Published: February 1, 2007, Golden Gate [X]press
By Christine Joy Ferrer
Zita Cabello-Barrueto’s coffee cup shattered to the floor.
The next thing she knew she was running home.
It was a chilly, hazy October morning in Copiapo, Chile in 1973. Barrueto was having a cafe latte with a friend, when she had told her she had heard rumors that Barrueto’s brother had been killed.
A little over a month earlier, 28-year-old Winston Cabello, a government economist under Salvador Allende, was among the many imprisoned as possible dissidents of the coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Barrueto swallowed her tears.
“A part of me couldn’t understand why a civil, democratic country that was so proud of its heritage could one day transform into a place where Chileans killed other Chileans,” said Barrueto. “Another part, wouldn’t allow myself to believe that there was even a grain of truth in what she said.”
The Chilean-born SF State International Relations professor, has spent the last two decades of her life conducting interviews, researching, and gathering evidence to confirm the facts of her brother’s brutal death as well as others who were murdered or disappeared under the Pinochet regime and won her fight in a United States court in 2003.
According to Barrueto, the day she lost her brother, she lost part of herself, and wanted to find meaning through her pain.
The only girl out of three boys, her and Winston possessed a closer bond apart from the rest.
“My brothers were my protectors. But unlike my other brothers who didn’t include me in what they did, Winston included me,” said Barrueto. “He taught me how to play ping-pong, fly kites, to swim, all the things little girls weren’t suppose to do.”
The newspaper said the Winston and 12 other Copiapo prisons had been shot while escaping. However, she later learned from Ximena de la Barra, a former colleague, that this was a lie and Pinochet operative Armando Fernandez-Larios killed Winston. De La Barra was a friend of his therapist.
The prisoners were driven in a truck to a field and ordered to get out so that they could be shot while running away, said De La Barra. However, Winston was the only one who refused to get out of the truck. Because of his defiance, rather than a quick death by a bullet, Fernandez-Larios slashed his abdomen and throat with a corvo, a curved blade that can leave a victim in up to 8 hours of intense pain.
Fourteen years later, in a mass grave in the Atacama Desert, his body was the only one different from the others, making him easier to identify.
A Miami jury found Fernandez-Larios guilty, in his role as a member of the “Caravan of Death”, liable for torture, crimes against humanity, and extra-judicial killing of Winston Cabello.
With her gentle, non-accusatory persistence, Barrueto traveled back to Chile, numerous times, knocking on doors of victim’s families, military officers, former ex-political prisoners, and others, persuading many of them to talk. All of whom, who would have rather not recall, but forget the past genocide that killed tortured and killed thousands of Chileans.
Barrueto has also been examining the wider effects of torture and disappearances on the social fabric of Chile and has interviewed survivors of Pinochet’s inhumane policy.
These encounters have become the basis for a film documentary that she produced in 1998, “Never Again Shall We Say ‘Never Again” dedicated to her brother.
“People would tell me, ‘why bother, you can’t’, I say why not?” said Barrueto. “Winston taught me to trust myself and always believed in my ability. He would have never said, I couldn’t.”
Her unrelentless pursuit for justice was never a question, it was the answer.
“She’s so empathetic to others suffering and societal injustice that it affects her soul so much to take action,” said her son Felipe, who’s accompanied her a few times in her visits back to Chile.
In her classes, Barrueto finds way to incorporate her brother’s story into her lectures as an example of why social justice and universal human rights are important.
“She had the ability to teach impartially Chilean history when her own life was so intimately intertwined with the information we were receiving in our text books. It must have taken a tremendous deal of strength,” said Brendan Greene, who took “Chile, de Allende al Presente” with Barrueto at UCSC in 2000. “You could sense a deep resolve that she had within herself to help us to better understand the impact of the coup on the nation, but also in people’s everyday lives.”
This semester, Barrueto has taken a break from teaching to focus on finishing her book about her research and will soon be filming another documentary about the Chilean judges prosecuting crimes committed under the Pinochet regime.
As a filmmaker, activist, professor, and soon to be published author, Barrueto’s pursuit of justice continues, but it all began with her brother’s memory.
“Yes, a person may not have the choice of whether to live or die. Winston knew he was going to die, but he chose how to die. That is the most powerful,” she said.