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Antifascist Resistance (I). Prisoner in Quiriquina Island
Quiriquina prisoner "Marcelo Ferrada. Ex-Profesor de Filosofía de la Universidad de Concepción". Click to enlarge
At the time of General Augusto Pinochet’s Coup D’état I was mobilized in the organization-unit belonging to the GPM (Grupo político-militar) of the Comité Regional Concepción of the MIR. The actions were already set for each GPM and its units in the Plan Militar de Emergencia (PME) which prevailed in MIR in anticipation of the Coup D’état. This plan was not in the main followed by MIR in Concepción. Partly due to the Nr 2 ordinance (comunicado nr 2) distributed by the Comite Regional the 12 of September in which we were asked to “wait and see”. I received this communicate in hand through personal courier, in a rendezvous sat in Maipú and Aníbal Pinto street, close to Galería Rialto, where the Communication and Telephone Central of MIR in Concepción had its clandestine quarters in the second floor (“La Central”). This was also a centralized unit ad hoc the Regional Secretariat of MIR. The unit’s task was also the decoding of the encrypted messages coming from MIR command in Santiago (“La Comisión Política”, led av Miguel Enríquez). The communiqué was given to me by one ot the three militant-girls ascribed to La Central ( ”H”, I have her name), and she said were instructions of the Secretario Regional of MIR in Concepción.
Sharing my first safe house – already from early morning of September 11 – with Marco Antonio Enríquez (elder brother of the leader of MIR) in Avda Roosevelt near the University campus, we questioned the authenticity of such comunicado nr 2 apparently contradicting what we knew of Miguel’s activities in Santiago. Thus, in trying to adjust to the Plan, I changed again to a safe house located ad hoc a Pharmacy in Barros Arana Street – in the vicinity of a building of the Carabineers – to monitor troop movements. We choosed safe-houses only located in central Concepción or around military compounds, in order to deal with the curfew-situation, which otherwise limited our night operations (situation – regretfully – not contemplated in the PME). The first house, rather big, was owned by a family of Allendes’s sympathizers which also run there a Pharmacy. We initiated nocturnal actions in central Concepción the first night after September 11. However, since in the house were also hidden various non-combatants Allende sympathizers, ultimately we were asked by its owners to leave the premises, in fear of a searching if we would be followed or captured.
If I remember well, these actions were reported by the newspaper “El Sur” the 13 or 14 September, with a picture of fire-giving from the roofs in central Concepción.
I was later captured while transported under curfew by my father (a former officer) obliged to leave suddenly my fourth safe house and with no contacts left in the organization. The head of the Comisión de organización (my unit) was captured in Las Higueras and taken to Quiriquina Island were I later met him heavily tortured. He never talked and saved thus several lives (he is now a doctor exiled in Holland). La Central at Galleria Rialto had been closed down by MIR’s initiative.
My father did not know anything beyond that I was “on the run” and in need of help for transport that night. Having my father right-wing political sympathies, I did not carry anything that could compromise. The vehicle was intercepted by an Army patrol in Las Heras street. At the spot identified only as a Professor of the University of Concepción (closed down by the military the very day of the coup) and not as militant of MIR, I was taken to the Football Stadium in Concepción. However – as courtesy to the family this transport under the custody of Artillery officers under my brother’s command (at the time a captain in the Artillery Regiment, and whom my father contacted immediately). It was not the last time he would save my life.
The Stadium in Concepción was a first detention portal of unprocessed detainees. DINA did not exist at that time yet, and the Intelligence and repression activities at the Stadium coexisted with the ordinary logistic and security “taking care” of the prisoners. The Intelligence activities carried our in the beginning by an hybrid ad hoc pluton integrated by officers and petty-officers of the Army, Carabiners, Political Civil Police (Servicio de Investigaciones, and the repressive part performed by brutal ordinary staff and officers of the “Gendarmería” (ordinary prison or jail-guards formations). The logistic and security tasks were in charge of a company from the Army.
Here at the Stadium of Concepción the detainees were sorted according to political hierarchy and participation character (political or insurgents). Most of the categorised as political cadres, militants or profiles and leaders of theUnidad Popular (Allende’s political coalition) and MIR, were taken from the Stadium in Concepción, airborne, to a camp in Northern Chacabuco.
