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Impunity and the Inner History of Life.

1. Introduction

THIS IS A REFLECTION BASED ON A MEDICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, AND SOCIAL PRACTICE with a universe of around 3,000 people who had been the victims of persecution, torture, executions, disappearances, and exile in Chile. Our experience was initiated in 1973, in the wake of the military coup, and continued over the 17 following years of state terrorism. Afterwards, in the "period of transition to democracy," the study has focused on the consequences of the absence of truth and justice for individuals and, of course, for society as a whole.

Over this long period of more than 25 years, we physicians, appalled at the sight of tortured bodies -- a yet unknown expression of brutal human aggression -- tried to systematize the kind of disorders found and have outlined this phenomenon within the context of our clinical practice. Many questions had to be answered. We were facing a violent action executed deliberately and consciously by another human being. Hence, from the first moment standing before the tortured person, this torn body, we perceived in our minds, in our imaginations, the presence of the torturer who, at the same time, due to impunity, was and remained absent.

The concepts of health and disease were transferred from the inner self of a human being to the outer world: power, society, and the persons responsible. The need to obtain a diagnosis, essential in medical practice, led us to seek the origins, the etiology of this human trauma.

At the time, we had no therapeutic guidelines to confront such disorders, let alone a nosology enabling us to understand the symptoms and the syndromes. Only years later, when the concepts of human rights began to take shape in statements and conventions about torture, forced disappearances, and other such crimes, did we realize that the universe of people we were treating had been the victims of crimes against humanity and had also been affected by another human decision, i.e., impunity. The medical outlook that for centuries had addressed the sick body, the inner mind, now had to consider both the victims and the perpetrators, as well as the structures and institutions of society and the cultural world, under the arbitrariness of dictatorship.

In this process, we used two approaches. The first one, the phenomenological-existential, allows us to get acquainted with the inner self of the persons treated and to understand the conditions of their existence. We included contributions from psychoanalysis, especially those applied during World War II, which also helped us in the interpretation of some clinical phenomena.

In the second approach, the multidisciplinary-systemic, we incorporated psychologists, social workers, educators, teachers, jurists, and sociologists into the medical practice. This allowed us a global assessment of the trauma. During the dictatorship -- particularly at the onset -- our work was always done clandestinely. Furthermore, a relation of "shared experience" was established between our patients and ourselves since we were living under the same context of aggression and of expectations, especially to see the end of the dictatorship. To paraphrase Humberto Giannini (1997), we were sharing a sense of undergoing the same thing and actually co-belonging to the mature force of feeling. One by one, we tried to circumscribe practices, concepts, and reflections that would enable us to better understand psychic trauma, "one of the main features of modernity in this century" (Barrois, 1988).

2. General Framework of Violence and Impunity in Latin America

The worst genocide known in history started in American lands 500 years ago. The violence of the conquistadores, driven by their lust for power and riches, resulted in torture and death. Millions of men, women, and children of the indigenous peoples found their death in the process. Father Bartolome de las Casas (1972), who opposed the violent actions of the conquistadores, described the most brutal forms of destroying a human being: beheadings, mutilations of arms, hands, and even of testicles, the murder of children by striking their heads against rocks, and women murdered by opening their bellies with knives and spears. After reading such accounts, and looking back to the perverse crimes of the military and paramilitary forces during the Latin American dictatorships, particularly in Guatemala, we wondered whether these forms of aggression could have persisted in the depths of the memory, in the primal instincts of their descendants. Freud (1966) sustains that in psychic life, nothing of what has been form ed ever disappears; everything is preserved one way or another and can reappear under favorable or unfavorable circumstances.

In contrast to this violence, Bartolome de las Casas (1972: 28) describes the Indians as "people devoid of wickedness, the ones from those lands, without duplicity, very humble, obedient, patient and peaceful, with no struggles or uproar, without rancor." No doubt it was this contrast that led him to state that these people "also had a soul."

Since those times, American history has been plagued with violent events. Mter the establishment of independent republics, the groups in power have used violence to ensure a political and economic model serving their interests, a violence that stems from power. There have also been serious and violent social explosions, deep and long-lasting. These are manifestations of attempts by the marginal sectors to obtain a minimum degree of equality. Such violence is described by Ortega y Gasset as "desperate reason." We interpret this definition as the violence unleashed in response to a situation of oppression, want, and destitution, when there is no way out and where the people feel besieged, punished. In contrast, violence that originates from the powerful has its own logic; it is in no way desperate and does not derive from affliction or uncontrolled despair. On the contrary, in this case Reason studies and plans violence.

