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PART III. My life as Pinochet’s prisoner in Quiriquina Island

Marcello Ferrada de Noli as Pinochet prisoner 1973

In the photo above from the newspaper “El Diario Color”, the captions read: “Marcello Ferrada. Ex-Profesor de Filosofía  de la Universidad de Concepción, with a military hair-cut and very thoughtful. He did not approach to the journalists. At his side, other individuals detained in the Island”.

At the time of General Augusto Pinochet’s Coup D’état I was mobilized in the organization-unit belonging to the GPM (Grupo político-militar) of the Comité Regional Concepción of the MIR.  The actions were already set for each GPM and its units in the Plan Militar de Emergencia (PME) which prevailed in MIR in anticipation of the Coup D’état. This plan was not in the main followed by MIR in Concepción. Partly due to the Nr 2 ordinance  (comunicado nr 2) distributed by the Comite Regional the 12 of September in which we were asked to “wait and see”.  I received this communicate in hand through personal courier, in a rendezvous sat in Maipú and Aníbal Pinto street, close to Galería Rialto, where the Communication and Telephone Central of MIR in Concepción had its clandestine quarters in the second floor (“La Central”). This was also a centralized unit ad hoc the Regional Secretariat of MIR. The unit’s task was also the decoding of the encrypted messages coming  from MIR command in Santiago (“La Comisión Política”, led av Miguel Enríquez). The communiqué was given to me by one ot the three militant-girls ascribed to La Central ( “H”, I have her name), and she said were instructions of the Secretario Regional of MIR in Concepción.

Sharing my first safe house  – already from early morning of  September 11 –  with Marco Antonio Enríquez (elder brother of the leader of MIR) in Avda Roosevelt  near the University campus, we questioned the authenticity of such comunicado nr 2 apparently contradicting what we knew of Miguel’s activities in Santiago. Thus,  in trying to adjust to the Plan, I changed again to a safe house located ad hoc a Pharmacy in Barros Arana Street –  in the vicinity of a building of the Carabineers  – to monitor troop movements. We choosed safe-houses only located in central Concepción or around military compounds, in order to deal with the curfew-situation, which otherwise limited our night operations (situation – regretfully – not contemplated in the PME). The first house, rather big,  was owned by a family of Allendes’s sympathizers which also run there a Pharmacy. We initiated nocturnal actions in central Concepción the first night after September 11. However, since in the house were also hidden various non-combatants Allende sympathizers, ultimately we were asked by its owners to leave the premises, in fear of a searching if we would be followed or captured.

If I remember well, these actions were reported by the newspaper “El Sur” the 13 or 14 September, with a picture of fire-giving from the roofs in central Concepción.


I was later captured while transported under curfew by my father (a former officer) obliged to leave suddenly my fourth  safe house and with no contacts left in the organization. The head of the Comisión de organización (my unit) was captured in Las Higueras and taken to Quiriquina Island were I later met him heavily tortured.  He never talked and saved thus several lives (he is now a doctor exiled in Holland). La Central at Galleria Rialto had been closed down by MIR’s initiative.

My father did not know anything beyond that I was “on the run” and  in need of help for transport that night. Having my father right-wing political sympathies,  I did not carry anything that could compromise. The vehicle was intercepted by an Army patrol in Las Heras street. At the spot identified only as a Professor of the University of Concepción (closed down by the military the very day of the coup) and not as militant of MIR, I was taken to the Football Stadium in Concepción. However – as courtesy to the family this transport under the custody of Artillery officers under my brother’s command (at the time a captain in the Artillery Regiment, and whom my father contacted immediately). It was not the last time he would save my life.

The Stadium in Concepción was a first detention portal of unprocessed detainees. DINA did not exist at that time yet, and the Intelligence and repression activities at the Stadium coexisted with the ordinary logistic and security “taking care” of the prisoners. The Intelligence activities carried our in the beginning by an hybrid ad hoc pluton integrated by officers and petty-officers of the Army, Carabiners, Political Civil Police (Servicio de Investigaciones, and the repressive part performed by brutal ordinary staff and officers of the “Gendarmería” (ordinary prison or jail-guards formations). The logistic and security tasks were in charge of a company from the Army.

Here at the Stadium of Concepción the detainees were sorted according to political hierarchy and participation character (political or insurgents). Most of the categorised as political cadres, militants or profiles and leaders of the Unidad Popular (Allende’s political coalition) and MIR,  were taken from the Stadium in Concepción, airborne, to a camp in Northern Chacabuco.

