Tortured Chilean wins compensation

A Chilean exile tortured during the dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet has won a landmark legal battle for compensation from the Chilean state.

Leopoldo Garcia Lucero sought moral damages through the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Mr Garcia, a UK resident, claimed that the Chilean state was responsible for forcing him into exile in 1975.

It is the first time the court has ruled on a living survivor of human rights abuses from the Pinochet era.

Lawyers say it could have implications for the the many other Chileans who fled Gen Pinochet’s rule.Atacama camp

Mr Garcia, now 80, was a Socialist who was arrested for his political beliefs in September 1973, five days after the coup that brought Gen Pinochet to power.

He was detained for over a year-and-a-half and tortured, leaving him permanently disabled due to spinal damage.

“I’m alive,” he told the BBC’s world affairs correspondent Caroline Hawley. “But it feels like a living death.”

Mr Garcia, who was held at the notorious Chacabuco concentration camp in the Atacama desert after his torture, says that the worst moment was when soldiers threatened to shoot his six-year-old daughter in the back, and then kill him.

His front teeth are missing, he requires a hearing aid, his face bears the scar from where he was hit on the forehead with a rifle butt, and he is in constant pain from the beatings he endured.

In 1975, he was expelled from Chile by ministerial decree, and has lived in Britain ever since.

Before his arrest, Mr Garcia was a bon viveur who worked at the race track

Mr Garcia claimed that the Chilean state was responsible for forcing him into exile and therefore it should compensate him.

He said his Chilean pension – arising from the fact he lost his job during the dictatorship – was insufficient to cover his needs in exile, and that he and his family have been unable to benefit from the health and education benefits that are available to torture victims who live in Chile.

In a Spanish-languageĀ news release concerning the ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said it had found that here had been an excessive delay of over 16 years by the Chilean state in investigating Mr Garcia’s case, which had violated his rights.

It ordered Chile to complete its investigation in reasonable time and pay compensation for moral damages.

This is the first time that the court has ruled in the case of a living survivor of human rights abuses from the Pinochet era, says the BBC’s Gideon Long in Santiago.

Lawyers say it could have implications for the estimated 200,000 Chileans who fled General Pinochet’s rule.