On the American continent, however, the structure and shape of violence changed in the second half of the century. In the wake of World War II, another kind of aggression emerged: the violence of the Cold War. Unlike what had happened during the two world wars, no open struggles between superpowers took place. Instead, there was concealment, ideological manipulation, spying, psychological war, the learning and application of techniques for torture, death, and disappearances, as well as many other specific maneuvers directed at opposing the "internal enemy." This interiorized concept means that the enemy is no longer beyond the borders, no longer a foreigner or a stranger; he or she is a fellow countryman, a citizen of our own country.

In the United States, the hegemonic country on the Western side of the Cold War, the main enemies were the Communists; for the Soviet Union -- that is, the East -- it was capitalism that had to be destroyed. Because of its geographic location, Latin America is included in the Western sector. On this continent, the doctrine of national security and the strategy of counterrevolution appeared with the greatest strength. Military personnel selected from different Latin American countries were trained in that ideology and in such techniques by the U.S. military.

Since the 1950s, the countries of this continent suffered successive military coups each time a growing climate of claims and mobilizations threatened to result in deep social changes, contrary to the capitalist model. In Chile the violent overthrow of Salvador Allende's government is a dramatic example. Without exception, the Latin American dictatorships ruled via state terrorism, defined as a succession of violent actions executed by the power possessing the monopoly of strength, which substitutes order, the norm, and institutional history at will and discards any possible legal limitations.

In Chile, over the 17 years of the dictatorship, people passed from direct intimidation to suffering a psychological war, from persecution to death, from arrest, imprisonment, and torture to disintegration and demolition of the victim, from clandestinity to exile, from arrest to disappearance, and from doubts about the truth to a total impunity. To apply this kind of power, it was necessary to learn and teach techniques for destroying "the enemy," and a change of mentality also had to be achieved within the military. The constantly repeated message (Fon, 1980) they were required to internalize was that now we are not fighting a citizen from another country, but an enemy scattered throughout our own land, who shares the same roof; it is international Communism.. The enemy was dehumanized and endlessly denigrated. Victims related that while being tortured, they were called "red, atheist, Marxist, delinquent, traitor, rat, trash, dog, shit, son of a bitch, whore, queer, coward...." They were the enemies at ever y level, the country, society, culture, religion, and -- very significantly -- of the military itself.

This rigid ideology was so deeply impressed in the military mind that whenever faced with a situation or a person that evoked the enemy, they at once reacted uncontrollably against "danger." Their irate expressions, so full of hate, their cold speech, and their scornful gestures remained deeply imprinted in the memories of the victims. This internal concept or image of danger, aimed at creating a sinister fantasy of tenor at the sole idea of the enemy's presence, was forced into the spirit of the military. It was supported by another conceptual construction, i.e., that the military forces were superior, invincible, the masters of order and cleanliness, the moral guardians of the country -- hence the defenders of the motherland. This newly emergent form of violence we call "super-violence" since it is a violence transformed into aggression, lucid and conscious, one that uses all the force of reason to destroy, that creates spaces, techniques, and apparatuses to demolish, that trains specialists in the commissi on of organized crime, that conceals its actions and denies them, and that makes abundant use of the media to spread psychological warfare throughout the country. Finally, impunity was added to this form of violence.

3. Impunity: Definition and Structure; Outline of the Possible Consequences

Ancient civilizations considered truth and justice to be obligations, eternal values of human existence. In our contemporary world, however, these concepts have become extremely weak. In the Latin America of today, impunity for the criminal has been institutionalized and systematized by the state. According to the dictionary, impunity means lack of punishment; and amnesty (one of the mechanisms most frequently used to establish impunity) means amnesia, a medical term that denotes loss of memory, oblivion. We may roughly distinguish two forms of impunity: impunity for the authors of violations of civil and political rights, particularly the right to life, and impunity for serious violations of economic, social, and cultural rights.

Impunity is a new aggression added to the crimes against humanity. Together with the traumatic consequences of pain, suffering, loss, mourning, and despair, impunity violates the highest human values, destroys beliefs and principles, and alters the norms and regulations that humanity has constructed in the course of civilized history. The association of this need for truth and justice makes impunity a dramatic and complex phenomenon: it destroys the fundamental pillars of reason and human action, combining in an ambivalent way the will to know and judge, on the one hand, with the demand to conceal and forget criminal behavior, on the other. This ambivalent phenomenon produces a distorted reality with an absence of reference points, a lack of "judgment and justification, the two poles that moral conflict moves between" (Giannini, 1997). This is the situation we presently experience in Chile.