On the other hand, political leaders with suspected responsibility in former “subversive” preparedness (the so-called “Plan Z”, an euphemistic denomination found by the Military Junta to refer potential subversive capability), or cadres suspected of participation in resistance activities, were either shot or taken for further interrogation to Fuerte Borgoño (Marines) and eventually to the prisoners camp in Quriquina Island. In these two compounds were also executed several prisoners. Eventually, later in 1974, some few prisoners in Quiriquina Island which after re-evaluation met the “Chacabuco”  criteria (se above), were again gathered at the Stadium in Concepción and together with other prisoners (59 in total) sent in an Air Force Hercules to the Chacabuco Camp.

For my part I was identified by Intelligence officers at the Stadium as militant of MIR, and suspected of resistance participation. First I was in the line to be shot  – at the orders of Teniente de Gendarmería Vallejos – together with two other prisoners, the former Director of Socoagro in Chillán and a young adolescent detained when carrying dynamite he had taken from the Cantera he worked at.  We were saved from under the Stadium’s Southern arc at last minute by the intervention of Capitan Sánchez, the commander of the Military company at the Stadium (more of this dramatic episode in the biographic report “The red, the black, and the white” ).

From there I was taken  together with a number of other detainees to the Navy Base in Talcahuano, where a  concentration of detainees from elsewhere in the military region took place. Here were selected after further investigation those detainees who would fell in the military jargon under the category “prisoners”, meaning that they would be held in captivity at the infamous Quiriquina Island Camp. But some perished unter torture or were assassinated.

Prisoner in Quiriquina Island

I arrived at Quiriquina Camp with eleven other prisoners. Two of them had come as detainees from the cool-mine city of Lota and were shot at the Quiriquina Camp short after we had arrived. One was of the name Carrillo, a trade union leader in the mining zone and heroes of the resistance against Pinochet.

When I entered the main gate in the “Gymnasium” – where at the time all the about 800 prisoners were kept together in one local – my comrades in MIR were surprised, to say the least. The reason was that I have been reported dead in the Concepción actions. One of the prisoners which received me, a young student of name Quiero, even said to me that in Coronel (a mining city in the Region) they have set a hit-unit called my name, as honours to the dead in action!

Also Miguel Enríquez got the report of these actions and my presumptive death. This was told to me in Malmö in 1976, by the compañera of Alvaro Rodas (an old-timer from the VRM period, and if I remember well, member of the first Central Committee of MIR). According to what she told me in occasion of a MIR-meeting (cells of MIR for the “trabajo de apoyo exterior”) we had in their appartmen in Malmö, she heard herself  from Miguel that, literally “calló Ferradita” (Miguel used to call me Ferradita) and that he was affected by it.

The above situation – that I was believed by many comrades killed by the military in Concepción – had important, and even determinant, positive consequences for my survival at the Camp and at the interrogations under torture.

For those not acquainted with clandestine operations under severe violent militar repression, it will be perhaps difficult to understand what follows.  The fact is that before I came to the Quiriquina Camp, various of my comrades – interrogated under torture –  blamed me for the personal responsibility or executor of  the particular operations or activity these comrades were suspected to have had in MIR. The “blame the dead” was a necessary tactic of survival that spontaneously grew in such torture centers.

[Photo below, the wired fences around and above the ominous empty cemented hole in the ground, a monstrous pool, that served as collective detention site].

wired prisoners camp Quriquina IslandThe above in turn served me as a miraculous survival tool under torture. For when the agents asked me about all kind of items including the items which were truly my responsibility, I invariable responded that “naturally” nothing of that was – altogether – true, for the source of those reports on my doings was most certain the practice of  “blame the death”, and that I had left my active contacts with MIR (I could not deny that I was a founder of MIR, but “that was historic”) for long time ago when I became Professor at the University of Concepción. All wich the interrogators finally accepted after several weeks.

In conjunction with above, it is important to understand the nature of these interrogation processes at the Quiriquina Island.

a) The interrogations were NOT carried out in the first place by the personal in charge of the prisoners or the Navy personnel at the Island. Instead the interrogators were Intelligence personal from the Carabiners, the Army, and the Navy, which travelled episodical and constantly to the Island to exercise their sinister task. Also, they belonged at that time to their respective Intelligence departments. Situation changed after that time with the creation of DINA, Pinochet’s Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia.

b) These individuals rotated constantly.   At least under my time at the Quiriquina Island (one), at the Detention centre at the Naval Base in Talcahuano (twice), and at the Regional Football Stadium in Concepción (twice). At Quiriquina Island the arriving interrogators some times  were only Carabineers, or only Army, and some times a mixture from all services.

c) 1973-1974 it was a time of no computerised information, no data files reachable with a click. Instead the information was gathered in notes taken by the interrogators themselves under a situation in which they were at the very same time the torture-agents themselves.

