Remembering the disappeared

Photos from the 40th anniversary of Chile’s coup

Youth dressed as mimes dance with elders in front of Palacio de La Moneda on September 11.

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.”

High school students hold up a sign reading “Through ignorance one descends into servitude, through education one ascends to liberty,” at a rally on September 4, in Santiago.

A young girl is detained and dragged into a police van by members of Chile’s Carabineros.

Family members of the disappeared hold signs of their loved ones during a march that gathered tens of thousands in the streets of Santiago on September 8.

Eduardo Canteros Gormaz speaks at the funeral of his father, Eduardo Canteros Prado, in front of the memorial commemorating the dictatorship’s disappeared in Santiago. Canteros Prado, who was taken from his home in 1976 when his son was just one year old, is one of thousands of Chileans who were detained and disappeared in the aftermath of the coup. His remains were found – along with those of two others, in plastic bags buried in shallow graves – by construction crews working to erect a telecommunications tower on the outskirts of Santiago. “I don’t remember when I found out that my father was one of the disappeared,” Canteros said at the ceremony. “But I suppose that I always knew.”

A torture survivor points to a place high up in the stands of a basketball arena where Pinochet’s soldiers mowed people down with machine guns. The arena, then known as Estadio Chile, is also the place where folk singer Victor Jara was tortured and murdered in the days following the coup.

A group of street performers stop traffic near the basketball arena where Victor Jara was held. The performance was part of a march held on September 12 to commemorate the day when Jara, along with hundreds of students and faculty from Universidad Tecnica del Estado, were arrested.

The widow of Victor Jara, Joan Jara Turner (second from left), walks towards the basketball arena where Victor was held and tortured in 1973.

A sign on a tree at Cementerio General, one of the largest cemeteries in Latin America with an estimated 2,000,000 burials, reads: “WHERE? HOW? 39 years without hearing from… Mario E. Calderon.”

A man holds a bouquet of flowers as he waits to visit the tomb of Salvador Allende at Cementerio General in Santiago on September 7.

Riot police fire water cannons to break up a student rally marking the 40th anniversary of the coup near Estación Central on September 4, in Santiago.

Street performers hold up a sign honouring Rodrigo Rojas De Negri, an emerging photographer who was set on fire and burned alive by Pinochet’s soldiers in 1986. Rojas, who was born in Chile, had grown up in the Washington, D.C., area and returned to Santiago in 1986 to photograph the city’s shantytowns. The sign reads, “I would dream of photographing Chile and bringing people closer to my country through my photographs – I am Rodrigo Rojas De Negri and I was tortured and killed on 5/7/86.”

High school students hold a banner reading, “We are not merchandise of politicians or businessmen” at a student march on September 4, in Santiago.

A wall in downtown Santiago reads, “In 40 years, Chile has not given up!”