Friday, April 30, 2010

Chile: "Divine" fire from 1993 resolved, inside job instead of homophobia, culprits go free

If, like me, you have kept an eye on all things LGBT and Latin America during the past two decades, there are few iconic events that stand up when you think about discrimination.

Key among them was the tragic 1993 fire at "Divine", a gay bar in Santiago, Chile, which took the lives of 16 patrons and left another 29 people hurt (archive photo to the right taken the morning after the fire).

Now comes word, after 17 years, that the fire wasn't a homophobic crime after all.

In a report released last Friday and backed by the leading LGBT rights organization in Chile, the Movement for Homosexual Liberation (MOVILH), authorities named the bar's owners as the true culprits.

According to the report, a month before the fire, bar owners Nelson Arellano and Arturo Masafierro, were seen covering the walls and ceilings of the bar with materials that had been deemed not to meet the fire hazard standards of the day. They also lined up the walls with electrical cables, television sets and stereo speakers in a way that violated fire safety guidelines as well.

Carlos Hernández, a firefighter who had visited the bar on the eve of the fire and in its aftermath, told investigators that the owners had ignored previous fire violation warnings.

"Not only did [the fire escape] have a latch; it also had a chain and lock and, worse still, it opened from the outside in, which didn't allow for it to be opened on time and forced firefighters to tear it down," he said, "as a matter of fact, Arellano was told to correct that danger and he did not".

That according to El Mercurio, which also says the investigation of the case was shut down in 1994 only to be re-opened in 2003 at the bequest of MOVILH.

The report also indicates that, when it comes to crimes committed in Chile, there is a 10 year statute of limitation law in the books which means that the owners of the bar cannot be prosecuted for their actions back in the early 1990's.  It most probably mean that they will not be held accountable for the 16 people who died at "Divine" on September 4, 1993.

As for "Divine", the tragic incident was certainly turned into legend. There even was a movie made about it...

Below, the full report released last Friday by Chilean authorities (it's only available in Spanish)...

III Informe Movilh Divine Final

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