Zita Cabello is a Chilean filmmaker, activist, and professor. Her brother Winston Cabell was a regional planning director with the Allende government. Following the coup in September 1973 led by General Pinochet, he and Zita’s husband, Patricio Barrueto, were arrested and held in a prison in the northern town of Copiapó. On October 17, 1973, in the early morning hours, a Chilean military death squad known as the “Caravan of Death” murdered Winston and twelve other prisoners who had been incarcerated by the Chilean Army. Following Winston’s murder, Zita and her family were eventually able to secure Patricio’s release in early 1974. Zita and Patricio immediately fled to the United States where they obtained asylum and, eventually, U.S. citizenship.
Zita has spent decades conducting interviews and gathering evidence to confirm the facts of her brother’s brutal death as well as others who were murdered or disappeared by the Pinochet regime. Read more about Zita’s efforts to achieve justice for Winston’s murder in her 2014 memoir.
While honoring the 25th anniversary of Winston’s death on October 17, 1998, Zita learned that former General Pinochet had been arrested in London on the very same day. To provide evidence to support his prosecution, she gave a deposition in San Francisco, armed with notes that reflected her years of research into Chile’s human rights abuses.
During the process, Center for Justice & Accountability informed her that if any of the Chilean officers directly involved in her brother’s murder were living in the United States, she might be able to file a lawsuit against them. An investigation revealed that one such officer, Major Armando Fernández Larios, was living in South Florida.
Fernández Larios, in addition to being a former member of the “Caravan of Death,” was also a former agent of Chile’s notorious secret police (DINA) during the Pinochet years. Fernández Larios entered the United States in 1987 pursuant to a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in which he confessed to aiding the perpetrators of the 1976 Washington, D.C. car-bomb assassination of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt. It was arguably the most notorious terrorist act committed on U.S. soil before September 11, 2001.
In February 1999, Zita filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Miami against Fernández Larios, alleging that he directly carried out, or participated in bringing about, Winston’s murder. The trial against Fernández Larios ended in victory on October 15, 2003. A Miami jury found Fernández Larios, in his role as a member of the “Caravan of Death,” liable for torture, crimes against humanity, and extrajudicial killing. The trial marks the first time any Pinochet operative has been tried in the United States for their role in human rights abuses committed in Chile, as well as the first jury verdict for crimes against humanity in the United States.
In addition to bringing the case against Fernández Larios, Zita has been active in examining the wider effects of torture and disappearances on the social fabric of Chile. From 1995-1998, Zita traveled to Chile on numerous occasions to interview survivors of Pinochet’s policy of terror. These encounters became the basis for “Never Again Shall We Say Never Again,” a film documentary Zita produced in 1998. The film focuses not on acts of torture and terror, but rather encourages reflection on our role as individuals in the construction of the world we live in. Ultimately, crimes against humanity are committed by individuals, and it is the individual’s role in mass violence with which Zita is most concerned.
As Zita stated in a speech delivered at the University of Chile on the anniversary of her brother’s death, “Winston’s capacity to act with conscience in the face of the horror of his own death should serve as an example for all of humanity. Winston taught us that even against the most repressive moments of our lives, human beings do not lose their power to make decisions based upon ethical and moral principles.” She said that she wanted “to honor the men and women who have had the moral courage to challenge the inevitability of injustice; to all of those who have come to the realization that peace based on accommodation rather than on accountability necessarily leads to the repetition of past tragedies; to those who have chosen to work in favor of human dignity, peace, solidarity and justice.”
Zita has a Masters Degree in Economics from the University of Chile, and a Masters Degree in Public Health and a Doctorate in Developmental Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1989, she became a professor of Latin American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives with her family in Foster City, California.
Winston Cabello received a graduate degree in economics from the University of Chile in approximately 1968. Prior to the coup d’état on September 11, 1973, Winston worked in Copiapó as an economist appointed by the Allende government to serve as the Director of the Regional Planning Office for the Atacama-Coquimbo region in northern Chile.
On September 11, 1973, Chile’s armed forces staged a coup d’état that ousted the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende. Following the coup, four military commanders, including General Augusto Pinochet as Commander-in-Chief and President, seized control and ruled Chile as a military junta. Military authorities throughout Chile, including the defendant and his superior officers, immediately launched a systematic assault on those perceived to be potential opponents of the new regime, including former cabinet officers, government appointees, elected officials, physicians, university professors, and industry officials.
On September 12, 1973, the day after the coup, Winston was arrested and incarcerated in the Copiapó jail. Some time within the first two weeks after he was detained, Winston was transferred from the local jail to the Copiapó military garrison.
Winston was tortured and murdered on October 16-17, 1973. He was one of thirteen civilian prisoners killed in Copiapó five weeks after Pinochet overthrew Allende. Copiapó was one of a number of cities victimized by the “Caravan of Death,” a select group of Pinochet’s operatives responsible for the murder of at least 72 civilian prisoners of the junta.