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Government Pledges to Close Torture Chambers, Prosecute Police

February 16, 1989

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) _ The interior minister of the new government pledged to eliminate torture chambers and prosecute police accused of human rights abuses, a newspaper said Thursday.

In an interview with the newspaper El Diario Noticias, Gen. Orlando Machuca Vargas was quoted as saying his ministry would crack down on human rights violations by police.

″We are going to eliminate torture chambers in police stations since they do nothing for the image of the country and are degrading to the human condition,″ he was quoted as saying.

The interior minister declined to give details of the ″torture chambers″ but said they will be shut down probably ″within a month.″

Deposed President Gen. Alfredo Stroessner was accused by Paraguay’s Roman Catholic Church and human rights organizations of using torture to repress political opposition, particularly during the turbulent years after his 1954 coup.

After he consolidated power, Stroessner eased up on the most blatant human rights violations, replacing murder and torture with harassment, detentions and expulsions.

Stroessner was deposed Feb. 3 in a coup by Gen. Andres Rodriguez, who named himself provisional president, appointed a new Cabinet, and accepted the ruling Colorado Party’s endorsement for president in elections set for May 1.

Machuca Vargas said members of the investigative police agency, which long has been accused of torturing political and criminal prisoners, will be prosecuted if formal complaints are lodged, he said.

″We will investigate all the irregularities committed by employees of this ministry,″ he said. ″We’re not going to cover up for anybody. ... Our mission is to clean up the image of the Interior Ministry as being a repressive organ of the government.″

The Interior Ministry oversees police and political events, including elections, in this South American country.

In a separate development, a judge ordered the release of a Chilean convicted of being an accomplice in the September 1980 assassination of exiled Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza.

Rafael Mella Latorre was arrested in October 1980, 47 days after Somoza’s car was blasted by bazooka and machine-gun fire in a residential neighborhood of this capital city.

″I’m emphatic in saying I had no participation in that. I was a scapegoat of authorities in charge of the custody of Somoza,″ Mella Latorre told reporters after hearing he would be released.

″The investigative police tortured me for almost seven months. They even tortured my pregnant wife in my presence, causing a miscarriage,″ he said.

Mella Latorre was scheduled to be released in 1986 after his conviction to six years in prison, but prison officials accused him of participating in a prison riot that January. Judge Tito Medina decreed his release after a witness testified Mella Latorre was not involved.

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