Politics | Chile’s 9/11: “Forty years on, we haven’t received any form or type of justice.” [VIDEO]
New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 18:16 - 0 Comments
The female survivors of a detention camp in Pisagua, Chile have come together to keep the memory of their plight alive. In a few of the accounts, Ross Domoney’s Living Presence documentary video captures the break in a long personal silence as they visit the camp for the first time since their experience. They urge us to ask: how far have we come since the “living presence” of Augusto Pinochet was that of head of state?
Though 11th of September might not be remembered by the world at large as the date Pinochet violently overthrew Allende, it is a very important date in our collective, recent history. It is thanks to the dedication of Patricia Pizarro in answering the following questions that we can further get a sense of her and her friends’ accounts of a not so distant past with lasting present significance.
Ceasefire (CF): It is clear from the documentary that you all feel the urge to tell your story. After forty years, how present is the memory of Pinochet’s regime today in Chile?
Patricia Pizarro (PP): When Pinochet was detained in Britain, news organizations uncovered many stories of the dictatorship and amongst these were my own. Whilst I had been careful to maintain my privacy until then, considering the circumstances I no longer felt that silence was valid. Rather, revealing my story could be an opportunity to press charges against the dictator.
Although it has been forty years, the legacy of the dictatorship continues. His policies had been institutionalised and are rooted in the governmental and especially economic structures of Chile. Pinochet and his officers elaborated and drafted our current Constitution, which has set a precedent until today.
CF: Do you feel society has a tendency to forget? How important is the need to remember our past histories?
PP: The collective forgetting of these dramatic, historic incidents transmutes to a ‘consumerism’ and even apathy in society. Hence, thousands of Chileans refuse to identify themselves with the current political system. This creates a crisis of absence, as increasingly there are Chileans that do not take part in governmental elections.
It would be absurd to neglect the importance of these incidents that have so marked the democratic history of a country, when history repeats itself. It is vital that we learn, understand and interpret this past in such a way that the errors and ills committed are actually assumed. I believe that in understanding our historic past, we make it possible to but scratch the surface of ‘humanity’ in a broader and more generous sense. In the words of Che Guevara, “we must struggle every day so that this love for humanity becomes a reality”.
CF: Have you and your friends redeemed justice for what happened in Pisagua, the detention camp where you were mistreated by Pinochet’s armed officials?
PP: The answer is simple. We haven’t received any form or type of justice.
After seventeen years of dictatorship, it was followed by governmental regimes that brought about a judiciary system in denial and very willing to cover stories rather than uncover them. The torturers, the prison and camp guards… still live amongst the victims of this bloody dictatorship. It is publicly known that the military burnt and destroyed all information and documents related to the atrocities.
CF: Do you feel that speaking openly about what happened in Pisagua those years ago helps understand the effects of fascism of today?
PP: I believe stories like ours serve as a sign, or signal of prevention, of alert. It could even happen in Europe! Fascism exists and you can feel that, only that it now acquires many diverse shapes and forms. For example, evidence is found in the press when reading about abuses and attacks of ethnic minorities.
CF: How was it like as a young lady during the time of Allende?
PP: It was exciting! It was a unique experience. I was part of a renaissance: we were building a new Chile hand in hand with the workers, the mothers, and rural persons. Everything was faced with challenges, but we would win something each day. Poets and agricultural producers, students and miners…
I took part in a Neighbourhood Assembly to improve the food distribution system: ordered the flour to ensure for bread for the community, dealt out the milk at the school’s breakfast hour, painted murals, planted trees in a children’s playground, would teach women older than 80 years of age how to read, would cook for the workers… as well as travel across the whole of Chile to learn about our society and come to value each and every projection of what our future might look like, visions held by the individuals I met. In sum, my life was useful until an 11th of September, which refrained this life forever.
CF: What is the commonality between your struggle and that of student movements of today?
PP: Over the last few years, the student movement has moved on from having a conjectural role to having a principal role in the student demands on structural to constitutional grounds. The student protests has integrated a civil society that expresses discontent. Without a doubt, the students have generated a political conundrum.
The tenacity of their demonstrations, their passion in their beliefs and ideals are the same as the student movements of our time under the Popular Government of Salvador Allende. We would question our reality, considered alternative societal solutions, we would draft creative proposals…student movements play a very important role in the fight for social inequalities and they have the power and right to actively participate in the restructuring of the society in which they live in.
Patricia’s kind last words to the interview have been, “I greatly appreciate your interest and patience. The struggle continues and I have learned from my past. I live in my present and believe a society that is more equal and just”.
Photos: Ross Domoney.
Video: Ross Domoney and Johann Frenschock.
Patricia Pizarro’s words were translated by Christina Rebel.