Interviews

A Temporary Suspension of Exile in Chile: An Interview with Former MIR Militant Hugo Marchant

 

(First published in Upside Down World)

Chile’s supreme court of appeals has temporarily suspended the exile sentence imposed upon an ex-militant of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). Hugo Marchant was detained in 1973 for distributing leaflets containing anti-Pinochet propaganda and later became a member of the (MIR) while in exile. Marchant entered Chile clandestinely in 1980 as part of a guerilla group opposing Pinochet’s dictatorship. 

Accused of involvement in the killing of Santiago General Carol Urzúa Ibáñez, Marchant and his family were arrested and tortured by Centro Nacional de Intelligencia (CNI) agents. Following nine years of imprisonment, Marchant’s sentence was commuted to exile during Patricio Aylwin’s presidency. Founded in 1965 by left-wing students, MIR quickly established support in Santiago, especially from working class neighborhoods. MIR supported Salvador Allende; however the group expected more radical social reforms. Nevertheless, prior to the military coup, MIR began contacting junior officers within the army, urging them to support the civilian elected government. With Allende overthrown by Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1973, MIR were targeted and thousands of members, including the leaders, were arrested and killed, with those surviving the clampdown fleeing from Chile.

Marchant’s previous attempts to enter Chile were quickly repudiated by the Chilean authorities. Now nearing the end of his first exile sentence, Marchant’s renewed attempt to enter Chile brought about a legal triumph. Upon presenting his passport, Marchant found himself detained by the police and subsequently deported to Buenos Aires, where he awaited the final decision of Chile’s supreme court of appeals. Echoing Marchant’s adamant opinion that legalities were in his favour, the judiciary declared the temporary lifting of the exile, granting Marchant fifteen days, starting on December 29, 2011 at 9:30am, to visit Chile and be reunited with his family.

The appeal has garnered a lot of media attention as well as support from human rights and activists groups. It is estimated that between 1500 – 2000 MIR militants have been killed, exiled or disappeared by the Pinochet dictatorship. A few ex-militants remain exiled; their sentences will be nearing completion between 2012 and 2014.

The supreme court declared that Chile had transgressed the 1993-1994 American Convention of Human Rights (Article 22:5) and the Pact of Civil and Political Rights (Article 12:4) which specifically states that no one can be banished from national territory and no one can arbitrarily prevent anyone from re entering one’s own country.

Ramona Wadi: How did you become involved in MIR?
Hugo Marchant: I was a member of Frente de Estudiantes Revolucionarios (FER) during my years as a student at the military high school. FER was the students’ social front of (MIR). In 1977 I entered the party while in exile.

RW: What was your role within the movement?
HM: I was to enter Chile clandestinely in November 1980, as part of the Central Force in the area of logistics.

RW: At what point during Pinochet’s dictatorship were you and your family arrested?
HM: On Tuesday September 7, 1980 at 13:45pm I was stopped by a score of Central Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) agents in the San Pablo con Bandera province. My family was arrested by the same intelligence body in Serrano. The agents arrested my wife, Silvia Sepulveda Aedo, my daughter Javiera who was eight months old, and my son Pablo, aged 4. My son, Simon, was hidden by neighbors for three days in the attic of a neighbouring house. My wife held Javiera in her arms while Pablo played with a little car in a cell at the CNI headquarters. The memory of these moments – the interrogation and torture, is so horrendous I cannot bear to talk about it.

RW: How did your memory of Chile alter during the nine years in prison and the subsequent nineteen years exiled in Finland?
HM: The nine years of imprisonment and nineteen years of banishment, exile, have not alienated me from my country or the struggle for Chile. Through the press, the reading of several testimonies has allowed me to retain the reality. The cruelty of this enforced exile is the emotional upheaval. I cannot walk with my kids and my wife through the streets which witnessed our struggles. I have been unable to mourn at the graves of my fallen comrades in battle. I failed to attend my mother’s funeral. Exile has prevented me from standing with the Mapuche people who are under military occupation of their land by the government in power. I have also been unable to accompany the students in their struggles. And during each day which passes in exile, I know I am suffering a wrongful conviction since fighting injustice and oppression is a legitimate cause.

RW: Did the Valech Commission* report have any effect on your case?
HM: The Valech report notes the violation of human rights committed in Chile and supports our defense. However, a new trial never materialized for me.

RW: What was the response from the government with regard to your case?
HM: The government’s response was a resounding ‘NO’. Not even the unanimous decision from the Commission of Human Rights in parliament, neither the authorisation allowing us time to file an appeal at the Appeals Court, were an impediment for the government to express its hatred for our history.

