Friday, January 27, 2012

Chile's Government Wages War on Historical Memory and Truth

This article was first published in Upside Down World here.
In his public ‘Letter to Chileans’ in 1998, Augusto Pinochet sought to reinforce oblivion by portraying the dictatorship as a memory of salvation from socialism, generating a justification amongst right wing sympathizers of the dictatorship. Prominent historians issued a ‘Manifesto of Historians’ in the newspapers, which challenged the portrayal of the coup as a legitimate military intervention which allowed the perpetrators to disassociate themselves from the atrocities committed under the dictatorship.[1]

The practice of countering memory by oblivion has been innovatively applied to the Chilean primary education system. The Minister of Education, Herald Beyer, approved a change in the primary education curriculum[2], stipulating that from the first through the sixth year of education, the term ‘military dictatorship will be obliterated from students’ history, geography and social sciences textbooks, to be replaced with ‘military regime’. Beyer, who was involved in Pinera’s presidential campaign, also formed part of the committee drafting the Ley General de Educacion (LEG)[3] during Michelle Bachelet’s presidency. According to a report in La Nacion, human rights lawyer and member of the Chilean Communist party Hugo Gutierrez is quoted as saying, "I have a document stating that at the time of former President Michelle Bachelet several universities were proposing the elimination of terms such as military dictatorship and human rights in education, to be replaced with 'essential rights'.”[4] The decision is due to be reviewed after it sparked an intense furore amongst Chileans.

The reason given for using ‘military regime’ in reference to the 1973 – 1990 era was, according to Beyer, to give a more general view of what happened in Chile. According to El Mostrador[5], the proposal states the necessity of imparting “different versions of what happened in Chile, the breakdown of democracy and subsequent restoration in the end of the 20th century, considering the different experiences of people during this time and the current consensus on the value of democracy.”

The decision to manipulate history and memory through primary education is reminiscent of Pinochet’s calls for practicing oblivion ‘to move forward’ and reinforces Chile’s split memory – vanquishing those who suffered by suffocating any possible mention of atrocities committed during the dictatorship. The decision sparked both outrage and acquiescence. Carlos Larrain of Renovacion Nacional[6] defended the National Council of Education and the Ministry of Education’s decision, saying that “... historical situations are subject to interpretation.” Larrain denied the existence of the dictatorship and stated that Chilean history should be taught “in a respectful manner”; also that Marxist socialism abused the concept of culture for political ends. Elizabeth Lira, from the National Council of Education stated that the change is “legitimate, since the government is formed of 50 percent of people who supported Pinochet.” A self-declared Pinochetista, Ivan Moreira from Unión Democrata Independiente (UDI), declared that eliminating the term ‘military dictatorship’ from the text books is “more just”. [7]

In an article published in El Quinto Poder[8], professor and historian Alberto Harambour expounded upon the ramifications of this controversial decision. Coercing language into neutrality translates into intentionally decreasing the power of vocabulary. This restriction, combined with the intention to eradicate the reality of Pinochet’s dictatorship, creates a violation of a person’s right to memory.

The shift from military dictatorship to military rule is an effort at raising a generation of people within the concept of oblivion. Politically, the term ‘military rule’ displaces blame, making it easy for students to view the soldiers as the sole perpetrators of violence while conveniently providing society with a euphemism for the dictatorship.

As Harambour states in his article, forcing students to deny any existence of the dictatorship threatens the stability of Chilean society – students are indoctrinated through the education system, lessening their social consciousness while damaging their right to creativity and memory. The decision will also serve to alienate young students from the generation who witnessed and endured horrors which the current government, through various methods, seeks to stifle while showing leniency towards many perpetrators of injustice who still wield power in Chile.

Amongst the National Council for Education members responsible for the curriculum changes is former CNI agent, General Alfredo Ewing Pinochet, who according to Gutierrez, was also head of the Chilean Army’s Intelligence. Gutierrez denounced Ewing Pinochet’s involvement in the issue as a conspiracy, stating that the inclusion of this former officer in educational matters “invalidates any reinterpretation of national history; particularly anything related to the dictatorship.”[9]

Vice President of Partido Radical Socialdemócrata (PRSD), Patricio Tombolini, accused the government of intentionally eliminating “Chile’s darkest historical period.”[10] Tombolini reiterated that students had the right to know about torture, concentration camps, human rights violations, genocide and exile. Instead of being ascertained that such atrocities must never happen again, the government has chosen to stifle 17 years of military dictatorship.

Senator Eduardo Frei of Democracia Cristiana (DC) also accused the government of attempting to change the collective memory of Chilean Society.[11] Frei’s father, former President Eduardo Frei, died during the dictatorship's tenure, enforcing his son’s belief that he was assassinated.

Echoing Alicia Lira, President of Agrupacion de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (AFDD), who described the changes as “a serious offence to the victims of state terrorism.” [12], Lorena Fríes, National Institute of Human Rights Director, expressed concern about the lack of transparency surrounding the decision to change the terminology. The political move is significant as it deviates from the formation of citizenship and the exercise of human rights as “...democracy implies knowing what happened during the dictatorship.”[13] Fríes added that negating the military dictatorship’s existence is a central theme for the institute, which strives to promote the education of human rights.