Impunity appeared in Latin America in the second half of this century as an organized totality with different components. By knowing the relations derived from them we may better understand the psychological disorders it causes in individuals, families, and society.

At the core of impunity is a crime, and those who deal with crime always refer to a pair: a victim and a perpetrator. The crime is committed at a given place, at a specific time, in a precise geographical location, on a precise day on a given date. That is how it is engraved in the deepest self of the victims who endure it. Yet all this remains in anonymity, making the crime penetrate the human mind as an absence, horribly present, like a confusion that nevertheless is an inexorable reality, living but at the same time denied. The classical questions posed by human beings of how, when, who, and why -- normal questions of life -- are now dramatically transformed into enduring questions with no answers.

The crime has established a perverse relationship, a bipolarity between the victim and the victimizer. An indissoluble human link has been formed, and the elements that link the two are aggression, torture, and death. Since all that a human being does, thinks, and constructs from the time of his or her birth is related to a process of interchange with the other, so that all behavior manifests this connection, we understand that in the duality of crime and impunity the victim's subjective sense has been profoundly altered. Extreme violence becomes the negation of life. The victims of crimes against humanity have told other people that they felt absolutely helpless in front of "the other," who held the power and the strength to subdue and destroy them.

To the core of the crime itself we must add the social, historical, and political context. An enlightening and defined behavior -- to find those responsible, to tell and live the truth, to demand justice -- is indispensable to avoiding the impact of the psychopathological mechanisms unleashed by impunity. If this does not happen, the image of the perpetrator contaminates the state as a whole and its representatives. When the crime is committed under state terrorism, impunity is an accomplice that shields crime. The authors are the same ones who planned and ordered the crime, and the victims do not see truth and justice as feasible. The impunity that persists in democracy is different, and it is felt even more dramatically by the victims, their family, and society.

In a democracy, after the period of carnage is over, society can be indifferent, silent, prone to forget, or, on the other hand, active and demanding. Thus, the victims may fluctuate between feelings of hope and feelings of despair.

The behavior of regional or universal institutions devoted to human rights is important for breaking up the structure of impunity and the consequent psychomechanisms it may induce. Likewise, the attitudes of other countries -- for instance, Spain, which in the cases of Chile and Argentina is assuming the imperative of doing justice -- are also significant for the expectations and illusions, or inversely, for the frustrations and distress of the people affected.

4. Conceptual Precision Regarding Crimes Against Humanity

It is clear that the people we treated were submitted to crimes against humanity, to which impunity was added. Historically, crime is an act that is unaccepted, forbidden, censored, and punished. Its significance lies in the social imagination, the collective subconscious, the cultural patterns of a people. A crime against humanity is no common crime. It is characterized by being expressly conceived and planned. It is a visible, major aggression, executed to be diffused from the individual to the social body with the aim of terrorizing, paralyzing, and subduing through fear. It is experienced with more or less awareness by individuals according to their ideas, values, interests, mechanisms of denial, and rational and affective structures.

Only after the genocide of World War II did some personalities with different ideas and nationalities begin to develop contemporary concepts of human rights, after realizing the magnitude and brutality of the crimes committed by the Nazis. These personalities understood that these crimes were perpetrated not as an attack by some individuals against others, but rather were exerted from the power of a dictatorial state. One of the first tasks of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946 was to define and characterize these crimes and to prevent their recurrence. Two major categories of crimes were identified: war crimes and crimes against humanity. Then there was a long process in which concepts, declarations, and conventions were defined, to be respected by the whole world.

Certain elements affect people's behavior and the possible consequences of crimes against humanity. In declared wars, most citizens may have the freedom to declare themselves combatants or not, for reasons of an ideal, a principle, a cause, or a necessity. In this sense they enjoy a sort of equality with combatants on the other side. Those who have been the victims of state terrorism, on the contrary, are in a situation of total inequality: the person has no freedom, not even the freedom to choose his or her own death. The specific characteristic of this type of crime is that individuals are deprived of their essence, i.e., human dignity, the thing that makes them unique.

