Chile’s Tolerance of Intolerance

September 25, 2007

On the night of May 31, about 15 people, masked and wearing all black, stormed into a packed club in Valparaiso, Chile, El Dique, where several anti-fascist rock groups were playing. Wielding baseball bats, knives, switchblades, pipes, and Molotov cocktails, they fired blanks into the crowd and began beating and knifing anyone who tried to escape. They exploded one of the Molotovs in an attempt to burn the club, but one of the clubgoers managed to douse the fire with beer. The attackers were gone in less than five minutes, leaving some 50 people injured. Three of the injured were hospitalized with head injuries; the most serious was a fractured skull.

The police arrived within minutes, only to give the owner of the club a ticket for disturbing the peace. They detained the organizers of the concert; they issued no warrant nor did they begin an investigation, despite having driven some of the victims to the hospital and seen the seriousness of their injuries. The press did not report the crime until Curasbún, one of the bands that performed that night, issued a press release on June 7, declaring that a group calling itself the Hammer of the South, from the nearby suburb Villa Alemana, had claimed responsibility for the attack via emails to the band’s website. Curasbún denounced the police, the media, and the authorities for contributing to a climate of disinformation and impunity that legitimated Neonazi groups. "Nazism exists in our country and is protected in an alarming way," their message ended.

The lack of an immediate response condemning this crime on the part of the police and the media is representative of a tolerance of intolerance that has been emblematic of Chile since the days of the dictatorship. The attack itself suggests that hyper-nationalist, xenophobic and authoritarian attitudes are deeply embedded in certain sectors of Chilean society. That the media became concentrated in the hands of the right during the dictatorship, and that many security force operatives remain in positions of authority after the dictatorship, only partly explains why Neonazi groups seemingly operate with impunity.

Curasbún’s warning was proven shockingly precise on June 20 when Chile’s most vocal Nazi group, Fatherland New Society (PNS), which is collecting signatures to become a political party and diffuses its messages via internet broadcasts, issued its own press release. PNS intended to differentiate themselves from what they consider fake Nazi skinhead groups, which they said "clearly have nothing to do with the discipline, spirit and order, or cultural, ideological and intellectual formation of the best political troops in history, the SS."

This is not the first time that fascist groups have made an appearance on the Chilean political scene. Fatherland and Liberty, with their twisted swastika insignia, openly used tactics reminiscent of SS repression against supporters of elected Socialist President Salvador Allende. The comparison to German Nazi operations grows even more horrifying when considering torture survivors’ testimonies about their experience in the Chilean dictatorship’s concentration camps. And today, Chile’s judicial system is straining to bring justice in countless cases of human rights violations that are blanketed by impunity. A well-known example of this is the case of Paul Schäffer, alleged pedophile and sinister leader of Dignity Colony, one of the most notorious of the torture and death camps, who, evading 27 charges of child sex abuse, continues to enjoy his freedom.

The El Dique assault also came in a context of growing hate crimes and racist grafitti against Peruvian immigrants in Santiago. Santiago city councilman Ricardo Zúñiga told electronic news site he suspects a group called Nationalist Union is responsible for the racist slogans. The El Dique attack also hauntingly brings to mind another crime in Valparaiso: On September 4, 1998, 20 homosexuals were killed in a fire at a gay disco, La Divine. The police concluded that the fire was caused by a short circuit and the courts closed the case without a thorough investigation. A right-wing group later claimed responsibility for the crime.

Prompted by the El Dique attack and the denunciation by Curasbún, congressmen from the governing Concertación coalition have spoken out against the growing violence against Peruvians, homosexuals, Mapuches and anti-fascists. Congressman Antonio Leal told on June 13 that Nazi propaganda has existed in Chile for decades and that "some ideologues of this movement…were linked to the National Directorate of Intelligence (DINA) during the military government." Leal is pushing for a constitutional reform that condemns xenophobia and any type of discrimination in Chilean society. And Juan Bustos presented a bill to Congress on June 27 for the creation of a coordinating body for anti-Nazi groups. While these are necessary measures, they face a tolerance of intolerance that has proved to be a powerful and self-propagating phenomena—powerful enough to have survived the dictatorship that long protected it.

Margot Olavarría is Associate Editor of NACLA Report on the Americas.


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