There is a light that never goes out: MIR is 52 today

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Chile’s political diversity at the time of Allende is widely documented, however none of the other political parties or movements have quite gained the mythical heights than that of the Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionaria, MIR.

Notoriously middle class yet widely appealing, the MIR founders and leaders had the ladies swooning, political establishment sweating under the collar and were pretty much clandestine for most of its existence. When the coup was unleashed, its leaders were hunted down and exterminated deemed far too dangerous to even allow to exile.

The influence of Miguel Enriquez, Luciano Cruz, Luis Toro, Bautista Van Schouwen, Andres Pascal Allende, Marcelo Ferrada and so many others, have not been eroded by the passage of time. Indeed the loss of some of these brilliant minds is ever more painful in a world ravaged by the cruel onslaught of neoliberalism.

Happy Birthday MIR!

Golden

‘Exile is golden’ Not as I remember Christmases were cards, deaths, a blue letter

‘You travelled so much’ I’m blacker than thou, the name on the list grounds us somehow

‘You learned to speak English’ But it wasn’t the Queen’s, bread on the table escaping smashed dreams.

‘Exile is golden’ Not in that small room, bedtime stories sad memories and doom.

What is your problem. You escaped the dictator. Don’t fill wounds with salt. Don’t be a hater.

Exile is golden. You ran away. Rootless don’t matter or lonely decay.

No Going Back: When Exile Becomes Eternal

It began with the ‘No’ campaign. Chileans around the world, many of whom famously kept their suitcases packed till the day they could return safely, were filled with optimism. Then the transition to democracy engulfed us in a euphoric sense of hope that maybe, slowly, things could be edged back to the middle ground and we could safely return home. True, the mass influx of people from Europe, North America and Australia would bring with it problems: language barriers, cultural confusion and readjustment but finally exile would be finished. And this was the dream had in my family.

Sadly we did not anticipate what lay ahead. Language barriers were the least of our troubles in a country that was unwelcoming in every sense. Education and professional qualifications had to be certified which cost much time and money, flats could not be let to us as we had no financial history in Chile, so a years deposit was required. And then health care; we had no insurance so £20 per visit had to be shelled out (soon I learned to ignore colds and minor infections). The expense of bureaucracy and the premiums we had to pay for a lack of financial history soon took their toll, as did the price of my college fees. Soon our little mound of pounds began to disappear and I began to understand that I may not be able to progress in this country. Not only was it alien, it was exceedingly hostile. A place where only those who swim in gold can access the basic things that we take for granted in the developed world.

Among the financial barriers that many exiles faced, there were invisible political barriers that we were naively unaware of, not having been subjected to the brainwashings of a military dictatorship for years on end. I now understand that my inability to insert myself in the social spheres around me, despite my best efforts, was an inevitable side effect of societal prejudice woven tightly for many years, by the Junta’s media machine.

The biggest disappointment for the ¬†returning population, was finding itself witness to the political lie that was the ‘transition’ to democracy. Alarm bells rang at the release of the Rettig report: a whitewashed shambles of a document that just added salt to fresh wounds. Harder still, was having to live side by side with former torturers & delatantes and seeing the best positions in politics and business filled by ex military and secret servicemen. It certainly didn’t feel very democratic or safe.

The rocky road back to Chile was like a cruel cat and mouse game that many would never win. We had neither the means nor the will to adjust to this cruel bear pit of a country, where Pinochet was still casting his shadow long and dark over every aspect of Chilean life. And so the bounce-back commenced, destroying families and yet again draining yet more funds and emotions. Leaving Chile meant having to pick up the pieces once more but this time, for many, there was truly no going back. Making the choice to come back meant I left my father behind but there was no place for me there. Chile was demanding an unreasonable compromise: insertion into a damaged amnesiac gorila nation with nothing much in return. With all them sticks and not a whiff of carrot, it was the end of the road for me.

As a community, the acceptance of eternal exile has been hard. We all dream of someday returning but for many, especially the elderly, who depend on healthcare and social services, or those who have already made a life here, the only viable option is to choose the country of refuge. Chile is barely able to accept and face the horror of its recent past; A politically immature nation, where the power of the beast is king. It’s poor handling of even the most basic fulfillments makes me wonder if it will ever have the social sophistication to handle the complex needs of a rather battered retuning population. That is why coming back is the start of a long goodbye.

Generation T: where torture is a way of life

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.