Chilean exile wins compensation over Pinochet-era torture

media captionLeopoldo Garcia: "When I go to shave, the first thing I see is Pinochet"

A Chilean exile tortured during the dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet has won a landmark legal battle for compensation from the Chilean state.

Leopoldo Garcia Lucero sought moral damages through the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Mr Garcia, a UK resident, claimed that the Chilean state was responsible for forcing him into exile in 1975.

It is the first time the court has ruled on a living survivor of human rights abuses from the Pinochet era.

Lawyers say it could have implications for the the many other Chileans who fled Gen Pinochet's rule.

'Not happy, but satisfied'

Mr Garcia, now 80, was a Socialist who was arrested for his political beliefs in September 1973, five days after the coup that brought Gen Pinochet to power.

He was detained for over a year and a half and tortured, leaving him permanently disabled due to spinal damage.

He has a scar on his forehead from being hit with a rifle butt, is missing his front teeth, suffers daily pain, requires a hearing aid and says he narrowly escaped being brain damaged.

He told the BBC the ruling left him "not happy, but satisfied because it will now mean there's been a precedent for the whole world, so something like this will never happen again.

"It's taken 40 years and only now a little justice is being done. The compensation isn't much considering what they did to me - I could be dead."

Mr Garcia said his torturers had no accusation against him, but probably picked him up because he had spent time with Socialist President Salvador Allende, who died during the coup against him.

He was held at the notorious Chacabuco concentration camp in the Atacama desert after his torture.

In 1975, he was expelled from Chile by ministerial decree, and has lived in Britain ever since.

image captionBefore his arrest, Mr Garcia was a bon viveur who worked at the race track

Mr Garcia argued that the Chilean state was responsible for forcing him into exile and therefore it should compensate him.

He said his Chilean pension - arising from the fact he lost his job during the dictatorship - was insufficient to cover his needs in exile, and that he and his family have been unable to benefit from the health and education benefits that are available to torture victims who live in Chile.

In a Spanish-language news release concerning the ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said it had found that here had been an excessive delay of over 16 years by the Chilean state in investigating Mr Garcia's case, which had violated his rights.

It ordered Chile to complete its investigation in reasonable time and pay compensation for moral damages.

This is the first time that the court has ruled in the case of a living survivor of human rights abuses from the Pinochet era, says the BBC's Gideon Long in Santiago.

Lawyers say it could have implications for the estimated 200,000 Chileans who fled General Pinochet's rule.

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