Jorge and Claudia

She was working as a personal secretary for a TV personality; A giggly bubblegum-blowing teen on her first assignment at the nation’s largest television studios. Her mind was preoccupied with fashion, parties and ‘la nueva ola’. Despite the incumbent violence of the newly established political regime, her life was filled with the niceties of showbiz. One day her lifelong best friend and underground political party member asked her for a favour.

It turned out that he had this friend, ‘Jorge’ who was on the run from the secret police and she needed to look after and hide him. It was the end of October 1973 just a month or so after the coup and the country was being purged of all political opposition. Despite the risks, she agreed to carry out the rather curious favour, after all this was her childhood friend asking. The following week she finally met Jorge.

Her first impression of him was that he was rather arrogant and had impeccable manners. His calm blue eyes and impressive stature were not what she originally expected of her new daytime companion. She stood there chewing gum and shyly observing him in the rather tense room. The man, Jorge, was a serious chap. Extremely handsome with long elegant fingers, immaculate fingernails and a very confident quiet manner.

He observed the girl, about 12 years his junior in skintight jeans and platforms. She was annoying and loud and talked constant gibberish.
How awful to be in this predicament so far away from everything he loved, he pondered, And he would have to spend his days with her…He turned to the girl and asked her to stop tapping her feet as it was making him nervous. She looked at the man, ‘Jorge’ and rolled her eyes at the absurd command which she begrudgingly observed. The mutual friend intervened in the awkward standoff between the raucous teenager and serious political figure by pronouncing ‘Your new name is Claudia’ and smiled mischievously whilst ushering them out the door with precise instructions.

They made their way downtown on foot and boarded the bus which was a shock to both of them. Her, because she was from the plushest part of town and him because he was from Concepcion and not as familiar with Santiago as his more urban brother-in-arms ‘Carlos’. The bus was hot and heaving with poor people and weird smells. After an hour long ride they reached their destination; the posh suburbs, and walked to her gated community where he finally achieved a good rest and decent cup of tea.

As the weeks uneasily drifted by, despite their differences they became rather fond of each other. Her anti intellectualism and giddy youth was a welcome respite from the political militancy that had separated him from his son. She learnt lots from him too, he helped balance her frenetic energy and taught her to hold her tongue and maintain composure.
One tedious afternoon he asked if she’d read Marxist-Leninist theory, ‘what is that?!’ She screeched, first to his horror and then to his amusement. Claudia said it was one of the few times she really saw him do a proper belly laugh. After the tough job of gaining his trust she managed to get him to loosen up a few times, not be such a square. There was one frisky afternoon where she briefly sampled his masculinity and another occasion in which she managed to persuade him to come along to a party. She discovered that he was a wonderful dancer but he soon wanted to return back to the quiet, away from the giddy glitz, so far removed from the reality of his possible capture and most likely, immediate execution.

Most of the time he’d be solemn, listening to music and international news on an ancient pocket radio he kept on his person at all times, and expressed his sorrow at being separated from his little son. She listened to him lament not seeing his child grow up: not being able to hold him. She asked him to let her help, her dad could pick up his son and bring him, even just for an afternoon, but Jorge just welled up and nodded no. The risks were too great.
She felt sad for him so isolated, on the run and having to spend his days between meetings and sleeping in safe-houses. On days they had enough money they would get around the city by car but mostly they used buses as they were cheaper and less easy to follow by the secret police.
She tagged along to many meetings and even got to meet ‘Carlos’ the enigmatic first man of the outlawed political party, but mostly nobody paid attention to the young girl and she found their rambling meetings a little dull. Sometimes she would be sent on risky missions to meet a nurse for medical supplies as he suffered from a progressive colic condition.

Over those damp autumn days she became Jorge’s ally, She cared about whether he ate or had proper underwear or the cigarettes he loved to smoke. Their routine had now become like second skin. Her lack of political awareness shielded her from the reality that protecting this man could cost her the things she held dear. Namely, life as she knew it.
Her mother constantly fretted about Claudia’s whereabouts and insisted on knowing why she spent so much time with that older man and had become his chaperone but Claudia kept to her word and brushed off the questions whilst wangling extra money to keep them afloat.

