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“Make Chile Greater”: The Execution of My Uncle and Torture of My Father

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

A New Adventure

On February 25, 1950, Felipe Porfirio Campos Carrillo was born to Felipe and Ruth Campos in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The Campos family grew larger over the decades, ending with a total of ten children by the early 1970s. Felipe was the fourth child, making him an admired big brother among his younger siblings. After Felipe graduated from Colegio Eloy Alfaro in 1972, his heart was set on continuing his education with a degree in Kinesiology. But at the time, there were not any Kinesiology programs in Ecuador, so Felipe would have to earn his degree elsewhere. Fortunately, because of his excellent academic performance, Felipe was awarded a scholarship from the University of Concepción in Concepción, Chile. Since his brother, José, was studying and working in Chile’s medical field, Felipe did not hesitate to make the move. In March 1973, Felipe said his goodbyes to his family in Ecuador and excitedly headed to Chile. However, what seemed like a new adventure would soon become the darkest nightmare.

The Campos children with their mother, early 1960s. Left to right: Felipe, David, Elías, Ruth, Marcos (the baby), Benjamín, José, Samuel. Not pictured: Felipe Campos, Sr. Two more children would be born later.

Resistance and Change

Like many countries in Latin America, Chile was conquered by the Spanish during the age of New World exploration. By the early 1800s, Chile was under the rule of Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte. At this point, Chileans were fed up and after sporadic warfare, independence was declared on September 18, 1810.

The 1970 election in Chile proved to be its most significant one. One of the candidates, Salvador Allende, a member of the Chilean Socialist Party, was running for a third time. His opponents, Jorge Alessandri and Radomiro Tomic, seemed more popular at the start of the campaign period, but slowly, each of them lost support. Tomic, a Christian Democrat, often contradicted himself during his speeches, leading to confusion about what exactly he supported and opposed. Alessandri, a member of the right-leaning National Party and former president, was 74 years old and appeared to be in failing health. As a result, attention turned to Allende, who won about 37 percent of the popular vote. Alessandri and Tomic trailed at 35 and 28 percent. Since the results were so close, the Chilean Congress needed to elect the winner.

Shortly before the final decision, Commander-in-Chief René Schneider was kidnapped by General Roberto Viaux. With the support of the United States CIA, Viaux’s plan was to abduct Schneider and force him to participate in a coup if Allende was chosen as president. As an outspoken Marxist and friend of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Allende’s rising admiration was a threat to the United States, especially during the Cold War era. Yet Schneider vehemently believed the Chilean Army’s role was to protect the country, not to interfere with politics. Due to his resistance, Viaux shot Schneider and he died from his injuries three days later. Witnessing such corruption taking place in their government, Chileans rallied even more for Allende, who was sworn in as president on November 3, 1970.

The Coup

Allende’s presidency began with the nationalization of various industries. Rather than have industries owned by private and/or foreign companies, the Chilean government was now in charge. The United States, being owners of certain businesses in Chile, was not fond of this decision. Anaconda Copper, for example, was one of the largest copper companies in the world. Additionally, land owned by American companies was redistributed to low-income Chileans. A 2023 TruthDig interview with Peter Kornbluh, who is the director of the Chilean Documentation Project at George Washington University, examines the US government’s involvement in removing Allende from the very start of the 1970 election. Kornbluh says “[Former President Richard] Nixon calls in [CIA director] Helms and says, ‘You have to block Allende from being inaugurated. Make the economy scream. Don’t tell the embassy. $10 million more if necessary. Use the best men you have.” The motive was to make the lives of average Chileans miserable. Thus, the United States withdrew its aid to Chile, prevented trade, and blocked requests for loans from the International Monetary Fund located in Washington, D.C. Soon enough, the Chilean economy indeed “screamed.” Chileans could no longer afford necessities like groceries or electricity. Support for Allende plummeted, just as the US government desired.

Allende desperately tried to keep Chile in his grasp. With his popularity declining each day, he decided to strengthen the army for his protection. In August 1973, Allende appointed Augusto Pinochet as Commander-in-Chief. Allende had worked with Pinochet since the start of his presidency and considered Pinochet an honest companion. But on September 11, 1973, with assistance from the Chilean Army, Pinochet seized power. As Allende hid inside the presidential palace, Pinochet ordered the army to surround the building. Bombs were dropped on the roof to force Allende from his hiding place. With no other way out, Allende used an AK-47, which was a gift from Fidel Castro, to shoot himself.

