Chilean Navy and Human Rights Groups Visit Torture Site on Dawson Island

This article originally appeared in El Magallanews [es] on October 8, 2013. El Magallanews is a local, online citizen newspaper and part of our partner Mi Voz.

Bienvenida a agrupaciones de derechos humanos en Isla Dawson

Welcoming the human rights groups to Dawson Island 

Dawson Island is located at the southern tip of Chile in the Strait of Magellan, 100 km below Punta Arenas. Stretching across 129,000 hectares, it served as a concentration camp where the Ona people were interned from the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th. Fifty years later it became a torture facility, this time for political prisoners.

It was on the island—one the most emblematic symbols of the repression exercised by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet—that some 400 political prisoners were held and where, 40 years later, members of their families were able to begin to heal their wounds thanks to the initiative of the Chilean Navy.

It came about when a group of more than forty members from different Human Rights groups [es] and their families visited the site on October 7 as part of the commemoration activities marking the 40 years since Chile's military coup of 1973.

The initiative was the result of a petition by the Unión Comunal de Derechos Humanos led by Francisco Alarcón, who approached the Commander-in-Chief of Naval Zone III, Rear Admiral Kurt Hartung Sabugo, with the idea of bringing the group to the island, which had again been used as a concentration camp from 1973 to 1974.

Images from the island's concentration camp:

Activities on the island

The tour began at 7:30 in the morning, when the visitors boarded the patrol vessel Piloto Sibbald, docking at site 2 of Puerto Harris around 11:30 a.m. Later the group visited the national monuments preserved on the island, namely the smokestack of the Gente Grande cattleman society's sawmill, the chapel of the Salesian mission of San Rafael, and ending with the Río Chico internment camp.

The ranking naval authority in the Strait of Magellan pointed out that this “is the third time that a Navy ship has brought a human rights group to Dawson Island, a gesture that has once again filled us with gratitude at being able to meet the needs of our citizens.”

Today Dawson Island is home to some three hundred people, mainly naval personnel and their families. The island's naval base provides training and logistical support for the ships of the third naval zone. 

Political prisoners and literature

It is worth noting that the Isla Dawson concentration camp was designed by former SS officer and war crimes fugitive Walter Rauff who fled to Chile. The camp existed under the jurisdiction of an army division headquartered in Punta Arenas, and its guards were provided alternately by the Chilean Marine Corps and members of the Chilean armed forces. 

Here lived 99 political detainees, the majority of whom were members of President Salvador Allende‘s inner circle. Among them were Sergio Vuskovic, Luis Corvalán, Anselmo Sule, Osvaldo Puccio, Arturo Jirón, Clodomiro Almeyda, Julio Palestro Rojas, Fernando Flores Labra, José Tohá and Sergio Bitar.

The latter immortalized the story of the Chilean concentration camp in his memoir entitled Dawson, Isla 10 published in 1987. The book was brought to life on the big screen in the film of the same name directed by Miguel Littín in 2009.   

Trailer for the film “Dawson, Isla 10″

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