As the indiscernible days agonisingly stretched out before them, Jorge became increasingly agitated. He had not settled into his routine and bad news continually filtered through the networks. In effect his dead-man-walking status haunted him which is why he and James, who was also living in phantasmagoric clandestinity, decided to change tack and go into hiding someplace else where their scent wouldn’t be detected.
James thought that they should take cover in a church downtown. Jorge wasn’t so sure, Claudia intervened, seeing holes and risk in their plans but was promptly brushed off. She pleaded with them to let her hide Jorge in some private land that belonged to her family. They said no and dismissed her ideas as absurd. Undeterred she conjectured that the centrally located high footfall church would not be safe, but her words fell on deaf ears.

The last day she saw him alive was on December 10th 1973. Three days later, the church where they took refuge was raided and Jorge and James were taken by military personnel never to be seen again. It was on that day that ‘Claudia’ discovered ‘Jorge’s’ real name. And then it was her turn to run.

Homage to Bautista Van Schouwen 

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Bautista Van Schouwen, MIR founder, medical surgeon & father was born on the 3rd April 1943.  Today he would have been a not so elderly 74 years young, had his political beliefs not been criminalised to the point of making him one of the Chilean regime’s top ten wanted men.

A first class medical student (achieving among the highest grades in his graduation year) he excelled in pretty much every thing he turned his hand to, from achieving top grades at the prestigious Concepcion University, to founding a political movement & leading a grand ideological revolution. Despite Pinochet’s attempt to remove and extinguish him completely, his memory and influence is still very much etched upon the Chilean psyche.

Much has been written about his ideological viewpoints but not much is known about his person. Devastatingly handsome, reportedly a fabulous dancer and often photographed with cigarette in hand, his cool aura oozes the calm confidence of a man sure of his destiny.

From grainy internet images, photocopied and reposted millions of times, his fiery determination is undeniably eternal. The strength of his spirit and conviction continues to defy the inevitable moulting of time and anger the ones left behind in a world devoid of such a talented and devoted man, Bauchi.

Here is a tribute written by his son Pablo:

Desde el litoral del noroeste de México les mando unas palabras para rendir homenaje a Bautista van Schouwen Vasey, mi padre, y a Patricio Munita. En mis recuerdos intermitentes de niño, veo a mi padre con su mirada tierna y su sonrisa dulce como diciéndome ‘Aquí estoy, no me he separado ni un segundo de tu lado’, y es así como lo siento, en cada cosa que emprendo, en las decisiones importantes que tomo, él está de alguna manera presente, pero su ausencia también ha dejado irremediablemente un gran vacío en mi vida. Bauchi nació en un hogar de padres abnegados y amorosos, Carlota y Bautista, mis abuelos, quienes iniciaron su vida matrimonial en el norte de Chile, en un pueblito llamado Peña Chica (que no sé si todavía existe), y es ahí donde nació Bauchi, el primer hijo, y más tarde llegaron sus hermanos Carlos y Jorge. Después de la detención de Bauchi por agentes de la DINA en diciembre de 1973, sus padres dedicaron años de sus vidas a participar en campañas en distintos países donde se reclamaba a la junta militar chilena que mantuviera con vida a Bautista van Schouwen y lo liberara.

Por todo lo que he leído y escuchado sobre Bautista, me doy cuenta que fue un hombre excepcional, valiente, talentoso, entregado totalmente a la causa del movimiento revolucionario en el que participó desde su fundación, y también en un segundo plano a la medicina, específicamente a la neurología. No creía en la exaltación del martirologio ni en el culto a los muertos ni a los personajes.
Además de su esencia como revolucionario y su activismo político, Bautista tenía espíritu de investigador, de científico, de conocer y entender los procesos sociales de su época. Si él hubiera sobrevivido al golpismo de hace más de 40 años, se hubiera dedicado a estudiar e investigar en profundidad las causas que llevaron a la derrota a su organización, al gobierno de Salvador Allende y al movimiento popular en su conjunto. A conocer y entender la cadena de factores que llevaron a semejante tragedia, que fue particularmente sangrienta en Chile. No podemos olvidar que más de 600 miembros del Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria están entre los miles de desaparecidos y asesinados durante la dictadura.

