Salvador Allende

Right-wing presidential candidate José Antonio Kast’s adulation for the dictatorship

José Antonio Kast, a right-wing contender for the forthcoming Chilean presidential elections, has been generating outrage in Chile as a result of statements lauding the dictatorship and which signal additional impunity for perpetrators in the event of electoral victory.

In August 2017, Kast addressed an audience at Teatro Caupolicán, during which he pledged, if elected, to “defend, with honour, the military government.” He also vowed that, if elected president, he would terminate”judicial persecution of former military officers,” with reference to the ongoing efforts to bring former torturers and murderers to justice.

Kast also challenged former president Sebastian Piñera over the 2013 closing of the luxury prison Penal Cordillera and subsequent transfer of prisoners to the military prison of Punta Peuco. The closing of the prison led to the suicide of former DINA agent and CNI director Odlainer Mena. Mena was convicted for three murders in the Caravana de la Muerte operation.

Another item on Kast’s manifesto is the removal of Salvador Allende’s statue from La Cuidadania square, as well as all other forms of tribute, including those inside the presidential palace of La Moneda.

In his latest attack on Chilean memory, Kast declared that the years of the Unidad Popular government were a dictatorship and that “the people brought down Allende, not the military.”

Kast’s presidential campaign is financed, among others, by former DINA and military officers.




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 War-criminal Sheltering In the US May Finally Face Justice

(First published in Mint Press News)

Earlier this month, Chilean media erupted with the news that a former member of Chile’s secret police under the dictator Augusto Pinochet would face trial in the United States for the 1973 murder of , a popular revolutionary folk singer.

The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) confirmed the news with a statement on its website on April 14. “We are delighted with the news that our case will move forward for torture and extrajudicial killing,” CJA International attorney Almudena Bernabeu is quoted as saying.

Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez, a former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) agent, has been living in the U.S. since 1989. Knowing that a number of previous extradition requests from Chile had failed, the CJA filed the lawsuit on behalf of Jara’s family in a U.S. District Court in Florida, asserting claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).

Court documents made available by the CJA show that Barrientos is being held responsible “for the arbitrary detention, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and extrajudicial killing of Victor Jara at the Stadium on or about September 15 1973.”

After subjecting Jara to extreme torture, Barrientos played Russian roulette, eventually shooting the nueva canción singer in the back of the head. Jara’s body was then riddled with bullets by five military conscripts under orders from Barrientos.

On Jan. 30, 2015, Barrientos presented a motion to set aside the lawsuit instigated by CJA. His statement is replete with anti-socialist propaganda reminiscent of Henry Kissinger’s rhetoric, dismissing state violence as a mere excess that resulted “in the false detention, torture and execution of scores of individuals at Chile Stadium and other locations.”

Still, the CJA’s current legal proceedings against Barrientos, which commenced in September 2013, constitute a major step forward in attempting to bring Jara’s alleged murderer to justice.

“Quién mató a Víctor Jara?”

On Sept. 11, 1973, Pinochet ousted Salvador Allende, a democratically-elected, socialist president, in a U.S.-based coup that would keep Pinochet in power for almost two decades. In supporting the coup, the U.S. aimed to prevent the possibility of Chile becoming another beacon of socialism in South America, particularly in light of the resilience and popularity of the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro.

Allende’s campaign sought to unify the workers’ struggle within cultural consciousness. The Nueva Canción Chilena (Chilean New Song), a folk movement which originated in the mid-1960s as a means of articulating social struggle, became a popular revolutionary feature during Allende’s campaign.

Many nueva canción musicians, including Jara, later assumed roles as cultural ambassadors, and thus, targets for Pinochet.

A mural depicting Victor Jara, one of the founders of the nueva canción movement. A A mural depicting Victor Jara, one of the founders of the nueva canción movement.When “Quién mató a Víctor Jara?

(“Who Killed Víctor Jara?”) aired on Chilevision in May 2012, the documentary accelerated an otherwise dormant process as former DINA conscript Jose Paredes Márquez revealed the name of Jara’s alleged killer.

