Cristián Labbé, outspoken defender of Chilean dictator, charged with conspiracy in kidnapping and homicide of 13 prisoners
Jonathan Franklin in Santiago/The Guardian/Tuesday October 21, 2014
Retired Chilean army colonel Cristián Labbé, an outspoken defender of former dictator General Augusto Pinochet, has been arrested.
Labbé was charged with being part of a conspiracy in the kidnapping and homicide of 13 prisoners. Another nine military officials were charged, some of whom are already in custody for a variety of human rights crimes.
Labbé’s arrest on Monday delighted Chilean human rights activists who had long wondered why the high-profile colonel had eluded justice despite members of the Chilean army and victims saying they had seen him at a torture centre near the coastal city of San Antonio.
A former bodyguard to the Pinochet family, Labbé was infamous for organising parties and celebrations in honour of colleagues convicted of murder and torture. Labbé was also key in organising protests against the detention of Pinochet at a private hospital in 1998.
Labbé is now being held at a military base in Santiago while his lawyers seek to get him out on appeal. One of his lawyers, Cristián Espejo, told CNN he was stunned and claimed that Labbé was guilty only of being part of the Chilean army. “He never tortured or assassinated anyone,” said Espejo, citing what he said was years of investigations into Labbé’s past.
But last year the Chilean journalist Javier Rebolledo reported detailed witness accounts that placed Labbé at the torture camp. In his book El Despertar de los Cuervos (Rise of the Ravens) Rebolledo interviewed guards and prisoners at the notorious camp Tejas Verde who said Labbé was central to the death camp operations, though not participating in torture directly.
Samuel Enrique Fuenzalida Devia, a former army conscript in 1973, was key in breaking the ring of silence that had long protected Labbé. He described Labbé as an instructor who was part of a notorious crew that created Pinochet’s secret police, who developed plans to murder an estimated 3,200 civilians, most of them during the first years of the 1973-1990 dictatorship.
The arrest of Labbé was yet another blow to Chile’s far-right Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party, which is currently embroiled in a campaign finance scandal known as Pentagate.
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