The Remains Were Obliterated. Chile Will Search for Them

50 years after Pinochet's coup, the Chilean government will look for the missing
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 30, 2023 11:51 AM CDT
The Remains Were Obliterated. Chile Will Search for Them
A banner that asks in Spanish "Where are the disappeared detainees?" is unfurled over the Mapocho River in Santiago, Chile, on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

September will bring with it the 50th anniversary of the coup that brought down Chile's democratically elected government and established Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in its stead—and ahead of that anniversary, Chile on Wednesday is set to move forward with its plan to find the remains of those who were taken, tortured, and killed. During the Pinochet regime, which ran from 1973 to 1990, 1,469 people vanished, reports the New York Times, with remains of just 307 of them ultimately found and identified. The new National Search Plan is the first time the country's government has embarked on an effort to find the missing; in the absence of it, family members, largely women, have been the ones fighting for answers. The Times reports that known burial sites have surfaced thanks to court cases they waged.

How President Gabriel Boric's plan will take shape: Prodigious judicial case files and other documents that have been held by various agencies and groups will be consolidated and digitized to allow information to be cross-referenced, and funding will go to the exploration and excavation of known or suspected burial sites and testing of remains. The plan, somewhat controversially, doesn't involve questioning military members or associated collaborators in a bid for further information. The Times makes clear the long odds against the effort.

After 15 missing men's remains were found in an unused limekiln in 1978, Pinochet ordered that all other remains be exhumed and obliterated. "Bodies were dumped in the ocean or volcanoes. Others were blown up or incinerated," per the Times. And executions took place across Chile, "from the vast northern desert, to the dense forests of the south," reports the Guardian. What remains to be found in most cases are fragments at best. "That was a brutal shock," said one woman who received just five bits of bone belonging to her father after a 2001 excavation. "No one ever thought we would find tiny pieces. We imagined finding their entire bodies." (More Chile stories.)

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