“I do not have to face justice because I killed no one. I’ve been to Chile several times, but now, loud and clear, I won’t go,” Barrientos says in the documentary with the self-assurance of a man who, despite being wanted for Jara’s murder in Chile, has continued to live in the U.S. for almost 30 years without much threat of extradition.

Barrientos also cast doubt over Paredes’ testimony because after naming Barrientos as Jara’s killer, Paredes later retracted his testimony, stating that he was pressured by authorities to reveal details. And, indeed, given the lack of cooperation by the authorities to open dictatorship archives, it is likely that Paredes was pressured into retracting his statements to preserve Chile’s ingrained culture of impunity.

In December 2012, Chilean newspaper El Mostrador reported that Chilean courts handed down indictments against former DINA agents involved in Jara’s murder. Barrientos and Hugo Sanchez Marmonti were indicted as the murderers, while Roberto Souper Onfray, Raúl González Jofre, Edwin Dimter Bianchi, Nelson Hasse Mazzei and Luis Bethke Wulf were indicted as accomplices.

Struggle for justice

Jara’s murder and the subsequent struggle for justice reflect the stories of the thousands of Chileans murdered during Pinochet’s dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990. And speculation as to who murdered Jara was long shackled by authorities’ refusal to cooperate with investigations.

Indeed, legal action initiated by Joan Jara, Víctor’s widow, in Chile, proved futile for decades. The first legal proceedings filed in 1978 remained pending until Aug. 31, 1982, when the Chilean Criminal Court of First Instance declared there was insufficient evidence to charge any DINA agents with Jara’s murder.

Meanwhile, Pinochet passed Decree Law No. 2.191 in 1978. The amnesty law effectively prevented Chilean courts from prosecuting military officials involved in human rights abuses, including torture and murder, during the dictatorship era, which ran from 1973 to 1990. (The country moved to overturn the law last year, aiming to bring the country more in line with international human rights standards.)

Other attempts to bring Jara’s killers to justice were launched in 1999 at the Santiago Court of Appeals and the Chile Court of Appeals. Both were hampered by witnesses who were hesitant to come forward with information. The cases were consolidated in 2001, then closed in 2008, when Paredes stepped forward as a witness to Jara’s murder and provided the Santiago Court of Appeals with Barrientos’ identity as the alleged killer.

Vatican concern over purported communist propaganda, not dictatorship crimes

A document dated October18 1973 portrays the Vatican’s preoccupation with the persecuted left-wing in Chile, rather than the horrific crimes committed by the US-backed dictatorship.

The coverage of crimes in the immediate aftermath of the dictatorship is described by Archbishop Benelli as concern “over successful international leftist campaigns to misconstrue completely realities of Chilean situation.” Reports about the the oppressive violence are described as “exaggerated coverage of events as possibly the greatest success of communist propaganda.”

From within the Church, individuals who deviated from the Vatican viewpoint were deemed “incapable of viewing the situation objectively.” France also deemed the Vatican as having remained “shamelessly silent” about dictatorship crimes.

The Vatican document also claims that Cuba was arming Chilean workers for Allende to stage a “pre-communist coup”.

It is well-known, however, that Salvador Allende, despite endorsing socialist aims, was of the opinion that revolution can be achieved through other means, including democratic processes.







Remembering Pinochet’s Chile. On the eve of London, 1998

Steve J Stern (Duke University Press, 2006)41d7LWm-nPL

As Pinochet’s tangible presence receded from the Chilean political structure, a vibrant memory legacy erupted, challenging dictatorial impositions and awakening the struggle for historical memory. The volatile political environment following the disintegration of the dictatorship created a complex memory framework fighting not only the imposed oblivion, but also an ingrained process through which memory became an essential part of the collective experience on both sides of the political spectrum. In “Remembering Pinochet’s Chile. On the eve of London, 1988”, Steve J Stern explores the national experience of the dictatorship, fragmented into several memory camps beyond the usual distinction of memory versus oblivion, depicting the diverse ramifications of collective memory and the induced oblivion in return for complacency and indifference, thus extracting the fight for remembrance promulgated by the marginalised opposition to the dictatorship. 

