The eleventh in testimonies of a half-century commemoration

The political and social transition of a nation from a dictatorship to a democratic regime implies assuming the existence of a divided country that carries within itself a past that continues to be present for a large number of people, insofar as their lives have been crossed by traumatic events and their effects. The frequent calls and invitations to reconciliation, in the name of the common homeland, is highly complex for all the adults who lost family members who were kidnapped, disappeared or killed, and for all the adolescents and children who were unable to live their corresponding stages, because they lived under constant threat and fear. Turning the page and starting over is not easy, because so much violence cannot pass through their personal history as if nothing had happened.

Reconciliation processes resort to amnesty laws, installing a legal and political oblivion of criminal actions and responsibilities carried out in the past; a past that resist being forgotten and becomes a present suffocated by demands and contradictions. Forgetting, as the foundation of social peace, does not consider the effect of what has happened on the victims and imposes, in many ways, a forced resignation in the face of the consummated facts and the existing impunity. The process requires taking charge of the past, recognising and making reparations to the victims, incorporating their memories and the memory of the struggle, through conditions of justice and equity, fundamental axes for current and future democracy. Failure to do so leads to a struggle of visions and interpretations of the past that coexist in conflict in political and social spaces.

In this context and with a view to achieving reconciliation, various commemorative initiatives have been carried out, particularly this year, 50 years after the coup, generating a series of individual experiences and testimonies that show that for many it is still an issue to be resolved as a society.
“For as long as I have had consciousness, September 11 was the day when the “good guys and bad guys” had confronted each other. The “good guys” clearly won. As the years went by, I began to understand the two sides and the traumatic charge that it entails for thousands of human beings in Chile to be crushed by the violence of the “winning side”. To this day, I still feel a kind of anxiety, despite not having suffered physical torture, but psychological torture through the use of one of the tools best used by the dictatorship: “fear”, that which immobilises, which closes off the future, which isolates and individualises us.

As a child and a young man, educated under the dictatorship and all that this means, the time came for me to rebel against the barbarity of the dictatorship and the fear of the adults that something would “happen” to me.

This 11 September was different. Half a century has passed since the bloodiest coup d’état in our history. In this long journey, in different geographical locations, I have worked with many of the relatives of the politically executed, disappeared, tortured and exiled in the north of the country, victims of the caravan of death; but it is another thing to work with my neighbours, children of victims of dictatorial violence.

The commemoration and activity emerged and grew around the 50th anniversary tables in the cities and communes.

In our city the table met in my house, and the clue to the meeting point was “the meeting is in the house of Silo’s disciple”; I made it clear to them that it is very pretentious for me to say that I am a disciple.

We planned activities in the open air, in the street, where one should be, confronting Denialism. One of the activities that took place was a 30 metre long mural that would be accompanied by a stand of organisations, open mike, dance, poetry, theatre and exhibitions. The weather said otherwise on Sunday the 10th, and on Monday the 11th we also had to cancel due to rain. Until we rebelled and decided to do an activity in the city square “rain or shine”, in the afternoon at the memorial without permits or authorisations. We started on the 11th by going to a primary school that held an event in memory and reflection, the only public school to do so; we were surprised by the exhibition, from the cueca alone, testimony of torture by teachers, exhibition of photographs, etc. The register we were left with was that if these activities had been carried out earlier in schools, maybe and only maybe, we would not have the level of apathy, ignorance and denial that prevails today in society.

Then the pilgrimage to the cemetery, and from there to prepare the central act of the evening, which was uncertain, given the short time in which it was prepared. It was simple, emotional, simple, with a powerful message: “NEVER AGAIN!

More than a hundred committed neighbours arrived, my daughter co-animating the event. We ended up embracing the companion we had near or far, as an act of commitment to life.

