Esmeralda and the Goya effect

The first time I heard about the insidious Chilean Naval ship ‘La Esmeralda’ was sometime late in spring last year. Not long after, it transpired that the ship was due to dock in London’s Canary Wharf . O the horror!

Having been a little obsessed with the horrific goings on in the ship and captivated by the tragic story of the torture, murder and callous disposal of Father Micheal Woodward’s body, there was nothing for it. I had to do something and it had to be big. There was no way the Chilean government would blindside the people of London and be allowed to tout this boat of horrors as a simple ambassadorial treat.

I returned home, co-wrote a press release, contacted Father Woodward’s still campaigning sister and set up a Facebook page to help publicise a picket organised by senior members of the community. The wall of silence I hit in the media was disheartening but after pounding those bricks till my knuckles bled,cracks began to appear. Enquiry after enquiry led me to the correct contacts, they began to take notice. Un-ignorable was the plight of the British Family in connection with this vile vessel of horrors with a ladylike name.

Tensions on the social media networks reached fever pitch. My site was taken down a few times and attacked with heinous comments. The night before the main protest I received veiled threats through my private messenger and videos of the ships’ crew enjoying themselves. By the time I boarded the train the following morning, with my supportive neighbour, I was wracked with fear and doubt despite it being London 2015. On the way to Greenwich I pictured how intimidated and unsafe the victims of the Navy in Valparaiso must feel every time they take to the streets to protest at the continuing injustice.

At the docks, groups of people were starting to amass. The sailors were leering and slightly amused by us but they soon stopped smiling as the journalists and BBC news descended upon the site. More and more people joined us. Passers by curious, stopped and asked why we were there, turning away in disgust once the true black heart of the seemingly innocuous white ship was exposed. The sailors became more aggressive. The leering turned into jeering. It didn’t matter. The names of those murdered on the ship were called out. The torture, rape & murder left exposed for all of London to see. Float away nasty boat with your blood stained sails.

Slowly we left the site. Old Chileans, new Chileans, friends of Chileans, former trades union men who had come along. We left, each alone. I couldn’t shake off the sadness for many days. The rapes, the beatings, the gutting-the dead-like-fish so they wouldn’t float, churning around in my mind relentlessly, day and night.

The ship and its creepy past sailed back to Chile, where the gormless emasculated presidenta applauded its arrival, oblivious to the disgust it generated, the destruction of fragile hope we ever had of the seeds of consciousness blooming into full blown justice, memory and heartfelt apologies.

Slowly over the months, the fantasmagoric gloom of the Esmeralda left me. But my mistrust of the Chilean state grows and lingers.


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