by Pascale Bonnefoy M. (Lea aquí el artículo original en español)
In Chile in 1973 a chilling whisper ran from mouth to mouth. Outside the country, the image of bodies floating in the Mapocho River became a symbol of Pinochet’s repression. More than 60 bodies were thrown into the river in the first weeks of the military dictatorship; some 47 of them shot at the Bulnes Bridge, according to the morgue records.
However, the figure could be much higher if one considers that another 192 corpses were found on the “public road”, without the SML detailing the place of death and given that many bodies did not arrive at the morgue with a police report indicating the place of death.
The psychological component of the “war” decreed by the Military Junta on September 12, 1973 had several aspects. One was the physical disappearance of the bodies. Another was to turn the streets, rivers and canals that cross the capital into dumps of tortured and riddled corpses in order to terrorize the population. The Mapocho River was used for this macabre scenario, and the bridge that joins Bulnes Street with the northern highway was one of the preferred spots.
At that time, the Bulnes Bridge was near a garbage dump. It began to be used as an execution site on September 19, according to the morgue records that record the place and date of death of the victims, but it could have been earlier. According to these records, there were collective executions on September 19, 20, 23, 24 and October 14, with other isolated executions between those dates. At least according to the entry book of the deceased, the last one shot at the Bulnes Bridge arrived at the morgue on October 22.
However, just as the logbook may not reflect the actual number of dead in the Mapocho River, it also contains unexplained errors, although it is unclear at what point in the chain of custody they were made. For example, former GAP Jaime Sotelo Ojeda appears in the records as having been killed at the Bulnes Bridge, although it has been confirmed that he was executed at the Army’s Fort Arteaga in Peldehue; his remains were found there years later. In another case, six residents of Puente Alto who were shot at the Bulnes Bridge appear in the morgue records as having been killed in Camino Lo Errazuriz, in the Cerrillos commune.
These six victims were part of two collective executions at the Bulnes Bridge – one group killed as political punishment, and the other accused of being “bad ducks.”
Luis González Plaza was less than a week shy of his 20th birthday when he survived his execution at the Bulnes Bridge. As the only survivor of the collective execution of a group of residents of Puente Alto, he was able to reconstruct the events, revealing the modus operandi of the repression.
He had been detained without explanation on October 12, 1973 with a group of friends in a recreational farm in Puente Alto by Carabineros under the command of First Corporal Rubén Barría Igor, who was well known in the area.
Two other people who saw the operation from outside and complained about it were also arrested: Luis Verdejo and Luis Miguel Rodríguez. They were all taken to the Puente Alto police station. There were 12 in total. Among them was Leonidas Isabel Díaz, a 16-year-old girl who was six months pregnant. According to Luis Miguel Rodriguez’s brother, Ismael, and based on the survivor’s account, the girl was raped by carabineros there.
Among the group of detainees were two brothers: Jaime and Luis Bastías Martínez. The latter was a bus driver and knew a carabineros sergeant at the police station. This officer released him, but did not do the same with his brother. Another detainee also knew one of the officers at the police station, and he let her go.
The relatives went to a carabinero they knew, Ricardo Torres. “He told us: ‘Do something before they take them to Santiago. Emilio Verdejo asked him to take his brother out and gave him some money. This carabinero went to the police station and we never heard from him again. Years later, he told me, crying, that at that time he knew they would kill them, but he could not tell us anything. They had already been taken to Santiago,” Ismael Rodriguez told ArchivosChile.
At the Puente Alto police station, the relatives were told that the group had been taken to the National Stadium. However, they had already arrived at the Carabineros’ Fourth Police Station in downtown Santiago, where they were held in a cell without being interrogated or entered in any book. According to what Luis Gonzalez told Ismael Rodriguez, there the Carabineros of Puente Alto raped the pregnant girl again.
In that police station, a Carabinero announced loudly: “These are bad ducks from Puente Alto. They have to be shot,” according to Barría’s conviction.
