Pinochet: a Forgotten Part of Chilean History

Haley Massad is a student at the University of Louisville and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Valparaiso, Chile.

Adolf Hitler. Osama Bin Laden. Joseph Stalin. Saddem Hussein. Augusto Pinochet. What? Who’s that last one? The other four names I guarantee were recognized instantly. While not all of those previously mentioned were dictators, they are examples of historical figures who caused mass oppression and death. So what’s with Pinochet? Regrettably, Americans, Chileans, and people all over the planet don’t know about of one of the most oppressive dictatorships in human history.

Spending the last four months in Chile, one of the most interesting aspects of my time here has been witnessing first hand a country still recovering from a seventeen-year-long dictatorship that only ended a brief twenty five years ago. Coming from a country like the United States that has never experienced a stint like that of Pinochet in Chile, I have had some eye-opening, jaw-dropping moments here, to say the least. To give a brief background, Augusto Pinochet was dictator of Chile between 1973 and 1990. During his dictatorship, Pinochet’s regime left over 3,000 people dead or missing, with 200,000 Chileans were forced into exile. With statistics and horrors like these, it is no wonder the country is still recovering today.

A list of disappeared persons at Villa Grimaldi, a torture site used during Pinochet’s rule, and one of the most intense, shocking places I have ever visited.

Although there are endless aspects of Pinochet’s regime which could be examined, what has fascinated me most is how it still affects the country today and how Chilean citizens themselves view this momentous incident in history. To begin, believe it or not, the history of Pinochet’s dictatorship is left out of Chilean textbooks. When I began realizing Chilean students my age and even older didn’t learn about Pinochet in school, I was shocked. For Chileans who didn’t live through the dictatorship themselves, the only way to attain information must be done personally, through books, movies, or first-hand sources – in many cases, parents and grandparents. In fact, almost every Chilean citizen knows at least one person affected directly by Pinochet – whether that be imprisonment, torture, or a loved one who disappeared or died.

The Museum of Human Rights in Santiago, Chile–an extremely touching, emotional place.

This brings me to my next point. It is truly mind-blowing to fathom that a huge part of the generation who lived through Pinochet’s persecution is still alive today. Chile’s current president, Michelle Bachelet, as well as her parents were not even immune from Pinochet’s tyranny. To grasp that the current president of Chile’s fairly recent democracy was not even exempt from Pinochet’s rule goes to show that truly no one was safe. The wealthiest and most politically powerful citizens were not even sheltered. Anyone posing a threat to Pinochet’s power, or simply someone on the “wrong” end of the political spectrum, could easily disappear and never return.

Though I have unquestionably found where my opinion lies, there are still Chileans who believe that Pinochet was a rightful dictator. Many who still support Pinochet’s rule do so because they were against of Salvador Allende, the first elected Marxist president in Latin America and Pinochet’s predecessor. Another factor is the economic progress Pinochet set into motion. However, the Pinochet supporters are only a small group. In a study done in 2013 by Reuters, 55% of Chileans describe Pinochet’s government as “all-bad,” while only 9% describe it as “all-good.” A significant 75% of Chileans stated that they believe traces of Pinochet’s dictatorship still remain today.

Women in exhibit
Part of a mural outside the Museum of Human Rights. The two women are holding pictures of of their father/son who disappeared during the Pinochet rule.

I do understand I bring an outsiders perspective and didn’t live through the dictatorship myself. However, in my eyes, a little bit of good like economic progress simply cannot outweigh mass murder and a lot of bad. With technology booming today, Chileans are learning more and more of what really happened during Pinochet’s rule. I believe, with every year that passes, the new generation will push more and more for their stories to be heard, their voices to be raised, and ultimately, their rights to be recognized.

Donde esta la justicia
Another part of the mural outside the Museum of Human Rights.

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