SANTIAGO – Just how many people opposed to the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship passed through these dark cells is unknown. Prisoners collectively called them “The Hole,” and its survivors supposed it was somewhere underground in Santiago.
But now that hellhole is known to have been located in the basements of La Moneda Palace, the current seat of government, which was bombed during the military coup d’etat of 1973.
“They had us locked up for days and kept us blindfolded – we couldn’t eat, drink or go to the bathroom,” Patricia Herrera, a survivor of that inferno, told EFE.
Its existence had not been acknowledged by any authority until last September, when President Michelle Bachelet mentioned it in a speech at the Plaza de la Constitucion.
“Human rights were violated underneath this plaza,” she said. We’re going to do all it takes to make that torture chamber a memorial site that preserves the memory of those who suffered so much here.”
Herrera was abducted June 27, 1974, on her way home from university. She was 19 years old and belonged to the Socialist Party. She was slammed into a car, blindfolded and had her hands tied. “This is what happens for going to college and getting mixed up in politics,” she was told.
She doesn’t know exactly how many days she was locked up, she only remembers that after she had been there for some time she got sick and fell unconscious from being raped and constantly beaten.
“I never knew where I was...or if other people were being held there. I isolated myself from whatever happened and concentrated on surviving,” she said.
“The Hole” was a secret subterranean torture chamber underneath the Plaza de la Constitucion, located downtown in the Chilean capital where La Moneda Palace stands.
After the coup d’etat in 1973 and the bombing by the Chilean air force, La Moneda no longer housed the presidential offices and was abandoned. However, its basements were used as the center of operations for the Carabineros Intelligence Service (SICAR), where an undetermined number of opposition members were locked up, tortured and raped.
Beginning in 1974, that unit of the Carabineros worked closely with Pinochet’s secret police known as the DINA, both in providing security for the torture chambers and for certain operations of extermination.