Former political prisoners—sailors of the Navy of Chile—residing in northern California made a public call to repudiate and protest the Chilean ship Esmeralda’s visit to San Francisco scheduled between 20 and 24 July.
Jaime Salazar, Seaman 1st, and Victor Martinez, Technician 3rd, were among the first Chilean political prisoners known as “constitutional sailors,” held as prisoners on the Esmeralda in the months before the coup in September 1973.
“When we learned of the military conspiracy against the constitutional government of Salvador Allende, immediately we refuse to obey the orders of the coup officers,” they said.
Amnesty International has submitted “documents and published numerous accounts of torture victims inside La Esmeralda.” One of the victims was Chilean priest Michael Woodward-English, who “died as a result of torture inflicted by members of the security forces aboard La Esmeralda” according to Amnesty International.
Other ships known and used by the Navy as a detention and torture were the Maipo, which housed a thousand prisoners, and the Lebu, which held four thousand. It is estimated that La Esmeralda held more than 500 political detainees.
“Admiral Merino – who took command of the Navy at the time – and subsequent commanders have never had the courage to admit and apologize to victims and family have used this ship – the pride of all Chileans – as a center of torture. “Martínez said.
“This beautiful four-masted sailing ship was converted into a floating prison where they interrogated and tortured Chilean citizens,” Martinez said.
Martinez said he is calling “everyone in the Bay Area of San Francisco to repudiate this visit and continue until the high command of the navy, as have other armed forces, recognize their actions against human rights.”
When the coup happened, “I was in a prison in the Navy about 30 feet above the docks in Valparaiso…We had a panoramic view of everything that was happening. Vi La Esmeralda and other ships in the harbor. I saw hundreds of prisoners with their hands behind their heads, others piled into trucks and buses. They were taken to La Esmeralda force … I could clearly see the brutality and hear the piercing screams of pain,” Salazar said.
“I know that the current crew in La Esmeralda has nothing to do with the atrocities. I have nothing against them. I just hope that the high command of the Navy publicly acknowledge the tremendous mistakes of the past.”
He added that,”when the beautiful ship La Esmeralda cross the Golden Gate, the young crew, like me, at the age of 17 years, demonstrate their skills, issued orders whistles, cannon salute and hymns are heard, I will be transported back 38 years when in the same Navy I was a young sailor prisoner and tortured for opposing the fateful coup.”
The complete itinerary for the tour of the emerald in the world can be found at: http://www.armada.cl/prontus_armada/site/edic/base/port/esmeralda.html