To the dead, we did it, we wrote out your wrongs
It was said, they admit it, we sang out your songs.
There are many September the 11ths. Today - the 11th September 2013 - is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 military coup that saw in Chile’s 17 years of dictatorship under General Pinochet.
This morning I cycled down to the Chilean embassy to put my body where my heart is, and to pay my respects. Over the course of the day people – children, parents, victims, survivors, activists, sympathisers - read out the names of the disappeared and dead and laid a flower for every single one of them.
As each name was called out, all those present shouted “presente!”
This presente! proclaims: I am here, the disappeared are here, we are present. The act of being present, of making the past present, of making those who a state attempted to disappear present chimes to the very heart of why memory and past are essential to any lived now.
This presente proclaims: I am here, the disappeared are here, we are present
In the 17 years of Pinochet’s rule at least 2,000 were disappeared and at least 30,000 were tortured in ways that attempted to annihilate their humanity, dignity and essence of being. The history of torture in Chile is one of a map of secret detention centres and camps that criss-crossed Chile’s entire 4000 km of length. It was not until after its 2004 Commission on Torture that the mainstream press would even recognise that the torture was real; that the victims were real; that the centres existed.
Chile is still divided between those who would disappear the past, those for whom Pinochet was maybe ‘not good but necessary’, and those for whom the past is still now. These scars, replicated in all societies where the past has no real reconciliation, explode every now and then: from the violent clashes that marked this year’s 11th September protests, to the news that finally the alleged killer of the symbolic Victor Jara may be being brought to justice.
There is much to say on Chile; much to say on the role of justice and memory in repairing society. But that is for another day. For now, I am here, I am present, and I bore witness.
I am here, I am present, and I bore witness.
Gaia Marcus is a Senior Researcher on the RSA's Connected Communities team.
For information about the national 'Chile 40 years on campaign' please visit their website. They will be hosting events throughout September: please check the calendar here.