Since Jan. 5, an open letter to Minister Harald Beyer has been circulating online, garnering 5,000 signatures so far from civilians opposed to the elimination of dictatorship terminology. The letter calls on Beyer to retain the definition of Pinochet’s era as dictatorship, briefly citing the brutal repression, torture and extermination carried out by DINA and CNI “beyond all legality and ethics”. The letter deems the negation of the dictatorship as absurd (a view endorsed also by Chilean historian Gabriel Salazar) and an educational blunder which “prevents students from properly distinguishing the characteristics of dictatorship and democracy; a deficiency which hurts their civic education...What cannot be accommodated is the denial or trivialization in the curriculum of a fact as obvious and painful as the existence of a dictatorship in Chile between 1973 – 1990.”[14]

Senator Guido Girardi[15] has called for a special session in Parliament, hastening to add that “a minister who is an accomplice and wants to hide the fact that human rights were violated in Chile cannot remain Minister of Education.” He added that while the Council of Education may have made a mistake, an endorsement by the minister accepting the denial of human rights violations is unacceptable. [16]

In the latest developments, several Chilean students protested in Santiago against the attempt to eradicate the memory of the dictatorship. An organizer of the demonstration stated, “We wanted to make this public intervention to protest the Ministry of Education’s decision to change the meaning of what was experienced during the dictatorship period”. [17] The march ended, appropriately and significantly at Londres 38 – a detention and torture center during Pinochet’s dictatorship

[1] Reckoning with Pinochet by Steve J Stern. Duke University Press, 2010

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Temporary Suspension of Exile: Interview with Former MIR Militant Hugo Marchant

This interview was first published in Upside Down World here.
Photo courtesy of Luis Fernando Arellano, FlickrChile’s supreme court of appeals has temporarily suspended the exile sentence imposed upon an ex-militant of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). Hugo Marchant was detained in 1973 for distributing leaflets containing anti-Pinochet propaganda and later became a member of the (MIR) while in exile. Marchant entered Chile clandestinely in 1980 as part of a guerilla group opposing Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Accused of involvement in the killing of Santiago General Carol Urzúa Ibáñez, Marchant and his family were arrested and tortured by Centro Nacional de Intelligencia (CNI) agents. Following nine years of imprisonment, Marchant’s sentence was commuted to exile during Patricio Aylwin’s presidency. Founded in 1965 by left-wing students, MIR quickly established support in Santiago, especially from working class neighborhoods. MIR supported Salvador Allende; however the group expected more radical social reforms. Nevertheless, prior to the military coup, MIR began contacting junior officers within the army, urging them to support the civilian elected government. With Allende overthrown by Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1973, MIR were targeted and thousands of members, including the leaders, were arrested and killed, with those surviving the clampdown fleeing from Chile.

Marchant's previous attempts to enter Chile were quickly repudiated by the Chilean authorities. Now nearing the end of his first exile sentence, Marchant’s renewed attempt to enter Chile brought about a legal triumph. Upon presenting his passport, Marchant found himself detained by the police and subsequently deported to Buenos Aires, where he awaited the final decision of Chile’s supreme court of appeals. Echoing Marchant’s adamant opinion that legalities were in his favour, the judiciary declared the temporary lifting of the exile, granting Marchant fifteen days, starting on December 29, 2011 at 9:30am, to visit Chile and be reunited with his family.
The appeal has garnered a lot of media attention as well as support from human rights and activists groups. It is estimated that between 1500 – 2000 MIR militants have been killed, exiled or disappeared by the Pinochet dictatorship. A few ex-militants remain exiled; their sentences will be nearing completion between 2012 and 2014.

The supreme court declared that Chile had transgressed the 1993-1994 American Convention of Human Rights (Article 22:5) and the Pact of Civil and Political Rights (Article 12:4) which specifically states that no one can be banished from national territory and no one can arbitrarily prevent anyone from re entering one’s own country.

Ramona Wadi: How did you become involved in MIR?
Hugo Marchant: I was a member of Frente de Estudiantes Revolucionarions (FER) during my years as a student at the military high school. FER was the students’ social front of (MIR). In 1977 I entered the party while in exile.

RW: What was your role within the movement?

HM: I was to enter Chile clandestinely in November 1980, as part of the Central Force in the area of logistics.

RW: At what point during Pinochet's dictatorship were you and your family arrested?
HM: On Tuesday September 7, 1980 at 13:45pm I was stopped by a score of Central Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) agents in the San Pablo con Bandera province. My family was arrested by the same intelligence body in Serrano. The agents arrested my wife, Silvia Sepulveda Aedo, my daughter Javiera who was eight months old, and my son Pablo, aged 4. My son, Simon, was hidden by neighbors for three days in the attic of a neighbouring house. My wife held Javiera in her arms while Pablo played with a little car in a cell at the CNI headquarters. The memory of these moments – the interrogation and torture, is so horrendous I cannot bear to talk about it.

RW: How did your memory of Chile alter during the nine years in prison and the subsequent nineteen years exiled in Finland?

HM: The nine years of imprisonment and nineteen years of banishment, exile, have not alienated me from my country or the struggle for Chile. Through the press, the reading of several testimonies has allowed me to retain the reality. The cruelty of this enforced exile is the emotional upheaval. I cannot walk with my kids and my wife through the streets which witnessed our struggles. I have been unable to mourn at the graves of my fallen comrades in battle. I failed to attend my mother’s funeral. Exile has prevented me from standing with the Mapuche people who are under military occupation of their land by the government in power. I have also been unable to accompany the students in their struggles. And during each day which passes in exile, I know I am suffering a wrongful conviction since fighting injustice and oppression is a legitimate cause.

RW: Did the Valech Commission* report have any effect on your case?

HM: The Valech report notes the violation of human rights committed in Chile and supports our defense. However, a new trial never materialized for me.

RW: What was the response from the government with regard to your case?

HM: The government’s response was a resounding 'NO'. Not even the unanimous decision from the Commission of Human Rights in parliament, neither the authorisation allowing us time to file an appeal at the Appeals Court, were an impediment for the government to express its hatred for our history.

RW: Has your case created more awareness about the plight of exiled political prisoners in Chile?