What I mean –  in the context of my experiences at the Quiriquina – is that this constant rotation meant that many of the items asked to me in those interrogations were based only in note-reports taken from other agents in different occasions and before I got in the Island. All which made less difficult for me to play the convincing survival plot described before, added that the agents interrogating me were not those with the relevant hard data.

Four decades. Graphic by Armando Popa, 2009. Basedon Portrait of political prisoner Armando Popa (Ferrada-Noli 1973)

But that was of course not the ultimate reason of my survival, of why my true role in MIR at the time of the Coup and in the actions afterwards was never known by my captors at the Quiriquina Island. The reason, as I see it, is because those who actually knew of my activities, such as the head of the Organization Detail of the GPM Regional Committee of MIR in Concepción I truly belonged to, and not only the front political unit at the University of Concepción. This friend is  Renato Valdés, a doctor living now in Holland. He never revealed anything, never talked at the interrogations even under heavy and prolonged torture.

It was everything so dramatic. Every time one of our comrades was called by complete name in the loudspeakers and asked to report himself at the gate of the huge collective cell (the gymnasium) to be taken by the marine-guards to the interrogation/torture sites. Another time, any time, it would the turn again of any of us who were left for the time being in the uncertain waiting list.

It was on those circumstances which I remember most vividly Renato Valdés, which is a situation I am sure characterizes the situation of any of  the prisoners of MIR at the Quiriquina Island. Coming back from interrogation after hours of us waiting anxious for his eventual return. And the dramatic mixture of feelings while two or three comrades sat around him on the floor of the gymnasium:

Disappointment, because in the best of cases he could have set free. Relief, by the fact he was still by us, and otherwise he could have resulted much worst, including the risk of perishing under torture. Sadness, because of the horrible shape – physical and psychological – that those interrogations inflicted in all of us. And finally,  the satisfaction and proud that he survived the interrogation without saying anything that could compromise us.

MIR resists in Concepción

The resistence of MIR in Concepción, as in the rest of the country, has not been sufficiently described. Several reasons explain this, which I refer in my text That morning of September 11 1973.

However, one clear demonstration of this active armed resistence in Concepción is given by this photo in the front page of a main Santiago newspaper,  La Tercera (6 October 1973). In the footnote it  is explained that the “extremists”  shown in the picture are prisoners in the Quiriquina Camp  “for have attacked the Military forces with firearms”. The rest are, according to the footext, political top leaders of the former Unidad Popular (the political coalition in suport of Allende, in which MIR did not participate). In fact, the only such political leader of the Unidad Popular shown in the actual picture is Fernando Alvarez (center of the picture, drak coat and light hat. He died under torture at the camp just few days after the picture was taken).

Here below is La Tercera’s front page picture of the “extremists” which attacked the military with fireweapons, according to the text (click to enlarge).  I am depicted in the photo by the arrow from the right.

Other focus of resistance of MIR in Concepción were known to exist in the perifery of the City (Cordones Insdustriales). This was also, as in the case of Central Concepción, more an “automatic response” from the part of GPM units or militants following  the “Plan Militar de Emergencia”.

A glimpse at the Prisoners Camp

The picture below (Diario El Sur) show the door to the main collective cell in the Quiriquina Camp. All the photos here were taken by Concepción journalists accompanying a Swiss delegation of the International Red Cross under the one and only visit ever permited to the Camp in 1974.

Here are other pictures of the Quiriquina Camp published October 1973 by newspapers in Concepción. The first one in  “Diario Color”. The second one in “El Sur”. The remaining one also in “Diario Color”. In the picture first below I am depicted by the red arrow, to the left.

At the Quiriquina Camp, when not under interrogation or in isolating cell, the treatment was of collective forced labour. We were organized by the Navy Camp authority in “companies”, e.g. Company A (or Company “Ancla”), Company B (“Bote) etc. The main activity of the companies was to do heavy work of construction, or restoring, of a very old stone Fort, the Fuerte Rondizonni. It was going to serve as the new prison for our selves.  We were constructing our own prison! In the few hours of rest I spend much time in painting, or drawing, as the resources would allow. I did mainly portrait of my fellow prisoners, but also of guards and of the Camp. These I gave to the Red Cross officials visiting the Camp. I conserve thus a few pieces. One is the portrait of a younger colleague, Armando – Mandy – Popa (see below). He was at the time medical student at the University of Concepción. Both Armando and his brother Ricardo, also a friend of mine, exiled thereafter in Sweden working as doctors. Armando lives now in Singapore.


general Agustin Toro

“Captain Ferrada: Agreeing with your petition, your brother may be authorized to leave for Mexico. Be careful with what he will be talking over there” – Signed: General Agustin Toro.