Bautista estaría hoy sumergido en la búsqueda de información, de testimonios, para dar respuesta a interrogantes cruciales y necesarias, como por ejemplo: ¿Qué no vimos? ¿Qué fue lo que no percibimos a tiempo? ¿Qué nos llevó a mantener nuestro discurso y políticas internas como organización clandestina? o a querer cambiarlos cuando quizás ya era tarde? ¿Qué opciones tuvimos? ¿Por qué el costo en vidas fue tan alto? ¿Cuáles decisiones fueron erróneas? ¿En qué nos equivocamos al evaluar al enemigo? Y seguiría un largo etcétera de cuestionamientos y de visualizar las posibles acciones a tomar.

Seguramente él estaría pensando en cómo promover la discusión sobre estrategias de lucha ajustadas al contexto actual, invitando particularmente a representantes de las nuevas generaciones para que asumieran el relevo en aras de construir una sociedad más justa e igualitaria. Bauchi, padre querido, aquí somos muchos los que te recordamos y añoramos. Estamos en la lucha diaria por vivir y sobrevivir, criar hijos, vivir el amor en pareja, cuidar los trabajos, apoyar las causas justas, defender los derechos propios y ajenos, construir el presente. Pero también estamos y estaremos siempre viviendo la muy dolorosa y controversial paradoja de tu vida, que marcó la mía y la de muchos: Con tu muerte pasaste a ser inmortal.” 

To Be Or Not To Be: English

‘You’re so English’ assorted family members have muttered exasperatedly since I was able to string a sentence together. My seamless assimilation of the customs pertaining our country of refuge should have been a badge of honour, but over the years it came to mean many things. Not all of them pleasant.

My Englishness set me apart from the group I’d arrived in the U.K. with. My parents, grandparents and tíos were all Chilean, I on the other hand, was only so through genetics.

Being English came naturally to me. Schooling, friendships and interests were all anglophone, Chilean-ness juxtapositioned itself awkwardly within my daily life. It was something my parents tried to impress upon me through taking me to cultural events and encouraging Chilean cuisine & customs within the home.

As a child my Englishness and in particular my accent, was a source of amusement for the adults but this mirth gave way to umbrage as I mutated into a woman. It was here that an intense period of inter-family cultural clashes came into the fore.

As my adolescent peers sailed unscathed though the usual rites of passage: first can of Stella, first fag, make up, short skirts and gate-crashing adult parties, I had what my other friends didn’t: Chilean parents, who despite being of left wing extraction thus presumably ‘right on’, were not as liberal as I hoped. Deeply entrenched in catholic traditional & patriarchal Latin American values, the family viewed my normal English teenage behaviour as an aberration. My Britishness was a ‘problem’ and the refusal to speak Spanish or give a shit about Chile became obstructive.

The more refuge I sought in my English identity, the greater the Chilean clampdown was, until the asphyxiation became too much and I ran away from home just weeks before we were due to fly back to Chile for good.

Lured to Chile under the pretence that I would be allowed back if I did not adapt, I set about trying to make sense of the strange country my father called ‘home’.

In Latin America however, my Britishness seemed to amplify. From the clothes I wore, the habits I maintained and the inability to read or speak Spanish properly, my attempts to blend in were forever thwarted by my glaringly obvious foreignness. While it created a little bit of awe and envy among my new Chilean friends, it became a thorn in my side. At home with my father’s new wife, my English ways did not go down well. She was ultra conservative and disapproved of my liberal customs. I did not care what she thought and continued to come home drunk and smoke in my room.

It dawned on me that I could never erase my identity to make way for a newfangled one just to aid my father’s transition back to his homeland, I had learnt to speak Spanish but it was not my voice. It was time to go home although the path back would be rocky. Chilean norms in 1996 were completely indecipherable. 19 year olds seldom worked and I discovered that patriarchy dominates immigration rules: I could not leave until I reached 21 without my father’s permission and he was intent on keeping me close.

