Last Friday, September 11, Chile marked the 42nd anniversary of General Augusto Pinochet’s bloody military coup with a march through downtown Santiago.
As the Latin American nation paid homage to the victims of Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, a wave of discontent was evident among the protesters regarding the slow progress in removing the brutal regime’s enduring legacy.
— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) September 15, 2015
Between 1973 and 1990, an estimated 40,000 Chileans fell victim to the regime’s detention and torture programs. During this period official records reported 1,248 people were “disappeared” and a further 1,759 executed.
Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet is no stranger to the impact of Pinochet’s murderous junta, having been imprisoned in 1975 and later forced into exile.
Bachelet’s father, an Air Force General who opposed the coup, also numbers among the victims; he died of wounds inflicted following imprisonment and torture.
“The truth has not been told…”
Tania Nunez, who marched in Santiago accompanied with a poster of some of Pinochet’s victims, said to the AFP news agency, “The wound remains open because the truth has not been told, and justice has not been served.”
The strongest dissatisfaction is over unanswered questions from the dictatorship era and an apparent reticence from the military to acknowledge the past.
The Chilean military, which backed Pinochet’s coup against democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, has often been described by activists as having a “pact of silence”.
Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, alluded to this during a ceremony in the country’s capital: “We need to tear down the walls of silence that block us from advancing.”
Amnesty, Luxury and Legacy
On last year’s anniversary, Bachelet even promised an end to widely derided and controversial Amnesty Law passed in 1978 which protected perpetrators of human rights violations during, and after, the coup from prosecution.
A 1998 ruling by Chile’s Supreme Court removed any amnesty for human rights violation, though one year on the law’s repeal is still being fiercely debated and remains an arbitrary spectre of the Pinochet era.
As of October 2014, Chile’s Supreme Court reported 1,000 open investigations, with 279 people found guilty in connection to regime abuses.
However, teleSur reports, only 75 out of 1,073 of Pinochet’s agents are currently serving terms. Controversially, it came to the public’s attention that sections of the military had been withholding documents key to investigations.
In response, Bachelet presided over the creation of a special military unit that will assist all ongoing prosecutions in an attempt to bring more to justice. Those convicted of crimes under the junta are sent to Punta Pueco prison.
Among the demands by many in Santiago over the weekend, according to AFP, was the closure of this purpose-built facility. Viewed by many as a “luxury” prison, Punta Pueco has individual rooms, tennis courts, terraces, barbecues and all day visiting hours.
At the march, Patricia Abarca said to AFP, “Punta Pueco should vanish, there should not be special jails for assassins.” Bachelet has promised the prison’s closure but like most issues connected to the Pinochet-era progress is slow.
Perhaps most symbolic of the struggle to remove Pinochet’s legacy is the demand to replace the Constitution which dates to Pinochet’s junta.
Indeed, this was a key campaign promise on which Bachelet won her second term. Back in April, the Chilean President promised starting this month Chile would ‘open up dialogue on the constitutional process to citizens’, according to Reuters.
— Magally Avila (@MagallyAvila) September 11, 2015
There has been little movement of note and Bachelet does not have the two-thirds majority in Congress to pass any constitutional reforms. Similar to much of Pinochet’s legacy, many Constitutional laws from his dictatorship still hold considerable influence 42 years later with slow progress.