A triad is formed here: the perpetrator, the victim, and the relationship established between them. A perverse intersubjectivity is thus created. By working and living in a country under a dictatorial regime, we readily realized that those responsible were found at different levels: in the planning of the crime, in its commission, and in its concealment. During periods of transition, the number of individuals who bear responsibility increases, some for actions taken and others for omissions, making new institutions involved.

Hence, the person responsible is the one who plans, conceals, or denies, as well as the one who arrests and kidnaps, tortures or shoots, that digs graves, moves bodies, and causes victims to disappear. Hundreds of people play these roles. However, the figure of the criminal stays in the dark and does not exist as a concrete person.

5. Medical and Psychiatric Consequences of the Crimes

To understand the disorders provoked by the impunity of the perpetrators, we must know the sequels, the personal and family alterations that this universe of people is liable to develop. From the very first moment, we could recognize the kind of disorders they presented, as well as their bio-psychosocial characteristics (Reszczinki, Rojas, and Barcelo, 1984). The whole person had been affected. The relation with the surrounding world had been altered, and the exchange with the other had provoked psychic trauma.

The symptomatology and the syndromes produced by the crimes and their impunity are multiple and varied, different and unique in their intensity and configuration, as different and unique as the persons that endured them. Some symptoms and signs occur more frequently and can be related to the use of a specific technique, but we cannot say that there is a post-torture syndrome as such.

Even though the most frequent symptoms were related to the area of neurosis, we could usually verify the prompt appearance of psychosomatic diseases, psychotic decompensations, neuropsychological alterations, such as problems in the process of development and learning in children and psycho-organic disorders in adults. It is worth noting that such disorders may appear even in subjects who have suffered psychological (and not physical) aggressions.

In fact, in the development of the diverse syndromes unleashed, it is the entire organism that reacts and, apparently more than in any other pathology, the neurophysiological, psychological, biochemical, neuroendocrine, and immunological mechanisms are rapidly altered (Rojas, 1995). To reemphasize, the person as a whole and his or her relation with the exterior world are affected.

Of the persons treated, 90% had no history of serious diseases and were in good health up to the time of their detention. The great majority were peasants or workers and about 25% were professionals or university students. In the persons we treated -- just like other people -- the structure of their personality, their beliefs and values, in brief, their life history, had an incidence in the clinical picture they presented. Likewise, their accounts made clear that the historic violations of their economic, social, and cultural rights had affected their personalities and their behavior, and accounted for many of the disorders we found after the trauma.

Despite the tortures they had endured, we were not dealing with sick people. Rather, they had undergone an abrupt disruption of their normal lives. What characterized these alterations was not present in the symptoms they presented, but in their origin. These manifestations presented a sequence and could be more or less frequent, as described in the nosology of the disorders caused by posttraumatic stress. However, their deepest significance stemmed from the many psychopathological mechanisms provoked by the crime, that is, the experiences, perceptions, feelings, and memories that had turned the sufferings into sinister fantasies, especially when, as time elapsed, the torture was denied, concealed, and, even worse, justified.

The victims had undergone a psychic trauma, defined as the brutal encounter between their inner self and an external situation of extreme danger. All of them had lived through an "on the edge" situation. They had been through a dramatic experience, inevitable and incomprehensible, of uncertain duration but perceived as infinite, accompanied by a feeling of total impotence.

Scenes of vital breakdown in the torture sessions, of unutterable despair in the anteroom of the torture chambers, and of terrible doubts that arose with the disappearance confronted them with the inexorable character of their fate: death. This was not a tacit future death, as one could have frequently imagined, but a brutal real death, the last moments of their life, that they experienced at that instant at the hands of their torturers. Such experiences were felt as an absolute inequality, either in anguish and terror, or with a dull abandonment of their sense of self, until then unknown to the victim even in the domain of fantasy, foreign to any possible memory or mental representation.

We have observed that this crime against humanity not only destroys the essence of the human being, but also the relation with the other, the torturer, so that the perpetrator remains in the memory of the victim like an indelible scar. In all of our cases, the scenes of the torture, the kidnapping, and the aggression are vividly remembered. In all of them, the mechanisms for memory retention have outplayed the mechanisms for oblivion. Freud's hypothesis that some experiences are forgotten because they are perceived as a threat or evoke anguish does not hold in these cases. Before this hyper-capacity of memory of the traumatic event, the remembrance of events before the episode deteriorates. These disorders of memory, this remembering endlessly engraved upon the mind, are one cause of the loss of the human bond, which perverts the fundamental value of confidence in the other. If impunity exists the trauma remains untouched, and with time it may produce mechanisms of perturbation capable of inducing equal or w orse mental disorders than torture.

