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.

You, the disappeared 

 

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Since the seventies, images of hundreds of thousands of murdered & disappeared young people from Chile and the rest of the Condor countries have become endogenous to our visual landscape: those haunting faces captured in better moments. Knowing their awful fate makes them even more static and mysterious.

At every political event or march, those faces stare back at us from their unknown whereabouts, phantasmagoric presences in lives that have reluctantly moved forward without them.

Those images have become ever more prevalent in the visual age we live in. The black and white faces of a generation of lost souls, pictures that continue to resurface without consent or reason, happier times before the great darkness descended, now mean so many things to so many people.

Those dark still eyes beg for us to uncover the ghastly truth about what happened to them. They plead for us never to forget. They bring the tyrants and the liars to task. With their vague hauntings they seem urge us to fight on, begging to be found. I have never got used to seeing these pictures. Without fail I feel alarmed, saddened and curious and until they are found, this feeling won’t fade.

 

You, the missing

Forever young eternal tragedy

Trapped in rubble and blood, some place dusty

Insidious silence

Eyes that cannot see

Petrified by salty tears of despair

Pleading eyes

From your photo cascades the violence of your absence

Sarin & drownings and bloodied rags

Irreversible rage and greedy silence

They stamped those eyes shut but we sense them

Across minds, times and lives

No bodies, no trace, stuck in your dusty grave

Burning eyes immortalised in those still frames

 

Forty three years have passed. Each decade throws up new agonies. We never cease to ask ¿Dónde están?

In memory of Ernesto Torres, Maria Teresa Eltit, Humberto Lagos Marin

The Colonia Dignidad Files: A shining beacon of hope for Human Rights in Chile?

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The colony set in the beautiful Chilean wilderness, has been part of the Southern Chilean landscape since Paul Schäfer and his congregation landed in the mid 1950’s. Set in the idyllic Parral raw countryside, it has been enjoyed by tourists as a little Bavaria for decades. I visited it’s neat tea rooms and immaculate gardens in 1991 and experienced for myself the authentic German kuchën experience, served by a creepy Aryan youth in lederhosen. It was a sinister trip. There were cameras everywhere, strict gender-specific dress codes and no permission to speak to the residents.

When the ‘Colonos’ arrived, they were greeted with open arms by local people and given a plot of land to develop and live in. Chileans generally regard Germans to be efficient, organised and hard working and were impressed with how quickly the new immigrants established themselves. The Germans ran a profitable farm, traded German delicacies, built a school, a hospital and opened up tea rooms for tourists.
The insular group was able to achieve financial independence and with the local government’s permission and lived in a mini state within a state. Indeed many of those born into the colony did not speak Spanish at all, or ever leave the hacienda.

With vast links to the political right and clearly threatened by the Marxist Government that was particularly active in agrarian reform in that region, Schäfer and his henchmen plotted against local leftists and allowed the Pinochet regime to use the vicinity as a clandestine extermination centre. The location was ideal; rigged with electronic sensors, trained dogs and harsh geographical features, all guaranteed that nobody would ever get out of there alive. And they didn’t.

When the colony was raided by Chilean police during the 90s, the authorities found an arsenal of weapons and spy equipment that would make James Bond groan; walking sticks with cameras, grenades, a rocket launcher and they had even built a network of underground tunnels and bunkers. Most importantly  they used their war-time expertise to install a communications centre that linked to the rest of South America so that Schäfer could keep in close cahoots with Nazi war-criminal former cronies such as the barbaric Klaus Barbie in Brazil and Walter Rauff in Santiago, all good chums enjoying the refuge of South American hospitality.

These clandestine telecommunications links are important to Chilean human rights cases because it was later discovered that they were used to facilitate operation Condor: the trans South American terror network. Disgraced head of the Chilean intelligence agency, Manuel Contreras and even General Pinochet himself were said to have been entertained by Schäfer’s contingent.

When the lid was blown on Paul Schäfer’s colony  in the 1990s, the politically weak transitional Chilean government was nervous. The can was open but the worms were still in it. Indeed, the files found within the colony fastidiously chronicled every visit and every conversation that took place during the 1970s & 1980’s. Not conducive to the secretive nature of the Post-Pinochet era where previous Junta members scrambled for the best corporate and government/senate positions, the arrest and imprisonment of Paul Schafer was relatively low key and there was no public inquest into the contents of the files that were seized.

Now in 2016 the German Foreign Office is seeking to make amends and have announced that diplomats are declassifying files that would have otherwise remained under wraps for another 10 years. They are making documents dating from between 1986 and 1996 available to researchers and the media which should also aid Chilean and German families in their quest for the justice still not made available to them by the ever transitioning Chilean government.

Colonia Dignidad or Villa Bavaria is now under intense scrutiny. Emma Watson’s new film and the releasing of these documents may be an explosive cocktail in a country still reeling from the effects of the military coup. Will the revelations be too gruesome to stomach and more importantly, will the Chilean Government act upon them?

