Patricio Aylwin

Reckoning with Pinochet: The memory question in democratic Chile 1989 – 2006.

Steve J. Stern (Duke University Press, 2010)978-0-8223-4729-3_pr

(First published in Upside Down World)

My father had breakfast every day with General Pinochet during four years … I cannot understand that General Pinochet could say today ‘I have no idea’,” stated Manuel Contreras Valdebenito in 1999, whose father was head of DINA, Chile’s intelligence services during Pinochet’s dictatorship. By then, a division in loyalty had started to occur between Pinochet and his secret police DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional).

During Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship, violence was implemented as a means of annihilating all socialist and Marxist support in the country. Death and disappearances, torture and exile were common occurrences. A vital factor aiding the regime’s tenacity was the population’s subsequent silence. Fear and terror had created a long, temporary absence of vociferous socialist support, and the definition of justice had been mangled and manipulated by the absence of a memory made public.

Two particular memory frameworks prevail through the book Reckoning with Pinochet – The Memory Question in Democratic Chile, 1989 – 2006 (Duke University Press, 2010), described by author Steve J. Stern as emblematic memory and loose memory – the social memory and the personal memory. Although they stand in contrast, it is by blending both concepts that the memory becomes national; the memory of Chile. Personal accounts of torture, disappearances, murder and exile sustain the social experience, which in turn creates a framework that is capable of combating the memory oblivion of the right.

Reckoning with Pinochet delves into the memory question and the process through which memory became an essential part of Chilean culture. Drawing on the obvious split of loyalties within Chilean society, Stern vividly portrays the memory of both sides, bringing to light a conclusion which, despite the obvious, has the tendency to remain cloistered in a realm of its own. Despite the propaganda of democracy, Pinochet’s rule was a brutal dictatorship which resorted to extremes to annihilate any evidence of socialist or communist support. Yet, due to the flaws inherent in the subsequent transition to democracy, there still remains a segment of the population which perceives Pinochet as a saviour, and therefore defines atrocities as a method of preserving Chile from ruin. While the socialists perceived the pre-1973 years as the prologue to adversity, supporters of Pinochet drew upon Allende’s presidential term as the disaster prior to deliverance. What the right eliminates from memory is obviously the reality of Pinochet’s brutal massacre of Chileans and other atrocities that render an individual split from his humanity.

In its essence, memory can be elusive – a series of certainties that differs according to the recollections of people. At a distance, the repression of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile may be perceived solely as a fragment of the country’s history, not having been burdened with a legacy of death, torture, disappearances and exile. As the book draws on the memory of people, grassroots organisations, elites, truth commissions and judges, it becomes evident that the memory of Chile is strong enough to be sustained beyond its borders. With the rupture of silence, the atrocities committed during the dictatorship became translated into an experience of that particular era in Chilean history, documented both for Chile and for the rest of the world.

Throughout the years of transition, Pinochet argued in favour of memory oblivion, describing the concept as “mindful silence as a positive good.” Memory had created a conflict on both sides out of the quest for truth and justice. Patricio Aylwin’s Convivencia law was aimed at shattering the silence that shrouded the era of torture and oppression, thus giving an outlet to narrations of brutality. In the wake of evidence starting to seep out, the military and the Right had “adjusted to the documented factual truth of memory as rupture.” By displacing responsibility for the committed atrocities, Pinochet and the right wing had justified their detachment from the process, and even from culpability.

The memory transition at best seemed fragmented. Pinochet sought honour and amnesty. Aylwin was pressing for political stability and ethics, while victim survivors were clamouring for justice. The transition satisfied nobody, yet it was through this period that grassroots activists ascertained the legacy of terror would not be ignored. As testimonies started to emerge from the truth commission’s investigations, the memory oblivion encouraged by Pinochet was relegated to its own irrelevance within the context of the oppressed people’s quest for memory truth.

Stern also presents memory as an experience. Whilst the culture of oblivion shelters the middle class from the moral obligation of affirming state violence, thus clashing with the concept of human rights, the memory framework of the socialists is dependent upon exposing atrocities in order to reach a semblance of salvation. The rupture of silence was essential in order to create a framework that portrays the injustice inflicted on Chilean supporters of Salvador Allende, activists within the Unidad Popular and other people who had a socialist background to bring about a relative consciousness that sustains itself from within the confines of history. In due course, other media and creativity sources sprang up, conveying the social memory of the oppressed to the Chileans as a nation.

