50 years ago, the despicable Military Coup in Chile took place. It happened on a Tuesday, September 11, 1973.
For those of us who lived it, that day continues beating inside our collective memory. It is a drumbeat that will not stop. A beat that, not only, resonates with our personal memories, but also beats for those thousands who died or who were disappeared. Disappeared with a perverse “magic” by people who decided that the 1,000 days of fragile hope sewn by the brief government of Salvador Allende were enough hope for the Chilean masses.
The traditional owners of the political system, rich and violent people who have historically manipulated that fragile Chilean democracy, could not allow so much hope. Hope is dangerous. It can be contagious. 50 years later, that drum pounding in our consciousness is accompanied by two short phrases: We will not forget! We will not forgive!
I lived in Chile during the last 14 months of the government of Salvador Allende. That time was a mix of sensations and experiences unparalleled in Chilean history.
It was the first time that a Socialist had been elected President via a democratic vote. The entire world was attentive to what was taking place in Chile. Could real change take place in that country?
Unfortunately, that did not happen. Even before the close triumph of the Popular Unity coalition could be ratified by the Chilean Congress, the United States of America, helped by traitors within the Chilean right-wing, plotted against the democratic victory of Dr. Allende. Until they overthrew him, barely three years after his election.
That Military Coup crushed something very special, something which I witnessed when I returned to Chile after a few years of studying at the University of California, Berkeley. That special thing, razed with a horrifying cruelty, was hope. Throughout Chilean history, that particular feeling has been very scarce. Nevertheless, in 1972, when I returned to my country, hope could be seen, touched, even smelled!
I have been fortunate to experience two very special epochs. In two different countries. In the U.S., I lived over seven years of the decade of the 60s, perhaps some of the best years in the life of this country. They were a decade of hopeful events and accomplishments that saw the birth and growth of various social movements. The founding of the Black Panther Party, the Free Speech Movement, the growth and/or strengthening of the LGBT Movement, plus the engaging and loving “Hippie” Movement. All that within the frame of a nationwide Anti-Vietnam War movement.
Today, in both Chile and the U.S., hope does not fill the air. Uncertainty and fear are the predominant smells. In both countries, it is possible that fascism-leaning men can become presidents. In the U.S., there is talk of another Civil War. In Chile, the 1973 military coup might be repeated. Stirring the flames of fear in the U.S., some people deeply afraid of demographic changes, are censoring books and ideas that might help the population think critically. Some have even proposed that slavery was something positive for the slaves!
In Chile, a “denialist” attitude has been installed. Those who supported the 1973 military coup, argue that the 1973 coup “was not so bad,” or they simply declare that most of their terrible realities did not occur. That they are “inventions of communists and other provocateurs.”
Those who supported the Chilean military coup and some of the many descendants of those who provoked and continue defending slavery in the U.S., propose that “we should turn the page, that we have to learn to forgive and forget.” That is not possible.
An example. In Chile, a great fighter for social justice, Ana González de Recabarren (RIP), was told by “denialists” and similar perverts that she should try “to forgive and forget.” That way, she could stop the sorrow and the resentment that she felt when the soldiers of the dictator, General Augusto Pinochet had disappeared her husband, her two sons and her daughter-in-law. “What should I forgive?” she responded. “The air? The water? If you tell me what you did to them, who did it and where you have left them, maybe then I might have a basis to consider if I can eventually forgive!”
We shall keep on searching for our disappeared. We shall continue illuminating the secret history of the people. Hopefully, evil will never again be installed in both countries. We will plant the seeds of solidarity, accompanied by those who are alive and by those who still live in our hearts, even while they remain disappeared. Tenderness is with us. We find it in our songs, in our poetry. Songs and poems that we write today and those that live in our memory.
I will finish with a moving recent personal experience. It echoes September 10, 1973.
That was the last time that I saw and spoke with the Chilean musician Víctor Jara. It was the night before the military coup. Víctor was leaving the School of Dance, accompanied by his wife, Joan, who taught there. Our Theater/Dance group was rehearsing for a debut which never took place. As the doors of the elevator were closing, I yelled: “Let’s meet again soon, Víctor!”
It never happened. Six days later he was murdered by the soldiers of Pinochet.
On September 10 of this year, 50 years later, as my wife and I were having breakfast, I looked outside our window, to the backyard. I saw the plum tree which lives there and I thought of a hummingbird, a friend of my wife. We had not seen it for more than three months. Most certainly, the little bird would no longer make us happy with his breathtaking flight, or with the brilliance of his chest as the bird would briefly sit on the tallest branch of the tree. I felt sad. I thought that I should write a poem to that disappeared little bird.
From the radio, which had been playing songs in English, I suddenly heard the unmistakable voice of Víctor Jara. It was a lesser-known song, but not less beautiful.
It was then that this hummingbird appeared and landed on that tree! As if Víctor’s voice had summoned that little bird. Maybe it was not the same hummingbird … but … maybe it was.
Then, came a great revelation: that hummingbird … was Víctor! Exactly 50 years later, he came to tell me, to tell us. In the shape of that little bird, he was still among us. I broke down and I cried like a baby, a hurt baby … but I also cried with thankfulness, with relief.
To forgive? To forget! Please. We cannot do it. We will not do it.