HM: The strategy of attempting direct entry into Chile through the airport has been effective in demonstrating the injustice of exile. The laws of the state are in our favor, however the government reacted violently and expelled us. The publicity generated by the media garnered the attention of various social and political groups both nationally and internationally, effectively extending our campaign to terminate this exile. Social movements in Chile have expressed support in a concrete way for our cause. On an international level, a complaint is being filed with the Inter American Court of Human Rights since the state of Chile is violating international treaties to which it is supposed to adhere to.

RW: What do you think will influence the final decision of the appeal? The government or the judiciary?

HM: This is clear – a look at the history of political prisoners and judicial proceedings will show that the judiciary is the only way through which the political confrontation between the popular sectors in struggle and the state of domination or governance can be expressed. With our campaign, political facts have been installed in the political scene. Therefore if we continue accumulating the social and political support with our campaign, we will achieve a force that allows us to realize major actions. Meanwhile our people’s advances in pursuing the fight for human rights will change the legal results. At the international level it is important to perform specific tasks to raise awareness and opposition, such as sending letters to the Judiciary, the Ministry of Interior, The President of the Republic and repudiating manifest injustices such as banishment, exile and forced exile. Collection of signatures should be sent to Comite Fin Al Destierro Ahora – our committee which campaigns to end exile. Every initiative in favor of human rights, every stand against banishment, is a necessary initiative.

*The Valech Commission report is a record of abuses committed in Chile between 1973 - 1990, documenting over 38,000political prisoners - most of them tortured.

'A Poetic Concept of Identity': An Interview with Mapuche Poet David Aniñir Guilitraro

This interview was first published in Upside Down World here.
The culture of Mapuche poetry has evolved into three distinctive forms: traditional, intellectual and urban. David Aniñir Guilitraro, an urban Mapuche poet from Santiago, has created a literary realm which connects the history of the Mapuche struggle to the social problems which the people face today.

Guilitraro describes his book, Mapurbe, as ‘a poetic concept of identity’ which harbors ‘revenge against everything’. It is a response towards the culture of denial which has assailed the Mapuche people’s history. Each ‘democratic’ government since the fall of Pinochet’s dictatorship has contributed towards the oppression of the Mapuche, resulting in the people being marginalized and discriminated against. From the anti-terror law – a vestige of Pinochet’s dictatorship, to inadequate education in rural areas, to a repression of Mapuche culture, governments seem to be relying on distortion and manipulation to obliterate a history which has been mired in ethnocide and displacement of people for the sake of land acquisition. Mapurbe is a revolt against the treason of discrimination committed by governments and a reaffirmation of pride in Mapuche culture.

Ramona Wadi: What are the dynamics of your poetry and which language dominates your poems?
David Aniñir Guilitraro: In developing my poetic language, I have made use of literary expressions which include colloquial language in order to give more significance to everyday speech. The influence of anti-poetry, as in the poems of Nicanor Parra, supports and installs communication between the poet and the audience. My poetry utilizes a hybrid language – it includes a babble of both Mapudungun and popular English words seeking to impart the aesthetics of language. But this aim is not always achieved - writing may corrupt the image, since it takes place at an independent pace within its own rhythm.

RW: What is Mapurbe about?
DAG: It is a half-open view to a world of identity reconstruction in urban Mapuche. The political and social context which has occurred in Latin American, indigenous people go hand in hand with artistic expression. Mapurbe poetics is an aesthetic concept in tune with the artistic movement in Chile. The revival of a culture that modifies to survive, adapting new forms of expression which are proposing a cultural and political reflection. A vanguard expression of art which has questioned its origin and now identifies itself as Mapuche. This state of culture should not propose a contemporary form of identification before a culture of domination. Therefore, it is a culture which is in constant motion. That’s Mapurbe – a poetic concept of identity and part of the people’s contemporary heritage.

RW: How is the Mapuche identity constructed in your poetry?
DAG: I have not constructed anything, except for my poetry. My poetry exists within a combination of influences affecting the indigenous youth. It is attuned to the complexity of cultural fusion. I have had people telling me that my poetry encompasses many experiences of the new generations: the disappointment, the search for identity, a sense of belonging to the people...the community. Everything was included, only Mapurbe visualizes these experiences with a poetic language, giving a new but equivalent meaning.

RW: What is your role as a Mapuche poet in the current political context?
DAG: As a poet I am a good worker! My work is a creative subject which contributes to the cultural development of our people, both in discussion and action. Being a cultural manager of several actions we can be attuned within our culture and society at large – our expressions are rendered valid across.

RW: In what context does the ‘revenge’ in your poetry take place?
DAG: It is a revenge on the historical and systematic way in which the rights of the Mapuche people have been violated. My construction of the subject should be read within the context of discrimination and deprivation. We are the children of dispossession, of the exile suffered by our parents. This is Mapurbe – the response to such racism and denial today. Mapuche people have suffered as political prisoners, been subjected to murder, flawed trials and judicial assembly, militarization of communities – all these things are undeniable in our history. That’s my poetic art - corrosive, foul, crude. It is a poetic revenge on everything.

RW: Is there a repression of Mapuche culture and language, and does your poetry strive to promote unity between the Mapuche people and their heritage?
DAG: I told you – my poetry is attuned to the whole Mapuche movement. Even though in the city our native language Mapudungun is not promoted, it has changed the significance of culture. This is a phenomenon which has been going on for approximately twenty years.

RW: Explain the motivation in your poetry and how your perception regenerated a new form of poetry.
DAG: Being able to promote my work is not vanity, to invent genres or something like that. It’s just poetry and, if it is clear, this is a success. What motivate me are aspects of life – the personal tendency towards the edge, the limit. Love, disillusion and essential feelings. My childhood experiences were replete with a burden of social discrimination; I lived through poverty, hunger and violence. This is why I have an affinity for rock, or the punk counterculture attitude.