A Dangerous Trip

On September 11, 1973, Felipe and his friend and classmate Freddy ‘Jimmy’ Torres Villalba found themselves in the middle of the conflict. According to a 2013 report written by Josué Fonseca Molina, a native Chilean and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Concepción, he was with Felipe and Jimmy on that day. He writes “[Felipe] told me that he escaped from his [student residency] through the hills along with other students [and] went down to the city through Agüita de la Perdiz and returned to the center. He did not know what to do. I suggested that he go to the Salamanca family's house and he did so.”

Joel and Doris Salamanca were siblings and they were close friends of Felipe and Jimmy. Since the University of Concepción was forcibly closed during the coup, Felipe and Jimmy lost access to their campus dormitory, but the Salamancas let them stay in their home. Fonseca Molina shares that around September 18, 1973, Felipe returned to his student residency to retrieve his clothes and other personal items because he and Jimmy were going to Los Ángeles, a city about eighty miles south of Concepción. Jimmy’s girlfriend, Ana López, lived there and he wanted to pay her a visit. Unbeknownst to Felipe, he was being followed by Pinochet’s men.

The Salamancas begged Felipe and Jimmy to cancel their trip. With the ongoing tension, travel was not advised unless for a dire emergency. Despite this, Felipe and Jimmy were confident the conflict would end soon.

Felipe and Jimmy boarded a bus to Los Ángeles on the morning of September 19, 1973.

A Morbid Discovery

Though the bus ride to Los Ángeles would have taken anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours, Felipe and Jimmy only made it about thirty minutes outside of Concepción. Much to their confusion, they were detained at the Chaimávida checkpoint and taken to the Fourth Carabineros Police Station in Concepción. Since Felipe and Jimmy had different appearances and distinct accents which made it clear they were not native Chileans, they were suspected to be undercover agents for Fidel Castro. Rather than conduct a formal investigation, the authorities subjected Felipe and Jimmy to torture. Felipe and Jimmy were burned with cigarette butts on multiple parts of their bodies. Felipe’s brother, Esteban Timoteo, who was ten years old at the time, states, “They put him and Jimmy in sacks and severely beat them.” The authorities took the brutalization a step further and proceeded to electrocute Felipe and Jimmy. Heriberto Moisés Krumm Ahumada was at the Fourth Carabineros Police Station the day Felipe and Jimmy were brought in. Krumm Ahumada was beaten and locked in a dark, windowless room. In a 2006 testimony, Krumm Ahumada provided details about what he witnessed. After an hour of being in the windowless room, the guards opened the door and tossed in two more people. Krumm Ahumada said “They were two young people and semi-conscious. They looked like they had been badly tortured and they exclaimed and begged ‘We are students from Ecuador, please help us.’”

Krumm Ahumada stated they were given sedatives as they continued to explain their status as strictly students and not political activists or spies. Some time later, the windowless room was opened again and in came Colonel Fernando Pinares Carrasco. He set his eyes on Felipe and Jimmy and ordered, “Take out those two miristas [members of a far-left movement in Chile] because now we are going to liquidate them.” Pedro Enrique Hahn Silva, a former employee of the Fourth Carabineros Police Station, was a witness to Felipe and Jimmy’s execution. In the same 2006 testimony in which Krumm Ahumada gave his story, Hahn Silva said that at approximately 10 pm on September 19, 1973, Felipe and Jimmy were blindfolded at the shore of the Bío-Bío River and then shot numerous times.

Their bodies were discovered by fishermen on September 20th at around 4:30 in the afternoon. Sergio Gastón Torres Vega, a witness, said “[the authorities] tried to throw the bodies into the sea, since at night the sea rises water and because of the position they were in, they assumed the sea would take them away. But in the morning, the tide goes out and the bodies stayed on the shore.”

Felipe and Jimmy were relocated to a morgue, one frequented by medical students. Doris Salamanca was a nursing student and she accompanied her boyfriend, also a medical student, to the morgue because he had been unable to find his brother. When they arrived, he immediately recognized both bodies.