RW: Has your case created more awareness about the plight of exiled political prisoners in Chile?
HM: The strategy of attempting direct entry into Chile through the airport has been effective in demonstrating the injustice of exile. The laws of the state are in our favor, however the government reacted violently and expelled us. The publicity generated by the media garnered the attention of various social and political groups both nationally and internationally, effectively extending our campaign to terminate this exile. Social movements in Chile have expressed support in a concrete way for our cause. On an international level, a complaint is being filed with the Inter American Court of Human Rights since the state of Chile is violating international treaties to which it is supposed to adhere to.

RW: What do you think will influence the final decision of the appeal? The government or the judiciary?
HM: This is clear – a look at the history of political prisoners and judicial proceedings will show that the judiciary is the only way through which the political confrontation between the popular sectors in struggle and the state of domination or governance can be expressed. With our campaign, political facts have been installed in the political scene. Therefore if we continue accumulating the social and political support with our campaign, we will achieve a force that allows us to realize major actions. Meanwhile our people’s advances in pursuing the fight for human rights will change the legal results. At the international level it is important to perform specific tasks to raise awareness and opposition, such as sending letters to the Judiciary, the Ministry of Interior, The President of the Republic and repudiating manifest injustices such as banishment, exile and forced exile. Collection of signatures should be sent to Comite Fin Al Destierro Ahora – our committee which campaigns to end exile. Every initiative in favor of human rights, every stand against banishment, is a necessary initiative.

*The Valech Commission report is a record of abuses committed in Chile between 1973 – 1990, documenting over 38,000 political prisoners – most of them tortured.

 

‘A Poetic Concept of Identity’: An Interview with Mapuche Poet David Aniñir Guilitraro

(First published in Upside Down World)

The culture of Mapuche poetry has evolved into three distinctive forms: traditional, intellectual and urban. David Aniñir Guilitraro, an urban Mapuche poet from Santiago, has created a literary realm which connects the history of the Mapuche struggle to the social problems which the people face today.

 Guilitraro describes his book, Mapurbe, as ‘a poetic concept of identity’ which harbors ‘revenge against everything’. It is a response towards the culture of denial which has assailed the Mapuche people’s history. Each ‘democratic’ government since the fall of Pinochet’s dictatorship has contributed towards the oppression of the Mapuche, resulting in the people being marginalized and discriminated against. From the anti-terror law – a vestige of Pinochet’s dictatorship, to inadequate education in rural areas, to a repression of Mapuche culture, governments seem to be relying on distortion and manipulation to obliterate a history which has been mired in ethnocide and displacement of people for the sake of land acquisition. Mapurbe is a revolt against the treason of discrimination committed by governments and a reaffirmation of pride in Mapuche culture. 

Ramona Wadi: What are the dynamics of your poetry and which language dominates your poems?

David Aniñir Guilitraro: In developing my poetic language, I have made use of literary expressions which include colloquial language in order to give more significance to everyday speech. The influence of anti-poetry, as in the poems of Nicanor Parra, supports and installs communication between the poet and the audience. My poetry utilizes a hybrid language – it includes a babble of both Mapudungun and popular English words seeking to impart the aesthetics of language. But this aim is not always achieved – writing may corrupt the image, since it takes place at an independent pace within its own rhythm.

RW: What is Mapurbe about?

DAG: It is a half-open view to a world of identity reconstruction in urban Mapuche. The political and social context which has occurred in Latin American, indigenous people go hand in hand with artistic expression. Mapurbe poetics is an aesthetic concept in tune with the artistic movement in Chile. The revival of a culture that modifies to survive, adapting new forms of expression which are proposing a cultural and political reflection. A vanguard expression of art which has questioned its origin and now identifies itself as Mapuche. This state of culture should not propose a contemporary form of identification before a culture of domination. Therefore, it is a culture which is in constant motion. That’s Mapurbe – a poetic concept of identity and part of the people’s contemporary heritage.

RW: How is the Mapuche identity constructed in your poetry?

DAG: I have not constructed anything, except for my poetry. My poetry exists within a combination of influences affecting the indigenous youth. It is attuned to the complexity of cultural fusion. I have had people telling me that my poetry encompasses many experiences of the new generations: the disappointment, the search for identity, a sense of belonging to the people…the community. Everything was included, only Mapurbe visualizes these experiences with a poetic language, giving a new but equivalent meaning.

