Chile has launched the first-ever government project to determine the fate of more than a thousand people who disappeared during the rule of Augusto Pinochet, who grabbed power in a coup 50 years ago.
"Justice has taken too long," President Gabriel Boric said on Wednesday as he announced the search plan at a ceremony at the presidential palace.
"The only way to build a future that is more free and respectful of life and human dignity is to know the whole truth," he said.
Until now, the burden of searching for the 1,162 people who remain unaccounted for decades after the arrival of democracy, has been borne mainly by bereaved loved ones – with information on the fate of only 307 – out of an original 1,469 – found to date.
"We had the illusion that they were alive, but over the years, we realised they weren't," Juana Andreani, a detainee herself during Pinochet's rule and a friend of a person who disappeared, told Reuters news agency.
"At least they should tell us what happened to them, what was done to them? That is the worst part of these 50 years."
The project, dubbed Truth and Justice, will have a dedicated budget and staff, and investigators will be tasked with reconstructing the victims' final days – from their arrest to their final destination.
Searches falling short
The process could lead to reparations for missing people's loved ones.
"No other government has had the political will required," to help the affected families, president of the Association of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees Gaby Rivera said at the ceremony.
During his speech, Boric deplored right-wing opposition parties' absence from the event.
Pinochet's rough reign in Chile ended in 1990.
He died in 2006 without ever being convicted for the crimes committed by his regime, which is believed to have killed some 3,200 leftist activists and other perceived opponents.
Chile on September 11 will mark half a century since the coup, part of a wave of military rule in the region in the 1970s that included Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, where families have also pushed to unearth information about the disappeared.
The searches have normally, at best, led to families being given bone fragments identified as their kin who disappeared.
Many around the region remain to be found and identified.
US role in coup d'etat
The US State Department last week released two formerly top-secret documents that offer insights into the information then US president Richard Nixon received as the 1973 coup unfolded in the South American country.
The records show Nixon administrations possible support to the downfall of the democratically-elected government of president Salvador Allende for a brutal Pinochet dictatorship.
In the 2022 statement of the National Security Archive, Nixon stated that three years before the coup, Nixon ordered the then CIA Director Richard Helms to "save Chile" by launching a military coup to prevent Allende from taking office.
Allende, elected in Chile in 1970, was killed by a bullet while the presidential palace in the capital, Santiago, was bombed by the army during the coup led by Pinochet. However, Allende's death is considered suicide.
General Pinochet was inaugurated as president of Chile on September 13, 1973.