updated 12/16/2004 5:04:57 PM ET 2004-12-16T22:04:57

Chile's Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill granting money and other compensation to some 28,000 former political prisoners, most of them victims of torture during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

The legislation grants the victims a monthly pension of $190, which is less than the minimum monthly wage of $230. President Ricardo Lagos, who is expected to sign the bill into law within days, described the pension as “austere and symbolic.”

The measure, which will cost an estimated $70 million annually, also grants victims and their families access to education, health and housing benefits.

Reversal on Pinochet trial
Lawmakers passed the bill after only two days of debate, and the Tuesday night vote came a day after a judge indicted the 89-year-old Pinochet in the kidnapping of nine dissidents and the death of one of them — reversing earlier Chilean court decisions to exempt Pinochet from trial on health grounds.

Even right-wing legislators who supported Pinochet approved the bill in the vote. Only two senators, both retired military men, opposed.

Left-wing legislators wanted higher benefits but finally agreed to approve the government-proposed text. Some victims and relatives who sought more benefits protested from the Senate stands as the vote took place and were removed by police.

Lagos proposed the bill after disclosing a graphic report on torture and political imprisonment during Pinochet’s 1973-90 regime. The commission that prepared the report heard testimony from more than 35,000 people and accepted 28,000 statements as true.

The report described the main torture methods used at 1,131 detention centers set up throughout Chile after Pinochet seized power and the military cracked down on suspected dissidents. Methods included beatings, electric shock, sexual abuse, simulated firing squads and forcing people to watch relatives being tortured.

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