Chile: thousands mark 40th anniversary of coup

Tens of thousands of Chileans marched down the Alameda avenue in central Santiago on Sept. 8 in one of a series of events marking the 40th anniversary of the US-backed Sept. 11, 1973 coup that installed the military dictatorship headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet Urgarte (1973-1990). The marchers, some carrying signs reading "40 years since the coup, nothing and no one is forgotten," demanded justice for the victims. The organizers said 60,000 people participated in the action, which is sponsored each year by the National Assembly for Human Rights, while the police put the number at 30,000. A confrontation broke out at the march’s end between agents of the carabineros militarized police and masked protesters; 31 people were arrested and seven agents were injured, according to the police. (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 9, from AP, AFP)

The commemorations continued on the morning of Sept. 10 with an unusual protest called "Wanting Not to See" ("Querer No Ver"): 1,210 people lay down for 11 minutes in a line stretching for blocks on the sidewalk along the Alameda from the Plaza Italia to the La Moneda presidential palace. The action was organized by actress and theater director María José Contreras as a reminder that approximately 1,200 people were disappeared under the dictatorship and are still not accounted for. On the same day former president Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), the frontrunner in the Nov. 17 presidential election, visited the site of the Villa Grimaldi, a torture center where she was held with her mother, Angela Jeria, in 1974, after the death of her father, Socialist leader Alberto Bachelet. (Santiago Times, Sept. 10; LJ, Sept. 11, from correspondents and unidentified wire services)

On Sept. 11, the date of the coup, thousands of people attended the traditional ceremony near La Moneda during which floral tributes are placed at the statue of Salvador Allende Gossens, the Socialist president who was overthrown in the coup; Allende committed suicide as the military attacked the palace. Other Chileans marked the anniversary by setting up barricades in various sections of the capital; five vehicles were set on fire during protests in the communes that surround Santiago. The Secondary Students Coordinating Assembly (ACES) announced that students occupied seven high schools in the metropolitan area to honor the memory of students murdered under the dictatorship. The authorities said 13 people were arrested during the day in various incidents in Santiago, less than they had anticipated.

President Sebastián Piñera, the first rightwing politician to occupy La Moneda since the end of the dictatorship, used the anniversary to criticize politicians, judges and media that he said had been "complicit" during the Pinochet years, but he insisted that "the time has come, after 40 years, not to forget but to overcome the traumas of the past." According to a 2004 report by the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture (known as the "Varech Commission"), at least 30,000 people were victimized under the dictatorship, with more than 28,000 of them subjected to illegal detention, torture, execution or disappearance; the report estimated that about 3,000 people were killed. (TeleSUR, Sept. 11; Clarín, Argentina, Sept. 12, from EFE, AFP, DPA)

The Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous group, suffered disproportionately from the Pinochet regime. Although the Mapuche say Chile's left parties didn’t have programs that incorporated the full range of indigenous demands, the Mapuche were inspired by the victory of Allende’s Popular Unity coalition in 1970 and benefited from policies carried out by his government. Under Allende’s agrarian reform program 4,401 estates were expropriated by 1973, and the Mapuche recovered 30,000 hectares of land that they considered their historic territory; the Mapuche recovered another 70,000 hectares through their own direct actions during the period. About 300 Mapuche were killed under the Pinochet regime, and some 50 were disappeared. The military government also passed laws restricting Mapuche rights, including an "antiterrorist law" which still remains partially in effect. (Mapu Express, Sept. 11)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 15.