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Leopoldo Raul  BENITEZ HERRERA 

El l8 de septiembre de l973 fue muerto Leopoldo Raúl BENITEZ HERRERA, 37 años, arquitecto, profesor de la Facultad de Arquitectura de la Universidad Católica.

El día 17 de Septiembre alrededor de las 19:30 horas, mientras se encontraba en casa de sus suegros en la comuna de Ñuñoa, llegaron efectivos de Carabineros de la Escuela de Suboficiales de Macul, que ingresaron por la fuerza, allanaron el domicilio e intimidaron a sus moradores. Luego de pedir identificarse a todas las personas que allí estaban, procedieron a detenerlo, llevándoselo en una micro de Carabineros que previamente se había estacionado en la puerta de la casa.

En la Escuela de Suboficiales de Macul, su cónyuge, constató que efectivamente había estado. Le indicaron que si estaba con vida, lo buscara en el Estadio Nacional. En dicho recinto lo buscaron infructuosamente.

Su cuerpo fue encontrado el día 24 de Septiembre en el Instituto Médico Legal. Había sido remitido allí, por militares, con el nombre de Leopoldo Raúl Benitez Herrera, con la indicación de haber sido encontrado en la vía pública. El certificado de defunción señala que murió el día 18 de septiembre de l973 a las 13.35 horas a causa de : “múltiples heridas a bala”.

Sin embargo, entre su detención y la constatación de su muerte, pasaron siete días en que a sus familiares se les entregó equívocas versiones sobre su suerte, incluso que se encontraba procesado y que su causa estaba lista para ser vista junto a la de otras personas el día 24 de Septiembre de 1973 en la Escuela Militar.

Es convicción de la Comisión que Leopoldo Raúl Benitez Herrera, fue ejecutado al márgen de toda legalidad, por agentes del Estado que violaron su derecho a la vida, en razón de los siguientes elementos: se encuentra acreditada su detención por agentes del Estado; consta su permanencia en la Escuela de Suboficiales de Carabineros de Macul; su muerte se produjo mientras se encontraba bajo la custodia de sus aprehensores.
(Rettig)


Revisaba la seccion  de memoria viva dedicada a mi tio Leopoldo Benitez y veia que habia muy poco muy poco, solo de la Comision Rettig. Les mando lo que escribi de el, basado en las carpetas de la Vicaria de la Solidaridad, en mi libro A Social History of the Catholic Church in Chile, vol. IV Torture and Forced Dissapearence 1973-1974, New York and Lampter: The Edwin Mellen Press [to be published in 2010].
Professor M.I. Aguilar, FRAI
Chair of Religion and Politics
Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics (CSRP)University of St. Andrews
Scotland, UK
http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/divinity/rt/csrp/
 
 
 
