Santiago — Half a century has passed since La Moneda Palace, in the heart of Santiago, was bombarded by the military and left-wing President Salvador Allende was overthrown. September 11, 1973 is still remembered as a dark episode in Chilean history, as it was the beginning of a dictatorship - headed by Augusto Pinochet - that lasted almost 17 years and left thousands of victims.
Today, 50 years after that day, there is a climate of tension and political division in Chile.
“The atmosphere is electric, it is charged”, said President Gabriel Boric at the end of August, in a context of disagreements with opponents about the events to be held for the new anniversary of the coup d’état.
The president wanted to bring together all sectors of Chilean politics to commemorate the date. But he was slammed by the right-wing parties who disagreed with “imposing single truths” about what happened that day, and opted to write a letter with seven commitments entitled “50 years since the breakdown of democracy”, which includes among its points the respect for the rule of law and human rights.
Boric: “The coup is inseparable from what came after”
On the eve of the 50th anniversary, the presidential palace was already receiving the first signs of the commemoration. On Sunday night thousands of demonstrators, dressed in black, with candles, in silence and with signs saying “never again”, walked along the Alameda to the surroundings of La Moneda.
Today, at the event in the Plaza de la Constitución in Santiago, Boric said that “the coup d’état is not separable from what came afterwards (the dictatorship)” because since September 11, 1973 “the human rights of Chilean men and women were violated”. According to the Valech report, the dictatorship left almost 40,000 victims of political imprisonment and torture.
Also, hundreds of thousands of Chileans had to go into exile in other countries during the Pinochet regime. “Recognize the international solidarity that extended from the first hours of the coup,” said Boric.
Monday’s events were attended by the presidents of Mexico, Andres Lopez Obrador; Colombia, Gustavo Petro; and Bolivia, Luis Arce; Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou; and the prime minister of Portugal, António Costa. The President of the German Federal Council, Peter Tschentscher, was also present. Other international leaders who could not travel to Chile chose to send special messages.
Also present were human rights organizations, activists, diplomatic figures, former presidents, politicians, international activists, artists, among other personalities.
Among those present were former presidents Pepe Mujica (Uruguay), Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica), Juan Manuel Santos and Ernesto Samper (Colombia), Felipe González (Spain), Tarja Halone (Finland), Juan Manuel Santos and Ernesto Samper (Colombia).
Lagos and Bachelet present, but Piñera and Frei absent
Boric also summoned to Monday’s ceremonies four of his predecessors to La Moneda, but only former presidents Ricardo Lagos and socialist Michelle Bachelet turned out.
“I am not going to La Moneda because the climate that has taken place this week, of so much confrontation, so much division, did not make it possible”, said Sebastián Piñera, twice former head of state, a few days ago.
But all the former presidents did support and signed a declaration promoted by Boric entitled “Commitment: for democracy, always”. Regarding this, Piñera said: “This declaration reflects exactly what I am proposing: a firm commitment to democracy and the rule of law, a firm commitment to the defense and respect for human rights and the dignity of people and a firm commitment to combat and condemn violence”.
Neither did former President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle attend the events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état, including the one held in the morning at the Plaza de la Constitución in Santiago on Monday. But, like his peers, he also met with Boric a few days before and signed the document of commitment to democracy.
Why does September 11 divide Chilean politicians?
The date of September 11 still continues to generate fissures, as evidenced by a special study by Activa (Pulso Ciudadano), published earlier this month that indicates that 70.1% of those surveyed believe that the commemoration divides Chileans, compared to 14.7% who believe that it unites them and another 15.2% who “do not know”.
Any many people think that these differences will not be overcome in the future. For political scientist and academic Octavio Avendaño “there is no common, shared opinion among the different actors and representatives of the political world on the democratic breakdown” that occurred 50 years ago.
“There are still opposing opinions regarding the causes of the breakdown, of what the democratic breakdown means afterward, and above all the dictatorial experience, taking into consideration that there are sectors of the right wing that participated in the dictatorship. Therefore, these sectors feel that they are heirs of the authoritarian legacy and, on the other hand, they try to see some degree of justification for the coup”, he told Bloomberg Línea.
Another survey, published by Cadem on Sunday, showed that only 47% think that September 11 is a very or fairly relevant date and, although 75% say that it is necessary to remember it so that human rights are never again violated, 60% also believe that it is a date that should be left in the past.
Avendaño emphasizes that the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état, unlike previous ones, covers a longer period. “It is very different when the 40 years were commemorated than when the 30 years were commemorated.”
As an additional element, he emphasizes that tensions have been highlighted since the commemoration of the anniversaries of September 11, 1973, in the early 90′s.
“There are always contrary or divided opinions, there is no consensus.... With respect to citizens, what is striking today is that an important part is not taking up this discussion, but rather it is at the level of the political class or the actors directly involved, the relatives of the victims of human rights violations.”