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Martin Gamba, victim of a Revolution

Dr. Salvador Allende In 1970, Martin Gamba was a managing cook. He worked for the government of Chile as a mid-level employee. He had a good life with his wife, two sons and a daughter. He went to work every day at the government center and was responsible for a variety of cafĂ©’s for workers. That year, a Marxist leadership under Dr. Salvador Allende came to powerbecause of a perceived failure of the current political party.

During Allende’s rule, Martin had risen in the government ranks. He now ran the programs that fed the children in school and the patients in government run hospitals. One day after Pinochet’s coup soldiers came in and arrested him at work. He was just one of hundreds round up that day. Their crime, working for the previous government.

Pinochet had started his terror. The “disappeared”, as history would call them, would suffer all kinds of torture and interrogation in secret prisons.

Martin was taken to a large vessel anchored just off shore and thrown into the hold with scores of other people. Lawyers, doctors, schoolteachers and others were thrown into this ship.

Daily he was taken to an interrogation room in the bowels of the ship where they used electric prods, high-voltage electric charges, applied to his privates, hanging by his feet and dumping in a bucket of water or excrement. TV shows today frequently show this kind of torture but for Martin this was reality. He was whipped and scared so bad he could hardly stand up straight. He continually prayed for strength to sustain him.

Women had it worse; they were taken out, beaten and tortured, returning bruised and vomiting blood. They shot electric current inside them. They took them out to amuse them and to abuse them sexually. They were raped on a massive scale.

Pinochet was sure the government workers knew secrets that could help his rule and was determined to get them, whatever the cost. These people had no secrets to reveal.

Every day Martin would hear the screams of his fellow prisoners and the sounds of gunfire up on the deck. He said they lived in constant fear for their lives and always in abject terror. He would go for days with no sleep and when he did he got a black boot in his kidneys. There were both men and women on this ship kept together, not separated, always naked.

Every day for two weeks Martin endured Pinochet’s terror. Along with the physical cruelty the soldiers would taunt him with their plans of raping his wife and his daughter and killing his sons. Every day he feared was his last. He constantly worried about his family. He wanted to escape and take them away. But this could never happen.

One day his name was called and the soldiers came and dragged him up to the deck. His first sight was that of ten soldiers with rifles. They blindfolded him and tied him to a railing. He was told after he was gone they would take his family. He heard the command to fire and was surprised when he wasn’t shot.

The blindfold was taken off and Martin was pushed down a gangplank to a waiting boat. The soldiers would fire their rifles into the air to make the prisoners below decks think that they are being killed. No, they weren’t done with Martin yet.

Once on shore he was thrown into a truck with other prisoners and driven deep into the country. Their final destination was a prison camp.

Once inside he was thrown into a barracks with scores of other ex-government workers. Food was sparse and they had nothing to do. Martin and the others were just warehoused. He quickly learned the only food was that which was brought in by their families. Martin’s family was contacted and his wife was allowed to visit him every day and she would bring him food and clothes. She now had to support the family and pay to keep Martin in prison. He had committed no crime.

Because his family was paying off the soldiers he received better treatment.

There were many types of people imprisoned at this camp. All had been mid to high-level government workers and they would keep each other company. Since they were all there for a common cause they worked together to try to better their situation and keep their minds active. The doctors who were also prisoners tried to keep everyone healthy.

Sickness ran through the camp. Martin said the camp doctors would take the other doctors and throw them in solitary confinement if they saw them helping others. Almost like they wanted them to get sick.

For three years he sat in this prison camp. Amnesty International became involved in what was called gross human rights violations and because of their efforts he was released along with some others. Over 1000 people had been disappeared. Martin felt extremely lucky. He got out.

Pinochet ruled for 17 years and then turned over the presidency to Patricio Azocar. He was given political refugee status in the United States. The others who had been imprisoned, like Martin, came to the US and he eventually settled down in Washington State.

Today, he works as a corrections counselor for the Department of Corrections. His body still has the scars of his beatings and he is still close to those who were in prison with him. He does however, have disdain for the men in prison today in America. To him, they constantly whine and complain that prison is so hard. No inmate knows of his past.

Martin thinks the only reason he survived is the unity and bond between all the prisoners. They all had a purpose. He believes inmates today just care about whatever they can manipulate from others and believes their down fall is lack of unity.

He wishes he knew the name of the ship he was on but he knew it was a fishing vessel. Others taken were on a ship called the “Esmeralda”. It is now a naval training vessel, a four masted ship which makes yearly training voyages visiting ports around the world acting as a “roving” embassy for Chile.

Like all of his compatriots living here, he too shares in their disgust of having a former torture site paraded around the world instead of burned to the ground. The ship comes to port and the memories return like he is still there.