According to Luis González, they were taken in a jeep by the same Carabineros of Puente Alto and a captain of the Fourth Precinct to the banks of the Mapocho River near the Bulnes Bridge. One of the Carabineros shouted at them to run, while an officer gave the order to shoot from the jeep.
Luis Rodríguez Arancibia, Domingo Morales Díaz, Jaime Bastías Martínez, Luis Suazo Suazo, Luis Toro Veloso, Alfredo Moreno Mena, Luis Verdejo Contreras, David Gayoso González and Leonidas Isabel Díaz Díaz were shot.
All fell into the riverbed, one on top of the other. Many died instantly, but others were in agony. Carabineros went down to finish them off. Luis González was wounded, with four bullets in his body.
“He told me that he took the body of Jaime Bastías and put it on top of him. He saw how the policemen finished him off. One arrived where my brother was, who was moaning in pain. He put the gun over his heart and shot him,” said Ismael Rodriguez.
They saw that Gonzalez was covered in blood. They kicked him but he did not make a sound. Believing him dead, the carabineros left. According to the judicial resolution on the case, they placed a piece of paper over the bodies that read: “Carabineros de Chile”.
In judicial declarations, First Corporal Barría assured that the detainees were transferred from the Fourth Police Station to a sub-commissariat and from there they were released.
All the bodies arrived at the morgue. Strangely, in the SML records, Bastías, Suazo, Verdejo, Moreno and Gayoso, plus an NN, were listed as having died in Cerrillos. Although Luis Toro’s body was recognized by relatives of the other victims, he does not appear arriving at the SML. However, there are two NN that could correspond to Toro (protocols 3303 or 3307): one of them noted as executed at the Bulnes Bridge, and the other with the rest of the group and erroneously noted as dead in Cerrillos.
All of them -including the two NN- would have died on October 14 between 4 and 4:30 a.m., the morgue reported, as well as two other people who were not part of the group from Puente Alto: Dagoberto Lefiqueo Antilef, 22 years old, and Florencio Cuellar Albornoz, 21 years old.
Of them, Alfredo Moreno, Luis Suazo, Florencio Cuéllar and Dagoberto Lefiqueo were buried in Patio 29 of the General Cemetery, according to their records. The latter three remained there until the mass exhumation and cremation of remains from the yard in 1981, without the knowledge of their families. At the SML, officials noted their departures: Lefiqueo and Suazo were taken from the morgue by their respective mothers and Cuellar by his partner. Only in the case of Moreno is it acknowledged that his remains were taken to the Cemetery by the SML itself.
The other collective shooting of settlers on the Bulnes Bridge–at least as recorded in the morgue–was of a group from the Nueva Matucana population, a poor neighborhood of some 600 families located on the banks of the Mapocho River between Matucana and Balmaceda streets, in the district of Quinta Normal. It was three blocks from the Bulnes Bridge.
Inhabited mainly by young and extremely poor families, adjacent to an industrial landfill and crossed by the railroad lines to Valparaíso, the population experienced the dictatorship’s repression from the early days.
On September 23, resident Luis Eduardo Mateluna Gutiérrez, 26 years old, was found dead on the Bulnes Bridge with multiple bullet wounds, according to autopsy 2821, which dated his death two days earlier. The IML recorded his place of death as “public road”.
The same day his body was found, joint Carabineros and Army forces raided the Nueva Matucana settlement, arresting some 20 residents, among them José Vidal Molina, a 27-year-old worker. The following day, on September 24, seven corpses appeared in the Mapocho River. All of them were residents of the Nueva Matucana neighborhood arrested the day before: Domingo Gutiérrez Aravena, Álvaro Acuña Torres, Miguel Moreno Caviedes, José Machuca Espinoza, Carlos León Morales, Sergio Aguilar Núñez and Guillermo Arriagada Saldías.  Vidal Molina did not appear with them.
According to the morgue records, all were executed between September 23 and 24 at the Bulnes Bridge, as well as three other persons: Carlos Navarro Palma, Ramón Jara Espinoza, and an unidentified person.