In an fateful twist of events, being English eventually facilitated my return to the UK. I found a job teaching English in Moneda, Santiago and built up an impressive portfolio of clients. Thanks to my British English accent that elitist Chileans wanted so badly to attain, I was able to fund an independent lifestyle and plan my exit back home to cosmopolitan London where I would not be called out for my identity, or lack of one.

Exile Makes Me Sick

I’m convinced I can pinpoint to the minute, the traumatic event that offset ‘the ill’.
It was in 1993 during the squalid winter of the dull rural town we were living in at the time. The conflict had arisen because we had moved away from vibrant Santiago to this colourless outback and I was furious. In my mind this was a clear act of sabotage to my adjustment in Chile. Santiago offered the anonymity and a modicum of personal freedom that all capital cities do. And now we had moved away, just as I’d planted some seedlings and carved out a little world for myself.

It was a very heated fight and at a pivotal moment I felt a little bit of my mind cave in. Suddenly the fury was gone and I sat in silence for hours, staring into the nether: I had resigned myself to losing my father to this Chile of his.

The sheer desperation of being in a situation that I had no control over nor could I remove myself from, left me slightly broken. Leaving Chile would be an arduous process that would entail finding funds and the emotional strength to leave my dad behind. It was not until 1997 that I was able to return home to England, losing my father in the process. It was several years later that I’d be diagnosed with Lupus.

When illness replaced my full time profession I began, as most people do, to seek answers to the origin of my disease. Lifestyle was the first thing I analysed, then diet. When this was insufficient I became more dependant on medication to battle my symptoms and in turn, more concerned with finding a ‘cure’, I turned to holistic approaches and complementary therapies: yoga, shiatsu, reiki and wheat-free -vegan diets, I then flirted with the raw diet, went to a shaman, guzzled peyote and bark roots. But I was never closer to the truth or relief.

It seems glaringly obvious now that the mind was a consideration I was intentionally overlooking. I did not want to go back to the separations, the rootlessness, the mal adjustment plus the torture and the death I spent a lifetime denying, patiently lurking in the doldrums of my mind. Despite my revulsion at exploring psychological explanations and the mind-body synergy theory, I could no longer ignore it.

Today, with what we know about physical illness and it’s deeply complicated relationship with mental health, and having given sufficient consideration to what being the child of exiles means, along with understanding the sadness and loss attached to this experience, may have enabled me to better understand the origin of my illness.

I am not alone. In my close peer group there are eight people with auto immune conditions and three with crippling mental health issues. We are all women under 50 years of age who have either arrived in the UK as political exiles as children or were born to Chilean exile parents.
While there are published studies about first generation exiles and health, there is very little about the ‘adjusting’ second generation.

Brought up in seeming normality yet facing the daily challanges of British life with its one dimensional reality, and then going home to a complex situation or indeed a parallel universe, afflicted by depression, unemployment and the overcoming of political persecution in all its guises, just may have made an impact on what were quite frankly, babies in a split dimension.

Internalising an unknown and often inherited pain has its consequences. There is strength in silence. In forgetting.. but the body has to place this somewhere. As I forced the fear and sadness out of my head, it leaked into my body like a fetid ink. I believe this is how it manifested in my body.

The only evidence I have that exile makes you ill lies in my peer group. As our lives roll on and we start to face new challenges such as coping with the death of our loved ones in exile, I can only conclude as I observe the ever increasing numbers of my peers being diagnosed with autoimmune conditions, that exile really does make you sick.

An ode to Hate

Hate has always loomed large in my life but this took time to realise. I could only comprehend its foul language when my eyes were truly open.

Like most of my Chilean friends, I’d grown up with the Chile-tragedy narrative that’d become mythical; a story ‘de los viejos’, distant and magical like unicorn tears.
As a child, Saturdays involved being whisked off to a community hall for Chilean parties, Once there I’d be skidding on my knees red-faced and running amok with the kids. Those very kids that formed the backdrop to my formative years in the UK, are now my solid life partners: the one’s who, no matter how immersed in my current British life, always take me back to the early days of refuge, solidarity and warmth of our communal lives, bound together by the grief and sadness that forced us out of Chile.

