Read

Search form

40 Years After the Coup, Chile's Dark Past Still Haunts

40 Years After the Coup, Chile's Dark Past Still Haunts
Wed, 9/11/2013 - by Tracey Chandler

SANTIAGO – “¿Dónde están los desaparecidos?” (Where are the disappeared?) was a phrase written across the walls of Chile's capital in the lead-up to the 40th anniversary of President Salvador Allende’s death.

The military coup of 1973, and the brutal rule of General Augusto Pinochet that followed, still burns. Questions linger, wounds have been left to bleed, and even today Chile remains a prisoner in the unbreakable cage of its 1980 Constitution.

On September 11, 1973, General Pinochet organized one of the most reactive military attacks in modern Latin American history when he seized Santiago’s presidential palace. Sources linking the CIA to Pinochet’s military operations are plentiful, accusing the United States of helping Pinochet strengthen his army and replace Allende’s left-wing supporters with right-wing politicians in key appointments before the attack.

Margaret Thatcher's conservative administration was also accused of supporting the Pinochet regime and helping him maintain military control over the country for almost two decades.

More than 3,000 people, from politicians to artists to students, were killed or “disappeared” during the dictatorship, and around 30,000 people were imprisoned and tortured. In the meantime, the nationalizations that Allende put in place were reversed, health and education got privatized, foreign investment became priority and the indigenous Mapuche community was marginalized.

In 1976, the creation of the National Copper Corporation (Codelco) merged all of the country’s nationalized mining companies, which enabled a new copper law in 1987 to divert 10 percent of Chile's copper exports directly into the armed forces budget.

What Does This All Mean for Chile in 2013?

Twenty-three years after the attack on La Moneda, Chile continues in its pursuit for justice, truth and equality: justice for the crimes against humanity that Pinochet was never charged with, the truth behind the whereabouts of the “desaparecidos,” and a restoration of equality that presents a Chile for all.

Today, on the eve of the anniversary, the country feels adrift amid pending government elections in November, the armed police expecting violence in the streets, the masked graffiti artists, the striking students and workers, the rising percentage of foreign investment year on year, the power enjoyed by the few thanks to the privatization of healthcare and education for the many, and the still-constant images of Salvador Allende as a violent and extreme-left revolutionary despite his presidential discourse that stressed legal, democratic rule.

Most recently, the Chilean government has become especially known for prostituting itself at the hands of foreign investment in the name of “progress.” A perfect case is that of the HidroAysén dam project, managed by Aysén’s Environmental Evaluation Committee.

The approval of the project revealed flaws in Chile’s institutional order, as government leaders aligned with big business interests traded in the basic rights of its people and natural resources for energy profits. The majestic Baker and Pascua rivers, in Patagonia, are likely to be destroyed by the dam project, while two private companies — Endesa and Colbún — rake in gains. The 1981 Water Code, supported by Pinochet’s 1980 Constitution, allows both companies to use the water from both rivers without charge.

Endesa already owns 80 percent of Chile’s water rights; in 2005, when changes were made to the 1981 Water Code, a special clause was included that enabled Endesa to continue to benefit from concessions on the water it did not use until 2012, without being charged. The dam project, above all, serves as a reminder that political and economic power in Chile is still overwhelmingly centralized in Santiago. Taxes earned from the dam project will not go to the regions impacted by the dam, but to the capital, as local Chilean communities receive nothing and Endesa again profits.

This, of course, is only the latest in a slew of government-business projects that have favored corporations over the Chilean people. In 2012, international companies invested more than $30 billion in Chile, according to the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). This figure represented an increase of $7 billion from 2011, and a 32 percent rise in foreign direct investment in Chile during that one-year period. Accordingly, Chile became the second highest receiver of foreign direct investment in Latin America after Brazil.

And as Chile continues to choose foreign investment over local business, the demand for English-speaking workers continues to rise. The result: more emphasis is placed on learning English in Chile's schools, while indigenous languages like that of the Mapuche become lost.

Can the Country Move Forward?

After family members have gone missing and were never found; after a 17-year-long military dictatorship financed by foreign investment; and after the right to a national health service and quality public education was replaced with costly privatized versions of those services that few can afford, it’s easy to understand why Chileans have a problem moving on.

“Sólo lo que no cesa de doler permanece en la memoria, ni perdón, ni olvido” (Only that which doesn’t stop hurting remains in the memory, not forgiveness, not forgetting), was one of the many messages plastered across the streets of Santiago during marches that led up to this week's historic date.

The 1980 Constitution, which was particularly favorable to elites, introduced a Binominal System to ensure that at least 50 percent of Parliament was reserved for members of the right. It also required a quorum, or majority of votes, for any large changes related to employment, social, political or cultural reforms. Since returning to free, universal, high-quality health and education isn’t in the interests of elites, changing laws to this day in Chile remains a severe challenge.

One of the quintessential images from a recent march here was of a 30-something woman filming the action on her iPad. Visitors to Chile can pass through and see clean streets, a functioning metro service, plenty of imported goods - like everything Apple - and opportunities for foreign investment or purchasing property. But Chile is not in as full a state of health and progress as it appears, or as the foreign media reports.