RW: What is your role as a Mapuche poet in the current political context?

DAG: As a poet I am a good worker! My work is a creative subject which contributes to the cultural development of our people, both in discussion and action. Being a cultural manager of several actions we can be attuned within our culture and society at large – our expressions are rendered valid across.

RW: In what context does the ‘revenge’ in your poetry take place?

DAG: It is a revenge on the historical and systematic way in which the rights of the Mapuche people have been violated. My construction of the subject should be read within the context of discrimination and deprivation. We are the children of dispossession, of the exile suffered by our parents. This is Mapurbe – the response to such racism and denial today. Mapuche people have suffered as political prisoners, been subjected to murder, flawed trials and judicial assembly, militarization of communities – all these things are undeniable in our history. That’s my poetic art – corrosive, foul, crude. It is a poetic revenge on everything.

RW: Is there a repression of Mapuche culture and language, and does your poetry strive to promote unity between the Mapuche people and their heritage?

DAG: I told you – my poetry is attuned to the whole Mapuche movement. Even though in the city our native language Mapudungun is not promoted, it has changed the significance of culture. This is a phenomenon which has been going on for approximately twenty years.

RW: Explain the motivation in your poetry and how your perception regenerated a new form of poetry.

DAG: Being able to promote my work is not vanity, to invent genres or something like that. It’s just poetry and, if it is clear, this is a success. What motivate me are aspects of life – the personal tendency towards the edge, the limit. Love, disillusion and essential feelings. My childhood experiences were replete with a burden of social discrimination; I lived through poverty, hunger and violence. This is why I have an affinity for rock, or the punk counterculture attitude.

RW: Would you describe your poetry as an anthropological discourse? And which is the deeper involvement in your poetry – the poet or the Mapuche as a collective memory and experience?

It is an ethnographic poetic testimony, based on experience transmitted through stories, music and visuals – many young Mapuche are indentifying with this. To quote one of my own poems, “I am not the writer / it is poetry that writes for me / it comes to shake me with dreams / in the night I wake up / with Mapuche voices / they want to cry and laugh at me through verse. I have never pretended to understand a poet. The bond with my Mapuche ancestors is something which until now I cannot understand, but through the ancestral legacy I sense the manifestation of strength and endurance.

RW: Is Mapuche history manipulated by politics?

DAG: Official policy recounts its own version of the story – it happens with all oppressed people and with our history it is no exception. The victors tell their story with an ideological difference. In the academic arena there is a story based on fabrication, but many are concerned with investigating the circumstances that led the nascent state to invade an autonomous territory at the expense of massacring people. This genocide is known as the Pacification of Araucanía – Chile and Argentina in the Desert Campaign. Ethnocide was committed on both sides of the Andes Mountain which led to territorial dispossession. Lurking beneath the official version, which excludes the version of the defeated, is the framework within which to develop indigenous policies. The phrase “History is written by the people” is completely coherent in accordance to how we repair to make our historical narrative objective.

RW: To what extent are the Mapuche visible participants in Chile?

DAG: Within the framework of institutional policies needs are attended to, seeking to diminish the sources of conflict. Deep demands are met with political repression, imprisonment and harassment. 
The standard dual role of the various ‘democratic’ governments since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship is based on neoliberal economic policies, to the detriment of the rights of communities in Southern Chile.

In a clear socialization of the Mapuche people’s demands, public sympathy has been towards the Mapuche. Long strikes in Chile have made the Mapuche political prisoners. In the context of the struggles which have occurred in different episodes, society has become aware that the Mapuche conflict has a solid basis in history that transforms into the cultural, becoming a display of enchantment for the Mapuche.

RW: How does your poetry combat discrimination and violence against Mapuche? By taking an offensive or defensive role?

DAG: Defensive. The offensive deserves a more cosmetic treatment against the status quo of the established paradigms in power – that’s my revenge poetry. The offensive has been reversed; a racist society that negates the different, intolerant, homophobic. I have nothing, but the defensive is a reflection – an observation from the small universe of how I perceive the world.

RW: Do you perceive your poetry to be solely relevant to the Mapuche, or it has the capacity to transcend borders?

DAG: What happened with my poetry was beyond, of course. A short circuit that incurs more of a political than artistic dimension – that’s my feeling. Poetry bears the burden in my case. I was fortunate to travel to Europe with a group of Latin Americans involved in alternative art. Some of my poems were translated in Berlin, even in France. I could see that the poetic language connects with human sensibilities. Both misery and beauty are repeated in all corners of the planet. Poetry always had the ability to transcend human boundaries, verifying the humanity in us – that’s the quality inherent in art in general. In Argentina, Mapuche identity is installed in the young through punk rock, metal and hip hop; they become attuned to the culture and vindication of identity.

