Chilean Terror: The Other September 11th
September 11th is “Pearl Harbor” of this generation. If you are an American citizen over the age of 20, the words “September 11th” come with immediate emotions. If you are under the age of 20, the words are attached to the extremely familiar images of planes, towers, and terrorism.
September 11th is a meaningful day to many Americans and is now a major turning point in American History.
The same is true in Chile.
Except, here in Chile, September 11th does not signify a day when a country was ruthlessly attacked by international terrorists. Instead, it is a day when a people and their civil rights were brutally attacked by their very own government.
And just like in the United States, September 11th in Chile is a day to never forget.
In the early 70s, Chile was a country divided. Some Chileans supported the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. Others supported his overthrow, including the President Nixon and the U.S. CIA who offered financial support to Allende opposers. Tensions ran high.
In the early morning of September 11th, 1973, Chilean military leaders began what would be a military coup d’état of the Allende government. At 7:00 am, the navy seized control of the port city of Valparaíso, and by 9:00 am the armed forces had control of all of Chile and the radio and TV networks.
Without radio support, President Allende did not know the magnitude of the overthrow until it was too late. As the armed forces surrounded his position, in the La Moneda Palace in Santiago, he decided to give his last speech. He told “the workers” of Chile that he believed in his country and that he believed opposition would rise to overthrow this new military leadership. Following the bombing of the palace and the surrender, Allende was declared to have committed suicide.
The country of Chile was now under the control of the Military Junta Government which within the year would be headed by army chief Augusto Pinochet. Thousands of Chileans would be executed and thousands more would be imprisoned, tortured, or “disappeared” during the 17 years of Pinochet’s rule.
The new dictatorship immediately began to suppress all political activity outside of the new regime. They condemned all “political enemies” especially those who identified as socialist or communist. The new government wanted to send a clear message of absolute power and fear.
Immediately following the coup, as many as 40,000 political enemies were arrested and held in the National Stadium of Chile. (The same stadium were the Chilean soccer team won Copa America earlier this year) There some were killed and others were interrogated and tortured in the various rooms beneath the stadium. Several hundred bodies were buried in secret mass graves.
The National Stadium of Chile was not the only place of detention or torture during the Pinochet regime, but it may be the most prominent. Through the DINA, or secret police, Pinochet sought to establish complete control through surveillance and violent intimidation. There were as many as 17 torture centers.
Accounts of the torture under Pinochet vary, but all are similar in their gross level of brutality and violation of human rights. Techniques used included but we’re not limited to electric shock, water boarding, beatings, and sexual abuse. Some prisoners were laid out on the ground to have their legs run over by vehicles. Others were beat repeatedly in the ear to ensure deafness. Still others were forced to lick the dirt floor or watch friends and family be tortured. Both female and male prisoners were subject to rape.
Many executions were accomplished by gun but also many by slow torture. There are accounts of executions where the officers slowly shot the prisoner in various places on the body to ensure slow and painful death. Many of the deaths were covered or hidden and labeled as a “disappearance.” One especially atrocious act was dropping pregnant woman from helicopters into large bodies of water.
Pinochet also sought to put fear into the hearts of his commanding officers to ensure that no one could rise against him. He ordered what came to be known as the Caravan of Death. One of him officers traveled throughout Chile from prison to prison murdering the political prisoners. This act was considered to be especially brutal because many of these prisoners had turned themselves in and were not a threat.
I could go on and on, but the same theme would shine through. For 17 years, the rights of the Chilean people were violated. Finally, in 1988, the Chilean plebiscite voted to have democratic elections again, and in 1990 Pinochet was replaced with a new Chilean President. He was later accused of war crimes but died before the trial ended. During his dictatorship, an estimated 28,000 were tortured, 2,279 were executed, 1,248 “disappeared”, and another 200,000 were displaced through exile.
Today the effects of September 11th and the dictatorship regime are still everywhere.
One of our new friends openly talks about how many of his family members now live in Europe because of being exiled or fleeing. His mother is a proud Socialist who still is upset about the past.
One of the teachers I work with cannot listen to military band music or march with our school for Independence Day because it reminds her of the time of the dictatorship, when she was a teenager and young adult. Her husband still suffers from vertigo, which they assume is a result of when he was beat.
We heard the story of a young man in our church. His father was a political prisoner in Linares at the time of the Caravan of Death and thus was guaranteed to be executed once the caravan arrived. However, a local priest stopped the caravan and told them to not come into the city of Linares. Surprisingly, they listened and skipped over the city allowing this young man’s father to live. He was lucky. There is a memorial for those executed and “disappeared” from Linares standing in the Plaza de Armas.
Chile’s current president, Michelle Bachelet, and her mother were both tortured during the dictatorship. Her father died from the torture he received.
September 11th is also a day to remember in Chile.
As with any atrocity, it is easy to ask why? Why would the U.S. government recognize this terrible regime? Why do people in power easily fall into violent leadership? Why do some people in Chile still support Pinochet and remember him with honor?
The horrors the the Chilean dictatorship as well as the horrors of terrorist attacks are a direct result of sin. Since the fall, all of mankind is born sinful and power or hatred often grows evil. We live in a sinful and thus very painful world.
So then, how important it is to remember His promises and to remember that in this sometimes very dark world we have someone perfect, pure, and almighty to hold on to! In John 16, Jesus prepared his disciples because he was about to physically leave them and ascend into heaven. He knew they will have a hard time staying in the world and reminded them that this world is temporary and heaven is their perfect home. He said to them and to us today:
“In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.
Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.
You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come;
but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish
because of her joy that a child is born into the world.
So with you: now is your time of grief,
but I will see you again and you will rejoice,
and no one will take away your joy…
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart!
I have overcome the world.”
So, as you remember September 11th, also remember that the United States is only a part of a much larger world. Other countries have experienced unexpected and unlawful pain. Other peoples have heartache.
They also have the same Savior and the same promises! He has overcome the world.