Probation for Chilean gen'l in Pinochet-era murders spurs protest


Victims' families gathered Tuesday outside the Chilean Defense Ministry to protest that a general who helped conceal the murder of 15 political prisoners during the 1973 "Caravan of Death" received a sentence of three years probation.

Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre, commander-in-chief of the Chilean army from 2002-2006, was among 11 retired officers convicted last week in a case tied to the Caravan of Death, a task force that traveled the country by helicopter in the wake of Augusto Pinochet's Sept. 11 coup, plucking dissidents from municipal and provincial jails and executing them.

A lieutenant when the murders took place, Cheyre was found guilty of helping to cover up the crimes.

During Tuesday's protest, members of the AFEP group representing the relatives of the dead protested the light sentence given to Cheyre.

They also asked Defense Minister Alberto Espina "to demote all the uniformed men convicted of human rights violations" and, at the same time, "take away all their privileges."

"The message that the State of Chile must give has to be clear and direct, not only of symbolic condemnations, but of exemplary measures and sanctions aimed at separating itself from those who committed such cruel crimes against the Chilean people," AFEP president Alicia Lira said.

The harshest sentence handed down by Special Judge Mario Carroza was a 15-year prison term, imposed on the then-commander of the army regiment that carried out the 15 executions.

During Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship, according to official data, some 3,200 people died at the hands of federal agents, although 1,192 of those people are still listed as disappeared.

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