Jorge Sandoval - Surviving Pinochet
by Peter Bidwell.
IMPRISONED AND TORTURED IN HIS CHILEAN HOMELAND FOR ‘CRIMES’ AGAINST PINOCHET’S DICTATORSHIP, JORGE SANDOVAL ESCAPES TO A NEW LIFE IN NEW ZEALAND. ONLY TO MEET HIS TORTURER. THERE ARE SOME STORIES FROM WHICH THERE IS NO ESCAPE.
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About the Book
On November, 1973, Jorge Sandoval was arrested in front of his bewildered parents and younger brothers at his home in Tome, Chile. He was taken to the local police station where he was tortured. He was an 18 year-old student and his ‘crime’ was that he belonged to a student political party that supported ousted President, Salvador Allende. Thus began a life journey that took Jorge from the brutality and concentration camps of the Pinochet dictatorship to political refuge in New Zealand and the chance encounter with one of his torturers on the Chilean naval training ship, Esmeralda, in Wellington.
It’s an inspirational story of courage and perseverance. And it’s the story of a unique character – a man who arrived in New Zealand barely speaking a word of English and who, through sheer persistence and belief, has put road cycle racing on the New Zealand and international maps.
Jorge Sandoval lives in Wellington, his home for the past 34 years since arriving here as a political refugee from his native Chile. He is very involved in the sport of cycling and has been the Race Director and has conducted all 24 International Tours of Wellington, two Women's World Cups, five Women's Tours of NZ and two Auckland to Wellington international tours.
Jorge Sandoval reflecting on his first night of torture...
"Next minute two guys picked me up,I was blindfolded and I walked along a few corridors before being told to sit down. I was feeling disorientated, and I couldn’t escape the sickening screams of people in pain. I was in the torture or what I’ll forever chillingly remember as the “living” room, a description that the soldiers came up with. They said whenever they invited someone in to their house it would be in to the living room. I didn’t share their sense of humour. I feared the worst. I didn’t know whom to trust, and all the while I could hear the agonised cries of other people being tortured.
I became aware my guards were asking two people I knew about me before the torture started. It lasted several hours. I was picked up and tossed around, beaten with fists, tied up by my feet, and having to hold my breath after being dipped in foul water. They were laughing in a mad, insane manner as if they were on a high with all the pain and suffering they were delighting in inflicting. They took off my blindfold in an attempt to scare me when I could see how badly beaten I was. I remember waking up in the morning feeling very sore after being taken back to my cell."
On meeting one of his torturer right here in Wellington in 1995....
The Esmeralda was moored at Queens Wharf in Wellington. I parked my car in full view of the magnificent sailing ship, and as I walked toward it I saw a group of school children, going on a guided tour. Alongside I spoke to a sailor, and I asked if I could speak to Captain Silva.
He inquired whether I knew the captain, and when I said yes the sailor startled me when he said: “That’s him there.” He was standing next to me in civilian clothes, looking at the children.
Captain Silva appeared very relaxed as he turned his gaze to me but I was shaking. I’d been feeling tense walking to the ship, and when I spoke to him initially about all I could blurt out was “hello”.
He looked at me and smiled, and I managed to say “I know you”. He asked me whether I’d been in the Chilean navy, and I paused before saying “no”.
He then asked if I’d been in the naval academy with his son. Again the answer was “no”. The captain shook his head, and persisted. “Are you one of my son’s friends?”
By now I was feeling quite rattled. The captain was waiting for me to reply when I managed to splutter “my name is Jorge Sandoval. I’m from Tome”.
His mood changed. He looked at me searchingly, and I was so nervous one of my legs was shaking uncontrollably.
“I was one of your prisoners on the island. You abused and tortured me, and you killed a number of people, some of them friends,” I said.
I’d been rehearsing in my mind overnight what I would say, and now I’d said it. It hit home. The captain’s assured demeanour vanished. He was shaking too, and, looking totally uncomfortable, he invited me to continue our conversation in his cabin.
I replied I did not have the time, that I had a plane to catch, and I knew now I wanted to say what I’d really come to tell the captain.
“I don’t have any hate toward you. You kept me on the island for 12 months, and you tortured me mentally and physically,” I found myself saying.
“When you go back to Chile tell the other officers who abused me the same thing. I don’t have any hate or bad feelings toward them either.”
