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Chile shutting down luxury prison

SANTIAGO, Chile – Chile’s president announced Thursday that he will close a luxury prison for dictatorship-era military officials convicted of crimes against humanity, taking away their tennis courts, barbecues and a pool.

The Cordillera prison, located on an army base, has given the officers jailed for killings, tortures and other abuses committed during Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship far better conditions than Chile’s normal penitentiaries. The inmates live in small cabins, have hot showers and get lots of natural light.

President Sebastian Pinera said his government decided to close Cordillera taking into account “equality before law” as well as the security of the luxury lockup’s 10 inmates, who will now serve time at Punta Peuco, another special prison for human rights offenders.

The decision came after Manuel Contreras, the former chief of Pinochet’s secret service, gave an interview inside Cordillera ahead of the 40th anniversary of the military coup. Contreras, who is serving combined sentences of more than 100 years for kidnappings and murders, mocked prison guards, saying they were only there “to hold his cane.”

Cordillera was built in 2004 during the presidency of Ricardo Lagos to avoid overcrowding at Punta Peuco.

The privileged conditions at Cordillera have been criticized ever since.

But the public outcry reached a high point Wednesday when supporters of former Brigadier Miguel Krassnoff tried to organize a barbecue in his honor at Cordillera, where he is serving a 144-year sentence. An event honoring Krassnoff in 2011 ended in clashes between his supporters and human rights activists.