Few urban places in Chile are more attractive than the charming Paris-London neighborhood. It occupies about four city blocks just south of “La Alameda”
, the main thoroughfare of the Chilean capital. Most of the elegant mansions in the enchanting neighbourhood were built on the second decade of the 20th century with architectural styles reminiscent of the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter of Paris or of London's traditional boroughs. The tiny neighborhood has only two streets: Paris Street intersects London Street.
For centuries, the land where now is the Paris-London district was owned by the priests of the Franciscan Order. The friars cultivated acres of vegetables for use by the congregation and many flowers to decorate the altars of the old Church of San Francisco, the oldest religious building in Chile. Because of economic problems, the Franciscan priests were forced to sell the land which was acquired by prominent businessmen who wanted to recreate a corner of Europe in the historic section of downtown Santiago.
One of the residences in the Paris-London neighborhood, the one with the address “38 London Street” (“Calle Londres 38”
in Spanish), was until September 1973 the headquarters of one of the leftist political parties that supported the government of President Salvador Allende
. In the military coup of September 11, 1973, the Chilean Army took possession of the house and turned it into a detention and torture center
of opponents to the regime. This was the first of 1,132 clandestine detention centers during the military regime. The confinement site soon became a place of executions or the start of forced disappearance for those who endured the brutal interrogations.
The Report of the Valech Commission
(in Spanish), which investigated the human rights violations suffered by political prisoners, describes the torture procedures:
"They (the prisoners) were kept blindfolded, usually tied to a chair, they were stripped and received no food and only rarely were given something to drink. During interrogation, the prisoners were tortured with beatings, sometimes even causing fractures. (Among the torture techniques were) “Pau de Arara” (parrot's perch), waterboarding, application of electric shocks, hanging, burning with cigarettes, the Tucker telephone, Russian roulette, they were given drugs, they were exposed to nuisance noise at night, especially loud music for sleep deprivation. They were forced to listen and witness the torture of other detainees; they were subjected to harassment and rape, mock executions, threats and psychological manipulation."
38 London Street was operated by the Army’s National Intelligence Directorate
(DINA) from October 1973 until late 1974. It is estimated that over 2,000 arrested or abducted persons passed through this facility. Most of them, after being subjected to "the procedures", were subsequently transferred to other detention centers. 96 people were executed at 38 London St. and were “disappeared”, through hiding of their corpses, most of which were never found.
Among the 96 casualties, most of them younger than 30 years-old, there were 13 women, three of which were pregnant. Almost all had been arrested
for being student leaders, trade union organizers or members of social and political organizations. The prisoners who survived their detention referred to the sinister place as “El Palacio de la Risa
” ("The Palace of Laughter") or “La Casa de las Campanas
” ("The House of Bells"), referring to the sound of the bells of the neighbouring San Francisco Church. In late 1978, the army transferred the building of London 38 to the “O'Higgins Institute”, a patriotic organization linked to the Chilean Army. Trying to erase the dark history of the location, the Institute changed the address of the building from number 38 to 40.
In 2005, following a long struggle by social and human rights organizations, victims' relatives and survivors, the building was recovered, and it was designated as a National Monument
. Since 2008, the “London 38 Corporation”
manages the place aiming to establish 38 London St. as a center of remembrance, accessible to the public, to disseminate knowledge and understanding of what was the terrorism of state in Chile between 1973 and 1990. London 38 has become a forum for exchange of experiences, cultural creation, reflection and debate, and a memorial of those who lost their life because they thought differently.