Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How Chile is dealing with its own history of government torture

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At some point the US is going to have to deal with what it’s done over the past eight years. Certainly this Congress is not going to deal with it—for one thing, many members are implicated in the decisions and acquiescence that allowed the program of indefinite detention (on no charges) and torture to be established and operated. Many not directly implicated never spoke out against what was happening. But at some point, the facts must be dealt with. Right now some are saying, “Let’s pardon everyone, forget it happened, and move on,” but of course those who say that are the not the victims, who have a right to be heard and acknowledged.

Chile had a similar problem, though worse than what the US has done: Under the US-backed Pinochet regime, tens of thousands were tortured and thousands were murdered. The country now is facing that time. Jack Chang of McClatchy reports:

LONQUEN, Chile — This quiet town nestled in the hills of central Chile has a horrifying history.

In 1978, in a stone oven on the town’s outskirts, the Roman Catholic Church found the bodies of 11 poor farmers and four youths who were executed by Chile’s military dictatorship. Police had accused the victims of being leftist subversives and arrested them five years earlier, but no charges were ever filed.

After the 15 bodies were discovered, government agents buried them in a common grave, and the site’s landlord blew up the oven. However, the oven’s ruins, which now are next door to a gated community, have become a memorial for hundreds of people who come every year to honor the victims.

“They sing and pray here, crowds of them,” said Eliana Gonzalez, who with her husband runs an almond farm near the oven’s ruins. “I think a lot about what happened there. As a mother, I’m pained by everything that’s happened.”

As Chile and other countries wrestle with whether it’s better to exhume their dark pasts or to leave them buried and try to move on, the current, elected government of President Michelle Bachelet, who herself was detained and tortured by the Pinochet regime, has moved to make that black period in Chile’s history part of the country’s national heritage.

Official estimates have found that the U.S.-backed regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, which ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, carried out the political executions or disappearances of nearly 3,200 people in its campaign to root out opposition leaders and left-wing dissidents. Tens of thousands more were tortured but survived.

Now Chilean officials and human rights activists are working to find more than 800 sites where the country’s military government committed its gravest crimes.

The country’s Ministry of National Properties has taken on the enormous task of compiling a registry of the dictatorship’s detention and torture sites and setting up a “Route of Memory” for interested visitors.

The government plans to build a museum in the capital, Santiago, documenting the dark history. Officials here call the planned 54,000-square-foot facility a Chilean version of the Holocaust museum in Washington.

Such actions have come atop the prosecutions of dictatorship-era officials who coordinated the repression.

“Our idea is this history should be national patrimony,” said Romy Schmidt, Chile’s minister of national properties. “The physical places are an important part of that history. They keep the history alive. When you’re in these sites, you are living that history.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2008 at 6:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

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