The colour drained from his face, and he pressed me further to go to his cabin. Again I declined, and I could feel the tears running down my face as I stood there.
Captain Silva made no attempt to deny what I’d said had occurred. Instead he tried to explain it away, saying whatever happened happened, that he was sorry it had, and he hoped Chile would never again witness such goings-on between fellow Chileans.
We stood close without embracing, and shook hands. I turned and walked unsteadily back toward my car. When I reached it I looked back at the ship, and Captain Silva was still standing there staring back at me.
I’m not embarrassed to say I cried all the way to the airport.
What NZ cycling people say about this book.
“Do you still think I’m a prima donna?”
Sarah Ulmer after the 2006 Women's World Cup in Wellington
David Robertson on how Jorge Sandoval help to change cycling in New Zealand...
“When Jorge came along he did what needed to be done, he shook the establishment. The sport was being run by a woeful lot of older chaps, and nothing changed, and not enough happened. They weren’t interested in shaping the sport or pushing it forward. They were essentially conservative, and largely concerned about protecting their patches. As a young rider I found the sport incredibly insular.
“In the midst of this Jorge turned up, and he made it happen. I had endless conversations with people about it. Jorge might be rough around the edges, he might not know everything, he might not speak a lot of English but he made it happen. He was a man of few words. He didn’t suffer fools, he didn’t let obstacles deter him, and sometimes he’d shoot from the hip.
“He was a catalyst for the sport opening up. He reasoned it could be a lot more exciting. Unlike a lot of the older guys it didn’t occur to him that he couldn’t do something. He wasn’t afraid of being rebuffed. That just made him more determined. He was a real pioneer. He wanted to take cycling to the public, and not run it in the back blocks, and the sport reaped the rewards of that.
“Then Jorge ran foul of some people when he said he wanted to get paid for putting on races. They had some conservative notion he shouldn’t get paid for it, and that attitude is still alive and well. Some people do it for nothing because they are not capable of being paid. That’s why they’ll only ever be volunteers.
“Over time Jorge has himself become a part of the establishment. He’s persevered. He’s a hustler, and he has courage. He’s presented cycling the way you see it in Europe, which is pretty exciting.”
Ron Cheatley on Jorge Sandoval events...
"Jorge has run great races. As his events have become more international he’d had to improve things. I don’t have a problem with Jorge, or anyone else, running a bike race to make some money for themselves. In my experience they’ve had to put in a lot of extra effort as a volunteer. The sport would be very much the poorer if Jorge were not putting on his races. Everyone is pretty appreciative.”
David Robertson - Team manager Tour of Chile 1988.
“In the 1988 Tour of Chile Jorge got dealt to early on, and as the race unfolded he got better. We were very naïve. We thought we were going to a bike race, and it turned out it was being used in a cynical attempt to show Chile in a good light to its people and the rest of the world. We were completely unaware we’d walked in to a political game. Jorge was in the media spotlight from day one. He loved it initially but it built up pressures on him. It wasn’t pleasant. He realised he was being used as a pawn.
“The coup had occurred 15 years earlier and things were supposed to be much better but there were a whole bunch of unnerving experiences. One day a young Chilean rider (Peter Tormen) was being interviewed on television after performing well on a stage and having won the tour himself the previous year. He had time to say ‘forget that. My brother’s been missing for six weeks. Where is he?’ before the interview was abruptly terminated. His response still chills me to the bone. Not surprisingly the youngster’s performance dropped off. He couldn’t deal with all the pressures"
Chris Gollins on bureaucrats...
“Jorge went through tough times that the rest of us can only imagine. Frustrating bureaucrats don’t just disappear, and after Jorge’s earlier struggles I think he’s less likely to let a few of them throw him off stride. It’s clear Jorge has earned a fair bit of loyalty from the bureaucrats in Wellington, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa.
“Jorge has also had a pretty good ability to pick good riders for his tours. Robbie McEwen was a snotty-nosed kid from the Australian Gold Coast yet Jorge could see it was significant to have him in his tour. He went on to win the Tour of Wellington, and he’s built a career as one of the top road sprinters in the world. “ I’ve been in his race office when teams have been arriving. Jorge has been well organised. He’s been able to juggle a few balls at once yet still keep a tight rein to make sure things happen as he says they will.”
Australian UCI international Commissaire Russell Miller on UCI events in Oceania...
