I visited Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights with my friend the Mexican anthropologist Luiz Vasquez. For about two hours we relived the crisis which led the military to take power and then the unspeakable repression which was brought down upon the Chilean people for the 17 years until, after the 1989 referendum the military rather ungraciously pulled back from power. It cannot be said too often how important this monument is, and how important it is that no one ever forget.
The museum is an imposing but welcoming structure and the visitor watches videos in which survivors and relatives tell their story and experiences some how political oppression penetrated into the most intimate corners of life, in exhibits of letters of prisoners to their daughters, sons and lovers, and of personal effects. I was particularly affected by seeing film of the people endlessly demonstrating in support of radical change to make a society marked by solidarity and equality. The faces were so young, almost innocent, and in them one could see a mixture of wild aspiration but then, as the months of 1973 wore on and the political situation grew increasingly tense, as something like class war was enacted in demonstrations on the streets, they gave way to increasing desperation and fear, even hatred of the forces which were marshalling against them. A most terrible storm was gathering, but they did not know how terrible and pitiless it would be.
September 11th will be the fortieth anniversary of that coup and the subject is being widely covered in the media. Last night I watched a programme entitled ‘Imagenes Prohibidas’ which has been broadcast in two parts of more than an hour each, showing film of violence perpetrated notably at funerals of victims, in cemeteries and in front of churches, and interviews with survivors and their families. In one case Carmen Quintana who survived – just – an attempt to burn her alive and whose bravery defies description. It can be watched here
Yesterday also the former general Cheyre, the first C-in-C of the Army to recognize the violations perpetrated by his force, and to apologize for them, had to resign from his retirement job as Chair of the Electoral Service (Servel). In late 1973, as a junior officer, he received a child of two whose parents, he was told, had blown themselves up while fleeing. The child, whose father was Argentinian and his mother Mexican, was handed over to a convent in the northern town of La Serena but later recovered by an aunt, and today is a man of 42 – Ernesto Lejderman.