RW: Do you have any forthcoming projects?

DAG: I intend to write a book that narrates my experiences through prose. A brother scholar suggested I should create a narration in the voices of characters of Mapurbe, related in prose. It is an exercise in narrative, which will cost me more than poetry. But through further observation it makes sense to delve into another literary genre. It is an exploration where the poems are the end through which a new form of literature emerges. I call it prose poetry.

In addition I am also creating audio visual poems – an experiment in visual poetic imagery.

My time is dedicated to the creation of expression, given the conditions. Many other artists should make an effort to form part of the creative dynamics since wage labour and survival are gruelling challenges. We can impart an attitude of resistance – the spirit to break the status quo.

The right to memory in Chile: an interview with Erika Hennings

(First published in Upside Down World)

Operacion Colombo, or the case of the 119[1] was an intelligence operation staged by DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional), which sought to exterminate political opponents of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Most of the victims were members of MIR. Having first been detained in Londres 38[2], most of the detained persons were ‘disappeared’[3] by DINA. In what amounted to a treacherous conspiracy, Pinochet’s dictatorship allied itself with other repressive governments in Latin America, seeking to influence public opinion about the fate of the desaparecidos by publishing articles about supposed political turbulence within the left which led MIR members to turn against each other.

In memory of the desaparecidos, as well as an assertion in favor of the right to memory, Londres 38Espacio de Memorias inaugurated an exhibition detailing the origins and set up of Operacion Colombo. Erika Hennings, President of Londres 38, speaks about the right to memory – a contrast with state laws and dictatorship practices which act as censorship or criminalization of social mobilization in Chilean society.

Ramona Wadi: Explain the historical connection between Operacion Colombo and Londres 38.

Erika Hennings: The victims of Operacion Colombo are all people arrested by DINA, whose systematic method of disappearance started in Londres 38. That location was a place of detention, torture and extermination of people, mostly leftist militants during that particular period of MIR. DINA devoted itself primarily to the extermination of MIR (Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionaria). Besides the missing victims there are innumerable persons who survived their detention in Londres 38, and were witnesses of the detention and missing of people who are in the 119 list, and therefore are also witnesses of the farce and set-up which was realized to conceal the facts.

RW: What was the dictatorship’s aim in orchestrating Operacion Colombo? How did other governments in Latin America collaborate with DINA’s manipulation of events?

EH: Operacion Colombo was staged by the repression of the dictatorship, together with its intelligence agency, DINA, to conceal their crimes, most of which still remain unpunished. Operacion Colombo was part of Operacion Condor, which coordinated the repressive apparatus of the Southern Cone together with the participation of agency officials such as embassies and news media. With the repressive Argentine intelligence and complicity of the Chilean press, such as El MercurioLa Segunda and La Tercera, the dictatorship found a way to sway public opinion with regard to the desaparecidos, attributing their deaths to internal leftist political strife, especially with regard to MIR. In this context, the Chilean press reports reproduced information published in journals: Lea in Argentina and Novo O Díain Argentina and Brazil, which ‘clarified’ the whereabouts and circumstances of the 119 persons. The first of these publications reported about the fate of 60 desaparecidos, while the others reported about the remaining 59.

RW: Has any information resurfaced about the fate of the victims? Can you relate the stories of any of the desaparecidos?

EH: In the case of persons disappeared by DINA, the 119 and the other hundreds of desaparecidos, there has never been any confirmed information relating to their fate.

RW: What does the exhibition attempt to convey and how does it challenge current laws and impunity in Chile?

EH: The exhibition “Montajes Comunicacionales del pasado y el presente” arises out of a need to visualise the operations conducted by the dictatorship to hide their crimes, most of which still remain unpunished due to impunity.

The Courts of Justice are still investigating the case of Operacion Colombo; family members and human rights agencies hold a firm conviction that permanent struggle and determination can support the achievement of justice. Some condemnations have been achieved in a few cases of the desaparecidos, however sentences have not been harsh and many cases still fall under the impunity.

At the same time it is necessary not only to achieve permanent mobilization against cases in the recent past, but also towards present cases which are a continuity of practices from the dictatorship. State security law and the anti terrorist law are being used to criminalize all social mobilization. 