6. Impunity as a Mechanism of Psychological Alteration

The two pillars that sustain impunity are absence of the truth, by means of denying the facts and concealing the perpetrators of the crimes, and the total or partial absence of justice with respect to the victims, the families, and society. These two absences pervert the highest mental functions. Truth, reality, and objectiveness when perceiving the outer world are essential to the process of learning and knowing, and even to that of imagining.

Certainty about reality and perceptions, as well as about the analysis and construction of life events, separates truth from falsehood; it supports judgment, the process of thought, and, later, the capacity to choose. Truth is also the essential pillar of affectivity, in the relationship with the world and particularly with the other. Certainty sustains all the normal human behavior; when truth is lacking, the material incorporated by knowledge becomes ambiguous, contradictory, fluctuating, erroneous, and ambivalent. The proof of reality is distorted or absent and originates psychopathological mechanisms of uncertainty and distress.

In turn, when impunity predominates, justice as a permanent value in the history of humankind ceases to exist. The sentiment and especially the knowledge of what is just or unjust is essential for the development of people's thoughts, their decisions, and interactions with other human beings. The feeling of whether deeds are good or bad, correct or incorrect, sustains the values and affections of the mental space. The need to recognize those who have acted correctly and to sanction and punish those who have transgressed the rules is closely linked to this feeling.

The social establishment of moral rules demands that they be based on truth and justice. The lack of a timely trial with the application of a fair sanction in cases of moral, social, and cultural misconduct implies impunity. This impunity, with its transgression of values about goodness, truth, and justice, has produced a dramatic rupture in the ethics of the people we have attended, as well as in society. Falsehood, deceit, concealment, negation, mocking the demands of truth and justice, or justification of the crimes has produced alterations that reach the domain of a human tragedy.

In this way, crimes and impunity have originated what we may call a new psychopathology. It has been defined as "the study of the ailments of the soul." This definition is related to medicine as the concept of disease and to philosophy when referring to the soul; it is obvious that the alterations we have mentioned here go far beyond the field of medicine.

Our experience deals with the study of the uniqueness of each person, the expression and the consequences suffered in their mental functions, which confer upon them their own essence, their own individuality. Each person suffers, behaves, and lives according to his or her inner self and the relations with the other, with the world. This human trauma has upset reality, which has turned into tragedy, horror, the unthinkable, for not knowing the truth.

In each person, intelligence, thought, conscience, and affectivity are interdependent, and each one, supported by memory and language, supposes and encompasses the others. All of them have been formed during the process of experiencing, learning, and knowing. In the psychic trauma produced by crime, all these functions are deeply altered. This experience leaves no words, no possible language to express what has been suffered. There is only silence and bewilderment. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, in these crimes against humanity the infinite strangeness of the human condition comes true.

Language finds here multiple difficulties: to understand the incomprehensible and find an explanation for what has occurred, as well as the impossibility of communicating something that cannot be verbalized, that cannot be expressed, let alone translated into psychopathological terms. Silence predominates. Most of the victims and their relatives have lost to some extent their capacity to communicate.

Yet if the victims have no words to relate the drama lived, neither do the therapists find words to understand, conceptualize, and describe what the victims have experienced. There is no code to give a name to the conduct of the perpetrator: destruction, brutal tortures, death, murder, missing persons, clandestine burials, rape, perversion, and impunity. In brief, dissolution of the person, violation of the individual's comprehension of self, and of the why and who.

Within the therapy that we initiated 25 years ago, we perceived that, confronted with the victims' silence, we did not have either words or categories to name the violence between humans, despite its ancestral existence, nor to describe symptoms or consequences for the person as a whole. Taking into account that which is not conceptualized, and because it is linked to horror, cannot be described, language became very weak and insufficient for expressing actual experiences and the feelings induced by them: pain, sufferings, sorrows, outrage, impotence, and guilt. Persons and families we have treated have lost a fundamental characteristic of human beings: the capacity to communicate with others. With crime and impunity, the "outside" remains deeply altered since the proof of reality no longer exists. In this way, the domain of perception is loaded with aggression and fright. Death can be a concrete reality, with its destructive connotation, or uncertainty in the case of disappearances.