The ‘story of Chile’ didn’t even come to life for me when I ‘returned’ in early 1990. Consumed by a teenage mind far too preoccupied with rebelling against my parents and their unwavering desire to send me to Chile, when all I wanted was to sneak off to raves in the soggy English fields.

 I could not see what was around me. The inner toils of my selfish teenage world had blinded me. I wasn’t aware of the context in which I had returned to Chile, nor did I care.

I left Chile 7 years later having amassed a full catalogue of images and sounds that still trouble my thoughts on dank winter nights, such as the glum terracotta brick wall of the Villa Grimaldi on Jose Arrieta for example, where we would gather at night and harass the guard on duty. Just yards away from where perhaps my own aunty and uncle were raped, cut, beaten and discarded like cattle and then dumped into the sea via the lovely aeródromo by Tobalaba, that I would pass daily, awed by the sight of the luminous white helicopters juxtapositioned between the mountains and cobalt sky.

When Pinochet was arrested in London I was catapulted into stark realisation. It’s one thing hearing los viejos vaguely referring to the ‘terrible things happening in Chile’, and quite another to read a full length feature in The Guardian, about the violation and torture of the lovely tia you have visited nearly every Saturday for years on end, or indeed your own relative. Week after week, front page articles appeared in the press and on the radio, Chileans were on Question Time and NewsNight.

Pinochet and his crimes against humanity became a national obsession and also a personal one. I learned horrible things, that as time goes on, become more horrible and dark and unbearable. But once I learnt, there was no turning back.

From this rolled forth the avalanche of hate: this historical hatred I’d heard being detailed by my folks through their memories of their Unidad Popular years, with its scuffles and fierce divisions followed by the phantasmagoric hatred unleashed by the facist coup, spreading through Chile like a cancer.
The hate dimension now began to engulf my adult life, from social network interaction, to framing how I interpret what Chilean people are saying to me. I understand the meaning of ‘marxista’ as it’s spat out between the teeth of the blonde viejas cuicas I come across in Chillán. I now understand the strange gleam of hared in the eyes of my Chilean ex-boyfriend’s parents, whose father was in the Navy. With this clarity I can make sense of my experiences in Chile and those weird interactions I had with upper class Chileans. The language of hate has made itself apparent to me and I understand it’s key words like I never did before.
I’m not sad about recognising the hate in me and others. I see how this hate shapes the world and my personal history. The discourse of Trump. The tone of the papers. Attitudes towards refugees and black people.

Being aware of this hate while painful and irreversible has equipped me for this era. Yes, the world looks gross through shit tinted lenses, but it’s dark force is not to be underestimated as we enter a new post-hope political epoch.

Why I trolled Pedro Pascal from Narcos

Pedro Pascal caught my eye for the first time when I devoured the entire second season of Narcos via Netflix on a gloomy, typically rainy British Saturday. What delighted me most was discovering that he, like I, was the son of Chilean exiles who’d fled Chile due to their sympathies with the controversial Popular Unity Party led by Salvador Allende, during the seventies.

I pictured his parents passage out of Chile. Blood pounding in his mother ears while she filled out the forms at the US embassy, a dangerous hotbed of coup sympathisers.

Baby Pedro would have been born in the thick of it: most likely in a broken hospital more morgue than clinic, heaving with wall to wall piles of cadavers pulled from the bordeaux tide of the River Mapocho and the city’s obliterated shanty towns. The lifeless, anonymous dead more prominent than the emergent lives about to be stomped down by the shiny boots of coordinated military terror.

And thus Balamaceda Pascal went from Hollywood man to ‘Compañero’: a person with the similar trials and tribulations of growing up with a shattered identity as I and a whole generation of Chilean exile offspring, from the same generation of forgotten children: the ones that got away and lived as Pinochet described it ‘the golden exile’: One of the fractured ‘us’.

