DISCLOSURE: This is a repeat of a diary I wrote last year at this time. I am republishing it today because I think that it's important that we understand history and its effects, whether it be our own or elsewhere in the world. I appreciate you taking the time to read.
As some of you may know, I recently returned to the United States after living abroad in Santiago, Chile. In one of my early days there, my husband and I were driving around and ended up on a street called "Avenida de 11 de Septiembre." I was quite moved by this, thinking that the Chileans were so affected by the events of that day that they would name a street so that no one would ever forget that date.
I did not, however, understand that they were referring to September 11...1973, and it's a date that we should be well aware of and learn from.
Join me over the jump for a little history lesson.
In the Chilean presidential elections of 1970, Salvador Allende became the first democratically elected Marxist leader in the Western hemisphere. This did not sit well with the Nixon administration at a time when our country was still in the depths of the Cold War, nor did it sit well with American and foreign private business interests in Chile as Allende nationalized the more lucrative Chilean businesses, notably copper mining and banking.
From the moment of Allende's election, a series of actions was put forth, thanks in no small part to the CIA and the Nixon Administration, to undermine the Allende government, from initial attempts to block him taking the office, to isolating Chile both economically and diplomatically, with the end goal being the overthrow of the Allende government by coup d'état.
They got what they wanted.
By mid-1973, Chile was suffering economically from the lack of foreign investment and its isolation from the rest of the world. Inflation was out of control, and the country was in chaos. Conditions were ripe for a coup, and in the early morning hours of September 11, 1973, the Chilean military - army, navy, air patrol - together with the National Police were stationed throughout the country and began their takeover of various cities and ports in Chile. While there were various heads of the military involved in the coup as well as the head of the National Police, there was definitely one man who was the unquestioned leader:
General Augusto Pinochet.
President Allende died during the coup as did many other people that day. But even more startling is the number of people who died or "disappeared" after Pinochet's takeover of the presidency and his subsequent dictatorship. Anyone speaking out against Pinochet did so at his or her own peril. Public executions and "disappearances" of dissidents was not uncommon. Fear was an overwhelming part of the Pinochet era.
On September 11, 1973, democracy was taken away from the people of Chile and was not to return for nearly a generation. To this day, the scars of that era still remain. There are many who view Pinochet as a hero, a man who pulled Chile out of its economic slump, but in doing so created an an even larger gap between the well-to-do and the not-doing-so-well. Occasionally, I saw grafitti such as "Vive Allende," more often than not in those areas of Santiago still struggling to overcome economic disparity. The communa of Lo Barnechea captures it best, as some of the most affluent people in Santiago live in spacious mansions built into the hills which overlook the homes of their domestic help that live in the lower areas. The contrast is striking. There is still a certain reluctance to speak about those times as the memories of those who disappeared remains vivid to many, as if it would happen again.
I cannot help but notice many parallels between our country and Chile. Both suffered a traumatic experience against their country, albeit 28 years apart. But the fallout from each event has had tremendous effect on the political, economic and foreign policies of our respective countries, not to mention the deep scars to the national psyche that we feel to this day. In the wake of each event, civil liberties had been curtailed, militarism increased, and the economic disparity between rich and poor widened. Fear has been the overarching element in each event, a theme that continues to be played out to this day in our own country.
To learn more about the events of that day in 1973, the BBC online has a great summary article here, complete with additional links.
To all those who died on this date, I hold you in my heart and thoughts. You will never be forgotten.
EPILOGUE: Recently, Chile is in the process of arresting and prosecuting those individuals who were involved with the atrocities committed under Pinochet. While it is coming many years later, there is still the opportunity for accountability and justice. Perhaps it will help the wounds to heal, but they will never be forgotten.