The gods wanted there to be neither rain nor thunder to hinder the human will”.
“In young people who were born after this date, the dictatorship began to indoctrinate children and young people with ideas of hatred towards others; and many believed that they lived in a peaceful country, without delinquency, while the fear of expressing one’s feelings was certain death; one had to keep quiet, because if they spoke they would be tortured by the repressive agents of the regime. I remember when I went to school and we were taught patriotic values, I don’t deny that, but neither can we be forced by imposed order to follow an idea. I also remember when we were told about this day, in the class books, how they identified the 11th as the day of national liberation; when one went to the airport and there was a sign that said Chile, a country free of “communism”, or to understand that they said that the military government was the best, while others had their parents and grandparents killed, were thrown out of helicopters, were tortured in Pisagua and in different places”.
“First of all, it has been many years and justice is still delayed; there are still more than 700 boxes with bones lying in the ground waiting to be identified. Lack of will, lack of resources, or simply lack of empathy? ….

I reflect on the number of activities that are organised in good time, both by the authorities and also by political parties, families of the disappeared detainees, civil organisations, etc. All of them are full of emotion, some more massive than others. For example, that of the women in La Moneda (it was curious to be there with the carabineros and not feel reprimanded) and that of the morning of the same day, a pilgrimage; the same days in all the detention and torture centres, some even coincided in time, and there were always a lot of people in all of them. It was half a century of denial and mourning. London 38, the space “Venda Sexy”, Villa Grimaldi, which was the one I visited most at different times and on different days and activities. In each one I met someone who survived it, who is still fighting for justice, whose stories are in endless files, in endless trials, where only a few have been sentenced; it seems that there are still after-effects of the dictatorship. It saddens me!

I had heard about this when I was a teenager, but it was said to be myths. At that time there was only clandestine information. In my house, little was said and when it was said, it had to be in hushed tones, it was secret. I didn’t have any relatives in those circumstances (I thank God), I only know that when I was a child I was scared, because of the repeated occasions when they made us leave early because it was said that there was a possible bomb at school; and outside in the street there were vans delivering sultanas for the memory, they weren’t identified, but they were from the military government. After school I would go to my grandmother’s in Ñuñoa, the “piedragógico” as they called the pedagogical university on Macul and Grecia, and I would get off at Ezequiel Fernández, it was always a tear gas bomb, I would arrive crying at my grandmother’s, that was where all my young uncles would arrive, camouflaged, they would arrive with leaflets and show them, I was warned not to mention anything, my grandmother was scared, she would tell us that it would cost us our lives. Today… I reflect why everything I knew during my adolescence, until a couple of years ago, was not even half of what was lived in those years; I lived in a fizz. Today, being part of the organisations involved in the 50th anniversary activities has helped me to piece together the puzzle of the hidden history, meeting survivors who tell their story, reading the names and stories of the disappeared, including women, pregnant women, children, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, etc., who were tortured and killed, relatives who are still looking for a response, and whose story we must continue to write about truth and justice. And there is still a struggle ahead, there is still much to do, we must continue… So that never again in Chile and in the world will these acts of violation of human rights, crimes against humanity, torture or death for thinking differently happen again!”

“Fifty years, what a lot of experiences in this period of time. In previous conversations, in different ambits of activity, I was one of the promoters of taking a role, of working on a collective position in this commemoration. In these activities, I supported the voices that raised the need, despite the belligerent climate of the situation, to promote a path towards reconciliation, with a discourse and public actions that, if they could bring us tomato punches, were the appropriate stance, the humanisation of the skin of monstrosity. And in practice, it was in every space where we did it, well received, as a contribution, it was astonishing and shocking. We are obviously a long way from reconciliation but certainly marking a future possibility is our task and such activity is internally unitive, because we have a strong urge to repeat it”.

It is imperative to find peace in our country on the recognition of this traumatic past, without clouding the memory.

Collaborators: M. Angélica Alvear Montecinos; Ricardo Lisboa Henríquez; César Anguita Sanhueza; Sandra Arriola Oporto and Guillermo Garcés Parada. Public Opinion Commission

Partido Humanista de Chile