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Sergio Reyes

Boston Globe Article: Pinochet’s arrest, spurs flashbacks of torture

By Alisa Valdez

Boston, October 20, 1998.- As former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet vowed from - his hospital bed in London that he would fight Spain's attempts to extradite him for murder, genocide, and torture, a soft-spoken, bearded man sat in his office on Berkeley Street yesterday, remembering.

The soldiers had stormed Sergio Reyes' home in Punta Arenas in the middle of the night stolen his mother's jewelry, blindfolded him, pointed their rifles and said the words ready, aim, fire. His mother wailed. The guns clicked. Then there was laughter. It was a mock execution. Reyes was hauled, off to prison where he was stripped, prodded with electrodes-, dunked in tanks of human feces, and beaten for months on end.

Reyes' crime? He'd been a 19-year old guitarist, folk singer, and wide-eyed socialist student leader. Pinochet’s regime, which overthrew the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, did not like socialists.

Just like another Chilean folk singer named Victor Jara, Boston's Reyes was tortured and brutalized. But where Jara was gunned down in a packed stadium, Reyes was one of 500 Chilean prisoners granted US exile, and one of a handful living in the Boston area. He came after three harrowing years in prison, one spent at a "Nazi-style" camp on Dawson Island.

Now, 19 years later, Reyes sat in his sunny, plant-filled South End office, contemplating Pinochet’s arrest in London. "Maybe Pinochet is starting to know what it feels like to be held and interrogated," Reyes said. "I know some people who feel joyful about that. I can't. Because I know his interrogation will be nothing like mine."

Reyes, an administrative manager for The Crime and Justice Foundation crossed and uncrossed his fingers, searching for words. "I've tried to write this many times," he said, tears appearing, even as he tried to smile. "But I, never can. It is too hard." Prompted with questions, however, Reyes spoke for nearly two hours about the horrors he lived through, starting in 1976, when he was 19 and a student and labor leader, and ending with his exile to Boston in 1979, with only $5.

"I was in my first year of college. We were at that point in the third year of Allende's Popular Unity Government. In our youth, we thought we were participating in historic changes.

"The day of the coup I remember going to the university and the first thing I saw was a group of soldiers with a gigantic tripod machine gun." That same day, a list went up at the university of suspected subversives, people to be arrested. Reyes was on the list.

"They came to my house one night. . . . You could hear the mobilization of the military Outside the house, jeeps and trucks, people running to be in position, ready to burst through the door. I always remember that I just opened the door for them . . ."

The mock execution followed. Then he was taken to a makeshift prison in an old Navy hospital. "The first thing all prisoners were made to do was strip. There is something about being naked. Under these circumstances it's like being at your weakest point, the highest state of fragility ...

"And then I was tortured. From the most brutal thing of being beaten unconscious to more sophisticated means of torture, like electrical arrests applied to your body, and submersion, usually in human feces in a tank specially designed for that purpose. It was standard procedure."

By the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter was withdrawing support from Pinochet's regime, and the United Nations had begun questioning human rights violations in Chile. Reyes was accepted for exile in the United States. A woman from the American embassy recommended Boston.

Life was hard. Reyes said he took factory jobs, and was fired once for not speaking English. Reyes taught himself English, got a degree in computer engineering, continued to find solace in music, and eventually got married and had two children.

Now, as Pinochet faces trial for what his regime did to Reyes and more than a million others like him, Reyes finds comfort only in the idea that a trial might forever establish the horrors of his government.

"How can you imagine that something like this happened to someone who today looks perfectly normal, who is just like everybody else in your office, in your neighborhood? But it did. It happened to me."