Facing up to the past

The military coup that occurred in Chile in 1973 brought General Augusto Pinochet to power and changed the landscape of political discourse in the country. Three years earlier, Chile had voted for its first ever Socialist President, Salvador Allende, who had introduced a series of social and financial reforms unpopular with many people and, more importantly, unpopular with an army that saw itself as underfunded and underpaid, particularly in comparison to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay, all of which had seen military coups over the previous seven years. Pinochet’s coup was tacitly (or explicitly) approved by President Nixon, who had already introduced economic sanctions against Chile as a bulwark against a perceived danger of South America falling into Socialism more broadly. The coup led to the death of Allende, 16 years of military rule, and the brutal suppression of any and all political opposition to the generals.

That’s a lot for a country to deal with, especially when you consider that a great many Chileans at the time were supportive of the military regime, while being largely unaware of its excesses. In an attempt to address the issues of this period, Chile instituted a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (6 years before the same process was used in South Africa). The Museum of Memory and Human Rights was inaugurated in 2010 and tells the stories of many of the victims of the regime while also examining propaganda techniques and the control of the media that the generals used to manage the narrative. Famously, the national stadium was used as a detention and torture centre during this time and it is estimated that over 40,000 Chileans were detained here at some point.

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This is a difficult, but important museum to visit.

 

 

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