Right wing rhetoric frames political violence as a necessity, with remembrance based on recollection which do not necessarily represent personal experience. Memory as salvation – the expression of a collective national sentiment as purported by Pinochet’s adherents is detached from historical reality and fails to question the dynamics of Chile’s left, such as whether violent revolution was favoured by Salvador Allende. The remembrance associated with the experiences of other harbouring similar sentiment indulges in a convenient dismissal of torture and disappearances. The fear of violence becomes displaced, projected onto the resistance incorporated by the militant left, in order to justify the violations committed by DINA.

Dissident memory, incorporating memory as rupture, persecution and awakening, involves a transformation of various struggles of the collective. An embodiment of contradictions between life and memory, existence is organised around memory, with different forms of expression contributing to the collective. While memory as rupture manifests itself as an expression of anguish, particularly in honouring the disappeared and executed, memory as persecution is characterised by an inevitable division of society owing to contrasting memory camps, in turn validating social commitment and values to promote solidarity through activism.

Stern also acknowledges a process through which a form of passive oblivion is inadvertently practiced. Using the metaphor of memory as a closed box, Stern describes a process of silence through which atrocities remain unchallenged. A lack of validation of a collective expression in the public sphere becomes prone to a form of idolisation of victims which shifts the focus from the actual issue of dictatorship atrocities and the quest for justice.

Despite the encompassing collective experience, other forms of memory remain obscured due to guilt and unintended complicity. Various leftist supports willingly presented themselves for questioning, others urged to comply by family members. The ensuing permanent disappearance rendered a guarded expression of memory, with remorse being less explicit due to the burden of guilt. Enlisted conscripts, among them former leftists, were also coerced to participate in arrests and torture – an experience which failed to safeguard against DINA retribution, such as in the case of Carlos Alberto Carrasco Matus who, upon confiding in his friend about the horrors perpetrated by the dictatorship, was forced to take part in arresting his friend. Both ended up prisoners in Villa Grimaldi – Carrasco was beaten with chains and murdered by DINA in Villa Grimaldi, while his friend was exiled and in 1990 testified before the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Besides Pinochet’s insistence upon oblivion, Stern discerns another memory framework which negates atrocities through an intentional misinterpretation of history. Memory as indifference is established by recalling the alleged reasons as to why the coup was a necessity, while undeservedly attributing altruistic adjectives to a military which constantly proved its macabre character. According to an interviewee in the book identified as Colonel Juan F, the Chilean military possessed a ‘socialist character’ and was the salvation to Chile’s future through its solutions of problems posed by a welfare system. Any failure was blamed upon the Allende era having produced ‘mentally sick people’, depicting a complete irrelevance to the deterioration of progress which rendered society irrelevant in order to justify political violence.

Measures were also taken to enable the military to distance themselves from the atrocities committed. A particular instance refers to the Calama massacres, where Colonel Eugenio Rivera sought to protect himself and his soldiers by placing the blame solely upon General Sergio Arellano Stark, in charge  of the ‘Caravan of Death’.

The various memory frameworks have created a volatile coexistence shaped by elements in a constant struggle. Different experiences of life under Pinochet’s dictatorship have provided the framework for the ensuing cultural silence battled by a quest for justice, memory and recognition of committed atrocities. Considering the split within Chilean society, the major obstacle to emblematic memory is its displacement due to persistent right-wing hegemonic narratives. Hence the projection of emblematic memory into the public sphere in order for the collective experience to escape fragmentation and isolation, which in turn strengthens the case for historical legitimacy. Chilean society is imbued with ambiguities – certainties mingle with doubt, the struggle for memory resisting certain narrations which, despite the relevance to the struggle, are perhaps perceived as blurring the divide between various forms of rupture, as in the case of conscripts who resisted implementing torture and suffered the same fate as left wing supporters. Stern’s book serves as a compelling reminder of an incomplete sequence in the Chilean struggle, one that is partially dependent upon a dissolution of impunity in order to eliminate the process of selectivity and the peril of descending into various forms of oblivion. 

Ways of Going Home

Alejandro Zambra (Granta Books, 2013)51ISdvdAsPL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_

Delving into Chile’s turbulent past requires a thorough analysis of the country’s fragmented society, usually vaguely described and simplified as a split between socialists and Pinochet adherents. In ‘Ways of Going Home’, Alejandro Zambra portrays a deeper complexity which resonates through a technique of employing different narrators who are an extension of each other, striving to understand the macabre circumstances which altered life and perception.