RW: How did the idea for the exhibition originate? Describe the exhibition and what it seeks to portray through the various mediums used.

EH: Londres 38Espacio de Memorias, raises the significance of memory that links them to the present, in order to release knowledge that may lead to reflection and action on what is occurring today, which should generate a contribution to legal and social justice, as well as respect for human rights in its broadest perception.

This exhibition traces the origins of Operacion Colombo. Panels portray the origin of Operacion Colombo, its context and its relationship to other frame ups such as Operacion Salamandra, also known as El Caso Bombas. The exhibition also includes life size silhouettes of the missing 119 detainees, whose detention and attempted murder was denied by those orchestrating Operacion Colombo.

RW: What effect does this exhibition have on memory and citizenship and how does it establish a link between relatives of the desaparecidos and the public?

EH: I can’t say what effect this exhibition had, but the wide participation of the citizens in this effort meets the goal of imparting knowledge about what happened and delivers elements which make it possible for people to reflect on how impunity allows the continuity and repetition of facts to silence all social and political mobilization. The relatives of the desaparecidos are part of the ‘public’, part of the citizens – they are informed and mobilized.

RW: Has the exhibition compelled people to come forward with any information relating to Operacion Colombo or other dictatorship related torture?

EH: The people approach, discuss, they comment with regard to the exhibition, they wonder and question. There is a perceived great interest to discover and link with other cases of  frame ups which they have known or heard of.

RW: How does the exhibition challenge Chilean media and is there any repetitive pattern in media manipulation from the dictatorship era?

EH: A leading role was played by the press addicted to the dictatorship. Chile’s media and journalists from the media provided space in their pages to try to give credibility to the lie known as Operacion Colombo. More than 30 years later, media such as La SegundaEl Mercurio and La Tercera have never given an explanation about their lies and complicity with these crimes. They enjoy total impunity. It is this impunity that allows more than 30 years later, journalistic practices which are complicit in political, economic, religious, the police and any other kind of power. Empowered by the same impunity, the media which in the past participated in Operacion Colombo now echo, without ever questioning police versions, or else in collusion with government prosecutors, the cases which affect the Mapuche people or young anarchists.

The Patriot Act, the law of state security and the press have been used in these years of democracy as means to criminalize social movements and struggles. More recently, the prosecution was unable to sustain terrorism charges against young anarchists whilst the media had already condemned them.

RW: How much would you say the right to memory is respected in Chile, and can you speak about any contrasts between Chilean civilians opposing the dictatorship and the government, with respect to the right to memory?

EH: The exhibition “Montajes comunicacionales del pasado y el presente” was scheduled to be launched in January this year at the Library of Santiago, but the entity attempted to modify the contents of the exhibition – an act of censorship that was rejected by Londres 38, Espacio de Memorias.

For Londres 38Espacio de Memorias, modifying the contents of the exhibition by a public body not only violated editorial principles but also, the attempt at censorship contradicted the principles of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and specifically, those posed by its Committee of freedom of expression and access to information, which states that libraries contribute to the development and maintenance of intellectual freedom and help safeguard basic democratic values and universal civil rights. Furthermore, it states that libraries should acquire, organize and disseminate information freely and oppose any form of censorship. Also libraries should preserve and make available the widest variety of materials reflecting the plurality and diversity of society, providing users with the ability to communicate and express themselves; which should not be censored or restricted by policy approaches.

In this sense, Londres 38Espacio de Memorias, defends its right to maintain and preserve its editorial policy, where the contents of memory retrieval are a necessity related to the present. Similarly, Londres 38states that the state has the obligation to guarantee the right to memory; it should ensure the plural use of public spaces for citizens’ organizations. After a meeting with the Director of the Dibam (Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos), on whom the library of Santiago depends, it was decided that the exhibition would be displayed on the site as originally designed by Londres 38Espacio de Memorias.

For now the show will remain in Londres 38 until April 25. Immediately after that date, the exhibition will be visiting various facilities of the Universities of Chile and Catholic Universities – organized by their respective student federations – municipalities such as La Granja, San Miguel and San Joaquin, as well as library spaces of independent publishers such as GAM and Museo de la Memoria.

Notes:

Destroying the Ability to Think Historically in Chile. An interview with historian Alberto Harambour.

(First published in Upside Down World)

The decision to remove the term ‘military dictatorship’ from Chilean primary school textbooks has been revoked. However, this remains a superficial change. Historian Alberto Harambour from Diego Portales University explains the dynamics of Chilean politics and relics of Pinochet’s dictatorship which threaten to separate a new generation of Chileans from historical memory.