RW: Would you describe your poetry as an anthropological discourse? And which is the deeper involvement in your poetry – the poet or the Mapuche as a collective memory and experience?
It is an ethnographic poetic testimony, based on experience transmitted through stories, music and visuals - many young Mapuche are indentifying with this. To quote one of my own poems, “I am not the writer / it is poetry that writes for me / it comes to shake me with dreams / in the night I wake up / with Mapuche voices / they want to cry and laugh at me through verse. I have never pretended to understand a poet. The bond with my Mapuche ancestors is something which until now I cannot understand, but through the ancestral legacy I sense the manifestation of strength and endurance.

RW: Is Mapuche history manipulated by politics?
DAG: Official policy recounts its own version of the story – it happens with all oppressed people and with our history it is no exception. The victors tell their story with an ideological difference. In the academic arena there is a story based on fabrication, but many are concerned with investigating the circumstances that led the nascent state to invade an autonomous territory at the expense of massacring people. This genocide is known as the Pacification of Araucanía – Chile and Argentina in the Desert Campaign. Ethnocide was committed on both sides of the Andes Mountain which led to territorial dispossession. Lurking beneath the official version, which excludes the version of the defeated, is the framework within which to develop indigenous policies. The phrase “History is written by the people” is completely coherent in accordance to how we repair to make our historical narrative objective.

RW: To what extent are the Mapuche visible participants in Chile?
DAG: Within the framework of institutional policies needs are attended to, seeking to diminish the sources of conflict. Deep demands are met with political repression, imprisonment and harassment.
The standard dual role of the various ‘democratic’ governments since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship is based on neoliberal economic policies, to the detriment of the rights of communities in Southern Chile.

In a clear socialization of the Mapuche people’s demands, public sympathy has been towards the Mapuche. Long strikes in Chile have made the Mapuche political prisoners. In the context of the struggles which have occurred in different episodes, society has become aware that the Mapuche conflict has a solid basis in history that transforms into the cultural, becoming a display of enchantment for the Mapuche.

RW: How does your poetry combat discrimination and violence against Mapuche? By taking an offensive or defensive role?
DAG: Defensive. The offensive deserves a more cosmetic treatment against the status quo of the established paradigms in power – that’s my revenge poetry. The offensive has been reversed; a racist society that negates the different, intolerant, homophobic. I have nothing, but the defensive is a reflection – an observation from the small universe of how I perceive the world.

RW: Do you perceive your poetry to be solely relevant to the Mapuche, or it has the capacity to transcend borders?
DAG: What happened with my poetry was beyond, of course. A short circuit that incurs more of a political than artistic dimension – that’s my feeling. Poetry bears the burden in my case. I was fortunate to travel to Europe with a group of Latin Americans involved in alternative art. Some of my poems were translated in Berlin, even in France. I could see that the poetic language connects with human sensibilities. Both misery and beauty are repeated in all corners of the planet. Poetry always had the ability to transcend human boundaries, verifying the humanity in us – that’s the quality inherent in art in general. In Argentina, Mapuche identity is installed in the young through punk rock, metal and hip hop; they become attuned to the culture and vindication of identity.

RW: Do you have any forthcoming projects?
DAG: I intend to write a book that narrates my experiences through prose. A brother scholar suggested I should create a narration in the voices of characters of Mapurbe, related in prose. It is an exercise in narrative, which will cost me more than poetry. But through further observation it makes sense to delve into another literary genre. It is an exploration where the poems are the end through which a new form of literature emerges. I call it prose poetry.
In addition I am also creating audio visual poems – an experiment in visual poetic imagery.
My time is dedicated to the creation of expression, given the conditions. Many other artists should make an effort to form part of the creative dynamics since wage labour and survival are gruelling challenges. We can impart an attitude of resistance – the spirit to break the status quo.

For further examples of David Aniñir Guiltraro’s work, visit the newly launched blog,

Dictatorship Relics in Chile: Paying homage to Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko

This article was first published in Upside Down World here.
Photo by Luis Fernando Arellano, another event which exposes the reality of Chilean society’s split memory, an homage to former Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) officer Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko was described as an exercise in freedom of expression by mayor  of Providencia Christian Labbé, in turn prompting outrage and protests from human rights and activist groups in Chile since its announcement.

On November 21, Labbé organised a book launch for the 4th edition of right wing historian Gisela Silva Encina’s Miguel Krassnoff: Prisoniero Por Servir a Chile (Miguel Krassnoff: A Prisoner for Serving Chile). A letter from Krassnoff[1] was read during the event, in which he described his incarceration as ‘illegal, illegitimate and unconstitutional’. Hundreds of activists and relatives of tortured victims gathered to protest the event, some holding placards stating “I don’t forget, nor forgive”. Others turned up with photographs of tortured, assassinated or missing relatives. Protestors hurled eggs and stones in the direction of Club Providencia, resulting in clashes between opposing groups and the use of force and tear gas against protestors by the Chilean police. Earlier that day another indictment was issued against Krassnoff, charging him and three other DINA officers with the kidnapping of Newton Morales Saavedra in 1974.[2]

A message relayed by one of President Sebastian Piñera’s assistants stated that while the President was unable to attend, he wished the event success, bearing in mind that “Krassnoff is a representative symbol of the 1973 – 1978 era.”[3] Following the protests, Piñera issued a retraction, saying the initial message was not his and there was no way his government would have participated in such an event.

