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Lecturer fights for justice in brother's memory

January 10, 2007

Photo of Zita Cabello-BarruetoInternational relations Lecturer Zita Cabello-Barrueto is relentless in pursuing justice for her brother Winston Cabello, who was murdered brutally in 1973 in their native Chile.

Against the advice of friends and lawyers, she revisited the treacherous past through her own five-year investigation. It led to a 2003 legal victory over her brother's killer, Armando Fernandez-Larios, for crimes against humanity -- a first in the U.S.

Cabello-Barrueto said she spent years after her brother's death "cowering in fear, in disappointments, in regrets, in pain."

"I found the strength to continue in my brother's last words to me: 'Zita, I want you to always remember that they can cut all the flowers, but they cannot prevent the spring from coming back,'" she added.

Winston Cabello, a 28-year-old government economist in Chile, was among many public officials and activists imprisoned for political reasons days after the Sept. 11, 1973, coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Cabello was granted visits and telephone calls with family regularly, keeping an upbeat attitude -- but was killed Oct. 17. Zita Cabello-Barrueto later learned he was shot by Armando Fernandez-Larios; his abdomen and throat slashed with a corvo, a curved military knife that leaves the victim in eight hours of intense pain before dying. For the next 17 years, the Pinochet regime tortured, killed and incarcerated hundreds of thousands of citizens of Chile in what was known as the "Caravan of Death."

In 1995, when Cabello-Barrueto began a documentary about her brother, she learned Fernandez-Larios was living in Miami. In 1998, Cabello-Barrueto and her family filed a civil suit against Fernandez-Larios, charging him with extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. The family received help from the nonprofit Center for Justice and Accountability and two law firms. The burden of proof seemed insurmountable to Cabello-Barrueto.

"After two years exploring one blind alley after another and reaching many a dead end, my lawyers advised me there was not enough solid evidence to win the case," Cabello-Barrueto said.

She refused to quit, spending the next several years studying thousands of documents, interviewing more than 100 people and traveling to Chile 10 times.

Cabello-Barrueto, who was recently featured in the San Francisco newspaper El Tecolote, incorporates the story of her brother into her classes. She encourages students to effect change and think critically on philosophies of truth, justice and forgiveness.

"My students have the opportunity to ... become aware of the experiences in their own lives, to connect to people in their daily lives with similar problems," said Cabello-Barrueto, who joined SF State in 2004 and holds a doctorate in Latin American economics.

After Cabello-Barrueto discussed her story on the first day of her International Political Economy course this fall, junior Jouliette Davidov was intrigued enough to do online research about her.

"I found it interesting that she was able to get the case tried in a U.S. court, even though [the alleged crime] happened in a different country," said Davidov, a double major in international relations and Spanish. "She goes deeper into the issues."

Despite her precedent-setting legal victory, Cabello-Barrueto is still unsatisfied. Although the civil case awarded her family $4 million, Fernandez-Larios is free, still living in Florida, Cabello-Barrueto said. Her investigation of his activities continues, with frequent evidence-gathering travel.

She also gives talks throughout the U.S. and Chile, and speaks out against the use of torture.

"We feel injustice, powerless, hopelessness," she said. "I needed to feel [these things] to inspire me. Things keep repeating if we do nothing about them."

-- Matt Itelson
Photo: Courtesy of
Zita Cabello-Barrueto


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Last modified January 10, 2007 by University Communications