By Meritxell Freixas
Santiago de Chile, Sep 3 (EFE).- Former prisoners who survived the National Stadium, the largest detention and torture center in Chile under dictator Agusto Pinochet (1973-1990), returned to the bleachers of hatch 8 to mark the 50th anniversary since they lived the most terrifying and darkest moments of their lives.
Miguel Pizarro, 71, on Saturday stepped onto the historic wooden benches for the first time since he was transferred to another detention center on Nov. 1, 1973, after having spent a month locked up there.
He was 21 years old and a communist militant. “I always avoided coming back because everywhere I looked there was pain: they called people there to torture them; there I met some girls from the National Institute of Statistics who had all been raped,” he recalls to EFE as he points to different corners of the compound, which is now a memorial.
“I see tortured bodies, people with their genitals burned. For me, it’s not a sports field, it’s a place of great horror,” he adds.
Declared a Historic Monument in 2003, the iconic National Stadium has hosted major milestones in the country’s recent history: from the match that gave Chile third place in the 1962 World Cup to the votes in the constitutional plebiscites.
Starting in October, it will also become one of the venues of the Pan American Games, the biggest multi-sport event held in the country’s history.
“DO YOU SEE THEM WAVING AT YOU? IT’S YOUR HUSBAND!”
Unaware that her husband was also at the venue, Ruth Vuskovic entered the National Stadium on September 19, 1973, at the age of 25 with an 8-month-old baby waiting for her outside.
“They came to an aunt’s house to look for my father, Pedro Vuskovic, who had been Salvador Allende’s Minister of Economy and was one of the 10 most wanted names by the dictatorship, according to the newspaper ‘El Mercurio’ at the time,” she tells EFE.
“They didn’t find my father and took me as a hostage,” she adds. One day, sitting on the bleachers, she recalls, an officer told her: “Look over there, in the field, can you see that they are waving at you? It’s your husband.”
Then she found out that he had entered four days earlier. He was Alberto Corvalán, son of the then secretary general of the Communist Party, Luis Corvalán.
“They tortured him in the velodrome until he almost died,” she says. Then he was taken to the Chacabuco Prison Camp, in the north of the country, in the middle of the desert, where he was held from November 1973 to July 1974.
“He died a year later in exile, as a result of the torture,” she says while showing his photo in a visual tour of the period of the dictatorship exhibited on panels inside hatch number 8.
The walls still bear names, acronyms and dates written by prisoners during their imprisonment.
Now, at 75, Vuskovic visits the site accompanied by a friend who was also locked up there, but unlike her, this is the first time in 50 years that she has entered the stadium.
Released on Dec. 31, 1973, she spent 15 years in exile in Mexico with her son.
“A COMING AND GOING OF SADNESS AND HOPE”
At the age of 24, Patricio Sandoval entered the compound on September 15, four days after the coup.
Today, at 74, he was among the 70 prisoners gathered there again, according to the National Stadium National Memory Corporation, organizer of the event.
Nearly 20,000 prisoners passed through the National Stadium between September and November 1973, when it was closed as a detention center for the 1974 World Cup qualifiers against the USSR, which refused to play the match in a place stained by torture and repression. Months later, FIFA awarded the victory by forfeit to Chile.
“Today we have lived here a coming and going of pain and sadness, but also of hope to achieve justice and guarantee human rights,” says Sandoval.
“We look to the future, but the past will accompany us until our last breath.” EFE