“Jorge has to be commended. Without him the sport would have been very much the poorer. It provides New Zealand riders a rare chance to compete internationally without having to go overseas, and it gives cycling lots of positive exposure whether it be in the media or in helping attract youngsters to the sport. Jorge runs good tours. It takes drive, push, and ambition to get off your backside and do it. He often doesn’t have a lot of resources but events still run well.
“There are only six races in New Zealand and Australia on the international calendar each year, three in each country, and Jorge runs two of them. That says a good deal about his contribution".
Graeme Miller on Jorge Sandoval...
“One had to admire Jorge’s drive and energy, which I first experienced when I was racing and training with him. He was passionate about doing everything right for the riders. He wanted to put on events the riders would come to, and keep coming back to. He put everything he had in to his tours. They came first. He was never out partying like some officials liked to. Once everything was wrapped up for the day he’d go home to look after his kids.
About the 1973 military coup - Chile
On September 11, 1973, tanks rumbled through the streets of Chile, terrified civilians were lined up before firing squads at the National Stadium and many cities around the country. The Chilean Armed Forces staged a military coup to overthrow the constitutionally elected Popular Unity (UP) government of Salvador Allende, which proposed a peaceful transition to socialism. President Allende died in the La Moneda presidential palace, and his ministers and collaborators were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Many of them were later killed or made to disappear. Through Decree Law No. 5, announced September 12, 1973, the Armed Forces declared the existence of an "internal war" in the country.
Thus began 17 years of dictatorship, which ended March 11, 1990. Within a few hours, the social conflict which had permeated Chilean society immediately before the coup was defined as a "war" and the concept of the "enemy within" as well as the National Security Doctrine were imposed throughout the nation. The enemy within was the Communist, the Marxist, the poor, the Socialist, the revolutionary, the subversive, indeed, anyone perceived by the military to constitute a challenge to the new established order.
A state of siege was declared throughout Chile and was extended, except for brief periods, until 1987. This meant that all legal cases involving infractions of State of Siege regulations were transferred from the civilian courts to war-time military institutions.
These military concepts were used to justify the repression and killing unleashed upon Chile’s population. The repression was not limited to one part of Chile, nor did social class, gender, profession, civil status or age limit it.
Thousands of people were detained throughout Chile on the day of the coup and the days that followed. According to Amnesty International and the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee, 250,000 Chileans had been detained for political reasons by the end of 1973. Summary executions, disappearances and killings in false-armed confrontations became the norm. Neighbours, colleagues and others began denouncing each other, a practice encouraged by the military Junta and which became part of Chilean society at the beginning of the dictatorship.
On June 14, 1975, the regime officially created the DINA secret police agency. This organization already existed before Decree law No. 521 made it a legal entity. In August 1977, the DINA was dissolved and was replaced by the CNI secret police "to gather information and safeguard internal security." The CNI carried out its task until democracy in Chile was restored. The CNI ceased to legally exist in February 1990.
In 1988, after a period of negotiations with some sectors of the opposition to the dictatorship, the regime called a plebiscite as planned in the 1980 Constitution. In the plebiscite, the head of the regime and of the Army, General Augusto Pinochet, proposed the continuation of his government and of his leadership. Pinochet lost the plebiscite, which meant he was obliged to call presidential elections. Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat, won these elections and on March 11, 1990, was sworn in as president, thus initiating a new period of transition to democracy in Chile. The after-effects of the prolonged violation of human rights became one of the greatest conflicts, which the new democratic governments have had to confront.
Flashback: Caravan of Death
President Pinochet (right) came to power shortly before killings
For a few days in October 1973, a self-styled military "delegation" toured provincial cities in northern and southern Chile, killing dozens of political opponents of General Augusto Pinochet's September coup.
Many of the victims of what became known as the "Caravan of Death" had voluntarily turned themselves into the military authorities.
Prisoners were taken from their cells and summarily executed, often without the knowledge or consent of the local military authorities.
At least 72 people were killed and memories of the "caravan" endure as one of the most notorious episodes of human rights abuse during Chile's military rule. Analysts say the events set the seal on Chile's long military dictatorship.
The army unit travelled from town to town in a Puma helicopter, armed with grenades, machine guns and knives.
Some of the militars who committed these crimes where sentenced to life in prison in June 2008, almost 25 years later.