparaiso. Like all the prisoners, I had a panoramic view of everything that happened.

I saw the Esmeralda in the harbor, along with other ships. I saw hundreds of prisoners with their hands above their heads; others face down in trucks or buses where they were forcefully taken aboard. As a prisoner, I clearly saw the brutality and heard the cries of pain. The Esmeralda was no longer my “White Lady”. She was stained with blood and pain, and converted to a torture center. A few days later, our prisons dining halls were cleared out to make room for the dozen or more female prisoners coming off the Esmeralda..I heard their stories and witnessed that they were in terrible condition, both physically and mentally. Most stated they had been raped.

Information on actions in Canada, where the Esmeralda is scheduled to moor in Victoria and Vancouver

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