Apart from the below photo, this is a post of words only.
When traveling, one of the things we enjoy the most is learning the history of the country we’re in. Although often, it’s not an easy or enjoyable experience. Chile was no different.
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is a museum located in Santiago, dedicated to commemorating the victims of human rights violations during the civic-military regime led by Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990. The museum was opened on January 11, 2010, by the current (although at the time, former) President Michelle Bachelet.
The museums mission statement or motto is: To make known the systematic human rights violations by the Chilean state between 1973 and 1990 so that ethical reflection about memory, solidarity and importance of human rights national will be strengthened so that Never Again will these events that attack human dignity be repeated.
My only knowledge of recent Chilean history and the military junta that ruled from 1973 until 1990 was based around Augusto Pinochet’s seemingly never-ending connection to the UK in the later stages of his life, and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s words and actions of support when he was in exile.
As soon as you enter the building, you are faced with the ‘Human Rights, Universal Challenge’ display, which lists all the nations around the world that have been, or are still, under undemocratic rule. It’s a big display and is an interesting way to give you a sense of perspective on what you’re about to see. It’s also a confronting start to the museum, especially when you consider a lot of the countries shown are still under questionable rule, particularly those in Africa.
The museum (and the accompanying audio guide) are very comprehensive so you need to allow at least half a day to see everything, so plan accordingly. But trust me, you won’t want to leave.
As you slowly make your way around the museum, you are taken through the history, from the time of the coup, until 1988 when Pinochet finally gave in to international pressure and allowed an election. In order to understand the story, you have opportunities to watch many videos, from both state and later international TV news reports, read articles (in Spanish – some with English translations), view photos, posters and newspapers, as well as listen to historical radio transmissions from the time. Even not understanding all the displays or recordings, we were still incredibly moved. In particular, the final words and radio transmission of former president, Salvador Allende, were extremely powerful. During this recording at the Palacio de Moneda, with the complex under siege by the military, he calmly tells the Chilean nation that he will not go into exile and will sacrifice his life for all of Chile. It’s not only moving but also incredibly articulate given the circumstances.
This is just one of many stirring materials that the museum has to offer, including letters from former prisoners, photos and videos showing the brutality of the police and army, as well as a difficult section covering the torture and techniques used during this period, including interviews with those that were tortured.
According to the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, the number of human rights violations in Chile accounts for at least 35,000 people: 28,000 were tortured, 2,279 were executed and around 1,248 ‘disappeared’. In addition, some 200,000 people have suffered in exile and an unknown number have gone through clandestine centers and illegal detention. (source wikipedia)
After leaving, I still had a lot of unanswered questions, which I don’t think is a bad thing. The museum jumps straight in at the morning of the coup on 11 September 1973, so it’s not very clear what set the wheels in motion to remove the then current government, or why the US (and CIA) played a role in the coup, so I need to do more reading on the history.
You have your choice of museums to visit in Santiago, but I think it’s important to find the time to visit. Not only will you be moved by what you see, but you will also learn a lot about a horrific time in the not too distant past of this great countries history.
To end this post, below is the speech President Allende gave while under siege in La Moneda, shortly before ending his own life.
Surely this will be the last opportunity for me to address you. The Air Force has bombed the towers of Radio Portales and Radio Corporación.
My words do not have bitterness but disappointment. May they be a moral punishment for those who have betrayed their oath: soldiers of Chile, titular commanders in chief, Admiral Merino, who has designated himself Commander of the Navy, and Mr. Mendoza, the despicable general who only yesterday pledged his fidelity and loyalty to the Government, and who also has appointed himself Chief of the Carabineros [national police].
Given these facts, the only thing left for me is to say to workers: I am not going to resign!
Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life. And I say to them that I am certain that the seed which we have planted in the good conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans, will not be shriveled forever.
They have strength and will be able to dominate us, but social processes can be arrested neither by crime nor force. History is ours, and people make history.
Workers of my country: I want to thank you for the loyalty that you always had, the confidence that you deposited in a man who was only an interpreter of great yearnings for justice, who gave his word that he would respect the Constitution and the law and did just that. At this definitive moment, the last moment when I can address you, I wish you to take advantage of the lesson: foreign capital, imperialism, together with the reaction, created the climate in which the Armed Forces broke their tradition, the tradition taught by General Schneider and reaffirmed by Commander Araya, victims of the same social sector which will today be in their homes hoping, with foreign assistance, to retake power to continue defending their profits and their privileges.
I address, above all, the modest woman of our land, the campesina who believed in us, the worker who labored more, the mother who knew our concern for children. I address professionals of Chile, patriotic professionals, those who days ago, continued working against the sedition sponsored by professional associations, class-based associations that also defended the advantages which a capitalist society grants to a few.
I address the youth, those who sang and gave us their joy and their spirit of struggle. I address the man of Chile, the worker, the farmer, the intellectual, those who will be persecuted, because in our country fascism has been already present for many hours — in terrorist attacks, blowing up the bridges, cutting the railroad tracks, destroying the oil and gas pipelines, in the face of the silence of those who had the obligation to protect them. They were committed. History will judge them.
Surely Radio Magallanes will be silenced, and the calm metal instrument of my voice will no longer reach you. It does not matter. You will continue hearing it. I will always be next to you. At least my memory will be that of a man of dignity who was loyal to [inaudible] the workers.
The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves. The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled with bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either.
Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.
Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!
These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason.
Santiago de Chile, 11 September 1973