SANTIAGO – Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark, who led the notorious “Caravan of Death” that liquidated dissidents in the wake of the 1973 coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power, died Wednesday, Chile’s defense ministry said. He was 94.
The retired officer, who was convicted of crimes against humanity but never set foot in prison, spent the final years of his life confined at a retirement home.
The Caravan of Death was a task force that traveled up and down Chile by helicopter in October-November 1973, swooping down on municipal and provincial jails to seize political prisoners and execute them in the aftermath of Pinochet’s Sept. 11 putsch.
The troops under Arellano’s direction killed at least 75 people.
Many of those executed were people who had been sentenced by martial law courts to short jail terms for minor offenses, such as journalist Carlos Berger, who faced 100 days behind bars for defying an order to shut down a radio station he ran in the northern city of Calama.
Arellano always denied responsibility for the killings, blaming them on local military garrisons who disobeyed his instructions.
Those soldiers, however, insisted that as Pinochet’s “delegate,” Arellano’s word was law.
Some analysts suggest the Caravan of Death served a dual purpose for Pinochet: terrorizing the opposition and ensuring the military’s loyalty to his regime by implicating them in its crimes.
At the time of his death from a heart attack in December 2006, Pinochet was being prosecuted for some of the Caravan killings.
Arellano Stark was convicted and sentenced to prison in 2008 for four Caravan murders in the town of San Javier, but the sentence was commuted to house arrest months later after court-appointed doctors determined he was suffering from irreversible dementia.
Human rights lawyer Carmen Hertz, the widow of Caravan victim Carlos Berger, reacted Wednesday to news of Arellano’s death.
“A repressor who headed one of the most atrocious extermination missions of the dictatorship, which was one of the foundational episodes of the dictatorship, has died in impunity,” she told Radio Cooperativa.
The toll from Pinochet’s 1973-1990 regime includes some 3,000 deaths and more than 25,000 documented victims of torture, while tens of thousands of other dissidents were forced into exile.