Ex-Army Officers in Chile Convicted for Burning Alive a Photographer in 1986
SANTIAGO, Chile — A judge in Chile on Thursday convicted 11 former members of the country’s army for the 1986 murder of Rodrigo Rojas, a United States-based Chilean photographer who was burned alive during protests against Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990.
In a 546-page ruling, Judge Mario Carroza sentenced three ex-officers, Julio Castañer, Iván Figueroa and Nelson Medina, to 10 years in prison. Eight other soldiers were given suspended sentences and two were acquitted.
Mr. Rojas’s mother, Verónica De Negri, a government critic, went into exile in the United States in 1977. Her son joined her and attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, where he practiced his passion for photography.
On July 2, 1986, a few months after Mr. Rojas returned to Chile at age 19, he and a university student, Carmen Gloria Quintana, 18, were detained by a military unit commanded by Lt. Pedro Fernández in a working-class neighborhood of Santiago, the capital, during a tense day of street protests. Mr. Rojas had planned to photograph the day’s events.
The two were beaten by soldiers and Mr. Rojas was forced to lay face down on the ground while Ms. Quintana was held against a wall, according to the judge’s ruling.
Military personnel under the command of Lieutenants Figueroa and Castañer were summoned. Fernando Guzmán, a conscript among the personnel, testified before a judge in 2014 that Lt. Castañer ordered soldiers to douse the pair with gasoline and “taunted them with a lighter.”
“It was Lieutenant Castañer who set them on fire with a lighter,” Mr. Guzmán testified. “Both burst into flames immediately.”
Lt. Fernández’s patrol took the two victims, who suffered burns over 60 percent of their bodies, to the outskirts of the capital and threw them in a ditch. Mr. Rojas died four days later. Ms. Quintana survived, but spent years undergoing treatment in Canada.
“I am happy that these criminals can’t keep lying,” Ms. De Negri, the mother of Mr. Rojas, said in an interview on Thursday.
She expressed regret that the other defendants had not been punished more severely.
The convictions are part of a broader push by rights activists to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes committed under Cold War-era authoritarian military governments in South America.
General Pinochet claimed after the attack that the two victims had accidentally set themselves on fire with a homemade bomb they were carrying.
Later that year, a civilian judge identified army personnel as responsible and turned the case over to a military court. In 1991, the military tribunal sentenced Lt. Fernández to a 600-day prison term, of which he served one year in 1996.
The case was reopened in 2013 after a human rights organization filed a criminal complaint on behalf of Mr. Rojas’s family.