Krassnoff was sentenced to 144 years in prison in 2006 for over 20 counts of crimes against humanity. A graduate of the School of the Americas (SOA) and renowned for anti-Marxist sentiment, Krassnoff took part in the September 11, 1973 military coup d’état which ousted President Salvador Allende. Having been in charge of DINA’s Brigada Halcon, Krassnoff was at the helm of Pinochet’s secret service which kidnapped, tortured and assassinated members of Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria de Chile (MIR) – who had formed a paramilitary resistance against Pinochet’s dictatorship. Those arrested were taken to Villa Grimaldi and Londres 38, torture complexes which operated from 1974 to 1978.

According to Stern (Reckoning with Pinochet: The Memory Question in Democratic Chile 1989 – 2006) 4,500 prisoners were tortured from 1974 – 1976; including 205 disappearances. Survivors of torture recount extreme atrocities committed against prisoners. Sheila Cassidy, a British doctor living in Chile at the time of the coup, was arrested and tortured with electric shocks on the accusation of medically treating a Pinochet opponent. Paul Hammer[4], a law student arrested on suspicion of membership in a left-wing paramilitary group states he was beaten, shocked and brought to the verge of suffocation. Another torture survivor of Villa Grimaldi, Pedro Matta[5] was arrested in 1975 and taken to Villa Grimaldi. His extensive research sheds light on the methods and manner of torture.

Prisoners who refused to become collaborators for DINA were kept standing for long hours in tiny cells, torturers submerged the prisoners’ heads in putrid water, others were subjected to the shattering of limbs, performed by a guard who would drive a vehicle over the victim’s legs. Sexual abuse and torture against women was particularly sadistic, which included rape, using animals to sexually abuse women and the burning of genitals. Influential prisoners who refused to succumb to the interrogator’s demands were usually anesthetised, taken on board a helicopter and thrown into the ocean. This elimination of opponents was also affirmed by Cassidy.
Labbé, a personal friend of Krassnoff since their time at the (SOA)[6], so far remains unscathed by the law. A former body guard of Krassnoff, he later formed part of Brigada Halcon, given the duty of instructing guards in torture methods. Reiterating that he allowed the use of Club Providencia each time there was a commemoration pertaining to the Pinochet era, Labbé considers the event as honouring part of Chile’s history. Notwithstanding his role in Villa Grimaldi, Labbé continues to enjoy the authorities’ support and has contested council elections, retaining his place as Mayor since his first campaign.

Despite the testimonies from survivors and reports drawn up by the Valech and Rettig commissions; Chilean society remains split over the dictatorship era. According to Krassnoff’s declaration in the letter read during the book launch, “the military coup didn’t happen. It was a legitimate military intervention.” Once again, memory and blame are displaced. Pinochet’s initial declaration to allegations of human rights abuses, “Sometimes democracy must be bathed in blood” was mellowed through the years into a mission of refuting evidence of torture and murder through the discrepancy oblivion, as he stated in 1995, “The only solution to the issue of human rights is oblivion.”

As evidenced from Gisela Silva Encina’s blog[7] about Krassnoff, Pinochet supporters are in denial of the history of human rights abuses, assassinations and disappearances. Echoing a quote from Krassnoff, “I am a soldier who has been transformed into a persecuted politician.” Encina states that Krassnoff was the victim of lies and that no evidence incriminating Krassnoff was brought forward. Indeed, Dr Patricio Bustos, Head of Servicio Medico Legal, testified that he was tortured by Miguel Krassnoff[8], and that Krassnoff never used a pseudonym to conceal his identity[9]. The testimonies of victims were dismissed as memory manipulation. Encina’s blog also portrays the protestors as criminals attacking Pinochet supporters, thus necessitating the use of force on behalf of the police. Chile’s laws do not deem the celebration of genocide as a crime; therefore once again, victims and their relatives have been subjected to a travesty of justice.

However, the memory of the oppressed refuses to relinquish its stand. Lorena Pizarro, president of Agrupacion de Familiares de Detenidos Desparecidos (AFDD), condemned the homage[10], stating it portrayed Chile as a state which sanctions terrorism, as well as opening an avenue for a repetition of state terror. Alicia Lira, president of the Agrupacion de Familiares de Ejecution Politicos (AFEP) denounced the homage as an affront to memory and an example of the impunity which Piñera’s government is unwilling to counter, since many officers from the Pinochet era remain in authoritative positions.[11] On behalf of the AFDD, Pizarro is suing Labbé[12], demanding to know whether public funds were used to finance the event.

At a time when Chile is experiencing a surge in protests, notably the students’ protests demanding quality and free education, the event elicited responses from political figures. Head of Senate Guido Girardi denounced the homage[13], calling it “a tribute to torture, assassination and rape” and challenged Piñera to take measures against allowing Labbé to run for council elections in 2012. [14] “It is not possible that public authorities honor torturers and murderers … It is not democratic that your party supports a militant who has incurred faults that go against the constitution and the law … Labbé should be prevented from reapplying for office as he clearly has not responded as democracy demands.”


Seeking Social Justice Through Education in Chile

This article was first published in Upside Down World here.
The ongoing student protests in Chile are an unwavering accomplishment aimed at combating the social injustice riddling the country's education system. What started out as a series of peaceful protests has become a manifestation of unity between students, artists and much of the general population in a stance defying the current government’s position regarding social class, cultural difference and political division with regard to education.

Upon assuming power in a military coup that ousted President Salvador Allende, General Augusto Pinochet implemented a series of policies that spelled poverty for the working class. To this day, remnants of the military dictatorship are evident in Chile. Upon Milton Friedman’s advice, Pinochet altered the education system in Chile. Responsibility for public schooling was transferred from the Ministry of Education to public municipalities. Private schools were financed by the voucher system in proportion to student enrolments. The elite families began enrolling their children into schools which charged for enrolment. No effort was made on behalf of the government to improve the curriculum, education quality or management, resulting in a society which, for decades had to contend with social class division within education.

