Calama is a town in the center of the Atacama desert, the driest region on earth. It is a grueling,

dusty twenty-four hour bus ride north of Santiago, Chile. For the past twenty-three years a small,

determined group of women have been digging in the vast expanse of the Atacama for the bodies of

their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. Their search began shortly after the military coup of

September 11, 1973 in which President Salvador Allende was overthrown and General Augusto

Pinochet took control of the Chilean government. Thousands of Chileans were tortured, executed

and "disappeared".

The women's nightmare began, one month after the coup, when five military men boarded a

Puma military helicopter in Santiago and began a journey which came to be called "The Caravan of

Death". The military's intent was to intimidate the people in the isolated north out of any attempts at

resisting the overthrow of the Marxist government. Under the command of General Arellano Stark,

the soldiers traveled to five cities touching down long enough to murder a total of seventy-two men.

The last stop was Calama. On October 19th, twenty-six men, imprisoned because they were

assumed to be subversive, were removed from their cells. Although the Pinochet government

refused to tell the women what happened, it was assumed the men had been executed by a firing

squad and their bodies buried, disappeared to a secret grave in the desert.

During the first years after the disappearances many of the wives, sisters and mothers of the

men met clandestinely. They tried to share their feelings of rage and anguish but did not speak out

publicly for fear that they would endanger both their lives and the lives of their children. They

searched secretly in the desert but always wondered, since they had never seen a body, if their men

were alive.

In 1985, with the support of human rights organizations in Santiago, the women of Calama

bravely formalized their group Agrupacion de Familiares de Ejecutados Politicos and became

public. They began to march through the streets of Calama, to speak out openly, to demand to know

the whereabouts of their loved ones. They insisted that Pinochet and his accomplices be held

accountable for their crimes. But still no one came forward to speak the truth, to release the women

from their suffering. The military was, and still is, protected by an amnesty law that automatically

pardons them for all their crimes committed from the years 1973 to 1978.