The First 9/11

I recommend a visit to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights to anyone who has an hour or more to spare in Santiago, Chile and an interest in getting their historical perspectives and worldview correctly aligned. Hugely pictorial in design it is highly evocative of the horrific events that stained this country to the core over forty years ago.

Whenever the date ‘9/11’ is mentioned we almost unanimously recall the events that took place on the East Coast of America in late 2001. That day has branded itself on the collective consciousness of the western world and become synonymous with global terrorism. But mention the 11th September – or Once de Septiembre as it is known – to the people of Chile and they are taken to a very different time and place. This is because the first 9/11 took place in Santiago, the capital city of Chile on the 11th September 1973. A US backed coup d’etat overthrew the first democratically elected socialist president in Latin America, Salvador Allende, and replaced him with General Augusto Pinochet.

Thus began a military dictatorship that was to last until 1990. A rounding up of dissenters began immediately and soon afterwards the infamous ‘Caravan of Death’ began its murderous journey up and down the length of the country. Official estimates put the number of those executed at 3,095, with 80,000 forcibly interned and 30,000 tortured in innumerable locations across the country.

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On our way back to our accommodation we stopped outside the main entrance to 38 Calle de Londres. Spray painted on the bottom of the wooden door was the phrase ‘Aqui Tortura’ – Torture Here. Across the street trendy Chilenos and tourists sipped their artesanal beers, a bearded busker played some lacklustre blues and pigeons swooped between the classical buildings that flanked the street. There was another message spray painted onto the stonework of the same building: ‘Donde Estan?’ – Where are they? We had seen this phrase all across Latin America along with its corollary ‘Los Desaparecidos’ – The Disappeared. In many cities across South America groups of mothers regularly march in prominent locations to raise awareness of their disappeared family members. Some of them have been marching for over 40-years.

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We had seen enough instruments and methods of torture that afternoon and felt the hushed emotions of the teenagers and adults who paced stone faced amongst the exhibits. The physical torture is over for all those whose photographs hang on the wall of remembrance. But for the loved ones of ‘Los Desaparecidos’ the agony of not knowing continues. Surely that is a terrible and enduring form of torture in itself.

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