12 Nov, Museum of Memory and Human Rights
My friend Valeria suggested we go to the Human Rights museum depicting the Pinochet years. It is a museum that has been constructed to help Chilleans reflect on the human rights violations of the Pinochet regime which commenced September 11 1973 and continued until March 10, 1990.
The museum has on one of its walls the Universal Declaration of Human Rights forged in copper. This document was approved December 10, 1948 by the United Nations in the aftermath of the extraordinary violence of the second world war. It reiterates the importance of all countries adhering to human rights whether they see their culture as group or individual in its orientation. Ultimately the preservation of the rights of all human beings is the essence and in many cases these days it is protection from their own governments or imposed regimes.
The story of the Pinochet years is extremely saddening, however as in all examples of violence we are here to learn how to create a peaceful future. Unfortunately we often have to go through the opposite to fully comprehend the importance of peace.
The entrance to the museum shows photos and historical information about other countries that have oppressed their people, they included, Argentina, Bolivia, Exuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Panama, Peru, El Salvador, Uruguay, Alemania in Germany, Yugoslavia, Burundi, Chad, Ghana, Liberia, Marruecos in Morocco, Nigeria, Congo, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, South Korea, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, East Timor, and Paraguay. I think Cambodia under Pol Pot could have been added and North Korea and I am sure there are many more not added. There is also the indigenous people of the world who have experienced cultural and physical genocide and marginalisation. So human rights violations or the violence committed against civilians has been widespread in the attempt to create cultures of fear that obey power and control of dominant regimes without question.
Moving through this museum and noting the many photos of the disappeared, the brutal repression of the military over civilians and the state of fear that was created, was a chilling experience. It brought back memories of my time in Cambodia at the memorials of the killing fields and Tuol Sleng Prison (a converted high school) in Phnom Penh. This was the Khmer Rouge regime (1975 to 1979) whereby 200,000 people were tortured to death and around 2 million killed through enforced famine (agricultural reform). The war was against the intellectual elites and in the spirit of Angka desired a return to simplicity. What I reflect on is how a few people can be brain-washed to carry out human rights violations on the many without question or conscience. In the case of Cambodia the perpetrators were young children aged from 10 to 17 year olds brain-washed to torture and kill the enemies of the Khmer Rouge. I now cast my mind to where I presently am in Chile. I reflect on the Pinochet years whereby the military extended power through fear and violence and the intelligence security organisation was behind the secret detentions and killings. However, this regime was part of a wider agenda, supported by the United States government, as they too were in a state of fear of communism which reached extreme levels across the world. I suspect this may have extended to Australia during the Whitlam government years (1972-75) and there is much controversy over whether the US was involved in the Whitlam dismissal. The Whitlam Government was a labour government viewed as socialist as they were implementing new social programs such as universal health care and legal aid. So the reach of US foreign policy can be felt around the world. There appears to be a movement against any form of socialism and communism at this time. It would be interesting to understand the depth of this fear and what it meant to those in control in the United States and its citizens.
Turing attention back to the Pinochet regime. The School of the Americas was mentioned by activists I spoke to at a memorial. This school is a US Army training operation training soldiers in techniques of oppression and torture. This organisation was instrumental during this time in Latin American and the Caribbean. A Google search reveals that they commenced operations after the Second World War (1946) and trained some 60,000 Latin American military officers. Abuses alleged to have occurred include disappearances of 200,000 Guatemalans, thousands tortured in Columbia. Apparently Columbia was the schools largest customer. (ref sourcewatch). I have heard about this organisation as I have travelled through Central and South America and it is deeply concerning to learn more about a western democracy engaged in practices that work against the very freedoms they espouse to their people and within their own constitution. Yet when you trace power to its source you can envisage that power elites of multinationals and traditional wealth concerned about losing their wealth and power if capitalism is replaced by a socialist system which spreads wealth equally or removes the accumulation of wealth. So it becomes clear that self interest is the essence of the problem and beneath that is fear. The mask is democracy and freedom but the reality is the opposite. I find I can´t even blame them when I deeply reflect as this is the model of the economic system rewards greed (profit maximisation) with status and approval (success). So the very structures of our capitalist societies are the problem and we do move away from a culture of peace when violence is accepted as a tool of power. So it is worth contemplating what drives governments, organisations to become purveyors of violence in the name of freedom.
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights revealed much information on what actually happened here in Chile. I will outline some of the key points made. As indicated earlier the Pinochet Regime commenced in 1973 and was voted out in 1989. At the time of the military coup, Salvador Allende was in power. He was viewed as a socialist and was a champion for workers rights. So the communist angle can be viewed as the reason for his ousting. The Moneda National Palace was surrounded by troops, tanks took the Constitution Plaza and helicopters buzzed overhead. At 8.30am the Armed Forced demanded President Salvador Allende´s resignation. A quote from his last speech before he suicided was as follows
“…may you all go on, knowing, that much sooner than later, the wide avenues where a free man can walk will be opened once again, in order to construct a better society”.