Classical psychopathology has described the troubles of perception (illusions, hailucination, hallucinosis) as brain alterations. The victims of violence-aggression have described the experiences lived and the behavior of the torturers as "unreal," "hallucinating," "like living a delirium." In these cases the brutal chaos, the anomaly of perception, is produced in the outside. In most of the people we have treated, the psychic representation of the experience is perverted, fragmented, and often unreal in its inexorable reality.

In turn, as stated before, memory presents very particular disorders. In most of our patients the mechanisms of memory retention have predominated over those of oblivion; this may be due to the huge affective load involved in the psychic trauma.

The conscious mind loses its points of reference and we verified that, at the acute stage, all the patients showed quantitative and qualitative troubles, from an extreme decline, as in stuporous states, to hyperconsciousness; or from a distorted interpretation of reality to delirium. At a given moment, there always was some dissociation of consciousness, especially when impunity was involved.

When there has been trauma, affectivity -- which always confers a subjective feeling to the experience lived -- remains fixed in the negative pole of emotions. Pain, sorrow, sadness, disgust, repulsion, phobia, and perversity pervade the pleats of the inner self and reappear when some particular situation recalls the trauma.

7. Creation of Commissions of Truth and Reconciliation: Achievements and Shortcomings

With the passage of years, the military regimes of Latin America gradually initiated the so-called transition periods. Different forms of "Commissions of Truth" were created and laws until then unknown in the region were promulgated: laws of amnesty and impunity, peculiar juridical instruments to achieve -- it was said -- reconciliation.

The Chilean Commission for Truth and Reconciliation was created in 1990. The first paragraph states that its objective is to:

contribute to the comprehensive clarification of the truth about the most serious violations of human rights committed over the last years, in Chile or abroad, if the latter are related to the Chilean state or to the political national life, in order to achieve the reconciliation of all Chileans, irrespective of the legal procedures which may derive from these facts.

The following paragraph describes what are considered as "serious violations of human rights":

The situations of missing detainees, executed and tortured with result of death, in which the moral responsibility of the state is involved through its agents or persons at its service, as well as kidnappings and aggressions against the life of persons, perpetrated by private individuals under political pretexts (CODEPU, 1997: 74).

This definition contradicts an essential principle of human rights doctrine: the state is the only agent that can be blamed for violation of human rights.

We publicly denounced the wide range of violations against human rights that fell outside the scope of the Commission and that also provoked serious mental damage, such as torture not resulting in death (the main instrument of the dictatorship), the violation of the rights to a fair legal procedure, to the inviolability of the home, to personal freedom, to liberty of speech and assembly, and others that the tyranny had violated. Nonetheless, we collaborated with the Commission and advised the victims and their families to testify before its members.

We witnessed this human process, first when the crimes were perpetrated, then when there were attempts at truth and justice, and finally when an almost total impunity was granted. In some rural regions away from the capital city, some members of our organization found the affected individuals and accompanied and helped them in their denunciations and in the account of their experiences. Later, those who had testified before the Commission told us that for the first time they had been well received and listened to by the state, by an official organism. Undoubtedly, this catharsis was immensely beneficial, as they themselves expressed. In some cases, though, there were also serious decompensations at the moment of reliving the traumatic events.

The President of the Republic delivered the Report of the Commission on March 4, 1991, solemnly and publicly recognizing the dignity of the persons who had been, according to his own words, "denigrated by accusations of crimes that had never been proved and from which they never had the opportunity to defend themselves." Notwithstanding, this report was rejected only a few hours later by the armed forces in full and by the Carabineros (a heavily armed national police). Pinochet not only justified the crimes, but also declared that he did not have to ask for forgiveness from anyone. The government's response was that the report was incontrovertible" and, curiously, declared that "he himself [Pinochet] had turned the page on the matter" (in the words of Mr. Enrique Correa, secretary-general of the government).

After reading the report, the victims' families began, little by little, to lose hope and were confused when searching for their case, their history. The identifying scheme was always the same: name, concrete repressive action, and the statement of the Commission that it was convinced that the state was responsible for his or her death or disappearance. The life history, sufferings, torture, and the individuality of the victim were not even mentioned.

There were contradictory feelings: disappointment, bitterness, and disillusion. The aggression against their relatives had turned into an official truth, but this truth was only partial. Those responsible for the crimes not only refused to accept the truth, they also arrogantly denied and justified their crimes.