Commencing with a compelling metaphor – a boy is lost and discovers another way home, the book plunges into the disorientation experienced by the child, whose perceptions are inextricably linked to silence – the silence emanating from a fear of dictatorship and its imposed culture of oblivion. On one hand, Pinochet is depicted as an annoying abstract – an unwanted interlude into a child’s life. However, the boy’s life is thwarted from innocence and truth by a prevailing mistrust and fear of association which the adults, having experienced the dictatorship and its atrocities, have employed as a possible means of escaping the ruthless regime. Zambra is careful to acknowledge the disorientation on various levels – notably the elders’ fears translating into an inconclusive issue for a child whose parents’ obsession with neutrality sought to alter, through a possibly unwanted means of protection, the tangible collective memory of Chile’s left-wing.

For the neutral parents, it is perhaps soothing to portray left-wing militants as having disturbed ‘the peace’ – an euphemism revealing the challenge for memory frameworks to emerge. As the narrator’s parents indulge in neutral rhetoric, ultimately seeking an ephemeral protection against the macabre culture permeating Chile, the narrator reveals an awareness of the alternative, and stronger, collective memory – that of psychological trauma, torture and disappearances, revealing the network of relationships forged across society once distanced from the family home. A discussion of political allegiances raises the ultimate reality of neutral stances, epitomised by “But we were never, your father and I, either for or against Allende, or for or against Pinochet” – an effective method of acquiescing to Pinochet’s imposed culture of oblivion.

The refusal to acknowledge passive support for the dictatorship leads to an outburst which pits time against What do you know about those things? You hadn’t even been born yet when Allende was in power. You were just a baby during those years.” here, knowledge is expected to have been gained solely through experience, despite the fact that an altered narration of memory deconstructs the process of knowledge. The victim’s narration remains embroiled in a continuous struggle with the society of spectators, which misconstrued a violent memory for a good story.

Zambra’s novel weaves a depth of dimensions and contrasts between the narrating voices, families, political perceptions and memory, depicting a lingering isolation which fails to resolve due to the characters’ reticence in reclaiming memory. With the story of the militant deconstructed into that of an abstract terrorist, Pinochet’s stronghold over Chile is reflected into the more mundane aspects of the story which deal with the narrator’s reflections regarding relationships and society. The absence of tenacity, the lack of solid identification with history possibly elicits a far deeper frustration – the urge to discover resistance is smothered within a series of anti-climaxes which indicate the continuous stifling of excruciating memory in return for a semblance of the neutrality which the narrator so vehemently abhors.

Feeding on dreams: Confessions of an unrepentant exile

(First published in Upside Down World)11114997

Ariel Dorfman’s Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile (HMH Books, 2011) is an eloquent memoir which fluctuates between reflections on death and exile – the meaning of not having died next to Chilean President Allende during the 1973 military coup, and the consequences of Dorfman’s own exile, a decision enforced by Allende’s advisors and which very possibly saved his life from the deadly machinery of the Pinochet dictatorship, but which has assailed Dorfman with a tenacious need to question his own role and actions within that particular era of Chilean history.

Ariel Dorfman was thirty-one years old and working as a cultural advisor to President Salvador Allende when Augusto Pinochet’s military coup abruptly destroyed the socialist revolution. The actions of the dictatorship created a reign of macabre realities which would split Chilean narratives into opposing memory camps. Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile (HMH Books, 2011) is an eloquent memoir which fluctuates between reflections on death and exile – the meaning of not having died next to Allende in the presidential palace La Moneda, and Dorfman’s own exile, a decision enforced by Allende’s advisors and which very possibly saved his life, yet which has assailed Dorfman with a tenacious need to question his own role and actions within that particular era of Chilean history.

The book moves rapidly from one event to another, disrupting chronology whilst creating an intense discussion of contrasts – death and exile, the revolutionary and the exile, the desaparecidos and the exile, language and exile.  Exile becomes a single constant which, as time passes, exudes a certain inevitable detachment from the reality that is Chile. There is no reconciliation with the revolutionary past in exile – an issue which Dorfman struggled against for many years in various countries as he futilely sought to aid the Chilean resistance from abroad during the first years of exile in Paris and Amsterdam.

