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Chilean President Visits Place Where She Was Imprisoned, Tortured


Chile's President, Michelle Bachelet, has made an emotional visit to the former detention center were she was once tortured as a political prisoner under the regime of General Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s. Villa Grimaldi is now a memorial to those who were imprisoned there by the Chilean secret police.

The president looked visibly emotional as she made her way onto the grounds of Villa Grimaldi on the outskirts of Santiago.

Both she and her mother were held there in 1975, during Augusto Pincohet's dictatorship.

At the time, Bachelet was a 22-year-old medical student. Now the country's President, she and her mother went to the villa Saturday to open a new theater. She told the audience how it feels to have been through such an experience.

She said that people like me who survived this experience are the lucky ones. Thousands of Chileans, including my father didn't survive the pressure and the torture. It is them who we remember today.

While the president does not like to give details of her imprisonment, she wrote in an autobiography that she and her mother, Angela Jeria, were often blindfolded and physically mistreated while they were held at the prison.

After several weeks at Villa Grimaldi, Bachelet and her mother were freed and went into exile in Australia.

Many people in the audience had also been held in Villa Grimaldi, including Alexis Covocevich, who was a ten year old boy when he was picked up by the secret police.

"When I was a kid I was here with my mother which was a very tough situation. Because, one thing is to be my mother by herself, but with her son that makes it worse, the situation," Covocevich says. "There was a lot of torture there was a lot of dead here, and for me it is very special because it is the first time after 33 years that I come back to this place."

President Bachelet, has been widely praised for the spirit of reconciliation which she has brought to her government. Before becoming president, she served as minister for defense, a position that often brought her into close contact with the same authorities who had once mistreated her family.

However, despite talk of reconciliation, there are continued efforts to bring General Pinochet to justice. Last month, The Santiago Court of Appeals stripped him of the legal immunity he enjoyed as former president, clearing the way for his possible indictment in the mistreatment of some prisoners at Villa Grimaldi.

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