Chile jails retired colonels for torturing President's father during Pinochet's rule

Spain's King Felipe (right) welcoming Chile's President Michelle Bachelet at Madrid's Zarzuela palace Oct 29, 2014.  A Chilean judge jailed two retired colonels on Friday for torturing President Michelle Bachelet's father, who was arrested
Spain's King Felipe (right) welcoming Chile's President Michelle Bachelet at Madrid's Zarzuela palace Oct 29, 2014.  A Chilean judge jailed two retired colonels on Friday for torturing President Michelle Bachelet's father, who was arrested for opposing the country's 1973 coup and died after repeated beatings and electrocutions. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SANTIAGO (AFP) - A Chilean judge jailed two retired colonels on Friday for torturing President Michelle Bachelet's father, who was arrested for opposing the country's 1973 coup and died after repeated beatings and electrocutions.

Ramon Caceres Jorqueda, 80, was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in General Alberto Bachelet's death, while Edgar Cevallos Jones, 83, was sentenced to two years.

Judge Mario Carroza said in his sentence that the two former air force colonels had "repeatedly committed the crime of applying torture" on their one-time superior.

General Bachelet was the head of a government food distribution programme under socialist president Salvador Allende.

He opposed his army colleague Augusto Pinochet's overthrow of Allende, and was jailed at Chile's War Academy in the aftermath of the coup.

After being beaten, tortured with electric shocks and forced to stand for long periods with a hood over his head, he had to be hospitalised.

He died in 1974 of a heart attack that the court ruled was caused by his torture.

His daughter Michelle, who was herself jailed and tortured under the dictatorship, along with her mother, served as Chile's first woman president from 2006 to 2010.

Now aged 63, she returned to office this March for a new term.

Her mother, Angela Jeria, praised the judge's sentence.

"I feel at peace... All we asked for was the truth," she told journalists.

"This gives me hope that all the other soldiers who were with my husband and all the other people who suffered torture and repression will get the justice they deserve."

The two ex-colonels did not immediately say whether they would appeal.

Caceres suffers from several ailments and has been interned at a retirement home for the past six months.

FRESH WOUNDS

More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared and 38,000 jailed and tortured during Pinochet's rule, which lasted until 1990.

The investigation into General Bachelet's death is one of a series of inquiries opened since 2011 into some 1,000 dictatorship-era killings that have never been brought to justice.

In some cases, the probes have resonated in the realm of current events, showing how fresh the wounds of the 17-year dictatorship remain.

One of those initially accused in the Bachelet investigation was retired general Fernando Matthei, the father of right-wing presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei, whom Bachelet's daughter defeated in the last election.

General Matthei, who ran the War Academy at the time Bachelet was detained there, was cleared of involvement in his torture and death.

The two generals were close friends who once served together at the same air base in northern Chile, where their daughters attended school together.

'THE JUSTICE CHILE NEEDS'

The government praised Friday's sentence, which official spokesman Alvaro Elizalde called "another step toward the truth and justice Chile needs."

Pinochet was never brought to justice for the crimes committed under his rule, despite numerous court cases that were pending at the time of his death in 2006 at the age of 91.

Chile remains deeply divided over the dictatorship years, and Pinochet still has ardent supporters in some circles.

President Bachelet, who hails from Allende's Socialist Party, has often been guarded about her experiences during that period, but recently spoke out about her detention and torture.

A clandestine socialist activist at the time, she was arrested in 1975, the year after her father's death, and held at the infamous Villa Grimaldi interrogation and torture centre.

"I was mainly tortured psychologically, and some beating, but they didn't 'grill' me," she said, referring to the practice in which detainees were strapped to a metal bedspring and given electric shocks.

"I was lucky compared to so many others."

She and her mother fled into exile in Australia and then East Germany after their release.

Bachelet returned to Chile in 1979.