It is highly probable that this “NN” (protocol 2870) – corresponded to José Vidal Molina, but negligence, omissions and the haste of those days in the morgue prevented him from being identified at the time, even when his father went to the place in search of him the day after his arrest. Vidal was transferred as a John Doe to Patio 29 and remained as a detainee-disappeared until 2011, when the SML confirmed his identity among the remains exhumed from that common patio.
If an effort had been made to compare the data on executed persons found in the same place and on the same date with the data on missing persons searched for in the morgue, a family drama that has lasted for decades could have been avoided. At the time and because of the nature of the situation inside the morgue, perhaps it was almost impossible.
The first victims
According to the IML logbook, the first bodies found on the Bulnes Bridge and transferred to the morgue corresponded to 12 people executed between September 19 and 20.
Among them were nine members of President Allende’s Security Device (GAP); university student Enrique Ropert, son of Miria Contreras, “La Payita”, secretary of President Salvador Allende (all arrested near La Moneda on the day of the military coup); and one unidentified person (NN).
Two other members of the GAP were arrested with them from outside La Moneda, but are still missing: Domingo Blanco Tarré and Pedro Garcés Portigliati. There is evidence that Garcés arrived at the morgue, but was not identified;  but not Blanco, who remains missing.
Recently, it has been confirmed that four of those executed at the Bulnes Bridge were buried in Patio 29 of the General Cemetery: Carlos Cruz, Luis Gamboa, Oscar Marambio and Edmundo Montero. Ropert was recovered from the morgue by his family members.
“Enrique [Ropert] appeared on the Bulnes Bridge…that’s the only thing we have been able to find out after all this time. Maybe [Army Captain Mario] Caraves’ group shot him; that’s what [Army Corporal Nelson] Bañados told us when we interviewed him [in 1988],” his sister Isabel Ropert told ArchivosChile. “He told me that he shot Enrique, that he even kept his identity card, but I don’t know if I believe him,” she added.
Army Captain Mario Caraves Silva and conscript Nelson Bañados were part of a unit of the Yungay Infantry Regiment that moved to Santiago the day before the military coup. In command of that unit was Army Major Donato Lopez Almarza. In judicial declarations, Bañados claimed to have shot dozens of people at the Bulnes Bridge, among them, the Spanish priest Joan Alsina, who had been arrested during a raid by members of the regiment at the San Juan de Dios Hospital, where he worked.
Six other hospital workers were arrested in raids in the previous days: Manuel Briceño Briceño, Manuel Ibáñez García, Jorge Cáceres Gatica, Raúl González Moran, Pablo Aranda Schmied and José Bagus Valenzuela. According to the testimony of conscript Bañados in the court case for Alsina’s death, the detainees were first taken to the Barros Arana Boarding School, which had been occupied by the Yungay Regiment to handle detainees. Alsina and seven other detainees were taken out of the place at night to be executed on the Bulnes Bridge, Bañados said.
All ended up in the morgue and their identities were confirmed at the time. Not so Aranda and Bagus. Aranda, a medical student doing his internship at the hospital, was identified in 1991–associated with the autopsy protocol of an NN–when the Civil Registry Service made a review of the identification of victims through fingerprint records. It was recently confirmed that he had been buried in Patio 29 of the General Cemetery. Bagus has been missing since then.
In his statement, Bañados described how prisoners were shot on the bridge: “We would kill them with their backs to the river and they would fall backwards. Then we would pick them up in the same truck and take them to the morgue. Sometimes there were as many as twenty in a day. None of those who passed through Barros Arana were saved. I was going to kill Alsina with a pistol but I did it with a machine gun to make it go faster because he did not want to be blindfolded. I killed more than a hundred. At that time I was used to it because I had no problem. They asked not to be killed.”
Bañados assured that he received orders from Captain Caraves and that he always shot with a submachine gun. “There were three or four of us riflemen, I no longer remember their names, but I know that two have died, one by suicide and the other in a traffic accident. In any case, I think that a large part of the Regiment was aware of or participated in events such as these,” he added in his statement.”
