Tribute to tortured Chilean prisoner placed in football stadium in Chile

BY TOBY PORTER
toby@slpmedia.co.uk

A grandfather who fled a murderous regime after being imprisoned in a football stadium without charge for months has had a tribute placed in the room where he was locked up.

Father of two Rolando Godoy, from Stockwell, was one of thousands of people seized on the day General Pinochet staged a coup and murdered elected Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973.

But in a traumatic echo of his family’s ordeal, his cousin was recently shot amid a new wave of repression in their homeland.

Mr Godoy’s wife Orita, children and grandchildren, still living in Stockwell, have been reliving the horror of the 1973 repression of the opposition – amid a new wave of arrests, torture and shootings.

Their cousin, Nico, 15, was shot through the ribs as he tried to help an elderly man who had been teargassed following a demonstration.

Chilean coup

Orita spent the following three months after the 1973 coup looking for her husband every day, walking the streets of Maipu, five miles from the centre of Santiago, in the vain hope of finding him.

But Rolando, then 41 and working for paint company Fensa, had been arrested while at work and shackled along with thousands of political prisoners at the National Stadium.

He never found out why he was arrested or why he was released, while hundreds were murdered and their bodies disposed of.

He died two years ago of cancer without ever knowing that a tribute had been installed at the national stadium in honour of his stance against the repressive regime, which ruled his homeland until 1990.

Rolando’s daughter Alejandra said: “My parents had socialist beliefs and mum worked for a foundation which helped the poor – and knew Victor Jara, the famous singer-songwriter who was tortured and shot in the national stadium.

“Dad went to work one day and just did not come back. The buses to work came out empty. Dad later told us soldiers had ordered them to hide on the floor of those buses, on the way to the stadium.

“She went out to look for him all day, every day – she later told me she saw people being beheaded in the streets and the bodies of people lying there.

“Then he just turned up one day, all skinny. My mum was in floods of tears.

Daughter Alejandra and Rolando Godoy

“There is a memorial to my father in the stadium in the changing rooms. It is a very big thing for us – and especially now the torture has started again.”

Orita said: “We were so grateful to be given refuge here. The authorities made our life hell in Chile. I know if Rolando was alive now he would be demonstrating against the government now.”

The family were offered asylum in 1976, with Rolando working in a fish factory.

“We were very lucky,” said Alejandra, 52, then aged seven. “We had to leave Chile because our home was in an area dominated by the air force and everyone shunned us and was watching us. You would hear screaming in the night. Dad was blacklisted and could not get work.

“Dad never talked until many years later about what happened in the stadium. The soldiers played Russian roulette with him – and he saw others being shot. But he was lucky. There were many who were never seen again.

“It is wonderful our father is commemorated there – it will be there forever. But it seems some people have not learned the lessons of the past. What happened to Nico has been giving us all flashbacks to what happened 46 years ago.

“It is horrible seeing the footage on TV of the state violence and killings all over again. We seem to have gone backwards to 46 years ago.

“All our memories had been put to the back of our minds but this has brought it all back.

“Mum has kept her feelings to herself for years but the current violence is traumatising her.”

Rolando – who looked after hospital administrator Alejandra’s two young children during the day – was diagnosed wtih leukaemia in 2010. He died on February 12, 2018, when he and Orita had been married 51 years.

More than 3,000 people were arrested, tortured and killed during Pinochet’s 17-year reign.

Opposition Chilean groups in Britain will march to mourn the dead, dressed in black and with a patch over one eye, from the Chilean Embassy from 3pm tomorrow.

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