Obsessive Pursuit

Years after her brother was murdered in Chile's "dirty war," a diminutive former professor went after the killer

Pato put on his best suit and went to the office of Incandente Haag to plead for Winston's release. Even though the secretary wouldn't let him past the lobby, he went to the mayor's office again and again. On his fifth attempt, the secretary had Pato arrested.

"I looked around and saw so many people I knew," Pato recalls. He liked to kid around to make points and get people talking. But a jail full of newly detained political prisoners was no place to be a comedian. "I asked what time the meeting was going to start. One of my friends said, 'Shut up, motherfucker.'"

By then Winston had been transferred to the local military garrison. "Winston had more physical access to the military prosecutor [who oversaw political detainees]," Pato says. "He obtained permission to have a birthday party, to get a television installed. He realized the military didn't know how to have prisoners."

Zita Cabello-Barrueto's son Felipe accompanied her 
on some of her Chile research trips.
James Sanders
Zita Cabello-Barrueto's son Felipe accompanied her on some of her Chile research trips.

Zita was now supporting a household of nine people, since Pato had offered their home as refuge to other prisoners' wives. Three or four people slept in each bed. She made lunches and walked the food every day to the prison and the garrison for the two men who'd been taken from her. She was exhausted.


On Oct. 14, Zita left the prison in tears after visiting Pato. The guards were rough on her and wouldn't let her kiss her husband goodbye. When she arrived at the garrison, Winston hugged her and tried to give her a sense of hope. "Even if someone cuts all the flowers," she remembers him saying, "they can't keep spring from returning."

He also had good news: He was being released to a small town where he'd check in with an officer each day under a type of house arrest called "town detention." Pato would also be given town detention after the military prosecutor interrogated him.

And just as Winston said, on the morning of Oct. 16 Pato was brought to the garrison to meet the prosecutor. He was made to stand in front of a wall and wait all day. At 5:30 that afternoon, the prosecutor emerged from an office, stressed and hurried.

"You're not going to be questioned today because there's a delegation coming from Santiago," the man told him.

Though Pato didn't know it at the time, the "delegation" was the Caravan of Death. He was returned to a long dormitory at the prison. Winston was being held there now, too. Pato went to sleep on the bottom of a bunk bed. Across the room, Winston slept on the bottom of another.

Around midnight, the door opened and Pato awoke to see a soldier "in full combat uniform and a machine gun hanging from his side." The trooper read a list of 13 names. Winston's was on it.

The image of that soldier burned into Pato's mind. "I remember his smile: so cruel, so arrogant," he says. "His demeanor was so aggressive; testosterone all over."

Pato watched as his best friend dressed, putting on his suit over his pajamas. The soldier grew impatient and yelled at him to hurry up. Winston, who was very particular about his clothes, didn't have time to tie his shoes. Pato saw him shuffle off into the night. Then he fell back asleep.

He never saw Winston again.

In Santiago, the military imprisoned possible dissidents in stadiums almost as soon as the coup began. The Caravan of Death then extended the roundups and purges beyond Santiago's borders. Led by Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark, the squad flew up and down the long, stiletto-shaped country in Puma helicopters. When the outfit landed, Stark reviewed prisoners' files and put red checks next to names of those who might threaten the regime. They were killed. In less than a month, Stark's soldiers tortured and slaughtered more than 70 civilians.

The night Winston was taken away, a drunken jail guard, Adolfo Gonzalez, showed up at his house and told his wife, Veronica, that he was dead. Veronica sent Gonzalez home; why should she believe this boozy fool? But the guard insisted he was telling the truth. Her gave her the name of a garrison employee who'd confirm everything.

The next morning, Zita heard rumors that Winston had died. She tried to visit the garrison, but military people she hadn't seen before told her they didn't have prisoners there. She wasn't sure what was happening. Veronica then talked to the man who worked at the garrison. Winston, he said, was gone.

Zita refused to believe it. She'd spoken to a lawyer who visited the garrison frequently and he'd said no one had died. He invited her and Veronica to his office, promising to explain everything. He asked them to bring a newspaper, which would detail the sentences the prisoners received.

The women forgot the newspaper, so while Zita waited for the lawyer, Veronica ran off to get a copy. The man arrived before she returned. The next few minutes changed Zita's life forever.

"He said, 'You haven't brought a newspaper,'" Zita recalls. "Then we saw Veronica, and we saw her face."

At that moment, Zita knew her brother had been killed. The newspaper reported that 13 Copiapo prisoners were shot while escaping. Their families were forbidden from burying or even seeing the bodies.

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