Chile’s Ghosts: The Tyranny of Forgetting
By Benjamin Dangl
Toward Freedom via commondreams.com
September 13, 2010
Late in the afternoon on September 4th, 1970 a crowd gathered
in central Santiago, Chile to celebrate the election of
socialist president Salvador Allende. Among the participants
in the celebration were the leftist folk singer Victor Jara
and his wife Joan.
In her book, Victor: An Unfinished Song, Joan Jara recounts
this scene "full of happiness, hugs and tears." People pushed
through the crowd, eager to congratulate Allende. When Joan
neared the president-elect she remembers embracing him in a
cathartic, bear-like hug. Allende said to her, "Hug me
harder, compañera! This is not a time for timidity!"
The hope of that day ended in bloodshed just three years
later. On September 11th, 1973 Allende was overthrown in a
US-backed coup. The military dictator Augusto Pinochet took
power, and led the country in a reign of terror which left
thousands dead, tortured and traumatized. Among the coup's
victims were Victor Jara and Allende.
As part of the crackdown, armed forces searched the home of
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda told the soldiers, "Look
around-there's only one thing of danger for you here-poetry."
He died days later of heart failure, on September 23rd.
Though the dictator and many of his accomplices have escaped
justice - Pinochet died in 2006 at age 91 - the horrors of
Pinochet's reign are widely documented. The book Clandestine
in Chile: The Adventure of Miguel Littín by Colombian writer
Gabriel García Márquez, tells the story of Littín's 1985
return to Chile after living in exile since the coup. The
story was told from Littín's perspective.
Hunkered down in the Basque city of San Sebastián, the
leftist laments cutting off his beard in preparation for his
return to Chile under a new identity. "The first thing to go
was my beard. This was not just a simple matter of shaving.
The beard had created a personality for me that I now had to
shed." To cushion the shock, he took the beard off gradually.
Reflecting on Chile under Pinochet, Littín remembers the
tireless struggle of coal miner Sebastián Acevedo, who fought
to end the torture of his twenty-two-year-old son and twenty-
year-old daughter. The desperate Acevedo ultimately warned
public officials, journalists and religious leaders, "If you
don't do something to stop the torture of my children, I will
soak myself with gasoline and set myself on fire in the
atrium of the [Concepción] cathedral." Acevedo followed
through with the threat, and became a haunting symbol of the
fight against the dictatorship.
Non-violent demonstrations against Pinochet's crimes followed
the death of Acevedo. Littín described the confrontation.
"The police attacked the group [of protesters] with water
canons while more than two hundred of them, soaked to the
skin, stood impassively against a wall, singing hymns of
Before he left the country in 1973, soldier's burned Littín's
books in a bonfire constructed in the garden of his home.
Over a decade later, in 1986, Pinochet was still burning
books. The dictator himself ordered 15,000 copies of
Clandestine in Chile to be destroyed.
On September 11, 2010, over six thousand people gathered to
mark the anniversary of the coup. Participants converged in
homage to the victims of the dictatorship, as well as to
demand justice and respect for human rights under the current
Sebastián Piñera administration. Chile's right wing President
Piñera, one of the wealthiest people in the country, did not
participate in the acts that commemorated the start of the
"We are living under a right wing regime which participated
in the dictatorship and even today is justifying the
[dictatorship's] human rights violations," Mireya García, the
vice president of the Family Members of the Detained and
Disappeared, told Telesur.
Some members of Piñera's administration also worked in the
Pinochet dictatorship and have not been brought to justice
for their crimes. Speaking of the 37th anniversary of the
September 11th coup, Piñera said that Chileans should move
beyond the conflicts of the past. "We should not remain
trapped in the same fights and divisions."
Allende warned against the tyranny of forgetting. In his
final radio broadcast to the Chilean people, the president
condemned the coup plotters, "I say to them that I am certain
that the seeds which we have planted in the good conscience
of thousands and thousands of Chileans will not be shriveled
forever. They have force and will be able to dominate us, but
social processes can be arrested by neither crime nor force.
History is ours, and people make history."
© 2010 Toward Freedom
Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire:
Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press) and
Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin
America (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a
progressive perspective on world events and
UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in
Latin America. Email: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com
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