The Case of Leopoldo Benítez
Born in Concepción on the 12th of March of 1936, Benítez studied at the Instituto Alemán of Frutillar, at the Instituto de Humanidades Luis Campino and at the San Pedro Nolasco schools in Santiago. [1] Benítez spent six months as part of a research team at the Chilean bases in the Antarctic territories and later studied architecture at the Catholic University in Santiago, graduating in 1964.[2] Immediately after his graduation he gained a scholarship from the Ford Foundation and studied for a master’s degree in architecture at Rice University, Houston, Texas, from where he graduated in 1966.[3] On his return, he worked on several urbanisation projects in Santiago and joined the teaching staff at the Catholic University’s School of Architecture, where from 1970 he served as director of the Department of Architecture. At the same time, he built a wooden house in the hills of Santiago on plots of land commonly owned by families who knew each other from their younger years.[4] There he could paint and draw his architectural projects.
            In 1969, within the turmoil of the university reforms in which traditional roles and divisions were questioned, Benítez, along with other university professors, signed the political manifesto ‘Yes, to the revolution’.[5] In accordance with that manifesto, on the 24th of November 1969 those university professors who had signed the letter resigned their posts, but were reinstated through the efforts of the university rector, the architect Fernando Castillo Velasco, who did not want to lose them. However, the School of Architecture was divided between a department of urbanisation and works and another of architecture, which amalgamated all those professors for the revolution under the academic leadership of Leopoldo Benítez. The mission undertaken by those university teachers was to contribute with their skills to the advancement of a more just society not only in Chile but throughout Latin America.[6]
            Benítez had in his younger years supported the Christian Democratic Party (PDC); however, after the formation of the Movimiento de Acción Popular Unitaria (MAPU) on the 9th of May 1969 he joined them. The MAPU was a splinter group of the PDC that amalgamated Christians who embraced Marxism, and who therefore supported the Popular Unity coalition of Salvador Allende. As part of that political party, Benítez spent his weekends painting houses in shantytowns and supporting the solidarity campaigns with workers and peasants. At the same time, he underwent a personal conversion: he had been brought up as a middle-class person, an economic situation reinforced by the fact that he was a well-paid architect who had studied in the United States. His search for his own personal commitment to a socialist society made him change his own life style and his time became dedicated to community work as well as personal reflection on the motivations for a new man and a new society in Latin America.[7]Shortly before the military coup, Benítez joined the Chilean Communist Party.
            Behind every one of those killed or made to disappear there was an idealistic human being who, instead of seeking refuge and comfort, dreamed of a new world and a new and more just society. The case of Benítez followed those lines, and his complex family life has not been discussed within the legal processes and the summary investigations. He was married twice. With his first wife, Jacqueline, he had two children: Carolina and Cristóbal. After he separated from Jacqueline and during the summer of 1970 at the sea resort of Tongoy he met a pair of twins: Miriam and Magdalena Bessone. He fell in love with Miriam and they married in February 1971.[8] In March 1972 their son Leopoldo Daniel was born with a chronic illness, and died after twenty-one days. However, in March 1973 their daughter Katia was born.[9]
            After the military coup, Benítez tried to continue a normal life, even when so many of his friends were being arrested and taken by the new authorities. On the 17th of September he was staying at his parents-in-law’s house (Los Olmos Street 2930, Macul, Santiago) together with his wife and daughter. At 7:30 pm a group of twenty carabineros (uniformed police from the Escuela de Suboficiales de Carabineros) entered the house.[10]They asked for the identity of all those present and became particularly interested when they found out that Polo (the nickname of Leopoldo Benítez) was there.[11] The policemen found some hunting guns and a revolver, property of Benítez’ father-in-law, and took the arms together with Benítez into a police bus that arrived at 8:00 pm.[12] They were going to take his brother-in-law Eduardo Bessone as well, but after pleas from his mother he was not taken.[13]
            The family looked for his name in the list of prisoners at the National Stadium; while on the morning of the 18th of September the flat of Benítez’ sister, Gabriela, in Obispo Donoso Street 20, Providencia, was searched by the police. His wife managed to check the prisoners’ book at the Training School of the Carabineros in Pedro de Valdivia Avenue with Rodrigo de Araya Street and found an entry in which he appeared accused of having shot a policeman a few days before his arrest. The officer-in-charge gave her a couple of phone numbers in which to request information through Lieutenant Sergio Jiménez Albornoz. As the family could not get through, they requested help from a neighbour, Lieutenant Hernán Covarrubias, who managed to contact Lieutenant Jiménez and then phoned Dr. Mayne – a friend of Leopoldo Benítez – telling him that they should look for an unidentified body in the Santiago Morgue with a particular number. Thus, on the 24th of September Dr Mayne found the body that had been brought to the Santiago Morgue on the 18th of September at 1:35 pm and showed multiple bullet wounds.[14] The body was found on the street (Aguilar 2006e).[15]
            The legal case for the assassination of Leopoldo Benítez was only filed on the 25th of June 1990, because his widow worked for the civil service and because his parents did not want any publicity.[16] His wife did not want to lose her job in the civil service, although she was let go in 1980.[17] His father, Raúl Benítez, had been a supporter of the military government and was placed in charge of the Intercontinental Bank the day after the military coup. He resigned from his post, and led a secluded life until his death in January 1994 of Alzheimer’s disease. Leopoldo Benítez’ mother, a distinguished poet, wrote a moving poetic tribute to her son and faced the censorship of the military authorities.[18] Leopoldo Benítez’ former wife and their children Carolina and Cristóbal left for France in December 1973 (they had French passports) while his widow Miriam and their daughter Katia remained in Chile.[19] Katia years later studied at the same School of Architecture where her father had taught.[20] The legal case was closed in 1995 due to the fact that Lieutenant Covarrubias denied having provided any information about the location of Leopoldo Benítez’ body. However, in 1998 the Chilean College of Architects filed a new legal demand involving all architects who were killed or disappeared during the period of the military government.[21] Benítez’ widow and Dr. Mayne gave sworn legal declarations to the ongoing legal process on the 5th of March 2004.[22]


