"Torture Ship" Sails to U.S.

May 27, 2009

The Esmeralda
The Esmeralda

Do you remember when Pinochet was arrested in London?  The news flew around the world.  The Chilean dictator is now dead, but the victims of torture and their families and friends are still asking the government and the judiciary for the truth about what happened after the military coup in 1973.

At least 110 people were tortured on the training ship Esmeralda that arrived in Boston yesterday.  One of them was my brother, Michael Woodward, a catholic priest who had dual nationality (Chilean and British), and who lived and worked with the poor in Valparaiso.

He was driven from his home by a naval patrol to a University which had been taken by the Navy and used as a detention and torture center.  He was then fiercely tortured at the Naval War Academy.  In a very critical state of health, Michael Woodward was taken to the Esmeralda, anchored in the port.  He may well have died on the ship, or on the way to hospital or they might have shot him before leaving the Esmeralda.  Information has recently come to light due to the efforts of judge Eliana Quezada who is investigating the law suit presented in 2002.  To date 19 retired members of the Navy have been indicted.

The Esmeralda is the Chilean Navy’s four-masted training ship.  It goes on a cruise every year to teach the young cadets the law of the sea.  At every port it is greeted by the Chilean ambassador and naval and local authorities, before embarking on social, cultural, and sightseeing activities.   The Chilean government openly considers it an “ambassador of all Chileans”.  President Bachelet emphasized this when she said
farewell to the ship in Valparaiso on 15 March.

Those of us who are still struggling to see justice applied do not feel that the Esmeralda is our ambassador.  The attitude of the Chilean Navy clashes with our ideals of human rights.  The Navy, as an Institution, needs to take responsibility for the violations of  human rights perpetrated.

– By Patricia Woodward, sister to Michael Woodward and Human Rights Activist