The decision to remove the term ‘military dictatorship’ from Chilean primary  school textbooks has been revoked, following the resignation of Alejandro Goic, a member of the National Council of Education (CNED). In his resignation letter to Minister of Education Harald Beyer, Goic cites discomfort at having to work with former Central Nacional de Informaciones (CNI) member Alfredo Ewing Pinochet, stating “there were people who have a vision of historical events that I do not share… I am surprised that there are people who, after 40 years, still believe that there was no military dictatorship in Chile.” 

However, reinstalling the term “military dictatorship” remains a superficial change without reference to the military coup or human rights violations. Historian Alberto Harambour from Diego Portales University explains the dynamics of Chilean politics and relics of Pinochet’s dictatorship which threaten to separate a new generation of Chileans from historical memory.

Ramona Wadi: Can you explain how Pinochet’s laws regarding education continue to enforce discrimination on Chilean society?

Alberto Harambour: The combination of State terrorism and neoliberal reform radically transformed Chilean social life. From property regimes to sociability, from schools to pensions, municipalizing primary and secondary education, as well as the shift in tertiary education funding meant the increase of segregation. It was accompanied by housing policies that displaced poor communities to the periphery, dislocating networks of solidarity. As those policies have not been transformed by the transitional democracy, they have resulted in a direct relation between social class and quality of the education. As counties (municipios) fund their own schools, wealthy counties have relatively better schools. Besides, wealthy people pay extremely high prices for relatively good primary and secondary education in private schools, while the rest of society gets, generally, a public education that does not allow them to get into good, selective universities.

RW: The decision to change terminology from “military dictatorship” to “military regime” is reported to have originated during Michelle Bachelet’s presidency. Can you elaborate further about the 2009 General Education Laws and how this change in Chilean memory was approved during a left-wing presidency?

AH: It does not seem to me that the change was officially defined by then. However, there were severe contradictions in the Ministry of Education throughout the Concertación governments. I did experience an attempt of censorship while working on a textbook by year 2000. There was an oral instruction about avoiding the use of the word dictatorship for any period of Chilean history. Same about State terrorism. We had a tough time discussing it. Same happened to other historians, working for other publishing houses. At the same time, though, there was a wide transformation in programs and contents starting in the mid 1990s. Its results, though, are relatively small in terms of producing a culture of human rights respect, or true democratic generations.

RW: Is having people implicated in Pinochet’s dictatorship serving in prominent positions in Chilean politics creating a culture of impunity to enhance oblivion? What, in your opinion, is strengthening oblivion in Chile?

AH: Oblivion has been resisted by decades, from below and from the margins. Official politics of memory did have a strong impact, since the early 1990s with the publication of the Truth Commissions Informs. It was the capture of Pinochet in London (by then, a designed senator) which prompted a radical shift in terms of public opinion and human rights violation. The Concertación government did everything to temperate right-wing discontent, and bring back the former dictator. A banner in Universidad Católica by that time read “The shame of the Government is the happiness of people”. There was a clear sense that Concertación was operating so as to keep the pace of the pacted transition. And it did divorce many people who had been up to then acquiescent with the limitations of Concertación. Later on, Lagos and Bachelet played conflicting roles. On the one hand, they had been victims of the dictatorship. On the other, they kept criminals as high ranking officers in the Armed Forces, and strengthened the neoliberal policies, despite their own promises about moving leftward from the post-dictatorship political scene. They did not though. Again, on the one hand, that reinforced popular allegiances to Concertación. On the other, though, they became similar to right-wing politicians. In fact, it was a right-wing entrepreneur who, for the first time, won a presidential election since 1958. Under Pinera an unexpected result, it seems to me, there has been a growth in the opening of themes that were silenced for 20 years.

RW: Following Alejandro Goic’s resignation, it seems there has been a decision to review and possibly re-introduce the mention of military dictatorship in textbooks without referring to the coup or human rights abuses. What implications does this decision entail?

AH: The decision is a minor one. The transformation of the plans and programs for primary and secondary schools continues, and its reach is really troublesome. It is destroying the recognition of complex processes and the ability to think historically which was expanded in the last 20 years, in favor of an old-style concept of history. In 2012 we will see a permanent discussion on this, basically because the several objections raised by specialists have not been considered by the Ministry and the National Council of Education. In what can be defined as heritage of the Dictatorship, even an officer who has been accused of crimes against humanity participated in this controversial decision.

