Sympathisers say they want to set record straight, but pro-Pinochet documentary angers victims’ relatives
Sympathisers of Augusto Pinochet are holding their biggest gathering since his death in 2006, after opponents unsuccessfully sought to block the event.
A documentary about the runup to his dictatorship years casts Pinochet as a national hero who saved Chile from communism and died victimised by vengeful leftists who accused him of embezzlement and human rights crimes.
Sunday’s premiere was organised by Corporacion 11 de Septiembre, named for the day Pinochet seized power in a coup in 1973 that brought down the democratically elected government of the Marxist president Salvador Allende.
“We want to set the record straight on Pinochet,” said Juan Gonzalez, a retired army officer who leads the pro-Pinochet movement. “We have stoically put up with the lies and cheating and seen how the story has been manipulated.”
Gonzalez’s sister Francisca has said publicly that she was tortured by Pinochet’s forces, but Gonzalez disputes that there were human rights abuses during the dictatorship. He says those killed and tortured where casualties of a war against leftist dissidents.
“Why can’t we have a documentary if they have their monument to Allende,” he said, referring to a statue outside the presidential palace.
The homage to Pinochet comes against a backdrop of increasing political divisions, with widespread street protests demanding more diversity in political parties as well as free education, protection of the environment and a more even distribution of wealth.
The governing coalition led by the conservative Independent Democratic Union and the centre-right National Renovation is the first conservative government since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990. Members of both parties supported Pinochet’s dictatorship and several Pinochet-era officials now serve as MPs and mayors.
Still, last year the government officially recognised 9,800 more victims of the dictatorship, raising the number killed, tortured or imprisoned for political reasons during Pinochet’s regime to 40,018. The government estimates that 3,095 of those were killed, including about 1,200 of whom no trace has been found.
About 700 military officials face trial for the forced disappearance of dissidents and about 70 have been jailed for crimes against humanity.
Families of the victims are outraged over the praise of Pinochet, calling it a dangerous campaign to rewrite Chile’s history. “We can’t allow this homage because it seeks to vindicate the dictatorship, the state-sponsored terrorism and its crimes,” said Mireya Garcia, vice-president of the Group of Families of Detainees and Missing People. Her brother Vicente Israel Garcia, a student and Socialist party member, disappeared in 1977.
“Our family members didn’t die in vain in the struggle for democracy for something like this to be allowed. But Pinochetistas are not the only ones to blame for this. The government must be held accountable for this serious blow against democracy,” Garcia said.
Relatives of the disappeared and more than a dozen human rights groups sent a letter to the president, Sebastián Piñera, asking him to ban Sunday’s event. The government said organisers had the right to express themselves. Human rights groups also appealed to the courts but the request was denied.
Marta Lagos, head of the Santiago-based pollster Mori, said: “There’s obviously an effort to revive and clean up Pinochet’s image. They’re saying this is really a guy who deserves a tribute. So I ask: what would happen in Germany if someone would try to pay tribute to Hitler?”
She said Chileans had a harder time assessing the past because Pinochet died under house arrest without facing trial. “We’re facing an ambiguous situation, especially among the younger generations who were not part of the time and who have never voted or are apolitical,” Lagos said. “The fact that he wasn’t judged turns out to be a major point. They see this man who was never convicted and think, well, there must be a reason.”
Guillermo Holzmann, a political science professor at Valparaiso University, said the event could bring about discussion on Pinochet and his regime. “Chile has to start a new maturity phase. This issue must be on top of the table, not hidden under the rug, so that society’s evolution on its own leaves them aside,” he said. “I’m sure that the radical visions on Pinochet don’t represent the opinion of the majority, but that has to be shown.”