[This is No.3 in a series of blog posts on Paul Johnson’s statement on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs that he admired Chilean mass-murderer General August Pinochet because he ‘prevented civil war’. You may read the others here: No.5, No.4, No.2, No.1.]
Further to my blog post about the BBC’s response to my letter of complaint after hearing Paul Johnson speak unchallenged on Desert Island Discs about the merits, as he saw them, of mass-murderer Augusto Pinochet, a Swedish friend of Chilean parentage directed me to this article, about a friend of her family’s, and this film.
Carolina Hultgren was rescued by Swedish diplomat Harald Edelstam (‘the Black Pimpernel’), after being tortured to the brink of death by the Pinochet regime. I have translated the article into English, and you can read it below.
School to train torturers
Note that Pinochet was torturing so many people that he required a school to train the torturers, but Paul Johnson believes that such an onslaught against Chilean citizens does not constitute civil war, and the BBC allowed him to state, unchallenged, that he admired Pinochet because ‘he prevented civil war’. I find this abhorrent in several ways, but surely it also amounts to inaccurate and unbalanced broadcasting? I shall be writing again to the BBC, making this point.
BLACK PIMPERNEL SAVED MY LIFE
Gothenburg. Carolina Hultgren can thank Harald Edelstam for her life.
He smuggled her, in a state of collapse due to torture, straight through Pinochet’s roadblocks to his embassy.
‘I lay completely silent in the boot,’ she says.
Yesterday saw the Swedish premiere of Ulf Hultberg and Pia Faringe’s film about the Swedish diplomat Harald Edelstam, who rescued thousands of Chileans.
‘I didn’t sleep well last night,’ says Carolina Hultgren, ‘I saw the film for the first time yesterday.’ In a way the ‘Black Pimpernel’ is her story. As an activist in Allende’s women’s movement (then with a Chilean surname) she was already living dangerously before Pinochet’s military coup.
Led women’s movement
Carolina Hultgren was one of the leaders in Allende’s women’s movement and was high on the wanted list. ‘In the end I wasn’t living at home, but mum told me to move to my sister’s.’ But she was arrested in her sister’s home on 24 September 1973 and transferred a day later to the National Stadium. The torture began on the very first day: threats, taunts, assault, rape, electrical torture, mock executions and other abuse.
‘I said to the soldiers several times that you can kill me but never silence me,’ she says. ‘You can never kill the ideas I stand for.’
After she revealed the existence of torture in the concentration camp which the National Stadium had become, the abuse intensified. From the Stadium she was transferred to an ordinary prison. Torture continued, partly in the prison but also somewhere else.
‘We transferred to an institution where torturers were trained,’ she says. ‘There we were subjected to both physical and mental torture.’
Ultimately she was in such a terrible state from the constant torture and abuse, and especially from loss of blood, that she was on the verge of death.
‘It wouldn’t have looked good for the Pinochet regime if a prisoner had died in prison,’ she says, ‘so I was moved to hospital.’
Weighing only 38kg, she was carried on a stretcher.
By chance, as she was in the hospital entrance, she met Swedish diplomat Harald Edelstam on his way out.
‘Don’t go into the hospital,’ he said with emphasis.
Using his diplomat’s pass, he took responsibility for the patient, and instructed some of his colleagues to hide Carolina. He gave them his business card, and that evening they called him.
He came alone in his car and collected the extremely weak Carolina. Harald Edelstam put her in the boot. They drove through Santiago’s empty streets – there was a state of emergency and a curfew – and came to a roadblock.
‘I lay silent,’ said Carolina. ‘I heard that soldiers wanted to open the boot and search the car. I heard him slapping his pass and saying in Spanish that the car was Swedish territory and that they should get out of the way.’
A few minutes later Carolina found herself safe in the Swedish embassy. Six months later she touched down at Arlanda airport, Stockholm.
Works as a teacher
Now, 34 years later, Carolina Hultgren lives in Gothenburg.
She works as a teacher, runs a travel agency and works politically, dealing with issues relating to Chile, Latin America, women, integration, justice and solidarity.
‘I have dealt with the mental torture,’ she says. ‘I have problems relating to the injuries I sustained from the physical torture, and have to undergo surgery again soon. But mentally, I am fine. The ideas I stand for can never die.’