The memory quest for justice remained replete with obstacles from the past, as Pinochet’s legacy loomed over any shattered frontier. In a letter addressed to Chileans in 1998, Pinochet stresses that he never sought power and was trapped by a communist conspiracy. The actions of embedding past realities in the present was unacceptable to the right wing which, in its futile efforts to preserve the culture of oblivion, persevered in a wave of disassociation negation, fabricating a reality that diminished the essence of justice.

As the truth emerged, Allende was once again reaffirmed as the leader of marginalised people. A sentiment which had to be sheltered during Pinochet’s reign had once again manifested itself in the loyalty of the people. This was a memory totally independent of justice and its manipulations.

Pinochet was finally deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia, a relic of another fallacy of justice. Responsibility was never legally acknowledged or declared through a trial. Findings state that the scale of torture during Pinochet’s dictatorship was massive and it was also a ‘policy of the state’. Thus, Chile’s memory remained an inconclusive metaphor, blemished by tragedy and the ambiguous process that was supposed to pave the way through democracy.

Chilean Court Orders Re-Enactment Of The Death Of A Revolutionary Leader

(First published in Mint Press News)

miguel en

MIGUEL ENRIQUEZ (MIR)

Augusto Pinochet’s obsession with eradicating socialist opposition to his dictatorship prompted the creation of specialized brigades operating with the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) – a fact established many times throughout Chilean history and in court cases pertaining to the assassinations and disappearances of Communist Party and Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) leaders and militants.

Last week, visiting Judge Mario Carroza ordered the re-enactment of the death of MIR founder and General Secretary Miguel Enríquez. The re-enactment, according to reports on Chilean news website El Ciudadano, is aimed at establishing whether Enríquez’s death was the result of a premeditated execution or the fallout of his clash with an armed group.

The formal request for the re-enactment was made by Enríquez’s son, Marco Enríquez-Ominami; Miguel Enríquez’s partner, Carmen Castillo Echeverria; the Chilean human rights group Agrupación de Familiares de Ejecutados Políticos (Relatives of Executed Political Prisoners); and the Human Rights Program of the Ministry of Interior of Chile.

The Rettig Commission Report, commissioned by former President Patricio Aylwin in 1991, states that on Oct. 5, 1974 Enríquez was surrounded by a contingent of armed DINA officers, and a helicopter hovered overhead as reinforcement. As the agents opened fire upon Enríquez, the revolutionary leader attempted to shield Castillo, who was attempting to leave the scene. Castillo, who was six months pregnant at the time, was severely injured in the onslaught. She was transferred to a hospital and later detained by the same DINA agents reportedly behind Enríquez’s murder: Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko and Marcelo Moren Brito. According to autopsy reports, Enríquez was wounded 10 times by bullets throughout the hour-long attack.

Enríquez-Ominami has emphasized the importance of establishing the facts that led to his father’s death: “The context is very important, because it was against MIR that Pinochet ordered torture and violence to eliminate the rebellion and resistance headed by my father.”

The re-enactment will require the cooperation of witnesses who were present when DINA agents surrounded Enríquez’s safe-house in Santiago. Yet Enríquez-Ominami expressed doubt about the participation of witnesses, stating that the fear of retribution must be eliminated for the investigation to be valid.

A situation the U.S. helped to create

A physician and a well-read individual with extensive knowledge of Chilean history and the Cuban Revolution, Miguel Enríquez became MIR’s general secretary in 1967, distinguishing himself through the application of revolutionary socialist theoretical knowledge.

As Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular government pursued the revolutionary process through the existing democratic frameworks corrupted by the Chilean right-wing, MIR increased its criticism of Allende’s political decisions, in particular as overt and covert U.S.-backed operations to destabilize the socialist government threatened social order. Departing from the perception of the Cuban Revolution as a threat, the United States’ intent was to stifle any form of support for socialist governance in Latin America. Allende’s electoral triumph, in particular, was seen as a possible turning point — not least due to the fact that socialism in Chile was achieved through democratic elections as opposed to armed resistance against U.S.-backed right-wing dictatorships.

Church Committee report from 1975 established that the U.S. had begun supporting covert operations in Chile in 1962, culminating in operations designed to prevent Allende’s electoral triumph. Throughout the period of socialist governance, the U.S. government channeled funds to right-wing political parties and the CIA aided militant right-wing groups in carrying out acts of sabotage designed to create instability. Ironically, in 1974, the CIA was asked to compile human rights reports regarding the human rights violations committed by the dictatorship — a situation which the U.S. government and the CIA helped to create.