Private universities meant excessive tuition fees, causing students and their families to incur debts whilst education quality was barely improved. Universities were mostly attended by students from the middle class and higher income families. Impoverished areas had no access to quality education, with low income families obliged to send
their children to public schools where no incentives, such as better working conditions for teachers were offered, to promote and enhance student educational performance. Discrepancy in Chile’s education system led to society incurring yet another split. The current system exploits class as well as cultural differences. Low income families have no option but to send their children to public municipal schools. Mapuche people living in rural areas having to contend with an inferior education as well as lack of intercultural awareness.

Students are demanding the state assumes responsibility to provide free education and broader access to education. The students’ proposals include eliminating the business concept of education, ensuring the quality of public education, the creation of an education system which falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and ensuring educational rights for Chile’s indigenous people.

Protests have ranged from sit-ins, to barricades and marches, as well as hunger strikes as a mark of resistance. Hunger strike protestors have read statements holding the government responsible for their plight. Cacerolazo protests (a common form of protest in Latin American countries which involves banging on pots with kitchen utensils) have also gained ground within the movement and Chilean society. This form of protest, which can even be performed from home, has achieved a high level of solidarity with
the student protestors.

Thousands of students in Santiago clashed with the police as force was used in an attempt to restore what the state defines as public order. The students were met with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. In what may be portrayed as another relic of the dictatorship some protests were deemed illegal, citing the lack of a permit allowing students to demonstrate. Camilla Vallejo, spokesperson for the student’s movement described the state repression as a great mistake, adding that the student movement was not intimidated by threats and encouraging the students to persist in their various forms of protest.

President Sebastian Piñera’s attempts to appease the students have been rejected outright. In a televised speech, Piñera’s proposals including a cabinet reshuffle and an annual education fund used to support public education were dismissed as not addressing the students’ concerns and demands. While the students were calling on the government to end private education schemes, Pinera’s declared that nationalising the education system would damage quality and freedom of education.
1The second attempt at reform was the government’s 21 point plan2, which was once again swiftly rejected by the students. The right to a quality education, promoting student involvement, promoting multiculturalism in higher education and an inclusive admission system were listed amongst the proposals being branded as reform.

The discrepancies in Piñera’s proposals highlight Chilean divisions. There is no mention of state takeover of education; hence the right to a free quality education for all society remains debatable. Education administered by the private sector remains the estate of the privileged, enforcing further gaps within Chilean society. Student involvement in education remains a distant objective, as protests continue to be met with force. Multiculturalism awareness and inclusive admission border on illusion when considering the intolerance and abuse of human rights suffered by indigenous people.

As a result of state repression against indigenous people, the Mapuche have been subjected to discrimination. Apart from the anti terror law, which allows the state to prosecute Mapuche in a military court, the community has been subjected to cultural repression. Yonatan Cayulao, leader of the Mapuche Federation of Students has proposed a Mapuche University3, stating that Chilean education has marginalised indigenous people in its quest to create a homogeneous nation. The Mapuche University would allow the community to protect their culture within their own environment.

In the latest turn of events, Camilla Vallejo was reported to have delivered a letter4 to President Piñera, challenging the president to a transparent debate and urging him to acknowledge education as a universal right instead of a consumerism scheme, as he had previously announced. The letter denounced student segregation under the current education system and called for education to be guaranteed constitutionally ‘as a social law’.

Reminiscent of the past is the way nueva canción singers are uniting once again in support of Chileans. In a message broadcast on You Tube5, Inti Illimani’s Jorge Coulon reiterated his support for the students. “We admire and respect tremendously the current student movement in Chile and we are glad to participate in it since they (the students) are not only writing, but rewriting the history of Chile, which is full of episodes in which the students have been fundamental. The present time is one of them, and you – the students, are playing a leading role in this history.”

Pinochet’s influence in Chilean democracy is never far from the people’s consciousness. Each year Chile’s September 11th anniversary is marked with violent incidents and manifestations – a reminder that justice remains a remote illusion for many victims of the military dictatorship. With the protests set to continue, talk emerges regarding the possibility of the army being deployed against the students if the protests continue up to that date.

An issue which portrays the social injustice incited by Pinochet is the attitude of Chileans towards state violence. In a conversation with Julieta, a local anthropology student,  I was told “In Chile, because we are accustomed to police violence, we have naturalised this violence that we receive.” The memory of the military coup is far from being relegated to the confines of history. With a democracy that moulds itself on past legislation, the concept of freedom and dignity for Chileans remains a battle to be fought from many societal aspects and the struggle for free education seems to have ignited the memory of the past to be combated in the contemporary realm.


Memory in Exile: An Interview with Jorge Coulon of Inti Illimani

This interview was first published in Upside Down World here.
Jorge Coulon. Photo courtesy of Inti Illimani.Founded in May 1967, Chilean nueva canción group Inti Illimani quickly became popular in Chile and other neighbouring countries. Inti Illimani willingly involved itself in transmitting the message of Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular to Chileans, bringing the social aspect of politics to the people through music. As Jorge Coulon told Upside Down World, nueva canción artists supported Allende “completely unselfishly”, perceiving in Allende an opportunity for society to flourish and regain its dignity.

Inti Illimani happened to be on tour in Europe when Pinochet overthrew Allende’s government in a military coup. In a relentless drive to eliminate all traces of socialism, the nueva canción was banned, tapes, records and musical instruments related to the nueva canción were destroyed and artists were imprisoned, exiled or even murdered, as happened to Victor Jara. Inti Illimani took up residence in Italy where they remained for fifteen years until 1988, when Chile’s borders were declared open. The group returned to Chile on September 18, 1988, soon becoming involved in a campaign that rejected the notion of another eight years under Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Following the return from exile, some musicians left the group and were replaced by others. However the band split in the last decade, with three former members of the initial Inti Illimani retaining the same name with the addition of (Historico), in order to be distinguished from Inti Illimani, who retained the original name.