RW: How do you think a mention of dictatorship without discussion of torture and violations will affect children whose only narrative of such abuses would be through verbal recollection of those who suffered?

AH: It has demonstrated to be ineffective to produce a people conscious of its rights, respectful of the memory of the victims and the dignity of the survivors. It seems that the term “human rights” in the early 1990s opened a certain path that is, by now, exhausted. It does not express, under the rubric “human rights violations”, anything but an abstraction, necessary as it is. But in a country where dozens of thousands of citizens were subjected to the experience of terror it is necessary to replace abstractions with concrete narratives – something those who grew up under the dictatorship were saturated with. As a history professor, I am critical of my own way of referring to those processes. Politically it may be constructing to identify the dictatorship as a terrorist regime – at a certain level. But in terms of political consciousness, as incarnating a non-negotiable commitment with human dignity, it seems that we must be more explicit in letting the students know what they have not been taught.

RW: In which manner will memory narrative and language be altered through this practice of oblivion in a new generation?

AH: Besides what I just said, it is social mobilization which provides the main vehicle for social, language, political and intellectual transformation. Many of the assumptions which today appear as obvious were unthinkable a year ago, such as the demand for free public education. That was part of the leftist practice for decades, but it is only now that it appears as possible, a manifestation of a wish. Even in terms of academic formation, it seems that the students learned in a year of permanent strikes what they could not grasp during lectures. Considering this achievement, in contrast with the conformity of the Concertación decades, it does explains to a certain extent why some leaders of the students movement consider that the movement was born with them. There has been, out of reduced circles, a small transference of political experiences and memories.

The legacy of the nueva cancion: an interview with Patricio Manns

(First published in Upside Down World)

Patricio Manns, Chilean poet, author, singer and songwriter is one of the few whoseEncuentro_Internacional_de_Escritores work is a testimony to history. Despite current trends and contemporary politics, which contribute a difference to ideology and culture, Manns remains committed to the universality of the Nueva Canción, and continues to be a revolutionary voice, recognizing the necessity of it and promoting the movement through his numerous works.

More than three decades ago, in September 1973, the world witnessed the horrors unleashed in Chile following the military coup of right wing military dictatorship Augusto Pinochet. But prior to the coup in Chile, there was a movement that elevated music to a higher consciousness. The Nueva Canción was the revolutionary song of Chile and other Latin American countries, and its strength lay in its loyalty to the people and delivery of its political message and social change.

In adhering to the social message within the music – fighting injustice, oppression and dictatorships, several artists of Nueva Canción suffered when their home countries were flagellated by right-wing regimes. For instance, Victor Jara was tortured and brutally murdered in the Estadio Chile.

The Pinochet regime was so concerned with the powerful message of the Nueva Canción that it strived to ban the genre of music, together with traditional musical instruments associated with the revolutionary style of songs. Other prominent singers and groups, such as Inti Illimani, Quilapayun and Patricio Manns were exiled.

Today, Nueva Canción artists are of a lesser number. Patricio Manns, Chilean poet, author, singer and songwriter is one of the few whose work is a testimony to history. Despite current trends and contemporary politics, which contribute a difference to ideology and culture, Manns remains committed to the universality of the Nueva Canción, and continues to be a revolutionary voice, recognizing the necessity of it and promoting the movement through his numerous works.

Patricio Manns’ song, De Pascua Lama, has been chosen to represent Chile in the Festival de Vina del Mar 2011. The Pascua Lama mining project, located in the Andes south of Atacama, has been the source of controversy ever since Barrick Gold obtained permission to mine for gold in the area, which straddles the Chilean – Argentinean border. Despite numerous protests and petitions, both the Chilean and the Argentinean governments approved of the project, which has left many families pondering the situation of their livelihood.

On its website, Barrick Gold claims that the Pascua Lama project is subject to more than 400 conditions that strive to ensure the protection of the glaciers and the environment. The project is described as one that will create thousands of jobs for Chileans in the area over the projected 25-year span of the mine. Barrick Gold has stated that it will not be mining the gold partially lying under the glaciers, after outrage from environmentalists at the proposal of shifting the ice from the glaciers to the Guanaco glacier, which lies on the Chilean – Argentinean border.

However, many Chileans have expressed doubt over these statements. The Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza Glaciers, which are located in Pascua Lama, are described as a vital source of water for farmers in the area, which suffers from rain shortages and relies on water from the glaciers. According to Chilean environmentalist group Sustainable Chile, the Toro 1 and Toro 2 glaciers have already suffered damage from mine exploration.

