The dictator has died this past Sunday. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, born into a middle class family in 1915, a late-comer to coup plotting in 1973, and subsequent figurehead of the military coup ousting the democratically elected Socialist Salvador Allende, was dead 30 minutes after losing consciousness. He was hospitalized last week after suffering from a serious heart attack.
Karen, a 34 year old massuese from the desert oasis of San Pedro de Atacama, located an hour away from the copper unionist town of Calama, declared to me last week that his death means, “the end of an era. This is the end of the patriarchy.” Her landlady harbored a union leader in her home who was found by police within days and dragged off.
Lorena Pizarro, the long-time president of the Association of Families of the Detained and Disappeared, said in comments to the local paper La Tercera, “Who knows what is the story, Pinochet dies the 10th of December and maybe its because all of humanity told him that it was enough.”
The tenth of December is the anniversary of the United Nations approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts that human rights and dignity are “the foundations for liberty, justice and peace in the world.” It is also the day in which Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon dictated the court motion to prosecute him in 1998 for responsibility in genocide, torture and terrorism involving 3000 people, as well as the 84th birthday of his wife Lucia Hiriart, whose hand he clasped upon his final breath.
Pinochet’s dictatorship was unique. It had a low body count (he called it economy), especially in comparison to Argentina, where in the 1970’s almost 30,000 people died. Regardless, he was known the world round for his violations of human rights, professionalization of repression, torture and interrogation techniques, fascist tendencies and usage of the Chilean society to experiment with one of the most extreme versions of neo-liberal economies in the world.
Last years Valech Report confirmed the most disastrous yield of the violent and professionally repressive regime; 30,000 people tortured and a corresponding psychological wasteland today called Chilean society.
This is a country cleaved in two, a small country of 15 million ripped apart by individual acts of violence and imposition of fear upon children, women, men, workers, mothers, friends and neighbors. It was the cleaning of society of “Marxist scum,” and the imposition of liberal capitalism.
Its effects are barely visible to the outside. While there are official documents and direct experiences communicated publically by the most assiduous and public fighters, there is a second level of experience with the dictatorship which is often forgotten. There are casual anecdotes of friends and neighbors whose fingers were deformed by bamboo slivers being inserted under fingernails during interrogation or stories of missing bodies under airport tarmacs, or brother’s assassinated the day after the coup, or the smell of the interrogator in Villa Grimaldi. These and more have been efficiently tucked away into the far reaches of the heart, lock and key. With each new conversation the magnitude of this dictators regime is comprehended.
The reformist and socialist president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, who herself was tortured and her father assassinated by the regime, has sent out a sign of support to the police forces who are controlling the hotspots of celebration and protest by people.
Local press citing government sources say that this is to “avoid a carnavalesque environment.” This is wonderfully stateswomen like behaviour, but I am sure that President Bachelet, as well as so many people in the current government, will toast at the end of a day of professional reserve. She has denied Pinochet a state funeral. Although, after a meeting with the Commander of the Armed Forces, Oscar Izurieta, allowed for the Chilean flag to be flown at half staff.
On the efficient and clean Metro a clump of military conscripts wear green and black combat fatigues. Strangely enough so does an officer with a German moustache and the name of Weisser, whose head snaps to look at the television on the platform upon mention of Pinochet. In the Metro car he towers above the rest of the riders. His civilian partner tells me that “everyone is wearing them (fatigues) today.” I sense an eerie silence and curious eyes directed at the military officer.
La Victoria, Villa Francia, La Pincoya are all poblaciónes which were particularly repressed by the dictatorships police forces. They broke out into celebration within hours of Pinochet’s death and continued into a night lit by burning tires, and in one case, a hijacked bus.
Outside the Escuela Militar, in the upperclass neighborhood of Las Condes, there is a line of supporters waiting to see his body on display. It was here where Pinochet had his opportunity to be formed as an officer and rose through the ranks. It is also where Luz Gajardo, known to the Chilean people through television for her attack on the former commander of the armed forces and violent confrontations with non-Pinochet supporters, has now expressed her support by attacking a half-built apartment building being constructed by workers who had heckled her from above. “Pinochet, dictator, he’s already dead.” She smashed the plate-glass windows of the pilot apartment and sacked the showroom office.
I wonder if the construction workers, whose monthly minimum wage is $130,000 pesos, or approximately USD $250, have felt effects of the so-called economic miracle that is now always touted alongside the dour recitation by almost all Pinochet adherents when recognizing human rights violations. The El Mercurio newspaper, the right wing standard bearer whose editor Agustin Edwards received cash payments from the CIA in the 1970’s, deals with the issue on their special edition in this way. “Lights and Shadows: violations of Human Rights and Economic Modernization”
What about the Violations, why don’t they put that in bold? What about the fractured families, careers and stifled society left by Pinochet’s regime. Maria Martinez-Conde is a 54 year old artist whose husband was persecuted by the dictatorship in the 70’s. She fled to Brazil, leaving her child behind, and to be reunited by an Amnesty International mission. Martinez-Conde’s mother died by herself, without her daughter, and was buried by her neighbors. Forced to remake herself upon return to Chile in 1991, the profession that she studied in the 1970’s was of no use now, she set out to the now tourist haven of San Pedro de Atacama where her artwork was more objectively received by foreign tourists. She is angry that justice was not done in his case, and that he dies with impunity. “Where he should be worried is not here and now, but in the afterlife, where all the deaths related to his regime will come after him with vengeance.”
One of these people could be Ricardo Rojas, a nineteen year old photographer who was sequestered by police while covering a protest in 1987, doused with gasoline and set on fire. An opposite sentiment was described by the priest Alfonso Baeza, vice-president of the Catholic charity group Caritas, who in a radio interview this morning mentioned his friend, a priest, who reportedly asked not to be blindfolded when summarily executed so he could pardon his assassin in heaven.
A friend bursts into the room. Pablo del Rio is a 42 year old film and television producer. “This is really important…you didn’t live and grow up here, and have your life changed by this guy.” He paces and in the distance he cries out “Pinochet is dead!”. He strides back in and sees the front page of the Mercurio paper and its inch high bold font, and declares again, “He’s Dead!”. Pablo left at nineteen because he was sick of the dictatorship and went to live in Mexico with exiled family members. Then he went to Pittsburgh. His sister (in Mexico) as recent as last week writes treatises on Pinochet to rid her of the pain and frustration over his impunity. “I was all afternoon and morning talking to people, Pinochet is dead! Pinochet is dead!, but didn’t see the body.” He doubted the death of Pinochet. “Show me the money…show me his body…And then I saw his body on tv, and I was so happy. Now everyone can be happy…The fucker, the fucker is out of our lives, no more, he can’t bother us any more.” Why don’t I go to see the corpse, he tells me, so I can go and spit on his body. “Now it can be like Spain and Franco, all the girls are pretty and happy, sex and rock and roll.”