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Old Naval Hospital ("The Palace of Smiles")

Punta Arenas - Region XII

        In the Magallanes zone, Regimental, Naval, Air and Police precincts were used as centers of detention and torture for the political prisoners of the region. At that time, the provincial head of Punta Arenas was General ®-Manuel Torres de la Cruz. In February of 1974, the command of this zone passed into the hands of General Augusto Lutz. One of the centers of detention and torture used at that time was the "Antiguo Hospital Naval" (Old Naval Hospital). It was located in the very center of the city of Punta Arenas on Avenida Colón, next to the Telephone Company. Known as the "Palace of Smiles," this center of torture began operating from the very day of the coup, September 11, 1973. Prisoners who had been transferred from other centers were interrogated here. The "Palace of Smiles" was the main center of torture and interrogation in Punta Arenas and Magallanes. It was also the center of operations for the Military Intelligence Service SIM) in that region.

The building where the "Palace of Smiles" operated has three floors with many rooms large and small. A peculiarity of this center was that it had the torture equipment and administration apparatus sharing the same room. The administrative section held the files and records of the prisoners. On that side of the room were office equipment: typewriters, file cabinets, tables, stands and writing desks, photocopiers, telephones and communications radios. On the other side were special equipment for torture such as metal cots, electric shock equipment, and tiny spaces used as provisional cells. The torture space was divided by standing partitions from the office space. The larger salons accommodated many metal torture cots. There was also a first aid room.

Besides being dark, this center was also characterized by always being in a state of crisis, busy and noisy. Many dozens of people were employed in its operations - agents of torture and interrogation, administrative personnel, military guard people, plus the military who were in charge of transporting the prisoners (mainly from the elecommunications Regiment). The groans and cries of those being tortured could generally be heard, mixed in with the sound of typewriters, telephones, communication radios, copiers, military commands and orders as well as talk and music.....

In this center, hundreds of prisoners were tortured simultaneously by different groups of interrogators. The first aid room saw the tortured in their worst condition - and was dedicated to seeing that they survived. This room was attended mainly by nurses - and one or two doctors who passed through periodically. It was in this same precinct that were written the declarations that the prisoners, blindfolded and tortured, were made to sign. In the "Palace of Smiles," the great majority of the political prisoners from Magallanes were interrogated and tortured. It is estimated that between 1200 and 1500 persons were victims of torture at this center.

In the words of one survivor: "...they arrested me the 5th of October, 1973, and the torture began the instant I was arrested. Right there, in front of the modest house that I rented in the South Barrio, they blindfolded me and tied me up, striking me and threatening me. They prepared to execute me as my mother shrieked in horror. The feigned execution ended in cascades of laughter from the men. They took me then to a place decked out for torture on Colón Avenue. It was an abandoned hospital. As was common practice with all the prisoners, my clothes were taken from me and I was subjected to kickings, beatings with sticks, fists and rifle butts while I remained bound and blindfolded. Cries of terror from both men and women could be heard all around - while the soldiers of the Republic demonstrated their bravery against an unarmed enemy.

"After hours of beating, I was submerged in a pit of human excrement where I nearly passed out from the nauseating stench. Then, I was pulled out and subjected to a hosing with cold water to clean off some of the excrement so they could continue torturing me.

"While I was under the cold water, they continued beating me with sticks. When they removed me from the water, they put me on the "parrilla" ("grill"). The "grill" was a metal cot. They stretched me out on it and tied me to it. Then they made a circuit with multiple cables that touched my toes, knees, anus, testicles, penis, stomach, nipples, fingers, neck, lips, nose, eyes, and temples. The torturer in charge then gave the order and an electric current was discharged from a manual dynamo. My entire body convulsed in pain, and I let out bloodcurdling screams. The torturers responded with shouts, insults and chuckles.

"When the torturers felt they had finished the "treatment," I was dressed and thrown into an army truck. I was taken to the Pudeto Regiment detention center where I found myself among hundreds of prisoners many of whom I recognized. They had all undergone treatment similar to mine. Maybe I should be thankful that they only gave me a "soft' treatment, because others received tortures even more horrible. Also, part of the general treatment of the women included sexual abuse, humiliation, and rape.

"These torture sessions were repeated time and again until a proper indictment was handed down in January, 1974. The attorney in charge of my case was a Naval officer, Walter Radic. In the end I was condemned to five years and a day. And in February of that year they sent the first of those who had been "prepared" from Magallanes to Dawson Island. My number was "remo 14."

Sources of information: La Prensa Austral; "La Represión Política en Chile: Los Hechos" (Political Repression in Chile: The Facts); www.dawson2000.com; Memoriaviva Archives.

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