Furthermore, the report contained a list of victims, but the facing page, which was to list the names of the perpetrators, was blank. The equation murdered-murderer, raped-rapist, tortured-torturer, victim-criminal did not exist. There was a split polarity, with no visible names or signs of the criminals. Horrible crimes existed without faces, words, or actors. There were only actions that increased the sinister fantasies of how, why, and where the missing person, the executed, could be found or what had happened to them, what they had said, or what their last words, in their last moments, had been.

The contradictions in the report became evident. According to the Commission, there had not been any war in Chile. The text reads: "The armed forces achieved their closest objective in very few days...." Despite this recognition, however, the Commission used as a legal framework the war laws or humanitarian international law, instead of the treaties, conventions, or declarations on crimes against humanity.

Moreover, the Commission was denied the possibility of naming the perpetrators, and there was no chance of a juridical procedure. In fact, Supreme Decree 355, which had created the Commission, stated that "its attributions in the juridical field were limited solely to sending the antecedents to the courts of justice by denunciation." Thus, the Commission only accomplished an administrative task that did not imply any juridical responsibility. Its role was merely that of an informer.

Furthermore, only a small percentage of cases was sent to court. Actually, this action meant a new aggression, a new confusion, a renewed fear. The families were not advised about the proceeding, so that on any day they could be subpoenaed, without any explanation of the reason for the summons. It is worth noting that at first the state did not provide legal advice or a lawyer to accompany these families in their trials. Once more, they were pervaded with a feeling of helplessness, solitude, and, most of all, fear and mistrust.

In Chile, little or no justice was expected due to the peculiar transition accorded with the armed forces, which was symbolized by President Aylwin's incredible statement, "justice as far as possible...." Given this reality, the ethical content of the new government's discourse gradually faded away. Little by little, the language and its meaning began to change. As Garreton (1975) argued, now the terrorists were not those who had committed violations of human rights, but those who had radically opposed the dictatorship. Impunity was called reconciliation; transition was the name for the persistence of military power; the oppressors were called democrats, and the crimes, excesses; arbitrariness was admitted as the rule of law.

Progressively, military jurisdiction was applied to civilians, and thanks to the amnesty decree law that was never abrogated, in case after case the persons responsible remained unpunished. In this way, although the economic compensation that the law granted to the victims' families was indeed a great help (the majority of them were extremely poor), it created a feeling of guilt at accepting money and not receiving justice. This economic help produced, in some cases, a conflict in the family, contrary reactions, severe accusations, and a rupture in their principles.

Despair reappeared within families of the disappeared and executed and it became even more intense in the relatives of victims who had been tortured and had not been mentioned in the report. Impotence and anger were the frequent reactions before this serious omission by the new government, which had also left forever in the shadows--in an emptiness full of shouts and menaces--the evident and incontrovertible image of the torturer.

From the accounts of the victims and their families, we felt that the time of transition/impunity, the time of terror and anguish, had been combined with a time of nonsense and bewilderment, of shame and disgust for the attitude of the state, the society, and the politicians. These feelings of distress, helplessness, and moral incongruence are aptly captured by what Sartre identified as a vital sensation of "nausea."

The appearance of this new symptomatology, whose psycho-dynamism differed from that of crime, led us to think that, with time, impunity induces mechanisms of intrapsychic perturbation with consequences equal to or worse than torture. This led us to infer that, from the medical and psychological viewpoint, impunity in itself and by itself is a violation of human rights.

In 1938, in his last book written as an exile in England during the Nazi regime, Freud wrote: "One cannot be authorized by any example, by any pressure, to reject the truth for the sake of a hypothetical national interest."

8. Dialectic Between Two Forms of Impunity: Crimes and Violations of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

In Chile, as in other Latin American countries, the objective of the military was not only to overthrow a government of socialist tendencies and to subdue the population by state terrorism, but also to force upon the country its economic model, destroying the institutional order and annihilating the preexisting legislature and the organizing capacity of the citizens. It is not for us therapists to discuss the economic characteristics of this neoliberal model. Yet we would like to point out, from our own experience, the possible consequences of this kind of economy for the population we cared for, as well as for society as a whole.

When treating the victims, when visiting their homes and meeting their relatives, when working with them and other social groups, we observed that, besides the loss of the right to live and the right to physical and psychological integrity, they had to endure dismissal from work and unemployment. They had no access to adequate medical care or a decent dwelling, nor satisfaction of many other economic, social, and cultural rights. Furthermore, many rural families who had obtained with great effort the ownership of their lands through the agrarian reform were deprived of them or obliged to sell them due to their extreme poverty.