[1] ‘Reseña biográfica y curriculum de Leopoldo Benítez Herrera’ - REL 455-90; ‘Certificado de Nacimiento Leopoldo Benítez Herrera’ – CERT 5232, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[2] ‘Carta sobre viaje a la Antártica’ [letter to his mother from the Antarctic], Sunday 15 December 1957 (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 183). After graduation he joined the Chilean College of Architects - Colegio de Arquitectos membership number 1687.
[3] With a thesis entitled: ‘Análisis de diseño de un grupo habitacional para una comunidad en Houston, Texas’. The thesis was published in December 1973 by his colleagues and part of the original text is reproduced in a publication by the Chilean College of Architects (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 173-178).
[4] ‘Una casa en El Arrayán’; Mónica Naudón de Mayne, ‘Testimonio: Una amistad durante la vida y que sobrevivió a la muerte’; Daniel Mayne Viñas, ‘Testimonio’, and, Eduardo Palma Carvajal, ‘Testimonio: En voz alta’ (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 189, 195, 196, 197-198).
[5] Regarding teaching at university he wrote: ‘El problema de la docencia se ha transformado entonces de un transmitir conocimiento para el hacer mejor del educando, a transmitir el cómo conocer para el mejor hacer’, Páginas de un diario de vida, April 1968 (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 188).
[6] They wrote: ‘Penetrar en América es desentrañar su cultura, es hacer su historia, es participar en su lucha. Es ser pueblo, en sus ciudades, en sus calles, poblados, cordilleras, selvas y valles. Es penetrar con violencia en nuestro propio interior’ (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 179).
[7] He wrote: ‘La revolución es contra el hombre por el hombre y sera hecha por hombres. Entiendo entonces (como el Ché, creo) ella no es posible sin la conversion personal. Y esto no es posible sin la concientización personal y la concientización de la masa adolescente (domesticada)’, Apuntes manuscritos 14 April 1969 (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 182).
[8] ‘Certificado de Matrimonio, Providencia 7/11/73 of wedding on 5/2/71 10:00 am’ – CERT 5234, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[9] Miriam Bessone, ‘Testimonio’ (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 191-192); ‘Certificado de Nacimiento Katia Lorena Benítez Bessone 1/03/73 Departamento de Santiago’, CERT 5235, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[10] REL 456-90 and ‘Declaración Eva Magali Bessone Barolo 25/06/90’, REL 836-90, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[11] ‘Declaración Jurada Mercedes Yolanda Barolo Cáceres 25/06/90’- REL 834-90 and ‘Declaración de Miriam Bessone Barolo 25/06/90’ – REL 837-90, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[12] Report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation I: 181-182 and ‘Vicaría de la Solidaridad Departamento Jurídico, LBH Muerto, Santiago 9/73’, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[13] ‘Declaración Daniel Eduardo Bessone Barolo 26/06/90’, REL 835-90, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[14] ‘Certificado Médico de Defunción’, Dr Exequiel Jiménez Ferry, Avda. La Paz 24/9/73, Providencia Inscripción 2122, No. 2662, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[15] Servicio de Registro Civil e Identificación Independencia, ‘Certificado de defunción 2275, Inscripción E2122 copy issued on 12 July 1999, and ‘Copia íntegra de la página 123 del registro No. 11 Inscripción E2122 24/09/73’, dated 13/10/76 Registro Civil de Independencia, CERT 5229; ‘Certificado de Defunción Leopoldo Raúl Benítez Herrera 21/3/74’ – CERT 5232, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[16] ‘Presentación a los tribunales’ (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 198-202); ‘Homenaje del Colegio de Arquitectos a los Arquitectos DD y Ejecutados’, 27 July 1990 - REL 810-90; ‘Remoción del cargo, carta a Myriam Bessone Barolo de Arturo Aguilar Moller, Jefe Subrogante División de Desarrollo Social 29/01/81’ – CERT 5233; Mirian Bessone, ‘Querella’ – ‘Interpongo querella por los delitos de secuestro agravado y asociación ilícita en contra de mi cónyuge Leopoldo Benítez Herrera’ - JC 11/04/92, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[17] ‘Ministerio del Interior remueve de sus cargos a funcionarios que indica, Decreto No. 1532 26/12/80, signed by Enrique Montero Marx, General de Brigada Aérea, Ministro Subsecretario del Interior’, CERT 5230, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[18] Her introduction to Requiem para un hijo reads as follows: ‘En su tierra quedan sus veneradas cenizas y en la pluma de una poetisa chilena sus recuerdos de hombre y profesional. Inclino esa pluma ante el lápiz del eximio dibujante quien impactó nuestro espíritu con una vida a ritmo de vértigo, la mano tendida en gesto fraterno, el tierno ademán, la actitud modesta, el aire indefinible del artista, ser de extraordinaria calidad humana y múltiples facetas’ (Herrera 1974:7). In 1990 she authorised Miriam Bessone as the only credible witness of Benitez’ arrest who could give testimony to the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, ‘Declaración de Sara Herrera de Benítez, RUT 1.136.578-7, Santiago, June 1990’, REL 833-90, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[19] Cristóbal Benítez Mouesca, ‘Testimonio’, (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 193).
[20] Katia Benítez Bessone, ‘Testimonio’, (Comité de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanos Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile 2005: 194).
[21] ‘Desaparecidos y ejecutados por la dictadura; Arquitectos se comprometieron a aclarar muerte de siete colegas’, REL P: 253-90, Carpeta SAE 850, Fundación Archivo y Documentación de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad.
[22] Causa Rol No. 2182-98 ‘Francisco Aedo y otros’, oficio 707-2004 Corte de Apelaciones, Ministro de Fuero Don Juan Guzmán Tapia.


 


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