Doris’ boyfriend was José Campos Carrillo, Felipe’s brother and my father.

The Statistics

In the article “Historicizing Injustice: The Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago, Chile” by Susan Opotow, she writes “Beginning on September 11th, the day of the coup d’etat and continuing throughout the dictatorship (1973– 1990), people alleged to be political dissidents were detained, tortured, and killed. Overseen by Chile’s secret police (DINA and CNI) under Pinochet, political violence was a dominant element of state policy.” A short documentary titled “How a Folk Singer’s Murder Forced Chile to Confront Its Past,” produced by Retro Report, gives an estimate of 27,000 people tortured under the Pinochet regime and 3,000 either executed or declared missing, but exact numbers vary from source to source. The 1991 Rettig Report, put together by the Rettig Commission under the supervision of Chilean President Patricio Aylwin Azócar and Senator Raúl Rettig, provided a total of 2,296 victims of human rights violations. But in 2004, the Valech Report, conducted under the guidance of Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and Bishop Sergio Valech, the new total was 28,459. When the Valech Report was revised in 2010 and 2011, the number rose to about 40,000. states “[t]he total number of people officially recognized as missing or murdered is 3,216, while 38,254 people are recognized as survivors of political imprisonment and/or torture.”

Human rights violations under Pinochet began almost as instantly as the coup of 1973. An article by Danilo Freire et al. titled “Deaths and Disappearances in the Pinochet

Regime: A New Dataset” gives the example of Tulio Roberto Quintiliano Cardozo, a Brazilian engineer living in Chile at the time. He was a member of the Communist Party, so on September 12, 1973, he was arrested by the military and taken away for interrogation. Quintiliano Cardozo was never seen nor heard from again.

In January 1974, Jenny Barra Rosales, a 23-year-old university student, was accused of distributing pro-Communism pamphlets on campus. She was detained but subsequently released. But in 1977, she was arrested a second time and her family never saw her again. The Guardian’s 2023 article “Chile takes on ‘moral duty’ of finding the disappeared of Pinochet regime” by Charis McGowan reads “In 2001, former agents of Pinochet’s secret police revealed that Jenny Barra’s body was taken, with dozens of others, to an abandoned mine outside of Santiago, where they were incinerated.” Her sister, Susana, informed The Guardian that the only thing left from Jenny is “a small bone fragment.”

Perhaps the most famous victim is Victor Jara, sometimes called the “Bob Dylan of South America” because of his folk singing against corruption. Jara was a member of the Communist Party and was arrested in the early morning of September 12, 1973. Authorities crushed his fingers with rifles so he could never play his guitar again. The torture culminated with Jara being shot twice in the head and 44 times in the rest of his body and then dumped in the streets of Santiago.

These stories are only a few drops in a sea of thousands. Felipe, Jimmy, and my father are among them.

“Make Chile Greater”

Despite the charges of human rights violations, Pinochet had supporters during his regime and still has supporters now, even years after his death. The 2015 article “An Assessment of the Pinochet Regime in Chile” by Elizabeth Dicken evaluates the positives of Pinochet’s government. Dicken explains that while Chile’s inflation peaked at 505 percent in 1974, it was able to drop with the advice of Milton Friedman, an American economist who would be awarded the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize for economic science. Pinochet and Friedman met in 1975 and using Friedman’s financial suggestions of increasing prices and slashing public spending, inflation began collapsing. That same year, the inflation rate was 375 percent, but by 1982, it was a mere 9.9 percent, leaving Chile’s economy in almost a full recovery. Unfortunately, this economic muscle would soon lose its strength as Chile was hit by a recession which resulted in a loss of jobs, numerous bankruptcies, and the price of copper shrinking to only 67 cents a pound.

Aside from economic benefits, Pinochet supporters might also mention reforms that were put in place. One example, according to Dicken, was changing elections to include presidential and congressional candidates at the same time. Additionally, Pinochet introduced a run-off system, meaning if none of the political candidates received a majority vote, a second election round was required. The Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization that studies and addresses poverty worldwide, explores Chile’s education system during Pinochet. In 1981, Pinochet made the controversial decision to cut the federal budget for public schools. His main reason was the possibility of government-funded public schools teaching pro-Communist ideas and inspiring students to join social justice movements. On one hand, private education has its benefits, like smaller class sizes and more individualized teaching. While those who could afford private education were not affected by this decision, those who could not had to go into debt to educate their children.

