Estadio Nacional de Chile


Following the coup d’état on 11th September 1973, the Estadio Nacional de Chile (National Stadium of Chile) was one of the two large sports stadiums, together with the Estadio Chile (Chile Stadium), which were converted into spaces for the detention, torture and execution of prisoners of the dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet.

The stadium is situated in the capital of Santiago, at No. 2001 Grecia Avenue, in the neighbourhood of Ñuñoa. It functioned as a repressive centre for two months, between 12th September and 11th November 1973. Colonel José Espinoza from the Chilean Army was in charge of the operations there. An estimated 20,000 people passed through the stadium. These individuals had been captured through different repressive operations as part of the system of terror that targeted students, workers, peasants, public-sector employees, members of the armed forces who were against the coup d’état and any other person who opposed the dictatorship.

The 1991 report by the Comisión Nacional de Verdad y Reconciliación (National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation), known as the “Rettig Report”, estimates that 7,000 people were held in the stadium, including at least 200 to 300 foreign nationals. More recent investigations have shown that this total was actually much higher and at least 600 of the prisoners were foreign nationals, the majority of whom came from other Latin American countries. The foreign nationals were in a separate, special section, known as the “immigrant section”, directed by Major Sergio Fernández.

Among the prisoners were men, women, teenagers and elderly people. They were not allowed to communicate with the outside world and visits from relatives and lawyers were prohibited. The only exceptions were a few humanitarian visits which the regime decided to allow due to strong international pressure.

Experts from the International Red Cross Committee conducted several visits to the National Stadium during the months of September and October. Despite the constant surveillance by the guards, the experts managed to find clear evidence of torture towards many prisoners and to gather information about the shootings which occurred inside and outside of the open-air venue and the disappearance of detained individuals.

The male and female prisoners were mainly held captive in two separate areas of the sports complex: the arena (males) and the swimming pool area (females).

The places that were systematically used for the interrogation and torture of prisoners were the social club, close to the presidential box, and, most importantly, the velodrome. During the day, the prisoners were kept in the stadium’s wooden grandstand and there was a separate stand for the foreign nationals who came from Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and many other countries.

Through the survivors’ testimonies and the confessions of military officers who were at the stadium, it was possible to confirm that many extrajudicial executions occurred both within and outside of the National Stadium. Some prisoners were taken aside to be assassinated and their bodies were abandoned in public or buried in unmarked graves in cemeteries in Santiago. A paradigmatic case is the assassination of the two US citizens, Charles Horman Lazar and Frank Teruggi Bombatch, which featured in the award-winning 1982 film “Missing” directed by Costa Gavras.

According to the testimonies, it is estimated that between 400 and 500 people were killed within the stadium walls.

The venue ceased to be used as a torture and detention centre on 11th November 1973. The military regime mainly decided to close the torture centre because it had reached a compromise with the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). Chile was due to play against the Soviet Union at the National Stadium to compete for a place in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. However, the Chilean dictatorship had cut diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union.

This situation made Pinochet and the Army stop using the facilities at the National Stadium as a detention and torture centre. Despite the existence of thousands of captives, FIFA officials visited the place in October 1973 to make sure that the facilities met the basic standards for the competition. In the end, the Soviet Union withdrew from the match due to the political and humanitarian situation. Chile, therefore, ended up qualifying for the World Cup with an empty goal.

In November, the sports venue started to be completely cleared. On 11th November, the remaining 109 prisoners were transferred to Chile Stadium.

Since 2013, the Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales (Council of National Monuments) has determined that part of the National Stadium’s facilities be protected. This space contains the memory of what happened and is now managed by a group of former political prisoners.

Avenida Grecia N° 2001
Institutional responsibility
Ejército de Chile
Operating period
1973 - 1974
Current situation
Sitio de Memoria abierto al público y Estadio Nacional
Place ID
Related victims