Reprinted with permission from Lo Que VI: Experiencias de un periodista alrededor del mundo, 1999, 189-92.
What is the point of this shitty
life if I am not even able to
defend my own.
- Virginia M. De Ayress
(Mother of the tortured young woman)
Each time the ex dictator, Augusto Pinochet, complained about the unjust treatment he received from Great Britain and Spain, I thought of Nieves.
Lux de las Nieves Ayress Moreno was one of the victims of the Pinochet regime. Nieves was brutally beaten, cut with razors, raped and tortured; because of multiple rapes, she became pregnant and because of the daily torture she received she lost her baby before the fourth month; on multiple occasions she received electric shocks all over her body; spiders and rats were inserted into her vagina; she was forced to watch the torture of her own father and younger brother Tato; she had to roll in excrement and eat off the floor; Dobermans committed all types of sexual violence against her; three military tribunals condemned her to a life sentence for charges that were never proven.
Shortly after the coup d'etat against Predident Salvador Allende in September of 1973, Nieves, 23 years old, was arrested again. It was January of 1974. The three years that followed were the worst of her life.
"I did not kill anyone, I did not steal," Nieves told me. "My crime was being young and against the dictatorship, rebelling against the military. I was in various detention centers but the one I remember most was called Tejas Verdes."
I spoke with Nieves in December of 1998, after receiving a letter in which she described, in detail, the tortures that were committed against her by Chilean, Argentine, Uruguayan, Paraguayan, and Brazilian military - all participants in Pinochet's Operation Condor.
The letter, subtitled "For all women who are not able to speak", includes a testimony that was hidden in the vagina of a liberated jail mate of Nieves. The following are a few excerpts from this testimony (reproduced with her authorization):
This is how Pinochet tortured me: they took me prisoner with my father and my fifteen year-old brother Tato . . . it was an impressive operation [and] they took us to a house where the Military Intelligence Service was stationed.
. . . they threw me on the floor covered with water and applied electric shot to my entire body, but especially the breasts, vagina, anus, eyes, mouth, and neck.
. . . then they called my father and began to torture him in front of me so that I would speak, all the while beating me . . . then they called my brother and did that same to him.
. . . they pulled my nipples and made cuts with knives and razors. They violated my vagina with their filthy hands, bottles, fingers, sticks, things made out of metal, and then again, with electric shocks.
They took me out and pretended to shoot me.
Along with a woman who was five months pregnant, I was one of the most tortured prisoners in Tejas Verdes . . . I was left for dead. I believe many people were killed in Tejas Verdes, but I do not know how many, or their names; I was always unable to communicate.
Between the daily tortures . . . they tied me to a table, binding each hand and each foot, stretching me . . . two men would open my legs and put rats inside my vagina, all the while stretching my body.
Nieves continues to circulate this testimony - beginning in February of 1975 - so that no one can forget what happened during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. "Many people do not know or do not want to be reminded, especially the young and the Chilean politicians," she told me. "But I tell my story so that this can never happen again in any place, so that people know what a military dictatorship really is."
Even so, Nieves knows that providing information and carrying out justice are two very different things. She does not believe that Pinochet will ever go to trial in Chile. "The government of [Eduardo] Frei is paying the costs of the transition treaties made with Pinochet," she told me. "But it is satisfying to watch Pinochet be rejected and humiliated on a global scale."
The personal history of Nieves, forever painful, is bound to this history of Pinochet. After spending almost 40 months in prison, she was expelled from Chile in December of 1976 along with 18 others considered "dangerous to the national sovereignty." From that moment, she began a worldwide campaign - one that continues today - denouncing the assassinations and human rights violations committed during the Pinochet dictatorship.
Nieves went on to live in Germany, Italy, Africa, and the colony of Roma in Mexico City. While on a trip to San Francisco, she witnessed on television the destruction of her home in Mexico by the 1985 earthquake. She was left homeless and unemployed.
After this, she decided to emigrate to the United States, a decision laced with irony, since it was the country that supported the Chilean military which overthrew the socialist government of Allende. It was this country that supported her torturers. "The concept of patriotism just grew and expanded for me," she told me laughing. "I was born in Chile, but I am from the entire world."
When I spoke with Nieves, she had just turned 50 and was living in New York City. In the South Bronx, she tutored children in Spanish and founded a cultural center called Vamos a la Pena del Bronx (Let's go to the Rock) helping many individuals in need including those affected by HIV/AIDS. Above everything, she was a strong defender of the rights of women, particularly victims of domestic violence. "We fight to construct a new egalitarian community," she told me in regards to her work in New York. "It is no longer to obtain a position of power."
More than anything, Nieves is a survivor.
Despite all that she has experienced, no one, not the dictatorship or the torturers, could ever break her. She has an 18 year-old daughter who studied political science and for Nieves, this was completely symbolic.
The military had a definitive objective when putting rats in her vagina - to make her sterile by infecting her with toxplasmosis. Incredibly, after her release, she was successfully treated.
"My daughter," she told me before leaving, "is my triumph over the military." It is tenacity which defeats hopelessness, it is strong denunciation that conquers those who wish to forget, it is - in other words - life over death.
Yes, each time I hear Pinochet complain, I think of Nieves and understand why she will never rest until she sees her torturer behind bars.
Yes, each time I hear those complaints from Pinochet, I think of Nieves.