3 Momio myths that need shutting down forever

“There are no political prisoners in Chile. The disappeared? In my personal opinion I believe its sheer propaganda” General Pinochet, Santiago 1978

Aswell as sucking the life out of its citizens by shutting down political and cultural activity and exterminating its perceived enemies, what the Pinochet regime did best was to create, propagate and manage propaganda. Their dirty smear tactics hit a low with ‘Operacion Colombo’ in which 119 young people were massacred. The regime invented a press leak in Brazil, going as far as creating a false publication claiming that MIR militants were killing each other. ‘El Mercurio‘ newspaper along with the regime-owned and controlled TV channels, was instrumental in creating a false sense of terror in order to justify massacres and cover up disappearances & human rights violations. This orchestration of events and the beliefs that were fabricated in Chile’s dark period have lasted till today. Here are my top three myths that need shutting down for good.
1. It was a civil war:  What a load of rubbish! The Allende revolution was founded on reason, not violence. Allende was proud of this rational road to Socialism. The Pinochet regime used the full force of the very well equipped military against its own people. There was no armed coordinated resistance to the coup. The military ruthlessly pounded down old people, teenagers, pregnant women and even children. We now know that all of the so called ‘shoot outs’ of ‘militants’ during the 70s and 80s were fabrications staged for the media, to induce fear in the general public. The whole of the country was under siege and curfew well into the 80s. The militarisation of the country didn’t stop there, University heads were replaced by retired army generals, schools suffered the same fate. School kids were forced to sing the national anthem every morning and were regularly required to perform military marches. It was stones V tanks, simple.

2. The regime saved the Chilean economy: A miracle! This is the biggest load of hogwash ever invented by Pinochet and his cronies. After a decade on a jolly, the Friedman gang messed up proper with GDP dropping by 19% and the economic crisis taking hold. By 1983 real wages has dropped by 40% and unemployment was hovering around the 30% mark.  Infact, Pinochet had to get rid of the Chicago Boys and implement SOCIALIST economic reforms to save face. He renationalised the banks and industry (expropriation with no recompense) including CODELCO and the banks. It was only when Chile transitioned to democracy that it began to recover from the heinous economic experiment inflicted on the nation. Policies implemented under the fascist regime continue to hurt Chileans today, including the privatisation of education and pensions. The numbers speak for themselves: in 1970, 20% of Chileans were poor. By 1990 this had doubled to 40%. Chile is still reeling from the pension scandal exacerbated during the 1982 crisis. Many of Pinochet’s reforms remain deeply entrenched in current economic desicion making.

3. What happened during the regime is in the past. Just forget it! Try telling that to the families of the 3,065 people registered as disappeared, who are still searching for the cadavers of their loved ones. Technically a murder case isn’t closed until the bodies are found and the perpetrators of the murders are tried in the judicial system, this is universal practise. Sadly in Chile attempts to address this issue have been at best feeble. We are also in the dark about our icons: Allende’s death is still a mystery (eye witnesses swear he was riddled with bulletholes plus his wife was not allowed to see his body) and his so called ‘suicide’ is now widely suspected of being yet another staged political smear against the much loved socialist martyr . Pablo Neruda’s death is also under intense scrutiny with his exhumed body currently under expert forensic investigation. Victor Jara’s killer remains at large in the US, awaiting extradition.

Another hangover from the military regime was the banishment from Chile of its countrymen & women. In this context, the return from Exile during the 1990s was an epic failure with many citizens still unable to go back to Chile’s hostile social and working environment. Adding to the list: Torture victims still haven’t been compensated by the state for the suffering and disability caused by state violence, Currently human rights groups are putting together a large lawsuit to claim recognition & compensation. The Valech report holds information that will not be declassified for another 50 years!

The Junta and its regime of political terror and social control has made Chile into a country of delatantes and scapegoats which will not be rectified until the truth is rightfully reconstructed and told.

When the suitcase becomes baggage 

When Chileans arrived in the UK they had a choice; either accept and embrace exile, put away the suitcases and hang pictures up on the wall OR decide that Pinochet would be brought down and return was imminent or at least, quite soon. These people kept the suitcase firmly packed, waiting for the call home. I fell into the latter category and my father assured me every year that we would be going ‘home’. Those conversations always un-nerved me and I’d think of my friends at school and my little unstable life that didn’t need further interrupting. 

My other Chilean friends were a mixed bag. One lived in a lovely leafy area and parents never mentioned leaving, they seemed to move seamless from the concentration camp to life in the UK and quickly became mortgaged, fully engaged members of English society. Another friend had very traditional parents intent on bringing them up as though they were still back home hence she was forced to live a weird double life being Chilean girl at home, and herself in the street. 

I loved my crisp-eating English life so each time those conversations swung round, I would twitch and just wish it to go away. But the conversation never did go away no matter how integrated we were or how good a job my dad would have. It followed us around like a stench and I grew up and then into my teens, with this gnawing worry that I’d be taken back to this horrible hell hole and never be allowed to come back. 

One day on a grey October day in 1990 my dad came home and told me that we were moving back to Chile. At 16 I felt my life was over. That night I dreamt I was being attacked by huge swooping Condors, shuddering under my bed as their bloody beaks snapped at my head. That day was the beginning of the long, broken road back to my own exile…

When the numbers just don’t add up…

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.