Inti Illimani has been involved in many concerts paying homage to the people who sacrificed their lives for Chile and socialism, reviving the memory of Victor Jara and Salvador Allende. Next October, Inti Illimani will be joined by two other nueva canción groups, Quilapayun and Illapu, in a concert which unites the singers in performance for the first time ever in Chile.

Ramona Wadi: What role did Inti Illimani play in Chilean society prior to the military coup of Augusto Pinochet? Was it a political or a social role?

Jorge Coulon: Sometimes, the role that artists have played in Latin America is difficult to explain in a European cultural, social and political context. In the Chilean society (and Latin American as well) of the 20th century, artists and intellectuals have played some political and social roles many times. This is probably due to the huge differences in the social aspect and because of the scandalous contrast between the wealth of a very few and the poverty of the vast majority of the people.

In a very vast majority, the artists were part of political movements looking for a deep social change. Inti-Illimani was a part of these movements. But above all of that, Inti-Illimani's role was the music, the searching of a deeply rooted musical language among the popular traditions in Latin America and the projection into the future of a multicultural society in the middle of an ever changing world. Inti-Illimani had the feeling of developing the musical language of the new cultural reality that was rising in South America.

RW: How did the nueva canción artists support Allende's Unidad Popular? Was it a coincidence due to the circumstances or a natural role to fulfill due to the character of the song?

JC: The support given by the artists of nueva canción to Allende's government was absolutely and completely unselfish. We all felt that Allende's government was in fact our government, a unique chance in history to build a society based on justice and equality. Of course, the administration of Salvador Allende was the crowning achievement of a century involving workers and intellectuals struggling to achieve a country free of outrages, exploitations, corruption, a country in which citizens were really equal in the eyes of the changes and the law.

RW: Being abroad, what is your memory of experiencing the news of the military coup, the assassination of Victor Jara? How did the distance affect your recollections of Chile?

Inti Illimani. Photo Courtesy of Inti Illimani.JC: I remember I felt surprise, pain, uncertainty, anger, despair, disappointment ... there were a lot of different feelings and they all were combined in our thoughts, in our conversations. The distance and the exile distort the image of one's own country. You live in some kind of schizophrenic state, not only related to these two parallel realities but also in a third dimension which is the memory distorted by nostalgia. For the one living in exile, it's hard to accept that your reality is just the one of the country you're living in and that your relationship with your own homeland is completely virtual, illusory, unreal, at some extent imaginary, because it doesn't matter how much information you have, how much interest you have in the events happening in your country, your country is not really present in your daily life - in the smell, the flavours...For us, Chile was somehow an abstract idea and Italy was our daily reality.

RW: How did exile influence your reality and what was the impact of exile on the music of Inti Illimani?

JC: I lived in exile between the ages of 25 to 40, so my formation as an adult person was the reality of the exile, the feeling of being separated from my roots together with a permanent obsession for our far-away country. Of course, these feelings were translated into music in two different ways: first of all, we enhanced our interest and our passion for Latin American music and we assessed its qualities even more and we recognised its multiple influences better. Secondly, we added to our music the resonance that we encountered because of the exile in our daily life, the meeting of other musicians and artists and music from all around the world.

RW: Do you still view the nueva canción as a necessity in the present?

JC: What was known as the nueva canción movement was a phenomenon of the searching of a musical identity belonging to a generation that grew up in a continent that had nothing, that had lost its wealth, its freedom, its liberty, its justice. The necessity of embracing identity and dignity guided us to look for our realities and our time's sounds; first in popular roots and then in the crossbreeding.

A major part of that searching is still very important. Latin America is realizing that in the current "Globalization" it's necessary to have a strong identity through which one can relate to the rest of the world; because that's the only way you can have your own place in this "global" world. A person who doesn't have a clear and strong identity is like the air in this ‘globe balloon’ which a lot of people blow up but just a few are able to play with.

RW: Is there any collaboration between Inti Illimani and other nueva canción artists?

JC: I'm not sure if the word "collaboration" is adequate in this context, but there is some contact and some involvement and friendship with some of them. From time to time there are some encounters like the one next October 14 - 15 with Inti-Illimani, Illapu and Quilapayún at the Caupolican theatre in Santiago. The concert is called Juntos, aquí estamos (We are here together) and all groups will be together on stage for the first time in Chile. I think what is most important is to be in contact and collaborating with the new musicians and popular singers, so the nueva canción won't resemble an isolated planet doomed to disappear but given the opportunity to transform into the seeds of a movement that will renew and grow in the new generations, with the natural changes in time and history.

RW: Are there any other projects in mind for the future and do you view them as a continuation of the nueva canción?

JC: We have a lot of projects, which are not easy to undertake when considering we have a 44 year human and musical history. With such a long history, we work on condition that each project should be an original contribution which retains both continuity and renewal of the musical language. Of course, since this is Inti-Illimani, it's all about an ideal continuity of what it's known as nueva canción (New Song), a name that's a contradiction in itself, for every new thing is doomed to become old over time.

Living Under the Oppression of Democracy: The Mapuche People of Chile

This article was first published in Upside Down World here.
In the years of Pinochet's military dictatorship, Henry Kissinger once remarked, "The illegal we can do right now, the unconstitutional will take a little longer." Kissinger's quote reveals the abuse of power that comes from the ruling majority. The dynamics of democracy define another reality for the minorities in a society, who do not have the same power to challenge and protest any form of abuse against them. The minorities' lack of political power becomes a tool within the structure of democracy. Minorities cannot substantially challenge the manipulation of laws and thus become victims of a political ideology that only seeks to protect the society that conforms to its rules.