The workers no longer had a stable source of work, and most of them became temporeros (temporary workers). They had to move from one site to another, from one company to another, from city to city to obtain work, which deprived them of security, since the new laws forbid the creation of labor unions to defend their rights.

Slowly, everything in Chile was being privatized. Little by little, a change was produced in forms of perceiving the world, and existence was narrowed to only the economic aspect of life, which was privileged. In the poorest sectors, human needs were reduced to survival.

Thus the process of inner life -- its interests, challenges, the conditions of its existence -- was damaged. The consequences of crime and impunity, added to the accentuated differences between possessors and dispossessed, provoked a sense of loss of the collective identity. Chile was not the same, the referents were different, the people did not identify themselves, and the political parties failed to represent them. The anomie of individual identity was added to this loss of collective identity.

Many of the people we treated showed a feeling of failure and guilt if they did not succeed as others did, if they could not acquire material goods, or if they did not even obtain their recognition as victims. Most of them told us of their impotence and frustration, that they did not any longer feel like a whole person with rights. Some felt obliged to negate their history, to conceal the traumas lived, lest they be identified and in this way lose the job they had sought for so long.

Obviously, these disorders are not the problems of a sick person, but of one previously healthy but now vitally and mentally alienated. Most of them are not even able to control their own actions and feelings in the face of the new consumer society, which has become a strange foreign force, before which they have no possible access, choice, or decision. Moreover, the unattainable objects of consumer society turn into fantasies and frustration.

Diagnosis was impossible. Each person, each family, in their diversity of conflicts, was a different entity, because their wants, be they affective, social, economic, juridical, working, or relational affected each of them in very different ways and with different intensity.

The interaction between the socioeconomic structure and the individual and collective character gradually began to shape a new character. In some individuals the reaction was retreat, mistrust, withdrawal, and deprivation of basic needs, in brief, anomie, in which all social bonds were destroyed and any truly collective organization was made secondary to the state. Progressively, the state had become an entrepreneurial power. Economic, social, and cultural rights were permanently postponed.

This issue was no longer a central motivation for some victims of the dictatorship and their families; now it would be solved, not by their expectations, passions, and mobilizations, but by the state that "might give social justice." A famous sentence was coined in Chile at the time: "a free market economy with social justice." Slowly, in some sectors, the drive for self-improvement began to change into submission and waiting.

As therapists, we could not "interpret the world reasonably, because at the base of this explanation lie the economic, the political, the psychological factors" (Jung, 1968) and, among the cases we were treating, the two last factors -- political and psychological -- were difficult to explain.

Apart from the sector of society with which we have worked, there was another sector, of a successful and entrepreneurial character. We know this latter sector only through their declarations, their behaviors, the media, and, most of all, by their machinery of propaganda for consumerism. All the spaces, public, communicational, and visual, are invaded by objects offered, by things to obtain, by subliminal messages that trigger the need to possess them. The mass media that propaganda once employed to manipulate fright and terror are now used to promote the ambition for material things. "The acquisitive tendency settles in the inner self like a cultural operation" (Moulian, 1997).

What we could call collective, and of course individual, narcissism was born: love for one's own self, where all the libido is invested in the ego. It is a long process by which security is obtained through individuality, identification through possessions, thus shaping the new subject.

Thus, two forms of individuality are present in today's Chile. That explains the ethical fracture in society. Morality, values, and human interests have not been maintained.

Social pathologies appeared or were augmented in our country: children on the streets, aggression, destruction of the symbols of material progress, street or intrafamily violence, as well as vandalism and corruption at all levels. Medical pathologies due to deficiencies, alcoholism, and drug addiction have also increased. At present, according to the World Health Organization (1995), Chile is the country with the highest indices of mental diseases, the highest degree of mistrust, and the greatest number of people with stress.

Can this be the result of having lived for 17 years under a tyrannical dictatorship that concealed crimes and demanded impunity, added to the intrusion of an economic and social structure that distorts the convictions and customs of our people? This is a question that largely surpasses the medical field. We restrain ourselves to only posing it here.

DR. PAZ ROJAS is a medical doctor affiliated with the Corporation for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights of the People (CODEPU, Brown Sur 150, Nunoa, Santiago, Chile).


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Author:B., Dr. Paz Rojas
Publication:Social Justice
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:3CHIL
Date:Dec 22, 1999
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