On the other hand, political leaders with suspected responsibility in former “subversive” preparedness (the so-called ”Plan Z”, an euphemistic denomination found by the Military Junta to refer potential subversive capability), or cadres suspected of participation in resistance activities, were either shot or taken for further interrogation toFuerte Borgoño (Marines) and eventually to the prisoners camp in Quriquina Island. In these two compounds were also executed several prisoners. Eventually, later in 1974, some few prisoners in Quiriquina Island which after re-evaluation met the “Chacabuco” criteria (se above), were again gathered at the Stadium in Concepción and together with other prisoners (59 in total) sent in an Air Force Hercules to the Chacabuco Camp.
For my part I was identified by Intelligence officers at the Stadium as militant of MIR, and suspected of resistance participation. First I was in the line to be shot – at the orders of Teniente de Gendarmería Vallejos – together with two other prisoners, the former Director of Socoagro in Chillán and a young adolescent detained when carrying dynamite he had taken from the Cantera he worked at. We were saved from under the Stadium’s Southern arc at last minute by the intervention of Capitan Sánchez, the commander of the Military company at the Stadium (more of this dramatic episode in the biographic report “The red, the black, and the white“ ).
From there I was taken together with a number of other detainees to the Navy Base in Talcahuano, where a concentration of detainees from elsewhere in the military region took place. Here were selected after further investigation those detainees who would fell in the military jargon under the category ”prisoners”, meaning that they would be held in captivity at the infamous Quiriquina Island Camp. But some perished unter torture or were assassinated.
Arte de Noli 1974
At Quiriquina Island
I arrived at Quiriquina Camp with eleven other prisoners. Two of them had come as detainees from the cool-mine city of Lota and were shot at the Quiriquina Camp short after we had arrived. One was of the name Carrillo, a trade union leader in the mining zone and heroes of the resistance against Pinochet.
When I entered the main gate in the “Gymnasium” – where at the time all the about 800 prisoners were kept together in one local – my comrades in MIR were surprised, to say the least. The reason was that I have been reported dead in the Concepción actions. One of the prisoners which received me, a young student of name Quiero, even said to me that in Coronel (a mining city in the Region) they have set a hit-unit called my name, as honours to the dead in action!
Also Miguel Enríquez got the report of these actions and my presumptive death. This was told to me in Malmö in 1976, by the compañera of Alvaro Rodas (an old-timer from the VRM period, and if I remember well, member of the first Central Committee of MIR). According to what she told me in occasion of a MIR-meeting (cells of MIR for the ”trabajo de apoyo exterior”) we had in their appartmen in Malmö, she heard herself from Miguel that, literally ”calló Ferradita” (Miguel used to call me Ferradita) and that he was affected by it.
The above situation – that I was believed by many comrades killed by the military in Concepción – had important, and even determinant, positive consequences for my survival at the Camp and at the interrogations under torture.
For those not acquainted with clandestine operations under severe violent militar repression, it will be perhaps difficult to understand what follows. The fact is that before I came to the Quiriquina Camp, various of my comrades – interrogated under torture – blamed me for the personal responsibility or executor of the particular operations or activity these comrades were suspected to have had in MIR. The “blame the dead” was a necessary tactic of survival that spontaneously grew in such torture centres.
The above in turn served me as a miraculous survival tool under torture. For when the agents asked me about all kind of items including the items which were truly my responsibility, I invariable responded that “naturally”nothing of that was – altogether – true, for the source of those reports on my doings was most certain the practice of “blame the death”, and that I had left my active contacts with MIR (I could not deny that I was a founder of MIR, but “that was historic”) for long time ago when I became Professor at the University of Concepción. All wich the interrogators finally accepted after several weeks.
In conjunction with above, it is important to understand the nature of these interrogation processes at the Quiriquina Island.
a) The interrogations were NOT carried out in the first place by the personal in charge of the prisoners or the Navy personnel at the Island. Instead the interrogators were Intelligence personal from the Carabiners, the Army, and the Navy, which travelled episodical and constantly to the Island to exercise their sinister task. Also, they belonged at that time to their respective Intelligence departments. Situation changed after that time with the creation of DINA, Pinochet’s Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia.
b) These individuals rotated constantly. At least under my time at the Quiriquina Island (one), at the Detention centre at the Naval Base in Talcahuano (twice), and at the Regional Football Stadium in Concepción (twice). At Quiriquina Island the arriving interrogators some times were only Carabineers, or only Army, and some times a mixture from all services.
c) 1973-1974 it was a time of no computerised information, no data files reachable with a click. Instead the information was gathered in notes taken by the interrogators themselves under a situation in which they were at the very same time the torture-agents themselves.