MIR affirmed its adherence to armed resistance, calling upon Allende to arm the people against right-wing violence. In fact, Cuba provided support to MIR’s training for armed revolutionary struggle – a reflection of Cuban internationalism as well as Fidel Castro’s discussion with Allende in which he urged the Chilean president not to put trust in the military.

The Sept. 11, 1973 military coup was the initiation of a brutal extermination of socialist opposition. While a considerable percentage of socialist militants attempted to seek refuge in foreign embassies to avoid political oppression or retribution, Miguel Enríquez refused political asylum and the possibility of exile in order to attempt to lead the resistance against Pinochet’s dictatorship from within Chile.

Operating within organized cells, MIR became a target for Pinochet. Evidence of the torture, assassination and disappearance of MIR militants is abundant — many having met their end at Cuartel Simon Bolivar, the torture and extermination center described as “the place where no one got out alive” by former errand boy and DINA agent Jorgelino Vergara Bravo.

One of the agents responsible for the torture, assassination and disappearance of MIR militants was Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, the former head of Brigada Caupolican, who attempted to shift his role from that of torturer to analyst. He is currently serving 144 years in prison for his role in various acts of brutality.

During the trial pertaining to the disappearance of MIR militant Maria Cecilia Labrin Saso, Krassnoff denied his role as torturer, despite the testimony of former torture survivors, some of whom stated that Krassnoff never attempted to conceal his identity and described himself as an agent undertaking analysis and intelligence studies aimed at providing information about “terrorist groups like MIR.” Yet it is an established fact that Pinochet’s intention was to eradicate the revolutionary movement to prevent any possible formidable opposition to his rule.

Investigative research by Mauricio Weibel published in the book “Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura” (“Illicit Association: The secret archives of the dictatorship”) details the spy network maintained abroad by Pinochet and collaborative governments and entities to keep tabs on exiled militants. A particularly notorious endeavor of the dictatorship is Operacion Colombo, also known as the Case of the 119 – a reference to the list of 119 militants (the majority of whom belonged to MIR) executed and disappeared by the dictatorship. The dictatorship narrative, this time in collaboration with Argentina and Brazil, attempted to influence public opinion by publishing articles alleging that the militants had fallen victim to political turbulence and splintering within the revolutionary movement itself.

Murdering Miguel Enríquez proved to be a difficult task for DINA. With political rhetoric aimed at uniting the masses – a direct defiance of Pinochet’s enforcement of terror and oblivion, Enríquez recognized that his survival and that of the revolutionary movement could only be ensured if he worked clandestinely.

In October 1974, DINA’s surveillance network managed to locate Enríquez’s relatives by curtailing the movements of his daughter, thus narrowing Enríquez’s location to a working class area south of Santiago where the revolutionary leader was thought to have taken up residence.

Then, on Oct. 5, he was surrounded and killed.

 

Accountability and impunity

While DINA’s aggression is clearly documented in Chilean history, it remains unclear whether Miguel Enríquez was armed at the time of his attack. Thus, obscure definitions and loopholes come into play. The Rettig Commission Report states that “the Commission cannot regard the death of Miguel Enríquez as a human rights violation in the strict sense. However, it does believe that he lost his life as a result of the situation of political violence, since he died resisting arrest by an agency which he had grounds for believing would torture and kill him if he were arrested.”

It is evident that criteria had to be established in order to determine and classify the various human rights violations committed during Pinochet’s dictatorship. However, in the cases of Miguel Enríquez and others, the notion that Pinochet’s dictatorship itself constituted a human rights violation has been disregarded, thus affording DINA officials the impunity to triumph over a proper reconstruction of events that would reveal the identities of the perpetrators.

The primary and most important premise has been eliminated from the narrative regarding Enríquez’s death: Pinochet’s intention was to entirely exterminate the MIR. This goal violates people’s legitimate rights of armed resistance against oppression.

Although several decades have passed, establishing the series of events and the facts that led to Enríquez’s assassination will serve to articulate the notion that even if Enríquez was indeed in possession of weapons at the time of the assault, his death was part of a predetermined, nationwide terror structure, thus ensuring a proper placing of accountability rather than the reliance of legal jargon to safeguard impunity through initiatives of the Chilean state.