Chile marks military coup as divisions persist

by MMC
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  • By Charis McGowan
  • Santiago, Chile

Image source, Getty Images


The Moneda Palace was bombed during the coup d’état of September 11, 1973.

Fifty years ago today, Chile’s presidential palace, La Moneda, was bombed as part of the military coup aimed at overthrowing the country’s democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende.

By the end of September 11, 1973, President Allende was dead and a military junta had taken power.

During the 17 years of military rule by General Augusto Pinochet that followed, 40,000 people were arrested, tortured or subjected to enforced disappearance. More than 3,200 people were executed.

The years of dictatorship continue to haunt and divide Chile.

“These walls… have witnessed horrors and a violent and oppressive past that we have not forgotten and will not forget,” President Gabriel Boric said from the balcony of La Moneda in March 2022 after lending sworn in as Chile’s youngest president. at only 36 years old.

Image source, Getty Images


Gabriel Boric addressed the coup in his speech after being sworn in

His young, progressive cabinet has promised to confront and remedy the human rights violations committed under General Pinochet.

Ahead of today’s anniversary, his left-wing government launched the National Research Plan, the first state-backed program to determine the fate of 1,469 people who disappeared under military rule and who remain missing several decades later.

They are presumed to have been murdered by the state, but their bodies have never been found.

Government spokesperson Camila Vallejo, who heads the Chilean ministry’s General Secretariat, said the goal of the plan is to commit to helping the families of the missing so that they “do not have to carry the responsibility of finding their loved ones or knowing the truth rests solely on their shoulders.”

The project will have a dedicated budget and a staff of investigators. Relatives of the missing may be entitled to reparations.

The National Search Plan aims not only to find people who were victims of enforced disappearances, but also to establish the circumstances of their disappearance and to bring justice to the families who have spent decades desperately searching for the truth.

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Photos of the missing were projected on La Moneda on the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared

Even though democracy was restored in 1990, the shadow of General Pinochet continues to loom over Chile.

Pinochet remained head of the army until 1998, then continued to serve as senator for life, a position he created for himself in the constitution he imposed in 1980. As senator, he was immune from prosecution in Chile.

But in 1998, during a visit to London, he was placed under house arrest as Spanish lawyers tried to have him extradited to stand trial on torture charges.

In 2000, then-British Home Secretary Jack Straw allowed General Pinochet to return to Chile for health reasons.

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When Augusto Pinochet (left) arrived in Chile, he got rid of the wheelchair he was using

The general died in 2006 at the age of 91 without having spent a single day in prison.

The current Chilean government, many of whose members built their political careers rallying against the legacy of General Pinochet’s conservative neoliberal regime, says it is determined to bring to justice those responsible for crimes committed under military rule.

The Supreme Court told the BBC that Chile’s justice system was currently handling more than 2,000 cases of human rights violations allegedly committed by state agents under military rule.

However, many victims and their families say the process has been slow and ineffective.

Many former army officials have died of old age without ever being tried. Others were sent to comfortable prisons equipped with private rooms, tennis courts and barbecue areas.

Image source, Getty Images


President Gabriel Boric joined relatives of the deceased in a commemorative march on the eve of the anniversary

Minister Vallejo acknowledges that the progress made so far has been achieved “thanks to the struggle of human rights organizations and victims’ families” rather than that of the state.

She says she understands the distrust of the victims’ families towards Chilean institutions, some of which mismanaged the investigations.

Earlier this year, it emerged that 89 boxes of dictatorship-era evidence – including bone fragments – had remained abandoned in a university basement for two decades, where they had been damaged by mold and humidity.

Camila Vallejo told the BBC that police forces, forensic services and courts would be involved in the national search plan.

She added that it would become “a permanent state policy” so that it would continue even if there was a change of government.

Image source, Val Palavecino


Camila Vallejo says victims’ families have been at the forefront of the fight for justice

She added that the families of the missing would not only “accompany” the process, but also “monitor” it.

On the eve of this anniversary, President Boric met with all living former Chilean presidents to sign an official declaration condemning the dictatorship of General Pinochet.

Among the signatories was former conservative leader Sebastian Piñera, who opposed the arrest of Augusto Pinochet in the United Kingdom and whose brother had been a minister under the general.

But despite Mr. Piñera’s approval, the document was criticized by some members of the Chilean right, many of whom still defend the late dictator.

Members of Mr. Piñera’s National Renewal party expressed displeasure with the former president’s support for the declaration.

Speaking on local radio, Senator Manuel José Ossandón accused the Boric administration of fueling “polarization” in the country.

The senator said “there would have been no Pinochet if there had been no Allende”, blaming the ousted leader and his socialist policies for his own overthrow and military rule which followed.

Minister Vallejo said such comments were “unacceptable”, adding: “We cannot put the victim on an equal footing with the aggressor.”

Image source, Val Palavecino


Camila Vallejo condemned comments that equate Allende and Pinochet

“It is part of democracy to have different points of view on Allende,” she argued. “But we cannot blame Allende for the coup when it was Augusto Pinochet who carried it out.”

For her, the declaration marks a “historic event” that demonstrates to Chileans and the world that “democracy and human rights must always be defended, regardless of our differences.”

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