Homage to Pinochet uncovers support for the dictatorship among influential groups
The homage to Augusto Pinochet planned for this Sunday reveals the support that a minority in Chilean society, but a significant and influential group, continues giving the dictatorship, whose crimes they minimize in favor of an institutional and economic structure that continues in effect.
Just five years after the death of the dictator, under whose rule, from 1973 to 1990, 3,200 people were killed and 38,000 suffered torture or political prison, two little known organizations have organized this event in a theater in the capital.
“This is the only case among dictatorships over a wide region that have committed atrocious crimes in which a percentage of the population, a minority no doubt, but a significant one, supports and feels represented by what it was,” sociologist Manuel Antonio Garretón told Efe.
The event has been repudiated by parliamentarians, by the Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos and by the Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (AFDD), whose members are still hoping to find the remains of a thousand victims so they can give them a fitting burial.
The latter organization sought a court order to stop the homage but the courts rejected it and gave a green light to the celebration, and the AFDD announced a “funa,” a peaceful protest, at the doors of the theater to disturb the tranquility of those who attend the event.
Meanwhile, the government, the first rightist administration since the return to democracy in 1990, has declared that it does not support the event but that the organizers have “a legitimate right” to express their opinions.
Even though the president, Sebastián Piñera, voted in 1988 against Pinochet’s continuing in power, his coalition includes many politicians who were then on the side of the dictatorship and who still today are in agreement with it.
Lorena Pizarro, president of the AFDD, believes that the existence of these groups is due first to the fact that in Chile “the transition, based on a politics of consensus, has not defined from within the state human rights policies that would generate a ‘never again’ attitude.”
And in the second place, she stated to Efe, these groups belong to a high socio-economic stratum “that is not willing to relinquish one bit” of its life style and who therefore defend “to the death” the economic and ideological legacy of the dictatorship.
There is also a certain support for Pinochet, although a minor one, in more dispossessed sectors, among whom the governing Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI) party “did very special work of patronage and fanaticization,” Manuel Antonio Garretón states.
In the absence of surveys on the matter, Garretón believes that partisans of Pinochet represent “a percentage of between ten and 20 percent (of the total population),” which, he adds, “is enormously high and proves that this is still a sick country.”
“There is a sector steeped in economic, political and media power, that considers that the military regime was necessary and that its crimes were justified to the degree that they could be exchanged for economic growth,” the sociologist states.
This is also the way the Pinochet partisans describe it. “The only thing that stands out here is the theme of the incidental violation of human rights,” argues retired General Guillermo Garín, who collaborated with the regime.
“But nothing is said, nor is there any recognition, of the tremendous work of reconstruction of all the activities of the country, including coexistence among Chileans,” adds Garín, who speaks “on his own account” and not as a spokesman for the Fundación Pinochet, of which he is vice president.
Asked whether these economic reforms, which ended Salvador Allende’s road to socialism and imposed a neoliberal model, justify the crimes committed, Garín responded that “each one of those cases has to be analyzed objectively.”
“In the first place, that number of people, if we compare them with other confrontations in other countries, especially during the Cold War period,… it is insignificant,” he declares.
“I don’t like to compare numbers when it is a matter of people’s lives, but we were led to that confrontation by those who were trying to establish those systems in our country… We did not want to be another Cuba,” he stresses.
As Garretón states, in Chile “a significant sector of the population considers that it was acceptable to kill people and that there could be more killing, and that those who struggled against the dictatorship are at the same level as those who killed in the name of the state.”
Homage to Pinochet unleashes citizen anger
After a group of demonstrators attempted to take control of the Caupolicán Theater to prevent the controversial homage to Augusto Pinochet, the event was held this morning in the midst of fierce confrontations between opponents and supporters of the former dictator.
Under a strong police contingent of at least 500 officers from the Carabineros [militarized federal police] special forces, two blocks around the vicinity of the theater were cordoned off and opponents who attempted to cross the barrier were met with water cannons and tear gas bombs.
At 9:00am the GOPE (Grupo de Operaciones Especiales) was called out because of a bomb threat, which turned out to be a simulated device with the message “Neither forgiveness nor forgetfulness” (“Ni perdón ni olvido”) written on it.
There was also fighting between attendees and demonstrators, at both the entrance and the exit of the event, which organizers described as “a cultural activity.”
In the meantime, leaders of human rights groups, who had permits from the local government to hold an event in the Almagro Park, criticized the carabineros for the violence they used in repressing the counter demonstrations.
At the end of the event, the participants left the theater through a side door of the theater and boarded carabinero buses. On his Twitter account, Congressman Sergio Aguiló charged that a civilian had shot at the demonstrators, then slipped away among the police. On other Twitter accounts there was mention of one person with a bullet wound in the area of Matta Avenue and San Diego.
Tags: Agrupacion de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, Augusto Pinochet, Chile, dictatorship, Fundacion Pinochet, Guillermo Garin, homage, Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos, Manuel Antonio Garreton