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Chile Solidarity

Human Rights

new internationalist
issue 174 - August 1987

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Chile solidarity
Pressure for release of political prisoners has been a positive
form of international support for Chile. A current case is that of
Dr Ramiro Olivares who is being held hostage against
the Church and its human-rights activities.

'WHAT DO THE PEOPLE WANT? BREAD, WORK, JUSTICE AND LIBERTY!' proclaims the grubby leaflet in bold red letters. It was awkward enough to have it fall out of my pocket at the May Day demonstration. Now I discover that the carabineros actually replaced it in my passport before they gave it back.

I am in the Capuchinos Prison in the centre of Santiago when this 'seditious' piece of literature next appears. A young warder enters my personal details into his large ledger and is delighted to have an English-speaking visitor. His brother is a translator, he says, and he has been giving him lessons. 'How has your visit been - do you like Chile?' he asks. 'Very nice,' I say. 'Very beautiful.'

I'm surprised to have got this far. Last time I tried to get in here to visit a political prisoner they took one look at my passport and briskly showed me the door. Prison visits are restricted at the moment; even some family members are being refused entry. But today is Mother's Day and the rules seem to have been relaxed.

When the dubious leaflet drops out of my passport the warder is as surprised to see it as I am. But he seems unwilling to damage our relationship and has the presence of mind to slip it into a drawer before his superiors catch sight.

I'm visiting Ramiro Olivares, the doctor from the Vicaria de Ia Solidaridad who has been jailed for treating a man wounded in a shoot-out with the carabineros. His was the face I saw on a poster in the Vicaria when I first arrived and his case has now become a something of a cause celebre: a trial of strength between the Government and the Church. The Government objects to the Church's human rights activities and has been using the Olivares case to put pressure on them to take a less active role.

Today is Rarniro's 29th birthday and he offers me a piece of cake. We're in a large hall filled with tables and chairs; 50 or so people, prisoners and visitors are mingling freely. Everything seems relaxed, partly because it is Mother's Day and also because this is a better class of prison than most: primarily for professional crooks - tax evaders and cheque-book fraudsters. The Church managed to persuade the authorities that Olivares should be here rather than in a rougher prison. He looks fit enough, slim and bearded. Not badly-treated but frustrated that his life and career have been interrupted. We cannot talk about his case, however, he is forbidden to give interviews.

He has had quite a few visitors today. His wife, Mirya, is here and a group of colleagues from the Vicaria came earlier. The most important visitor, however, was Cardinal Fresno - significant because there had been doubts that the Church might have been wavering in its support.

I talk to Mirya afterwards. She says she's grateful for the support which has come from overseas. Organizations like Amnesty International and Americas Watch have been putting pressure on. 'There have been lawyers and representatives from churches and doctors' organizations in other countries.' She shows me, for example, a letter which Ramiro has received from West Germany and given to her because he cannot read German.

There's little she can do now but wait. She's had training as a psychiatrist. 'But who is going to employ me in a hospital if my husband is accused of being a terrorist? So I can do a little private work and that's all. Then I come to see Ramiro for a short while each day.

'It's a great relief,' she says, 'to have had Cardinal Fresno visit him. But things are moving slowly. It is so important that we keep up the pressure for his release.'

A second doctor Juan Macaya, was arrested over the same case. I meet him in the prison too, an older man in a beret. We talk for a while of some of the support that has come from overseas - from everyone from international human rights lawyers to Australian Members of Parliament

Just as I am about to leave he hands me a slip of paper. It has a quotation from the Hippocratic Oath:

'I will keep silent about everything I hear or see of people's lives, within or outside my profession, which ought not to be public.'

It is signed by both men.

'Drs Ramiro Olivares and Juan Macaya thank you for your solidarity which helps and comforts us in our struggle for human rights.'

Capuchinos Prison,
Santiago CHILE 1987


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The following is based on information supplied to the NI by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International.

Dr Ramiro Olivares, a medical doctor working for the Vicaria de Ia Solidaridad, was first arrested in May 1986 and charged, under article 8 of the Arms Control Law, with assisting armed opposition groups. He had earlier given medical assistance to a man with a bullet injury unaware of the man's alleged involvement in an armed confrontation in which a policeman died.

The man had gone to the Vicaria on the 28th April claiming his injury had been sustained while witnessing an armed clash in the city. He received treatment and was then sent to another clinic for further attention and was told to return to the Vicaria to make a legal statement, but he failed to do so.

The man went the next night, in a weak condition, to Dr Macaya's private home. By then news of the armed confrontation had been publicized and Dr Macaya, suspecting that the injured man had been involved, consulted the lawyers at the Vicaria the next morning. The Vicaria informed the Government and the man was arrested that day from Dr Macaya's house.

According to independent lawyers, the only charge that could conceivably be levelled against the two doctors was their failure to report the treatment of a person with a bullet Injury to the authorities, as required by law. This is an offence which carries a maximum penalty of 80 days.

The defence for the two doctors was based on ethical principles applying to the medical profession. The Code of Ethics of the Medical College of Chile states: 'The doctor must provide professional attention to any person requiring it and this prohibits him from refusing such attention when there is no other colleague who can attend to the patient.' A further article in the same code obliges the doctor to respect confidentiality both with regard to the individual's medical problems and also their identity. Defence lawyers point to the fact that the man concerned was previously unknown to the detainees and that no attempt had been made to treat him In a clandestine way - a normal medical file had been opened for him.

Dr Olivares was released on bail on 7 August, 1986, although Dr Macaya was not. 0n 12 December Dr Olivares was re-arrested and informed that the charges had been modified and that he now faced prosecution under the Anti-terrorist law. If found guilty he faces a possible sentence of between five and 15 years. The charges against Dr Macaya were similarly modified but on the 26th of March 1987 were changed back to the original charge.

Lawyers from the Vicaria have stated that the authorities were using the original armed incident in order to carry out investigations into the workings of the Vicaria and other activities of the Church. The authorities had requested information from both the Vicaria and the auxiliary Bishop of Santiago. This included the names of all the Vicaria staff who were in the building when the man received attention as well as a list of the parishes in the Archdiocese which provide medical attention.

Amnesty International recommends that telegrams/airmail letters be sent expressing concern at the continuing imprisonment of the two doctors, stating that they are prisoners of conscience and urging that they be immediately and unconditionally released.

Appeals to:

The Military Prosecutor,
Cor. Fernando Torres Silva,
Centeno 102, Santiago, Chile.

Fiscal Militar,
Santiago, Chile.

Appeals to:

Members of the Supreme Court,
Plaza Montt Varas,
Santiago, Chile.

Miembros Corte Suprema,
Santiago, Chile.

Copies should also be sent to the diplomatic representatives of Chile
in your country and also to the Chilean Human Rights Commission,
Casa de los Derechos Humanos, Huérfanos 1805, Santiago, Chile.

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New Internationalist issue 174 magazine cover This article is from the August 1987 issue of New Internationalist.
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