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Vicariate of Solidarity

Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 1986

The Vicariate of Solidarity, founded in 1976 and dependent on the Archdiocese of Santiago de Chile, was one of the few voices raised in Chilean society against torture and the abuse of power and violence, making its rallying banner the defence of freedom and human rights.

The Vicariate was founded with the aim of creating a “space for justice” in a Chile oppressed by an arbitrary dictatorial regime, aiding the persecuted and assisting the families of those who disappeared while in detention. Within a short time, work focused on providing legal advice to more than 257,000 people, the lodging of more than 4,500 appeals for legal protection and the opening of more than 5,000 legal cases in defence of accused parties or to denounce abuses.

The unceasing work of the Vicariate in favour of the oppressed led to campaigns and persecution on the part of the military dictatorship, which tried to confuse the Chilean people and international opinion by making this institution out to be a refuge for terrorists and an organisation of a political nature. Many of its members suffered detention and imprisonment, death threats and even, as happened to one of the priests, Ignacio Gutiérrez, expulsion from the country.

At the time of receiving the 1986 Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, the Vicariate of Solidarity was headed by Santiago Tapia, a priest with a wide-ranging social background, the fruit of many years of apostolate work in trade unions and workers organisations. Monsignor Tapia tried to transmit the spirit of the Vicariate to the Chilean people, to get people to organise themselves and be able to stand up to power and defend their rights. At the same time, Santiago Tapia tried to foster reconciliation from the pages of the magazine Solidaridad [Solidarity]. In his editorials he insisted, time and again, on the urgency and need for a true reconciliation of all the people of Chile. The Vicariate tried to promote a new social model in which the values of freedom, justice and fraternity replace tyranny, violence and terror.

The Vicariate of Solidarity ceased in its activities on 31st December, 1992. Its founder, Monsignor Raúl Silva Henríquez, Cardinal of the Catholic Church and Archbishop of Santiago, died on 9th April, 1999, at the age of 91.

The history of this far-reaching work can be found in a vast amount of documents of incalculable value, which constitutes an irreplaceable part of Chile’s historical memory and one of the largest centres of information on human rights in the country. Consequently, the Vicariate of Solidarity Documentation and Archives Foundation was created in 1992 to safeguard all this documentation on the victims of the period between September 1973 and March 1990.

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