British Columbia

'Torture ship' unwelcome in B.C., says Chilean ex-pat

British Columbians who escaped Chile under the rule of army Gen. Augusto Pinochet are upset about the visit to the West Coast this summer of an alleged "torture ship" belonging to the Chilean navy.
The Chilean navy vessel Esmeralda has an allegedly sordid past. U.S. Navy/Dennis C. Cantrell

British Columbians who escaped Chile under the rule of army Gen. Augusto Pinochet are upset about the visit to the West Coast this summer of an alleged "torture ship" belonging to the Chilean navy.

The tall ship Esmeralda, scheduled to dock in Victoria and Vancouver in August, was a kind of floating jail and torture chamber for political prisoners during the Pinochet years, from 1973 to 1980, according to reports from the U.S. Senate and Amnesty International.

Chilean-born Carlos Flores has formed a protest group called No Torture Ship B.C..

"Many people were tortured on this ship," said Flores. "Women of all ages were abused and raped in there. An Anglo-Chilean priest was tortured to death on this ship."

The Esmeralda is now crewed by navy cadets on a diplomatic mission.

Protests planned

During their west coast visit, they'll be laying a wreath at Victoria's cenotaph, playing a concert in the harbour and welcoming visitors on board.

But Flores said Canada shouldn't welcome them because the Chilean government hasn't appropriately reconciled with its past.

"Take a moral stand, take an ethical stand, " he said. "You are not welcome because of what you have done."

Flores doesn't want local naval or government civic authorities participating in the ship's events.

But Navy spokesman Gerry Pash said the navy doesn't do politics and officers have to follow orders.

Flores said his group will respond to the presence of the Esmeralda with protests.

With files from the CBC's Lisa Cordasco