El pueblo unido – the people united in a socialist revolution under the banner of the Unidad Popular disintegrated in exile. A hierarchy developed within the exiled community, leading to strife within the movement struggling to develop a resistance movement against Pinochet. Dorfman recounts how his family had been promised an apartment in Paris by Carlos Iturra, author of the famous hymn Venceremos, at “solidarity rental rates.” The family moved their belongings to the apartment, only to discover a few days later that Iturra had received threatening phone calls from dictatorship sympathisers. The location was presumably unsafe. However, upon collecting their luggage from the apartment, it became evident to the family that the hierarchy of the Communist Party had negotiated with Iturra to reside in the apartment. Iturra was, at that moment, organising a vacation in the Alps for children of Chilean exiles. The sense of a community united in a revolutionary stance had deteriorated.

“Exile destroys children along with the parents.” Dorfman recounts how his children, Rodrigo and Joaquin struggle with identity and history in exile. Whilst the eldest, Rodrigo,  gradually eliminates traces of Chile in his art, Joaquin seemingly fails to absorb the Chilean identity. Dorfman describes how the Andes Mountains feature prominently in Chilean children’s artwork – a characteristic which holds no fascination for Joaquin, born in exile. However, both sons are affected by the consequences of dictatorship and exile. Rodrigo has imbibed a rebellious streak which leads him to a return to Chile and subsequent filming of protests.  Joaquin is haunted by the stories of the desaparecidos and the terror inflicted upon Chileans, such as the story of Rodrigo Rojas – a young man who, along with his girlfriend Carmen Gloria Quintana, had been doused with paraffin and torched. Their bodies were dumped in a ditch – at the exact location where three dissidents were discovered with slit throats only a year earlier. Dorfman admits an inconsistency between the lies designed to protect children from the horrors of the dictatorship and the children’s absorption of the truth.

The ramifications of exile flow into metaphorical prose. Dorfman distinguishes between various facets of exile – the actual departure from Chile, and the indefinite aspect – which lead the author to hold on to a library inside their house in Chile which was being used as a safe house for the MAPU, instead of acquiring new books. Exile created contradictions, ambiguity and barriers, as Dorfman realises that the revolutionary who joined the struggle for a socialist revolution, who was present when Allende saluted the people a week prior to the military coup, had distanced himself from his compañeros in Chile. After a long process in which he persisted in identifying with the resistance in exile and aiding the movement, Dorfman’s evolution veers towards the intellectual writer whose memories and stories are festering within an increasingly permanent exile and the still imagery of the revolutionary past.

Dorfman struggles with the truth as the exile commences in Buenos Aires. Narrating the case of Victor Jara, he tells of how a writer described Victor having his hands cut off by the lieutenants – an erroneous statement which portrayed how legends mingled with truth to construct a false reality. Another experience of false memory is Dorfman’s recollection of a photograph of him taken a week before the coup in front of La Moneda. His memory is of him in revolutionary stance, fists in the air. When the photo resurfaces, Dorfman discovers a pensive version of himself next to writer Antonio Skarmeta. The illusion of el pueblo unido had vanquished the actual memory – exile implants images in  the mind of the exile and constructs an alternative reality.

It is not only actual memories that abscond from the exile. Pinochet’s reign contaminated language and society by referring to torture as ‘excesses,’ whilst the dictatorship was described as a ‘regime.’ The euphemisms contributed toward the cycle of impunity and infiltrated social circles where new alliances were being forged, with some former socialists seeking to gain elite status by liaising with the right wing – a phenomenon which Dorfman states was blatantly portrayed in the social pages of newspaper El Mercurio.

