This year’s commemoration of the Sept. 11 coup offered a historic opportunity for Chile’s politicians. Of course, they botched it. The political class must now reflect on what went wrong and why the wounds of the past won’t heal.
Half a century is not enough time for a country to come to terms with its history.
Sept. 11 represented a tremendous opportunity, and I think we Chileans let it slip. It was an opportunity to move forward, without sweeping the garbage under the rug, remembering the pain, but looking ahead.
This could have been a moment to tell the new generations a story with nuances, with differences, but with a clear objective: commitment, as a society, to an environment in which the bombing of presidential palace La Moneda would become inconceivable. But that was not to be, despite the best intentions of the government.
I believe the government cannot be happy, at least to some extent. All actors could have done more. To be sure, the official ceremony was grand. Its framework included the participation of regional leaders and other global representatives. A very dignified performance involved a dance in memory of detained disappeared Chileans, and a minute of silence was held at the time the palace was bombed in 1973.
Yet, violence just the night before tarnished the event. Masked persons, all dressed in black, attacked La Moneda in a highly organized way and caused significant damage.
Of course, the government also misunderstood the public mood. The forces have shifted in a way that makes the pro-Pinochet Republicanos party the most popular across the country.
The right vs. the armed forces
However, the government sincerely tried to convene the entire political spectrum. But the right indulged in real regression, showing an attitude that is hard to understand. Individual exceptions notwithstanding, the right more or less openly justified the coup; some of its members even claimed that well-documented rape as part of the dictatorship’s repressive tactics was an urban myth. The right couldn’t even bring itself to call what happened a coup d’état; it came up with all sorts of proxies, like ‘institutional breakup’ or ‘military pronouncement.’
Yet, representatives of the armed forces assumed their responsibilities and said “never again.” Navy commander admiral De la Maza came with former prisoners of Dawson Island, a concentration camp for Salvador Allende’s ministers and high-level officials, showing the navy was grappling with its role in the coup. The army’s former commander in chief, general Ricardo Martínez, reiterated statements that sparked controversy last year in which he questioned how Augusto Pinochet pushed the institution into committing crimes he called utterly shameful.
The right missed a historic opportunity to clean up its mess and deal with the specters that continue to haunt it.
Undoubtedly, this year’s Sept. 11 left us with little pleasure, mainly because of the expectations that had been generated around a traumatic date that continues to divide us. The political class, operating in what former president Michelle Bachelet aptly called a toxic environment, forgot about the rules of citizenship.
Hopefully, the government and the opposition process the mistakes and analyze why the country ended up more divided than it was before.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.