Every year, a collective of women performs a Chilean folk dance that is usually danced accompanied. On their chest they carry a photo of a loved one who disappeared or was killed by Augusto Pinochet’s military coup, which turns 50 this year.
As a way of honoring the victims, many of whom are still missing, hundreds of political demonstrations have taken place throughout Chile, since last August 30th, the national day of the missing person. The date was established in 2006 at the request of victims’ families. According to the report by Chile’s National Institute of Human Rights, Pinochet’s dictatorship killed approximately 4,000 people. Data from family groups indicate 100,000 victims including dead, missing, tortured and imprisoned. Some of these tributes take place at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights founded by former president Michelle Bachelet, who was also a victim of the dictatorship.
“The importance of a country’s memory is the soul, the heart, what builds us. It is also our backbone under which we can work for the future, build a better society, connect more. And above all, knowing that we can live in democracy, live with our differences, always with the minimum of respect for human rights and social ties. This is the importance of memory museums. It’s remembering that we go through hard, difficult times that we face as a society. However, these wounds persist, they stay forever or for a long time. And the duty of these spaces is to remember so that it doesn’t happen again”, explains Maria Fernanda Garcia, director of the Museum of Memory, which this Tuesday, September 12th, hosts the exhibition by Brazilian photographer Evandro Teixeira, entitled “Photojournalism and dictatorship : Brazil 1964 / Chile 1973”.
Every year, Chilean civil society carries out the Great March in honor of the victims of the coup, which passes through part of the center and ends at the General Cemetery, where most of the victims are buried, including: Salvador Allende and Victor Jara. The big march, which usually passes in front of the Palace of La Moneda, this year had that section blocked by the police. According to official sources, a group of hooded men threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the palace, breaking windows and injuring 3 agents and a security force dog. On the way to the cemetery, objects were burned and some graves were vandalized. Close to the cemetery, carabineros fired water jets and tear gas. The march was ended by the carabineros in the general cemetery with more repression. Various groups were at the scene, family members of victims, grassroots organizations, football teams, LGBTQIA+ activists, feminists, intellectuals, among others. According to reports, every year since 1990, the year in which demonstrations began in honor of the victims, the carabineros have acted brutally.
The strong repression is at odds with recent decisions by the Gabriel Boric government. In an unprecedented event in Chilean history, the president committed the State to clarify what happened to 1,162 disappeared people. The “Search Plan” signed by him becomes another item in the long list of disagreements between the right and the current government. Boric was even briefly at the Grand March, shortly after inaugurating the exhibition in honor of Salvador Allende.
Filmmaker Alfredo Garcia experienced the horrors of the coup up close. His father, professor Alfredo Gabriel Garcia Vega, is one of the thousands of missing people. Years later, his stepfather, journalist José Carrasco Tapia, was murdered by the political police. His family was in exile from 1977 to 1984, and visited Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
:: Fifty years ago, only one thing mattered in Chile: surviving a fierce coup ::
Through a lawyer, Alfredo’s family obtained small economic compensation from the State. The last time Alfredo Gabriel Garcia Vega was seen was at Villa Grimaldi and they never heard from him afterwards, there is a suspicion that he was thrown overboard. The filmmaker, when he can, makes a ritual of going to Amarilla Beach in Viña del Mar. “First there was the Rettig Report, which was important to find out who the victims were, then the Valech Report. And now the Search Plan. I think it’s a good sign. But what we need are resources to be able to find the missing, which is not easy because searches can be carried out at sea, in mass graves. And on the other hand there is the pact of silence of the military, who do not want to say where our family members are”, says Alfredo.
On Sunday (10), feminists had scheduled a demonstration at Venda Sexy, a sexual torture center that existed from the end of 1974 to the beginning of 1975, where more than 80 prisoners passed through, a third of them being prisoners, the majority of whom were MIR militants – Movement of Revolutionary Izquierda. But the possibility of rain caused the meeting to be cancelled. Zabrina Perez Allende, Chilean journalist and psychologist, is one of the organizers of the event. She is a survivor of the Villa Grimaldi torture center, which from 1974 to 1976 held around 5,000 political prisoners, of which 18 were executed and 211 remain missing. At the age of 16, Zabrina was kidnapped by DINA (Directorate of National Intelligence) still wearing her school uniform and for 2 months she was tortured and disappeared. With an admirable good sense of humor, she makes a point of being present at various events every year on this date and taking mosaics with the names of the missing and dead to the places where the victims were last seen.
:: Pinochet’s brutality is an open wound in Chilean society ::
On Sunday night, hundreds of women gathered in front of the La Moneda Palace for a vigil, where they sang, shouted protest phrases and collectively hugged the building where Allende died, promoting one of the most beautiful and powerful acts on the eve of September 11th. September.
Although Chile is one of the Latin American countries that most remembers its dead, the coup is still an open wound in society, which continues to await answers.
Editing: Thales Schmidt