So facing his own death he is envisaging that something good will emerge and of course this depends on how history is viewed. There have been National Truth Commissions reports since 1991. The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CNVR) registered 3,185 cases of political executions and ´disappeared´during the military dictatorship. According to the CNPPT report there were 28,459 victims of political imprisonment and torture, more than a third had no political affiliations. The military occupation declared Martial Law and curfews were imposed. A new death penalty was imposed, Congress muted, political parties banned and electoral registries destroyed. Thus the end of democracy and the dawn of dictatorship. It is interesting to reflect on living in a state of occupation. My recent visit to Kashmir showed me how it feels to be under curfew and have soldiers on every corner. It was very intimidating and oppressive. So during these times there would have been great fear at the sight of armed soldiers and this creates the suppression which stops people from standing up and saying we don´t want this. It also creates around the regime after a period of time a belief that they are justified as there is no resistance.
During the Pinochet regime civil liberties were restricted, detentions expanded, and repression was systematic. In 1974 the Direction of National Intelligence (DINA) was created and in 1977 replaced by the National Center of Intelligence (CNI). So rather than security intelligence used to protect the national interest, it is used against the people by those in power. I guess the question here is what is the national interest, is it the interests of the people or those in power. During this time there was a climate of fear and many sought political asylum. The judiciary did not protect victims and Habeas corpus was suspended. Habeas corpus is about the release of a prisoner from unlawful detention. A new constitution was approved in 1980. What was interesting was a statement by the military which stated “The Armed Forces and the Police will be energetic in maintaining public order for the good of all Chileans. For every innocent person who falls, 10 undesirable Marxists will be executed immediately…” this is an example of how the military was politicised. Marxism essentially was doctrine developed by Karl Marx which espoused workers rights and a critique of capitalism. It is a power struggle between employers or owners of capital and the working class. This appears to be the basis of the conflict and why the United States was fearful of communism. Ultimately it is in the interests of capitalists to have a compliant workforce so that the production of goods and services is uninterrupted. Moreover, workers are viewed as a cost of production not a citizen and here becomes the crux of the problem. The capitalists live in a hierarchical world of power where people do as they are told in a system designed to maximise profit. It is not a social system working for the best interests of the community it is a market system (economy) where the community are costs of production and consumers. So we have a significantly different philosophy of society competing for power.
In 1974 the United Nations considered the human rights situation in Chile to be extremely serious. On November 6 the UN formulated recommendations for the Chilean government with 90 votes in favour, 8 against, 26 abstentions, these recommendations were repeated until the 1989 election.
The Pinochet regime used torture as a systematic technique to obtain information and govern by fear. Consistently inflicting severe mental or physical pain and suffering on the person interrogated. One of the testimonials I listened to said she was tortured so much that she became numb. Another indicated he felt for women as they would be surely raped and tortured. Another referred to seeing a tall strong man being taken for interrogation and she could hear him whimpering. She said day after day his physical body was worn down by the systematic torture. Even children were tortured and killed. They witnessed the murder of parents or them being taken away. It is alleged hundreds were tortured, killed or disappeared. The Truth Commissions identified that 150 children were executed or killed in protests. A further 39 were disappeared and 1,244 children imprisoned and tortured.
There were mass graves found in Lonquen, Pisagua, Patio 29, Cuesta Barriga, the Arteaga Fort and other places. They indicated it proves the existence of the disappeared. The disappearances were reported as very painful for families as they couldn´t get a sense of closure or peace about loved ones. This was the hardest for the community to bear, to not know what happened.
As you move through the museum learning more about what it must have been like to live under such oppression your heart turns to real freedoms, to real peace and the confusion under which both governments and citizens live. We have all experienced oppressing others, or creating enemies of others, or torturing people through cruel words, neglect or violence. So the seeds of the dictator are within society. If we are to create a culture of peace we have to examine ourselves and we must find forgiveness of the past. I am learning clearly that to forgive the past doesn´t mean to condone the actions of the perpetrators. It is to understand that the events have passed and we live in the present moment. It is very important to learn to release the past otherwise it is carried into the future and the hatred is retained. It is the very hatred which creates oppression and fear. If we are to create a future of peace we must learn what peace really means. It is to live in a space of love for other human beings. It is to make sure that those engaged in violence are able to see the consequences of actions, not in retributive justice, but restorative justice where they are faced with the person´s they have acted violently against. To transform violence into peace, you have to face the truth of the violence and where it truly comes from. If we go back to the vested interests of perceived power elites, possibly the heads of corporations or those who have great wealth, they fear losing that wealth as they associate it with themselves, they feel powerful through it. Yet the real power resides in loving yourself and others. When you truly find peace within there is no desire to dominate, to prove your value, to be better than others, you simply start to deeply enjoy life as it shows up. Every day becomes exciting and stimulating. We are still in states of mind that need external stimulus to feel some sense of aliveness. We are in paradigms of life that say we must work to obtain material things and then happiness. If we really want to tackle oppression and violence we have to look at greed and the promotion of it through economic systems. We have to look at best interest rather than motivation of self interest. Perhaps inspiration moves you to do something, it certainly does me, but not at the expense of other people. If I am moved by love, I follow it, if I sense jealousy, fear or anger, I stop and think again. Peace is a work in progress, actually it is the fun of progress, you can never fail, every day is progress. Peace is love, joy and truth and when we really get this, there will be no more Pinochets, Pol Pots or military schools designed for a culture of fear. It will become the disappeared. We will then know we have evolved.
Oh by the way, that day is not far off. It will come. Trust me on this one. I am a peace clown.