The U.S. Navy is certainly not the first to torture prisoners aboard its ships. It was beaten to that moral wasteland by Pinochet’s
The Chilean Navy was the advance guard of Pinochet’s coup. Soon after the overthrow of the Allende government, naval patrols began scouring the streets of Pablo Neruda’s beloved
Father Woodward was arrested at his home by a naval patrol and taken to the headquarters of the local
The Navy refused the church’s request that Father Woodward be given a burial. His body was dumped at a mass grave on the edge of the Playa Ancha cemetery in the city. Later that part of the cemetery was built over, allegedly as part of a road building programme, and many bodies were tipped over to the Pacific at that time or burnt by acid by the Carabineros. His remains have never been located.
Michael Woodward, the son of a British father and Chilean mother, was born in
Michael Woodward was the most prominent of those tortured on La Esmeralda but certainly not the only one. Several hundred detainees passed through it and the quest for justice has moved only a few clumsy steps. One of Father Woodward’s sisters and some of the other former prisoners have been navigating
Only six relatively junior naval officers charged with playing a part in Father Woodward’s death were charged, arrested and granted bail. The torture on the ship could not have been carried out without complicity or express orders from the very top but no high-ranking navy officer has been investigated which the Chilean state was legally obliged to do. The Chilean Navy has shown no remorse, or even acknowledgement of its part in these and other crimes. Post-Pinochet Centrist governments have chosen the path of wilfully-induced amnesia. Every time La Esmeralda sets sail, Chilean Presidents and the Navy brass deny that the training ship is stained by torture.
This year there were scuffles between rival demonstrators the day La Esmeralda set sail. The ultra-Right in the Chilean parliament, instigated by a former admiral in their ranks, raised the bogey of the Navy being defamed, provoking the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Juan Bustos, to say that the Right has still not internalised respect for human rights. The magistrate investigating the Woodwards case has received death threats and faces a campaign of innuendoes from Pinochet’s parliamentary gang.
Senator Edward Kennedy had said in the past "the Statue of Liberty would weep at the sight of La Esmeralda entering the gateway of freedom at
There are two documentaries on La Esmeralda and Father Woodward in English and Spanish respectively: ‘The Dark Side of the White Lady’ by Patricio Henríquez ‘Una Vida Verdadera: El Sacrificio de Miguel Woodward’ by Andrés Brignardello and José Acevedo.