There is also an abundant oasis in the Huasco valley which is nurtured by careful irrigation of water that comes from the glaciers. It is the source of livelihood for the 70,000-person community living in the area. Farmers fear the water being used for irrigation will be contaminated by cyanide from the mines.

The mining is perceived as incompatible with agriculture, there is a fear of destruction of the eco-system in the area, displacement of the community, and the settling of dust on the glaciers will cause them to melt more quickly. The white hues of the glaciers reflect light from the sun and the process might be reversed. The dust will absorb the heat, causing a more rapid meltdown of the glaciers and a possibility of draining the reservoirs.

According to an extract from “Exile of the Cóndor: Transnational Hegemony on the Border: the Mining Treaty Between Chile and Argentina” (Moon, Padilla and Alcayata, Santiago, 2004), the vicinity of the Estrecho River is being used as the site for waste rock dumping, maintenance of mine equipment and the storage of explosives. The Estrecho River is considered to be the only remaining source of uncontaminated water in the area.

De Pascua Lama voices the people’s concerns about the mining project, just as a few decades ago the Nueva Canciónserved to unite the people in a wave against right wing dictatorships. The necessity of the Nueva Canción will prevail. As Patricio Manns states in his interview, there is also the need for people to realise that the conditions necessary for the revival of the song are with us today – the artists must take up the opportunity once again.

Ramona Wadi: How did the concept of memory change throughout the exile years? How would you define the exile period?

Patricio Manns: It is a well known fact that memory betrays – that is, it alters our recollections through a strange process. I had the occasion to experience this betrayal of memory during my exile, which lasted thirty years, and again on my return to Chile. For some reason, streets, plazas, faces, hills, rivers and seas appeared to me as something that was not part of, or very different from my ‘memories’. I noted these modifications in a book of memoirs. “Far from the certainties of your own surroundings, amid your observations of exile, separated from that luxurious pleasure of inhabiting the familiar, among your own people, you are never secure, you are never sure of anything, never. Every day, you go deeper into that otherworldly trance where we barely begin to realize that we are becoming endlessly, deeply, irrevocably corrupted. Corrupted by the imaginary.

RW: Is there any difference between the songs you wrote prior to the exile, the songs written during the exile, and those written after?

PM: I think of it as almost equivalent to my life. My first songs are babbling questions, small musical pieces that try to say something without finding the right words. But as you progress through life, your understanding, your appreciation of things, changes. If you manage to achieve the power of your craft, those same songs, or their themes, will be much more reflective, more perceptive, expressed in greater depth. This depth did not exist before my exile experience. And that is fundamental for an analysis of my work. During my exile I saw the world, I saw people, I learned other languages, and I came into contact with another kind of music. I returned to Chile another person. The person who left Chile was stuck somewhere on the planet, and is now no longer necessary.

RW: What is the importance of the Nueva Canción today in Latin America, where socialist movements have gained strength?

PM: The original spirit of the Nueva Canción has been lost; the replacement generation has not yet appeared. And cultural policies do not facilitate its appearance. I feel I am an orphan in my work to conserve the premises and ideals of that movement, but I have continued to emphasise the importance of the Nueva Canción — and this has made my work necessary.

RW: Did the Nueva Canción undergo any changes in its messages to the poblacion?

PM: I believe that in Latin America, song continues to develop. Although it seems to me that at times there are pauses. The vehemence and creativity of the past no longer exists, and many people of the Nueva Canción have died, people who today would be essential for its revival. Furthermore, there are concrete facts: singing to a triumphant movement is not the same as singing to a defeated movement. Triumphant movements inspire suspicion and mistrust toward the creator. Because it is an act in perpetual movement, its days are unpredictable.

RW: Is the Nueva Cancion universal? Would you say its message is relevant today within the West, where capitalism seems to be the order of the day?

PM: The Nueva Canciónes (of various countries) are universal. I receive people from all over the world several times a year, who ask me questions about the Nueva Canción, from Hong Kong to New York. The movement is still a political and cultural reference, at least in the West.

RW: How does the Nueva Canción explore society? The political through the social or vice-versa?

PM: The Nueva Canción has given extraordinary power to popular song, stripping away the residue of nostalgic memories and patriarchal shadows, replacing them with pride, perseverance and resistance – these are the materials we are working with. For example, right now in Chile the conditions exist for the revival of the Nueva Canción, if those who are called to revive it can perceive it in that way and understand the opportunity.