In this affecting nonfiction account, a woman describes her civil suit against the Chilean death-squad commander who murdered her brother.
When Pinochet took over Chile in a 1973 military coup, Zita Cabello-Barrueto’s brother Winston Cabello, 28, an economist in Allende’s government, was no political activist. It didn’t matter. He became an early victim of the notorious Caravan of Death, the Chilean army death squad. Along with a dozen other political prisoners, he was driven to the desert, murdered and buried in an unmarked grave. After having immigrated to the United States, where Cabello-Barrueto worked her way up from janitor to professor, she learned years later that the man responsible, Armando Fernandez Larios, was living in Miami, Florida. A criminal case wasn’t possible, but (with pro bono legal help and other assistance) Cabello-Barrueto filed a civil suit against him, tracking down and interviewing many witnesses herself. In 2003, a federal jury unanimously found Fernandez liable for the summary execution, torture and inhumane and degrading treatment of Winston—as well as crimes against humanity. Damages awarded were $4 million, but Cabello-Barrueto writes, the money was never the point. “We knew we would never be paid.” Fernandez remains free. By publishing testimony not presented in court, Cabello-Barrueto hopes to complete the historical record. Her unflinching account shows not just one family’s grief, but also how fear and self-interest play into the interests of the powerful, so that for many Chileans, death squads were an acceptable alternative to Allende’s breadlines. And though constantly motivated by the drive to know why her brother died, she has to conclude that his death was arbitrary. “It is possible. That is all you need to know,” says one military figure she interviewed. Cabello-Barrueto also shows how tangled, painful, tedious and disillusioning the legal process can be (although her exhaustive details can tax reader interest). Her overall mood is optimism, but the book ends on a plaintive note: The U.S. still has not answered Chile’s request to extradite Fernandez.
Cabello-Barrueto succeeds in becoming a voice for her brother and other victims of repressive states.