A photo essay from the week of September 11, 2013 in Chile, marking the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government by a US-backed military coup (Part 1 of 2). The author and photographer participated in an SOA (School of the Americas) Watch solidarity delegation.
A sculpture replica of Salvador Allende’s shattered eyeglasses, part of a special exhibit at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights commemorating the 40th anniversary. The museum, opened in 2010, provides a wealth of multi-media exhibits documenting the coup, repression, and resistance. A stunning 3-story atrium houses a photo montage of the victims of Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship. The museum is free to the public.
The large rose bouquet in the background is a tribute from the living members of the GAP (Group of Personal Friends), Allende’s personal bodyguard, who remained loyal to the end.
Eight former army officers were indicted last year for the murder of Chile's beloved folksinger Victor Jara, including Pedro Barrientos, now a US citizen living in Florida. To date he has not been extradited.
In 1991, after Chile's return to democracy, the remains of 126 political prisoners were exhumed here from unmarked graves where they had been dumped by the dictatorship. Many were subsequently misidentified and returned to the wrong families. Through the efforts of the Association of Families of the Detained Disappeared (AFDD), the site was declared a national monument in 2006.
This marble wall in the General Cemetery, established through the efforts of human rights groups, lists some 3,000 names of known victims of the Pinochet dictatorship. On either side are tombs containing the remains of those killed for political reasons, including vacant tombs for the desaparecidos (disappeared), in the hopes that their remains will someday be found.
More than 40,000 political prisoners (both Chileans and foreigners) passed through the National Stadium, a notorious detention and torture site controlled by the Army. While it is still used as a major sports and events venue, sections have been set aside as a memorial museum. Thousands visited here on the night of September 11 to commemorate the 40-year anniversary.
3 y 4 Alamos, a retreat facility for oblate monks, was converted into a detention/ torture center by the Carabineros and the DINA (secret police). It housed up to 400 prisoners at a time, many arriving from the National Stadium. A special section was reserved for “VIP prisoners” from the Allende government. The prisoners were highly organized. Carlos (right), a former union leader detained here, ran a covert participatory lecture series on topics ranging from Marxist ideology to how a hot water heater functions (the most popular, he says). A portion of the facility still operates as a juvenile detention center.
The DINA operated another detention/ torture center at Londres 38, a 3-story building on a quaint cobblestone street in downtown Santiago which was formerly the Socialist Party headquarters. Some 2,000 political prisoners passed through this facility, including 96 who were executed or disappeared from the site. More than 1,100 clandestine torture centers have been identified in Chile, and new ones are still being found.
Casa Nido 20, a house in the middle class La Cisterna neighborhood of Santiago, was used as a detention/ torture center by the Chilean Air Force. Most of the prisoners held here were members of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). Recuperated by survivors and neighbors, the house was renamed Casa Museo Alberto Bachelet, after the general who remained loyal to Allende (father of ex-president and current presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet). The Bachelet family lived in the neighborhood. The house was declared a national memory site in 2005.
At Casa José Domingo Cañas, in the middle class Ñuñoa district, 56 leftist militants were tortured and disappeared by the DINA over a 4-month period in 1974. The body of one, MIRista Lumi Videla, was dumped at the Italian Embassy, which played a key role in sheltering Chilean refugees. The buildings were later destroyed to conceal evidence. The site was recovered by neighbors and relatives as a memory museum in 2010.
Carolina Gonzalez, who runs this memory house on behalf of the neighborhood collective, was 10 years old when her father was arrested by the military on the day of the coup in Punta Arenas (Patagonia). He worked for the Allende government as a factory "intervenor," facilitating the process of worker takeovers. Carolina's mother, a teacher, was left along with four children. Detained at a prison camp on Dawson Island, her father was killed later that month in a sham "escape attempt." Carolina is an active member of AFEP, the Association of Families of the Politically Executed. "Life marked me and obligated me," she says of her human rights work.
Villa Grimaldi, a beautiful 3-acre resort located on the outskirts of Santiago, was one of the DINA’s most important clandestine facilities. An estimated 4,500 political prisoners were held and tortured there, including Michelle Bachelet and her mother. At least 226 disappeared forever from the site. In 1987, the facility was sold for redevelopment and the buildings were destroyed. Neighborhood groups resisted, leading to the creation of a memorial peace park which reproduces some of the original structures and incorporates their material remnants. Each rose bush in this garden is dedicated to a female prisoner of Villa Grimaldi.
More than 100 political prisoners were held on the ship Esmeralda in the port city of Valparaíso, including the Anglo-Chilean worker priest Father Michael Woodward who died under torture. The stunning 4-masted ship, the world’s second tallest, serves today as a Navy training vessel and continues to sail the world as a “floating ambassador“ for Chilean tourism.
Note: the video Las Imágenes Prohibidas (Part 1 of 4 embedded below), containing graphic footage of the dictatorship era, captivated Chilean TV audiences this past September. Many of these images were being shown for the first time on TV.
Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA’s weekly blog Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive governments (nacla.org/blog/rebel-currents).