Pinochet led Chile until 1990 after the election of President Patricio Aylwin Azócar, but this did not mean Pinochet vanished from the Chilean government. He remained involved as a lifetime senator, which was granted due to a 1981 constitutional amendment made under his own administration. This arrangement would not last long as Pinochet was arrested in 1998 while visiting London. His charge was involvement in the torture of Spanish citizens during his control. But in 2000, the British court system declared Pinochet physically unable to stand trial and set him free. He returned to Chile, thinking he would be safe there because of his criminal immunity. In 2002, the Chilean Supreme Court ruled Pinochet was not mentally competent to defend himself and two years later, Pinochet stepped down from his senator position. However, in 2005, the Chilean Supreme Court seized Pinochet’s immunity after discovering his hidden bank accounts containing roughly 30 million US dollars and his connection in the execution of 119 political prisoners whose bodies were dumped in Argentina. The Court deemed him well enough to stand trial, but he never would. Pinochet died on December 10, 2006, at the age of 91.

As with any controversial figure, Pinochet’s death produced happiness and sorrow. The 2006 article “Final Reckoning” by Isabel Vincent states “While hundreds of Chileans took to the streets to celebrate his death last weekend, others mourned the passing of a man who they say changed the course of economic history in their country…and painfully transformed what was a bankrupt state into Latin America's most prosperous economy.” A supporter named Margarita Sanchez said through her tears: “He will live forever in my memory. I love him as much as my own children.” Many supporters wept outside the hospital where Pinochet died and many opponents publicly celebrated with confetti and champagne.

Chile did not hold an official mourning process nor was Pinochet granted a presidential funeral, likely because the then-president, Michelle Bachelet, was tortured along with her family during the Pinochet era. Lucía Hiriart, Pinochet’s wife, read his final address on November 25, 2006. In it, he wrote: “I take political responsibility for everything that was done which had no other goal than making Chile greater and avoiding its disintegration.”

My Father’s Torture

*The following was extracted via personal interviews with my father. Additional information was obtained from Memoria Viva, a Chilean organization dedicated to educating the public about the Pinochet era and Los Expedientes de la Represión, a Chilean archive. Interviews were conducted in Spanish and have been transcribed by me into English. For clarity purposes, I will refer to my father by his first name. *

José, like the rest of the Campos siblings, was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador. With an enthusiasm for the medical field starting from childhood, he always knew he wanted to be a doctor. The University of Concepción offered an exceptional medical program, so José immediately jumped on the opportunity. During his time there, he also gained experience by working at a hospital in Los Ángeles. Among his professors and classmates, he was known for being a dedicated student who always sought more knowledge every day.

But on September 11, 1973, José and several other students at the University of Concepción were arrested on suspicion of being Communists. José was transported to the nearby island of Quiriquina where he would remain imprisoned until September 19, 1973.

“It was horrible,” he said. “I didn’t understand why I had been arrested. What I remember the most is the guards not letting me sleep. They would scream in my face all night long to keep me awake. They would wave their weapons around and constantly threaten to kill me and sometimes, I really thought they would.”

As part of his punishment, José was frequently blindfolded and beaten. He was also electrocuted, thrown into the freezing waters surrounding Quiriquina, and spent what felt like an eternity in a windowless dungeon. José expressed that to this day, he has no idea why he was released when so many others were not.

“Whenever I think about what happened to me on Quiriquina Island,” José said. “It gives me so much pain. Tears escape from my eyes every time I talk about it.”

After José was released, he transported Felipe’s ashes back home to Guayaquil. Upon hearing the news of Felipe’s execution, my grandfather instantly fainted. I am not sure if this event affected his health, but it is possible. My grandfather died from lingering stroke complications in 1981 and Jimmy’s father suffered an intense heart attack and eventually died in 1976.

