It wasn’t until I’d engaged in some thorough research that I began to understand how widespread the use of torture was in Chile during the military regime. The 1973 coup wasn’t simply an isolated act of force, it signalled the start of the militarisation of the country, a new violent way of life . The exact number of those who were tortured is unclear, ranging from a very conservative estimate (Informe Rettig) of 28,000 to the more probable amount of 100,000. It’s also clear that violence was employed on a wide scale as late as the early 2000‘s during the student uprising , and today, the Mapuche conflict has become synonymous with extreme violence and armed raids on behalf of the police.
During the 70’s & 80’s the army were engaged in a continuous conflict with the unarmed citizens of their own country. Nobody was beyond being hauled off, blindfolded, pistol whipped, stripped naked, punched, starved, raped, electrocuted and quite often murdered then dumped. This was the Chile I (we) escaped.
The dark face of the torturer would rear its head in my life all too often. The seed of the hatred of the men or women who tortured my grandfather grew into an almighty thorn that inserted itself in him so deep, that nobody could remove it. Not love, nor the numbing distance of time, or talking therapy nor artistic expression could remove the insidious cancer these brutes had instilled in him. We watched helplessly from the sidelines as he agonised in a silence thick and impenetrable. I gormlessly witnessed the survivor in all his stages of grief; anger, sadness, shame and his struggle for normality against the odds.
The Mantra from the bleating pampered Chileans who come here to take a break from their fortressed Chile was ‘forget. It’s in the past’… This mantra, to my dismay, is a way of life in modern Chile.
But try as they might to hide their dirty nasty secret, beyond the sparkling malls and neat highways and gleaming police uniforms and shiny supermarkets packed with unaffordable imported goods; lies a stench so putrid, no-one can ignore. The dead and their secrets are seeping from their desert tombs and spilling forth from the fetid corpse filled seas. Military men terrified of being forced to break their pact of silence are committing suicide, yet more are talking; its not long till all is known. That begins with reconstructing the story. From broken bones and broken homes we will re-construct the story and stop the rot.