With a series of marches, conferences, plays, exhibits, and performances, tens of thousands of Chileans marked last week’s 40th anniversary of the coup that ended the presidency of Salvador Allende and ushered in the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
September 11, 1973, is commemorated every year in Chile as the original 9/11, a day of infamy. This year, the coup was remembered with renewed calls to bring to justice those responsible for Pinochet’s 17-year reign of terror.
Pinochet, who ruled the country with the support of the United States, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, abducted, or killed nearly 40,000 people. Today, the challenge for many Chileans lies in finding the remains of more than 1,000 people who were “disappeared” during the dictatorship.
While Pinochet is long gone, his legacy remains. Chile is presently bound by Pinochet’s constitution, and his security forces remain mostly intact.
“We feel, effectively, that we continue to live in Pinochet’s society,” says Andrés Fielbaum, who leads the student union at the University of Chile. “We have the health system of Pinochet, the education system of Pinochet, the laws and the constitution of Pinochet – this is still the country of Pinochet.”
In the days leading to the anniversary, political figures of all stripes apologized for their actions, or lack of action, in the aftermath of the coup. Most notably, the National Association of Judges apologized for the failure of the courts, and particularly Chile’s Supreme Court, to protect the victims of abuse.
But those apologies are not enough, according to Lorena Pizarro Sierra, who leads Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, the organization representing the families of Chile’s disappeared.
“If there is a victory that we’ve had in this fight for truth and justice,” says Pizarro Sierra, “it’s that the vast majority now realizes that nothing justifies the coup, nothing justifies the violation of human rights.”