Before coming to Chile, I read a lot about Pinochet’s dictatorship. I read that it lasted from 1973-1990, and that, since then, Chile has recovered beautifully, evolving into a thriving democracy. Unfortunately, after many lectures and conversations with my host family and teachers, I realized that the state of Chile is not as it seems.
During our second week in Chile, we learned about the human rights atrocities that occurred during the dictatorship. September 11th is a day of memory here. It was the day that marked the torture, disappearance and murders of thousands of students, teachers, activists, and leaders. Football stadiums were filled with prisoners. We visited many different torture centers, and sat with people as we listened to their stories.
Memory sites are very important here in Chile. This usually looks like a museum or a public area, protected, to educate people on human rights abuses that occurred. It is a place to reflect, grieve, and stand in solidarity with hope that such a thing never happens again.
While these memory sites make it seem like this violence has ended, peoples’ rights are still severely oppressed daily. The remnants of the dictatorship remain. This is especially true for indigenous populations whose land is continuously infiltrated and stolen by militant police, migrants that come from other countries and are subject to racism and discrimination on numerous levels, and for activists educating the public of the violence of the government. Free speech is repressed as protests almost always result in police violence, tear gas, and hosing people. The government has named marginalized groups of people as terrorists as a way to justify violence against them.
Even more disturbing, during our site visits and lectures, we learned about the countless ways the US has intervened in Chile’s politics, in how they helped Pinochet come to power, and how they continue to perpetuate various forms of violence here.
Many people living in Chile are still healing from the trauma of the dictatorship while also enduring the oppression of the current regime. I know I can’t do much for the people suffering here, but countless times people asked that we spread the message of what is happening here. So here I am, spreading the message.