Chilean Oblivion

The other day, as recommended by friends, I watched Carmen Castillo’s excellent documentary ‘La Calle Santa Fe‘ where she recalls the circumstances under which she was forced into exile. The documentary is a thought provoking journey from her exile in France & England, through to her return to Chile, to the very site where the secret police raided her home and she, heavily pregnant, lost her child and husband, leader of the MIR Miguel Enriquez.

Something she raised in the film irks me also; her mistrust of Chileans, the forced oblivion she encountered and that overarching feeling that there’s a conspiracy of silence enveloping the nation.

My feelings of distrust are amplified each time I engage with an oblivious Chilean. Usually in this situation, talking about ‘that’ era often leads to fervent claims that the dictatorship hadn’t affected ‘them’ therefore it’s treated like an exogenous experience, in which they are not participants; a claim that is becoming increasingly difficult to accommodate when confronted with plain facts and simple arithmetic.

In the 1970s the Chilean population was around the 10 million mark. We now know that around 1 million Chileans were exiled. If we take into account that each family member is attached to at least 10 others (parents, grandparents, siblings etc) this alone would have affected 10 million Chileans! And then the other figures; Over 3,000 disappeared and at least 100,000 tortured. Multiplying each by 10 to represent the family members affected means that nearly every single Chilean would have had an exiled, tortured or disappeared family member. Put simply; The numbers don’t match the claims.

How then, can we take seriously the pleas that people were ‘unaware’ of what was taking place under their noses? How can we forgive the everyday betrayal of our fellow countrymen?  Even more astounding is that a country so steeped in Catholic traditions yet where the most heinous crimes against humanity have taken place, is unable to lament the fate of its own brothers and sisters. Until this happens, the savage values of the military regime will continue to live on and reproduce like a cancer.


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