I was set free from the Quiriquina Island in January 2014. I was first transported to final interrogation at the Naval Base in Talcahuano, and then in custody to Concepción for house arrest at my father’s residence situated in Colo-Colo street crossing San Martin street. That is in Concepción’s central area, and just beside the buildings where we offered resistance on the first two nights of the coup.

In this context, I have to add that in my family there were several members associated with the military elites.  Besides my father, my brother Maurizio become Colonel in the Chilean Army, and my other brother, Riccardo, a judge under the Pinochet era. Furthermore, my closest uncles (married with my mother’s sisters) were also high commanders at the military. My uncle Patrizio Zuiñiga was a general and professor in the Military Academy. His house in Las Condes was used by his colleague and friend General Augusto Pinochet as a “safe house”. My other uncle was Colonel in the Telecommunications branch of the army. A cousin was officer in the Navy, and his daughter’s husband also an officer in the Navy.

Another significant event, is that General Agustín Toro, the commander in charge of Chile’s III Military Division (where  the military garrisons in Concepción and the Talcahuano Naval force were allocated) had an old-time friendship with my brother Maurizio. This association comes from the times my brother, then a lieutenant,  was his adjutant at the Artillery Regiment “Tacna” in Arica –where then Colonel Toro was the Regiment’s commander . In fact, at the wedding of my brother in Arica, Summer 1971, I was invited and there I met Colonel Toro and family.

In 1972 I was in Mexico as invited professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, in Monterrey. Meanwhile President Allende had sent Augustín Toro, now promoted to general, as military attache to the Chilean Embassy in Mexico. In Mexico I published a book –”Teoría y Método de la Concientización“– which reached certain spread at the time. Two editions were published within six months. I assume that General Toro was aware of my publication, and of my academic work in Mexico –while he was there.

So, after the military coup, Pinochet called General Toro back to Chile, and made him commander of the II Division with seat in Concepción. Coincidentally, my brother was at the time captain at the Cavalry-Artillery Regiment “Silva Renard”, also in Concepción.

When the news reached Mexico about my detention in Quiriquina Island, university colleagues mobilized to get me free. Among the steps they took was to send an open invitation for me to work at the University on Mexico. They also contacted General Toro, trying to recall on him  memories if his pleasant staying in Mexico as military attaché in the Chilean diplomatic mission.

I couldn’t know, I never will, what is what. I was deep imprisoned in the Quiriquina hole.  But in a sunny early summer day I was called to present myself with all my tings to the prison’s gate. When you hear that call in the loudspeakers you know what it means, that you are going to be taken to execution, or “at best”, transferred to another interrogation/torture center.

But I was transported first at the naval Base in Talcahuano, and the day after back to Concepción. I was under arrest, with military cistody on the door. At that time I knew of General Toro’s decision to set me free on condition I would change prison for a penalty  known in Chile as “extrañamiento” (eviction from the countries’ borders) .  So he “authorized” I could be let travel to México –but with military escort to the airport. He was not going to take any chances.

I was waiting for that transport escort, but when they arrived, they took me instead back to the Regional Stadium in Collao Avenue of Concepción.  And it was then when the really drama began. This passage about the returning to the Stadium prison has been described in “The Red , the Black and the White” of 2004. It is also in my upcoming book “Rebeldes con Causa”.

Let me here only summarize, that after being rescued my brother Maurizio with help of Captain Sánchez, commanding a platoon from the Artillery Regiment with irrupted in the Stadium, I was transported to Santiago and from there to México. Bout I escaped in the first stopover of the flight, in Lima. From there I traveled after a few days to Rome.

In charge of MIR’s affairs in Peru at that time was the lawyer Juan Saavedra (Patula). he contacted MIR leadership (El Comité Exterior) newly formed in Havana, with help of the Cuban Embassy in Lima. Two days after I was flying to Rome, to tell at the Russel Tribunal what was really going on in Pinochet’s prisons in Chile.

“Be aware of what he will talk over there, warned General Toro”.  if they wish to know, my testimony is archived at the Lelio Basso Foundation (the organizer of the said Russel Tribunal of 1974), at Via della Dogana Vecchia , in Rome.



After very many years Armando Popa visited me at my country house in Sweden, summer 2009. I gave the portrait to him. For which we waited 36 years!

Go to antifascist resistance II: Filing against Pinochet

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