Forty years after the overthrow of Salvador Allende, Chile still awaits a popular, multicultural people’s movement to steer the country in a new direction. The movement must be strong and unified enough to replace the corrupt 1980 Constitution which a Pinochet's military dictatorship imposed on it. It must be strong and unified enough to enforce the rights of people, communities and Chile's bountiful natural resources above the needs of foreign markets and financial investment.

How many banners reminding us of the “desaparecidos,” how many photographs of those people never found, printed on picket signs, must be marched through the streets of Santiago before such a constitution is drafted — and such a legacy healed?

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

climate change denial, Carbon Washington, American Legislative Exchange Council, carbon tax, solar subsidies, solar tax breaks, fracking bans

These ballot measures are noteworthy because they don’t just regulate emissions or mandate transitions – they help the economically insecure, create incentives for individual change, and reassert local authority over corporate polluters.

Black Lives Matter, Movement for Black Lives, Black Panthers, Black Panther Party, Organization for Black Struggle, food pantries, community service, Michael Brown, Ferguson protests, Black Power Movement, OurStory, Black Youth Project 100, racial justice

Nearly two years after people took to the streets in Ferguson to protest the killing of Michael Brown, the nationwide movement has broadened its focus to community empowerment in ways reminiscent of the Black Panthers of the 60s.

water privatization, Nestlé, water grabs, Community Water Justice, water conflict, Fryeburg, Maine, Peter Gleick, water bottling, Cascade Locks

The Swiss corporation Nestlé has a penchant for gobbling up huge areas of freshwater across the planet and bottling it for profit – even as judges, courts, cities and entire regions try to stand in their way.

Take On Wall Street, break up the banks, too big to fail, financial transactions tax, 21st century Glass-Steagall, carried interest tax loophole, Dodd-Frank Act,

In launching a new coalition to reign in the power of the big banks, Warren warned said taxpayers still may have to bail them out: “Dodd-Frank imposed some discipline, but let’s get real. Dodd-Frank did not end too big to fail.”

Some of the biggest issues facing our country are forgotten once the cameras switch off, but our ADD news cycle only makes us more vulnerable to repeat disasters like the Flint water crisis.

climate change, global warming, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, climate protests, global climate movement, Carbon Brief, carbon emissions, climate arrests, British Petroleum, BP, Enbridge, Flood Wall Street, People's Climate March, risking arrest, civil dis

My arrest didn’t feel like a risk, it felt like a transaction. I’ve found freedom in facing my fears and dispensing with false choices.

Posted 5 days 16 hours ago
Nestle water grab, water privatization, Columbia River Gorge, Cascade Locks

Voters in one Oregon county last week approved a ban on commercial bottled water production, stopping a years-long effort by Swiss transnational Nestle to sell over 100 million gallons of water a year from the Columbia River Gorge.

Posted 5 days 17 hours ago
water privatization, Nestlé, water grabs, Community Water Justice, water conflict, Fryeburg, Maine, Peter Gleick, water bottling, Cascade Locks

The Swiss corporation Nestlé has a penchant for gobbling up huge areas of freshwater across the planet and bottling it for profit – even as judges, courts, cities and entire regions try to stand in their way.

Posted 2 days 7 hours ago

Some of the biggest issues facing our country are forgotten once the cameras switch off, but our ADD news cycle only makes us more vulnerable to repeat disasters like the Flint water crisis.

Posted 3 days 13 hours ago
wealth inequality, income inequality, wealth gap, growing poverty, growing disparity

After 35 years of wealth distribution to the super-rich, inequality has forced much of the middle class towards the bottom, to near-poverty levels, and to a state of helplessness in which they find themselves being blamed for their own misfortunes.

Posted 3 days 13 hours ago
Nestle water grab, water privatization, Columbia River Gorge, Cascade Locks

Voters in one Oregon county last week approved a ban on commercial bottled water production, stopping a years-long effort by Swiss transnational Nestle to sell over 100 million gallons of water a year from the Columbia River Gorge.

climate change denial, climate deniers, Donald Trump, rising sea levels, carbon emissions

The billionaire who called global warming a hoax is now warning of its dire effects in his company's application to build a sea wall to protect Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland in County Clare.

water privatization, Nestlé, water grabs, Community Water Justice, water conflict, Fryeburg, Maine, Peter Gleick, water bottling, Cascade Locks

The Swiss corporation Nestlé has a penchant for gobbling up huge areas of freshwater across the planet and bottling it for profit – even as judges, courts, cities and entire regions try to stand in their way.

climate change, global warming, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, climate protests, global climate movement, Carbon Brief, carbon emissions, climate arrests, British Petroleum, BP, Enbridge, Flood Wall Street, People's Climate March, risking arrest, civil dis

My arrest didn’t feel like a risk, it felt like a transaction. I’ve found freedom in facing my fears and dispensing with false choices.

climate change, climate denial, Portland Public Schools

In a move spearheaded by environmentalists, the Portland Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution aimed at eliminating doubt of climate change and its causes in schools.