As always, the concept of freedom within a democracy bears the shadow of obligation - a means that ensures compromise which heavily favours the institution of democracy. This compromise may remain unquestioned by a large segment of the population, which has been trained to think within the confines of its own wider territory of granted freedom and rights. When a democracy is tainted by the legacy of a right wing dictatorship, and no amendments to discriminatory laws are made, it is inevitable that minorities within societies suffer.

The Anti-Terrorism Law issued during Pinochet’s reign in 1984 was an effective tool to suppress the so-called counter-revolutionary groups which opposed the right wing dictatorship. Decades after Pinochet’s rule ended, the law is still providing authorities with the tools to prosecute the Mapuche people. Ironically, it was even used by left-wing governments against the Mapuche. Despite President Sebastian Pinera’s rhetoric of not repeating the mistakes of the past, the Anti-Terrorism law remains in force – proof that Pinochet’s legacy still provides useful outlets for the authorities and a reminder that the brutal history does not have the same meaning for everyone.

According to Pedro Cayuqueo, editor of the Mapuche newspaper Azkintuwe, around 1000 people have been in Chilean jails in the past ten years. In the beginning of 2010, 106 people were jailed and 58 of them were tried under the Anti-Terrorism law.

The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racism have condemned the law and its use against the Mapuche, illustrating how remnants of Pinochet’s oppressive legacy are continued by the hands of Chilean governments. In 2009, with referral to arson attacks in the region of Araucania, Deputy Interior Secretary Patricio Rosada stated, “We’ve decided to invoke the anti-terror Law to go after these groups of people who are set on perpetrating crimes, disorder and unrest in a region seeking peace and harmony.”

So the anti-terror law is being applied to Mapuche activists who are asserting their right to their ancestral land. In 1883, Mapuche territory encompassed 10 million hectares, presently their land has been reduced to around 300,000 hectares. According to the country's 2002 census, the Mapuche community numbered 604,349.

According to Estrella, a Chilean who studies anthropology, it is in the interests of the government to prosecute Mapuche, as their territory is rich in natural resources. The authorities and private companies have installed a hydroelectric power station on Mapuche land and the forest industry is also located on Mapuche land. The government’s concept of development – the law, the authorities in general, all protect the rights of the big companies at the expense of indigenous people.

Characteristics of trials under the Anti-Terrorism Law include the allowance of faceless witnesses, accepting the threat of crime as an action that has already taken place, and a mere insinuation can be taken as evidence against the accused.

Indicting and prosecuting Mapuche activists under the Anti-Terrorism law purposely brands them a violent people, thus legitimizing the implication of the law. However, police brutality has been pervasive in confrontations with Mapuche activists. Besides using force and maltreatment, as happened in 2009 when the police raided the house of Mapuche activist Miguel Tapia Huenulef, a report by the International Federation of Human Rights states that even children have suffered at the hands of the police. A school was raided in the Temucuicui Mapuche community and children were subjected to tear gas and pellet guns.

It is not only the Mapuche people who are subjected to the infamous Anti Terrorism law. Estrella also remarked that anthropology students who study the culture of the Mapuche may be at risk of being prosecuted by the Anti-terrorism law, even if the students are not Mapuche. Anthropologists support the Mapuche cause and the association with the subject can lead to prosecution, and the students who are most at risk are those involved with anarchist groups.

The majority of anthropology students are communist, anarchist or adhere to left wing political thought. However, anarchist students participate in actions, such as squatters, that make them more prominent in the eyes of the government and the police. Estrella commented on an incident during Bachelet’s rule, which was reported on the Chilean news, where two anarchist students were arrested in 2008 on the charge that hooded people attacked a police office situated in front of the university with Molotov bombs.

The authorities said that the hooded persons were the students they had arrested, and the caretaker of the university stated he recognised two of the hooded people and pointed out the students. The questions remains as to how the caretaker managed to recognise two hooded persons. Classmates of the students being prosecuted have stated that they were in class when the attack occurred. In the wake of such injustices, Estrella doubts the laws could be subject to change since the law provides a functional tool protecting the government’s interests.

Sebastian Pinera has spoken about change in Araucania – a Mapuche territory. These changes include development in the area, such as widespread road building and improving infrastructure, described by Sen. Alberto Espina as creating opportunities.

On the other hand, amendments to the Anti-Terrorist law and its implications for the Mapuche people seem to have become part of political rhetoric. Despite flimsy excuses and promises by the authorities to debate when faced with hunger strikes by the Mapuche activists, no real change is taking place. In a further attempt to disperse the unity of the Mapuche people, authorities differentiate between the Mapuche activists and the others who do not take part in demonstrations and protests, neglecting the fact that the community is struggling to reach identical goals.

The law leaves no avenue for the Mapuche to safely and freely challenge the government on issues concerning them, since every action or protest may be considered a criminal offence. While the concept of democracy which, for the majority does not translate into a variation of dictatorship, remains a strong term to eliminate any discussion of possible discrimination against minorities, for the Mapuche people, democracy has been the political ideology that negotiates with their dignity and natural freedom.

Fidelia, a Chilean doctor describes the government of Sebastian Pinera as a “fascist regime” that seeks to repress people’s rights and threatens their citizens, especially indigenous people. The terrorists, she declares, are those who govern us. Democracy does not exist for the Chileans, and even less for the Mapuche. “The laws that govern us are arbitrary and unfair.”
*Names in the article have been changed to protect the identities of people interviewed for the story.