SANTIAGO, Chile – Walter Ulises Pizarro Molina is registered to vote in Chile's presidential elections next year, although he disappeared after being arrested 35 years ago during the country's dictatorship.
Pizarro Molina and more than 1,000 other Chilean dissidents who disappeared during the 1973-90 regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet are now registered to vote — an anomaly of Chile's new automatic registration system that took effect this year, eliminating the need for people over 18 to register in person.
The change has been hailed as a victory for democracy in Chile, increasing the pool of potential voters from 8 million to 13 million.
But with the system automatically sweeping up every adult citizen listed in the civil registry, mistakes were bound to happen. And now, electoral officials say the only way they can legally remove someone from the database is with an official death certificate.
Although the disappeared are considered by law to be alive unless proven otherwise in court, some of their relatives say including them among the nation's voters amounts to a cruel joke.
"My dad has the right to vote? What are they talking about? I don't even know where he is," Lorena Pizarro said about Walter Ulises, a mining technician and Communist Party member who disappeared in Santiago in December 1976.
"The forced disappearances didn't respect victims or their families, so the state should put in place measures so we're not forced to face this situation," said Pizarro, who leads an organization of relatives of the disappeared.
The Chilean government officially estimates that 3,095 people were killed by the Pinochet government. About 1,200 of these are considered disappeared. Carlos Lorca Tobar, a psychiatrist and dissident detained in 1975, is one of them.
The database shows that Lorca Tobar, a close friend of former President Michelle Bachelet, who was also detained during the dictatorship, is registered to cast his vote in this year's municipal elections in the affluent Santiago neighborhood of Providencia.
"We have to include them because we are obliged by law to do so," Elizabeth Cabrera, deputy director of the voting registry told The Associated Press. "It's a deplorable situation what the families are going through, but the registry simply doesn't have the power to decide who it includes or leaves out."
Relatives of the disappeared say it's just one more example of government failures to meet their demands for truth and justice.
About 700 military officials face court trials for the forced disappearance of dissidents and about 70 have been jailed under crimes against humanity. Only a very few have provided information leading to the whereabouts of people kidnapped and killed by the regime.