What I mean – in the context of my experiences at the Quiriquina – is that this constant rotation meant that many of the items asked to me in those interrogations were based only in note-reports taken from other agents in different occasions and before I got in the Island. All which made less difficult for me to play the convincing survival plot described before, added that the agents interrogating me were not those with the relevant hard data.
Four decades. Graphic by Armando Popa, 2009. Basedon Portrait of political prisoner Armando Popa (Ferrada-Noli 1973)
But that was of course not the ultimate reason of my survival, of why my true role in MIR at the time of the Coup and in the actions afterwards was never known by my captors at the Quiriquina Island. The reason, as I see it, is because those who actually knew of my activities, such as the head of the Organization Detail of the GPM Regional Committee of MIR in Concepción I truly belonged to, and not only the front political unit at the University of Concepción. This friend is Renato Valdés, a doctor living now in Holland. He never revealed anything, never talked at the interrogations even under heavy and prolonged torture.
It was everything so dramatic. Every time one of our comrades was called by complete name in the loudspeakers and asked to report himself at the gate of the huge collective cell (the gymnasium) to be taken by the marine-guards to the interrogation/torture sites. Another time, any time, it would the turn again of any of us who were left for the time being in the uncertain waiting list.
It was on those circumstances which I remember most vividly Renato Valdés, which is a situation I am sure characterizes the situation of any of the prisoners of MIR at the Quiriquina Island. Coming back from interrogation after hours of us waiting anxious for his eventual return. And the dramatic mixture of feelings while two or three comrades sat around him on the floor of the gymnasium:
Disappointment, because in the best of cases he could have set free. Relief, by the fact he was still by us, and otherwise he could have resulted much worst, including the risk of perishing under torture. Sadness, because of the horrible shape – physical and psychological – that those interrogations inflicted in all of us. And finally, the satisfaction and proud that he survived the interrogation without saying anything that could compromise us.
MIR resists in Concepción
The resistence of MIR in Concepción, as in the rest of the country, has not been sufficiently described. Several reasons explain this, which I refer in my text That morning of September 11 1973.
However, one clear demonstration of this active armed resistence in Concepción is given by this photo in the front page of a main Santiago newspaper, La Tercera (6 October 1973). In the footnote it is explained that the “extremists” shown in the picture are prisoners in the Quiriquina Camp ”for have attacked the Military forces with firearms”. The rest are, according to the footext, political top leaders of the former Unidad Popular (the political coalition in suport of Allende, in which MIR did not participate). In fact, the only such political leader of the Unidad Popular shown in the actual picture is Fernando Alvarez (center of the picture, drak coat and light hat. He died under torture at the camp just few days after the picture was taken).
Here below is La Tercera’s front page picture of the “extremists” which attacked the military with fireweapons, according to the text (click to enlarge). I am depicted in the photo by the arrow from the right.
Other focus of resistance of MIR in Concepción were known to exist in the perifery of the City (Cordones Insdustriales). This was also, as in the case of Central Concepción, more an “automatic response” from the part ofGPM units or militants following the ”Plan Militar de Emergencia”.
A glimspe at the Prisoners Camp
The picture below (Diario El Sur) show the door to the main collective cell in the Quiriquina Camp. All the photos here were taken by Concepción journalists accompanying a Swiss delegation of the International Red Cross under the one and only visit ever permited to the Camp in 1974.
Here are other pictures of the Quiriquina Camp published October 1973 by newspapers in Concepción. The first one in ”Diario Color”. The second one in “El Sur”. The remaing one also in “Diario Color”. In the picture first below I am depicted by the red arrow, to te left.
Arte de Noli, 1974
At the Quiriquina Camp, when not under interrogation or in isolating cell, the treatment was of collective forced labour. We were organized by the Navy Camp authority in “companies”, e.g. Company A (or Company “Ancla”), Company B (“Bote) etc. The main activity of the companies was to do heavy work of construction, or restoring, of a very old stone Fort, the Fuerte Rondizonni. It was going to serve as the new prison for our selves. We were constructing our own prison! In the few hours of rest I spend much time in painting, or drawing, as the resources would allow. I did mainly portrait of my fellow prisoners, but also of guards and of the Camp. These I gave to the Red Cross officials visiting the Camp. I conserve thus a few pieces. One is the portrait of a younger colleague, Armando –Mandy – Popa (see below). He was at the time medical student at the University of Concepción. Both Armando and his brother Ricardo, also a friend of mine, exiled thereafter in Sweden working as doctors. Armando lives now in Singapore.