One night as I scrolled through Pedro Pascal’s Facebook posts, one caught my eye. It was a video for use in Chile where he pledges his support for his cousin’s election in the wealthy Santiago suburb, Lo Barnechea.
Researching Evopoli, the party his cousin is affiliated to, I was filled with disbelief discovering it’s founding father is the notorious Felipe Kast, key member of one of Chile’s murkiest families, the infamous Nazi descended Kast Clan. A family implicated in the murderous crimes of the dictatorship and also one of its principle benefactors.
Felipe Kast is the grandson of escapee Nazi war criminal Michael Kast who faked his identity to avoid prosecution for war crimes in Europe, and as a result, granted safe passage to South America like his other Nazi cronies including Paul Schaffer, cult leader of Colonia Dignidad and Walter Rauff, inventor of the mobile gas chamber who enjoyed a full Nazi funeral upon his death, in Santiago 1984.

According to Kast’s Grandmother Olga writes in her book ‘Mission of Love / Misión de Amor’ Michael disguised his Nazi identity when captured by US troops by destroying his official Third Reich army papers and instead presenting forged credentials from the Red Cross that he purchased in Italy. The murderous tradition of the Kast family thrived during the military dictatorship which aided them to amass personal fortunes and cement their political positions in Chile.

Allegations about the Kast family include collusion with police and soldiers in the murder of dozens of unarmed farmworkers around the region of Linderos. And allowing local military and carabineros (police)to use the Kast’s home and farm as a base, while son Christian is accused of being personally involved in interrogations that led to the torture & murders of peasants sympathetic to Allende.The full extent of Kast involvement in human rights abuses are widely documented in the courts of justice and shocking book by journalists Nancy Guzmán & Javier Rebolledo ‘The Dance of the Crows’.

Discovering Pascal’s link to the newly formed far right party Evopoli more than shook me. Here was a man whose family managed to rip themselves free from the talons of the Condor massacre, seemingly oblivious to the plight of his own family and that of millions of Chileans who had no choice but to flee Chile or face death in concentration camps. And yet here he was plugging Evopoli.

So why does Pascal’s misguided act of apathy matter so much 43 years after the coup and 17 years after the commence of a pitifully flimsy democracy in Chile? Maybe because he is implicitly obeying the direct order of Pinochet to the people of Chile in 1995 when he growled ‘The only solution to the issue of human rights is oblivion’. In other words, forget.

Although baby steps towards tempering justice have been made, Chile has never truly recovered from the wounds of the dictatorship. The 3065 ‘missing’ victims of Pinochet’s massacre of whom the average age was a mere 22, are still unaccounted for and there’s a new controversy as these folks have been issued ballot papers for the upcoming elections, much to the dismay of their grieving families . The 60,000 registered torture victims (there are many more unaccounted for) live on miserable pensions of around £100 per month and are locked in a legal battle for dignified pensions. The majority of ex political prisoners still suffer from the physical and emotional after-effects of torture and a life marginalised by employers and society, unable to afford adequate health care or housing. Or are dying in exile.
The families involved in the genocide of Chilean citizens and the dismantling of Allende’s hard won social structures such as healthcare, schools and universities, are still personally profiting from their ill gotten gains undisturbed, enjoying impunity when they should be behind bars.
Modern Chile has allowed the orchestrators of the coup and human rights atrocities to remain in power, have the upper hand, control and influence public opinion and the media. At present in Chile, victims of the dictatorship continue to push for justice while the Chilean senate blocks reforms and sets assassins free, resulting in uneven justice. New reports of police torturing school age children and the routine use of violence and even forced disappearances against the Mapuche people in the Southern regions, continues to lock Chile into a past that the clans of power refuse to let go lest they lose their privilege.

It is in this context that Pascal’s acute display of Stockholm Syndrome hurts because he is a child of exile, the heir of smashed dreams and broken bones and what he did reflects a lack of awareness about what happened to his family. My family. Chile. Perhaps it hurts because he has unwittingly sided with a genocidal political class that has not been called to account for their complicity in heinous crimes. Because by adding his support he has in effect made a laughing stock of the suffering of his family. And mine.
And so my message-in-a-bottle is sat on his Facebook page waiting to be read quietly in a dank corner where the gloss of Hollywood don’t shine.Whether he will ever examine his inbox or his conscience however, will forever remain a mystery.