The more I read about Quiriquina Island under Pinochet’s rule, I could not fathom the thought of my father going through such ruthless physical, mental, and emotional anguish. With each new fact I learned, I was unable to hold back my tears as I pictured my father as a young college student being callously tormented for unsubstantiated claims. I too wondered why he was released. Why were Felipe and Jimmy executed along with thousands of others? What made my father’s situation different from theirs?

“Dad,” I said. “I cannot believe you survived all of this. Why do you think you were freed? Did the guards ever give you a reason?”

Without a pause, he answered, “If I had to go through the torture all over again, I would. What I endured was terrible, but I’m so happy God let me survive because I got to meet you, my little miracle. I really love and admire you, and your siblings, of course.”

Like my father, I am not a person who cries publicly. Yet, when he told me the words above, I cried heavily in my office and I did not care if anyone heard or saw me.

My father and I at my wedding, 2018. Credit: Blue Media Works

Memory Eternal

Felipe left behind nine siblings, all of whom are still alive today. As their niece, I had the pleasure of speaking with a few of them. Felipe’s little brothers, Esteban Timoteo and Marcos, shared their memories. “He loved to tell jokes and make others smile,” Marcos said. “When we prayed together before dinner, the rest of us would wrap our plates with napkins because he would grab an extra piece of food from us. He was so much fun.” “Felipe was a very happy person,” Esteban Timoteo said. “He was filled with joy and good humor. He could also play soccer like a true professional. He really loved to exercise.” Rosa Suarez, Felipe’s sister-in-law, said, “He had honey-colored eyes, curly hair, and a smile that expressed affection. He was so affectionate and jovial.” My mother, who never met Felipe, but heard stories about him from my paternal grandmother said, “Your grandmother told me Felipe didn’t like to bargain with street vendors. He preferred to pay the full price because he wanted the vendors to make a living. He would never, ever ask for a discount.”

Regarding Jimmy, his younger brother Kenny remembers him in a similar manner. In a 2019 interview with El Universo, an Ecuadorian newspaper, he said “My brother was a good athlete and studious.” Jimmy graduated from high school with honors and was awarded the prestigious Galves Rojas Scholarship, which grants six years of paid tuition to the best Latin American student. Kenny is currently a university professor in Ecuador. He continues telling Jimmy’s story to keep his memory alive.

In 2014, a memorial dedicated to the victims of the Pinochet era was erected at the Bicentennial Park in Concepción. The names of Felipe, Jimmy, and several others are engraved into the stone surface. In 2015, Colonel Fernando Pinares Carrasco received a fifteen-year prison sentence for the murders of Felipe and Jimmy. Five years later, José Florentino Fuentes Castro, a retired sergeant at the police station where Felipe and Jimmy were held was recorded in conversation as he reminisced about the executions. The moment he shared details about their bullet-riddled bodies, he laughed heartily, as if telling a funny story. But as mentioned earlier, Pinochet still has staunch supporters. In fact, on December 31, 2019, the memorial at Bicentennial Park was vandalized with far-right symbols, including the words “Pinochet” and “We missed more of them.” Additionally, human waste was found at the bottom of the memorial to further disrespect the victims.

If Felipe had survived, he would be 73 years old. Knowing his personality and passions, it is easy to make guesses about what his life would have entailed. One can picture him as a personal trainer aiming to sculpt others into a fit physique or as a soccer coach training the national team of Ecuador as they play in the World Cup finals. I am nowhere near being an athlete, but I do love to exercise, just like he did. Maybe we would go on brisk walks after dinner or on a bike ride through a grassy park with lots of fresh air. But if bad weather stopped us from exercising outside, perhaps we would go to an indoor artisan market and he’d advise me to “pay the full price because this is how they feed their families.”

Uncle Felipe, your tormentors tried so hard to make you disappear forever. They made you suffer, but it wasn’t enough satisfaction for their cruel souls, so they murdered you, but that wasn’t sufficient either. They wanted you and Jimmy to be washed away like a sinking ship, deep under the water and never to be found again.

What your tormentors did not realize was that by attempting to make you vanish, they made your memory eternal.

Foreground: Felipe Campos Carrillo during his time in the Ecuadorian Army, circa 1970.

Sources available for download below:

Felipe Campos Carrillo source list
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