Imagine that you are young and full of hope. The President you campaigned for has won the election despite international interference: You are elated. The world will become a better place and you will help make it happen. You do voluntary work in the community, you see how milk is being distributed to poor children. Access to education is a real thing. At work, salaries and conditions have improved. You spend summers cultivating the land with the campesinos and help local kids understand the world better through workshops and community events. There are outpourings of international solidarity and people from across the world come to join this wonderful social experiment.
Suddenly there is an announcement on the radio: the President’s final speech drips through the speakers like superglue. Gunfire,smoke and chaos abound. The President is dead: the military are on the move. Surely not to get me? the community worker/teacher/ artist? Your friends go into hiding. One by one they vanish. You try to make contact with others but it’s impossible with the curfew and lack of telecommunications. You see the military police roaming around the streets picking people out, kicking doors in, smashing heads..but are powerless to act. You remain silent.
One night your front door is rammed in. Shiny leather Prussian boots stomping all over your home. You mother is weeping in the corner, Your father has already been taken. You quiver in your nightgown begging to be taken without harm being done to your younger siblings. The shiny boots and broken glass on the floor are the last you see of your home. You dare to look at your terrified family as they roughly blindfold you and bind your hands behind your back. You feel as though you have nothing to tell these beasts, but they know better.
You spend an hour in the darkness of the stinking vehicle. Sweat and desperation permeate the air. Your stomach is dizzy with anguish and uncertainty. You hear more people being bundled onto the truck, women and men…you imagine what they look like. Someone is crying, you ask for some help but the butt of the gun shuts you up. You taste sweet thick blood. It will be all you drink for a while.
You are gruffly pulled off the truck. It’s the dead of night. Silently the phantasmagoric group shuffle towards the building. Your blindfold slips and you can make out the ghostly figures under the glare of the moon. You squint and try to make out distinguishing features to memorise where you are. You spend the night in a small cramped room with over 30 terrified hostages, all wondering what their fate will be: all equally convinced that there has been a mistake, that they will soon be in the warm glow of the family home. Suddenly the mundane, like a simple cup of tea and a roll up seem extraordinary.
Thoughts are abruptly interrupted by a cruel game of Russian roulette entailing smirking guards picking out the next victim. This time it’s you. They fish you out and yank you toward the basement. There is a chair and a neatly combed official taking notes. There’s also a nurse on standby which ought to bring comfort but somehow the clinical white uniform seems sinister and out of place in the grubby room. The official begins with simple questions but soon the polite becomes perverse. The neat man leaves the room and you are given a cup of tea which you quaff desperately, mistaking this small glimpse of humanity as a sign that the ordeal is over. How wrong you are. Two other men come in. They are wearing civilian attire. They have eyes but no soul. They laugh at you as your clothes are ripped off your shivering body. Muffled screams emanate from the depths of the building. You aren’t sure if the whimpering is human or some poor pained beast. Then you realise that beast is you.
For days it goes on. You think you have reached the depths of humiliation and them, the depths of depravity, but there are secrets in your eyes and they want them. You repeat and wail that there is nothing to tell. All you had was a dream and now this is a nightmare. The fug of the cell is unbearable. You feel relief when there is one less person in the cell that night. It may not cross your mind that they may have been murdered. This will haunt you for many years.
One strange day you are let out. You daren’t exchange glances with anyone else for fear that this is another cruel mouse trap. You slowly leave the cell, swollen feet barely able to fit your shoes. They laugh at your pained efforts to move and warn you to never speak of this again. You meekly sign a document and they blindfold you again. You smell their cigarette smoke and hear their small talk .The last contact you make with the anonymous bastards is a parting kick in the ribs when they haul you off the truck and dump you on a side road.
People stare but keep moving. You realise you are bleeding out of every orifice and try to clean up before getting home. Your mother weeps when you enter. You remain silent for weeks. Outside the world keeps spinning. A enforced sense of normality gathers pace and you try to stay sane. You try to regain your old job but you are regarded with suspicion. Your injuries are taking too long to heal. At night you weep but can’t tell your mother about your ordeal, she has suffered enough. Your father never comes home and searching for him becomes priority. The years go by and you can’t shake it off. You never really recover from the broken ribs and find relationships difficult.
This story was lived by thousands of Chileans. Some of them are our uncles, grandfathers, aunties, mothers and family friends and yet nothing much has been done to compensate or commemorate these death-squad survivors. Far from being recognised as the heroes that they are, many have endured a lifetime of disability, exile and trauma.
Adding glass to salty wounds, the Chilean government has announced that the heinous suffering that includes kidnap, rape, torture and even exposure to chemicals, all of which contravene human rights agreements that Chile itself is subscribed to, amount to the compensatory sum of around £5 per day. In a country found to be as expensive as England, the notion that a pensioner whom may have special needs as a result of torture and trauma, can live from a measly £150 per month, is risable.
The hunger strike undertaken by ex political prisoners, many of them now pensioners, has reached its 30th day as the world continues to doze on, while those who survived the most inhumane brutalities decide that it’s better to die than to live in the current status quo.
Just like the putrid waste of the greedy salmon farmers overflows into neighbouring seas, the stench of Chile’s violent indifference towards generation torture has become overwhelming and impossible to ignore.