Today a memorial plaque (LINK “placa puente bulnes.jpg”) on the Bulnes Bridge commemorates the place where the residents of Puente Alto, Father Joan Alsina (LINK “MP Juan Alsina KSV”) and the hospital workers met their deaths. The Memory Wall (LINK “MP muro memoria KSV”) over the bridge, created by photographers Claudio Pérez and Rodrigo Gómez, pays tribute to more than 900 detainees-disappeared, with their photographs printed on ceramic tiles.
Roberto Manríquez M. contributed to the preparation of this article.
 Luis González has not wanted to give interviews; he still suffers serious physical and psychological after-effects of what he experienced. The following account was reconstructed based on his statements and those of other witnesses in Case No. 188.723-MVE of the Tenth Criminal Court of Santiago and the interview with ArchivosChile of Ismael Rodriguez, brother of one of those shot, Luis Miguel Rodriguez Arancibia, to whom Gonzalez related the events.
 Judgment handed down by Visiting Minister Mario Carroza, in ROL 188.723-MVE for the executions of the Puente Alto residents, 23 March 2010.
 Later, Luis González was able to crawl and walk to a passageway. Some neighbors helped him and then he was picked up by an ambulance and taken to the post. He later woke up in the Barros Luco Hospital.
 Rubén Barría Igor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of Luis Rodríguez. In March 2010 he was sentenced to continue serving the same sentence for the death of three others shot along with Rodriguez. Barría is serving his sentence in Punta Peuco.
 See article series “Inside the IML” on this website here, here, and here.
 The residents of Nueva Matucana had come to hold title deeds in 1971, thanks to a law promoted by then parliamentarians Mireya Baltra and Gladys Marín. The Nueva Matucana population was eradicated in 2010.
 On September 12, 17-year-old student Miguel Cisterna Bocaz was murdered by soldiers stationed in the town. Five days later, 26-year-old Carlos Fonseca Faúndez was arrested and made to disappear. More recently, his remains were identified in Patio 29 of the General Cemetery.
 Although the SML records indicate that Acuña was removed from the morgue by a brother, Machuca by his cohabitant, Aguilar by his sister-in-law and Arriagada by his grandmother, the General Cemetery records indicate that all of them were buried in Patio 29 until 1981.
 They were Jorge Orrego González, Luis Gamboa Pizarro, Edmundo Montero Salazar, Carlos Cruz Zavala, William Ramírez Barría, José Carreño Calderón, Óscar Marambio Araya, Gonzalo Jorquera Leyton and José Luis Sáez San Martín.
 See article on this website “The black hole of the military prosecutors’ offices“.
 See article “Crossed identities and bodies without names at the Registro Civil”
 See series of articles “Inside the IML”.
 See article “Crossed identities and bodies without names at the Registro Civil”
 Judicial proceeding in the Third Criminal Court of Santiago by Judge Dobra Lusic on the homicide of the priest Juan Alsina, initiated in October 1991, Case No. 59.954-1. The statement was quoted in the book “Páginas en Blanco: El 11 de septiembre en La Moneda”, by authors Paz Rojas, Viviana Uribe, María Eugenia Rojas, Isabel Ropert, Víctor Espinoza and Iris Largo, Ediciones B, September 2001. Electronic edition published by Equipo Nizkor, Spain, 2003: http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/chile/libros/blanco/index.html.
 Army Captain Mario Caraves Silva and conscript Nelson Bañados were charged with the execution of Father Joan Alsina. Both are currently deceased.
- Investigation Overview: The Bureaucracy of Death – Executions in Chile 1973
- Inside the Instituto Médico Legal (I): Bodies at dawn
- Inside the Instituto Médico Legal (II): “Cursory autopsies”
- Inside the Instituto Médico Legal (III): From the morgue to the cemetery
- Political Executions: 150 new cases?
- Crossed identities and bodies without names at the Registro Civil
- The black hole of the military prosecutors’ offices
- Military Courts: Execute first, judge second
- Wartime Tribunals: Absolute authority
- The silence of the cemetery
- The strange case of the two Luis Curivils
- Victor Jara and Littré Quiroga
- Bodies floating in the Mapocho River
- Allende suicide: Forensic reports July 19, 2011