The book is also replete with stories of people from Chile. Carlos – the carpenter who hid Allende’s poster behind the boards in his workshop until Pinochet was arrested in London. Patricia, the wife of a right wing thug who used her husband’s status as a cover to transport Allende supporters to safety in a car gifted to her husband by DINA. Susana Weiner, who worked as a courier for MAPU, played a role in saving the lives of dissidents, including Dorfman, and was entrusted with transcribing notes describing torture in detention centres and smuggling them out of Chile.  Their experiences, combined with the stories of the detenidos desaparecidos and President Patricio Aylwin’s initiative during the transition to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission urged Dorfman to contribute towards furthering the struggle, resulting in two particular publications written in exile.

Widows (1978) is a novel which deals with a group of women who refuse to hand over a body which washed ashore. As the novel was published, the first desaparecidos were being discovered in Chile. In the memoirs, Dorfman describes the act of disappearing people as an aberration on existence. “Disappearance was an outrage against the chemistry and structure of life itself. The bodies of the missing were wrenched out of the normal progression of existence …” The outrage of the discovery contrasts sharply with another discovery of bodies in 1990, where younger Chileans born after the coup were less interested in the process. According to Dorfman, this discovery was a disruption in their lives which necessitated excavation and destruction of a football pitch.

However, in his renowned play entitled Death and the Maiden, Dorfman shows how torture survivors were side-lined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Paulina – a torture survivor whose husband is a lawyer working on behalf of the Commission, kidnaps the man she believes to be her torturer and subjects him to a trial, appointing her husband as her oppressor’s defence lawyer.  Paulina insists she wants the truth – a truth which till now wallows in impunity as torturers and victims walk side by side on Chilean streets, depriving torture survivors of their right to justice and the opportunity to inscribe their testimonies. Dorfman describes how torture tarnishes universal expression such as music. The last scene features Paulina listening to Schubert in a concert – the music played during her torture session. The reconciliation with her favourite music was brought about after the confession was extracted from her torturer – the right to truth as opposed to sacrificing one’s self for the better of the democratic transition.

In the fragments of Dorfman’s diary of his return to Chile in 1990, the author grapples with the realisation that his experiences and that of the Chilean nation have diverged so greatly, it is impossible to nurture the dream of returning to live in Chile. The fragile transition, which sought to reconcile, rather than call for justice in order to avoid disruptions in the process, differed greatly from Dorfman’s vision of returning to the people united in a collective struggle. Exile further split the left wing memory camp, as those who remained in Chile looked upon exiles with certain resentment, contrasting the suffering they had endured with the relative comfort of escaping the horrors of the dictatorship.

Dorfman, unable to harmonize the experience of different memory camps on the left, decided to seek refuge in the US and later become a citizen of the same country which had conspired with Pinochet to overthrow Allende. He states that the desire to return was vanquished by the necessity to adjust, bringing to an end a previous personal conflict concerning language. Renouncing imperialism during the years of Allende’s presidency and the first years of exile also meant renouncing the English language, which Dorfman was familiar with since childhood, having lived in the US when his father and the family fled from Argentina. Throughout the course of exile and the subsequent return to Chile, Dorfman realises that language as a universal medium holds the power to navigate political borders and memory. Also, in Dorfman’s own words, acquiring US citizenship meant “I will never again go into exile.”

Personified by writers such as Milan Kundera, who Dorfman describes as “the saddest man I have ever seen,” and Antonio Skarmeta, author of Il Postino, who predicted Dorfman would never return to live in Chile, exile became the ultimate choice of survival, creating a refuge within another complex realm of loyalties.

Whilst the book might have benefited from a more chronological order, and the metaphorical prose might seem daunting for some readers, Dorfman has masterfully created a narrative so intricate and yet simple in its message. He lays bare the complexities of memory, made easier to follow once the reader acknowledges that memory knows no chronology but is rather a series of events that profoundly impacted the rememberer’s life, and the act of remembering is a process of cunningly implanting additional images and obliterating others. Most importantly, Dorfman furthers the split memory narrative by adding the memory of the exile, the desaparecidos and the torture survivors to the usual general divide between the supporters of Allende and those of Pinochet. As compromising as it may seem, Dorfman acknowledges the importance of embracing ambivalence in order to construct a narrative which berates, glorifies and wallows in despondency. The book emanates the turmoil of Dorfman’s complicated yearning to regain Allende’s years, and his unrepentant decision to seek shelter in a nation known for its oppression, in order to avoid repeating his own history.