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Pedro was until recently resident director of Trinity College’s human rights program in South America. He was a law student and activist in Chile’s socialist party until the coup in 1973. After arrest, torture and years of exile, he returned to Chile and was one of the initial organizers behind the re-dedication of the former torture site at Villa Grimaldi as a peace park and memorial.


I was fortunate to share a quite exhausting three-hour tour of Villa Grimaldi with Pedro as part of my partner’s research into tourism at trauma memorials. His meticulous and carefully structured account of Chile’s human rights history and the operations of sites like VG and of state powers like DINA was a valuable example all by itself. The educator in Pedro has a firm grasp on how important are both the details and the broad issues in leading an audience through such a place.

Though he was surely much more tired than we were, Pedro graciously sat down to discuss my project. I said that as moving as his survivor’s testimonial was, I wanted to talk to him as a human rights professional and as someone with broad expertise in engaging diverse publics in the discussion of torture and democracy. Pedro was also instrumental in a festival that restaged, on the grounds of Villa Grimaldi, plays written by former political prisoners and in some cases performed in prison–and so I said that I also wanted to talk with him as a theatre impressario.

Pedro asked us to continue the conversation the next day, and so I also visited him at home. (Such is the breadth of his committment that he has sitting in his driveway a Chevrolet truck of the model used by Pinochet’s security squads, which Pedro hopes to see included in a future museum of national memory). There I was able to talk to him about the emerging structure of the piece and the set of conceptual and argumentative problems I’m facing right now.

Pedro offered frank opinions when he offered any at all, usually in the form of well-formed paragraphs delivered with a deliberate and gently pedagogic manner. On the other hand, more than once he refused to offer an answer, simply stating: “I don’t know enough about that topic to give a good answer.” As you might suspect, this also meant that, while we did chat about the plays produced at the memorial, Pedro was not willing to offer much reply to my usual attempt to get none-theatre people to give me theatrical advice!

Pedro did express his belief in the value of giving students (and by extention other audiences) a grounding in “practical” descriptions of torture as a basis for understanding it as a real process. He was also adamant about the crucial use–and the damaging power–of the context of humiliation and degradation, even in a torture regime as physically violent as Pinochet’s.

He also really gets what it means to make my work for a US audience–he probably knows US students, anyway, as well I or better.  He talked about one privileged student he met recently who shocked him by arguing in favor of torture as a way of defending her way of life from threats she felt but could not well articulate. We both found this a depressing story, but Pedro also asserted his optimistic admiration for the US, as “a country that could be wrong, but which could change…could put these issues in a legal framework.”

The most moving/inspiring thing Pedro said to me was, oddly, both about the resilience and dedication of the activist survivors of torture in Chile and, in a way, could be read as an argument for why torture is counterproductive for any state, in the long run. “Despues de me arresto, la vida que tengo es de yapa,” he said, using a Chilean expression. More or less, he said “after my arrest, the life that I have is (for) free.


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