Elizabeth Rolando recalls a conversation she had with Chilean human rights lawyers during her internship there. A man, someone she knew, had just been picked up in the middle of the night by three armed men wearing civilian clothes. The men - most likely government police - had shown no identification? she asked incredulously. They hadn't read him his rights? ``And the minute I said that, I realized the naivet'e involved,'' she says. ``One of the lawyers said to me, `That sort of thing only happens in American films.''' The man was tortured, and later released.
Miss Rolando spent the summer of 1986 in Santiago with Vicar'ia de la Solidaridad, a well-known human rights group. The Roman Catholic Church organization received threatening phone calls and letters nearly every day, she says. The director of the group was sent a pig's head with a bullet hole through its forehead as a warning when she was there; his house had been shot at earlier. A lawyer and a doctor associated with the group were under detention. A worker had been abducted and killed two years before.
President Augusto Pinochet's ``emergency'' powers, in force since the 1973 coup, are practically limitless. Still, the Vicar'ia keeps up a barrage of activity on the legal front. Of 3,000 habeas corpus petitions filed by the group, she recalled, about three were responded to. And one of those was dropped by the courts when the military expressed its displeasure.
Why bother with such a request? ``It probably keeps the person from being killed,'' Rolando says. It lets the authorities know that person is not forgotten. It also provides ``documentation that can be used in cases against the government once there's a return to democracy.'' The Vicar'ia files extensive reports with all the major human-rights organizations, she says.