We had an amazing time in Santiago – did not stop walking – but we feel like we have seen a lot of the city and what it has going on. Overall, we found Santiago a bit ‘meh’. It has all the beautiful parks, interesting museums and great nightlife that is a prerequisite for a capital city, but without any charm. This might be due to the years of military rule and oppression that Chile has only recently come out of and are therefore still rebuilding themselves from.
Something we have spent a lot of time learning about is the Pinochet government which lead Chile between 1973 and 1990 and their use of fear, torture and subsequent murders which lead to the disappearance of over 3,000 people and the torture of over 30,000 people. Pinochet, who was the head of Chiles’ army, came to power via the military coup he lead in 1973 which ousted the left government of Allende and brought in Pinochet and his far right politics.
The coup was backed by Nixon’s government in the US and was a quasi proxy conflict between the then Cold War superpowers of the US and USSR. Both superpowers were fighting to protect their own ideals of capitalism and communism, with the US fearing the spread of communism across the globe – which was prevalent and the main political party in Chile at the time. This wasn’t the only proxy conflict to be fought with perhaps the most famous being in Vietnam.
To find out more we first went to Londres 38, a house in the Paris and London district of Santiago and a former covert torture house used by the government to get information from Chileans thought to be involved or in support of the Left. Once Pinochet came into power he first targeted the communist party and then the socialist party, both of whom were two of the biggest political parties in Chile. The building of Londres 38 was previously the headquarters for the communist party before it was used to torture their members.
Inside the house people would be questioned extensively. Torture tactics would be used and then finally the people would either be released or ‘disappeared’. The house was one of a series of hundreds across the country, but they were mainly based in Santiago. It was scary seeing how close ordinary Chileans were living to this place and how beautiful and peaceful the street it is located on is.
After this we then went to the official museum for memories and human rights. This was a huge building and gives a lot of detail about specific people who were tortured and/or disappeared. Something that is overwhelmingly noticeable, since being pointed out to us by an activist and worker at Londres 38, is that justice hasn’t been given fully to those who suffered. Neither inside the museum or anywhere in fact is there any mention of who committed the crimes of torture and murder nor any hint at legal action having been taken against them.
According to our historical guide at Londres 38, this is because when Pinochet gave up control of Chile it was a part of the deal he made which guaranteed the protection of those who committed crimes. This protection varied from anonymity, to the holding of some of them in a private and luxurious jail. Vaguely reminiscent of Pablo Escobar… To us this is inconceivable – how can the years of fear and violence, the extreme torture of over 30,000 people and the death of 3,000 people (many of whom their bodies have still not been found) be allowed to rest with no legal justice at all!
It is mad to think that these crimes were occurring only one generation ago! One part of the museum of human rights was particularly haunting and illuminating – It was a timeline of similar events across the world and when they took place. Similar events have happened across most of South America and many states in Africa as well as in Cambodia and of course Germany all within the last 100 years. Despite the lack of narrative surrounding justice, I would recommend the Museum of Memories and Human Rights to anyone visiting Santiago.
One way in which people are expressing their feelings surrounding this part of their recent history is with flags. When we first arrived in Santiago and saw lots of rainbow coloured flags and street art we thought it was for gay pride. However, since visiting the museum we have discovered that the rainbow flag is the sign of opposition to Pinochet. You can see the flags all over the city, not just on private houses but also on huge buildings, restaurants and night clubs. Which shows the scale of opposing to Pinochet and his government as people are so vocal about their dislike for him. It also shows how far away Chile is now from the use of fear as people feel confident to express their political views so openly again.
After all the gloom we needed a bit of cheering up and we found it with the stray dogs of Santiago! Over the five days we were there we saw a lot of stray dogs yet they all looked really well cared for and very healthy and happy. It is because all over the city are boxes with blankets, water bowls and sometimes also food for the dogs to live in. Although they obviously have a problem with strays, I think that Chile have tackled it in a really great way by at least caring for the ones they do have and ensuring that they have shelter and food.