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Chile proposes turning torture house into museum

SANTIAGO, Chile — An innocuous two-story house on a cobblestone street in downtown Santiago has become a symbol of human-rights activists' fight for Chile's history.

Known by its former street address, Londres 38, the house was the headquarters of Chile's Socialist Party until Sept. 11, 1973, when Augusto Pinochet ousted Socialist President Salvador Allende and Pinochet's forces took over the building.

Nearly 100 dissidents, many of them young members of the Revolutionary Left Movement political party, died after they were taken to the house and tortured during interrogations.

Many were electrocuted while they were tied to a metal bed frame in a practice called "the barbecue." Others were suspended by their arms and knees from a pole.

While they were waiting to be tortured or murdered, as many as four people were blindfolded and jammed into a 10-square-foot space in the basement, where they'd be forced to relieve themselves and to sleep on the floor.

"Of the average Chilean, very few knew about this, that this was a torture house," activist Francisco Verdugo said. "This was all going on while the neighbors were living their normal lives."

The torture stopped in September 1974, and the house was handed over to a private military club that used it as its headquarters. The regime changed the house's address to throw off anyone who was trying to find the old torture center.

Chile's government purchased the house from the military club last year and invited debate over how to turn it into a memorial.

Officials have proposed transforming half the house into a museum about the building's history and using the other half as the offices of a human rights center. Activists, including some who survived torture there, have called for turning the entire house into a memorial to the victims.

"It's a place where horrible things happened," said Nelly Andrade, who was held and tortured there for a week in 1974. "If we use it for other things, people won't really know what happened. We'll lose that history."

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