Chile remembers Salvador Allende
44 years after the fateful coup that condemned the Chilean people to a dictatorship of almost 17 years, workers' groups, political parties, social movements and hundreds of men and women, gathered in front of the Palace of La Moneda to pay homage to the man who dared to dream.
With a security cordon, between police and security forces, several groups and associations waited their turn to approach the monument to Salvador Allende in the Plaza de la Constitución, behind the impressive La Moneda Palace in Santiago de Chile.
They all remembered what happened that Tuesday, September 11, 1973, when an armed uprising created by the government of Richard Nixon, decided to remove by force the socialist president elected by the Chilean people.
People with photographs of missing relatives, Communist Party flags, workers and countless men and women in the twilight of life, gathered around the statue of Salvador Allende, singing and shouting, echoing a pain that seems to never give in.
"You see him, you feel him, comrade Allende!" A man chanted from a microphone in front of wreaths of flowers, photographs and symbols of an era that became the worst nightmare of millions of Chileans.
Among them, Natalie Arriagada, adds to the songs. Proudly displaying the photograph of her aunt, María Arriagada Jerez, who disappeared on September 27, 1973, when she was detained by the military only for having been a member of the Communist Party. "My aunt was the leader of Lonquimay's magisterium and social leader, she was very dear to everyone. On September 27 after the coup, she was arrested by the soldiers, accused of preparing a peasant uprising and having hidden weapons, which was never proven," says Natalie with that sad indignation known only by those who lived the dictatorship. "The last thing that was known of her was that she was at the Lonquímay checkpoint, and from there her trail is lost."
Like Maria, thousands of Chileans disappeared in the hands of the Augusto Pinochet’s regime, and their families and friends are still fighting for recognition of their disappearance and for a visceral need for justice.
After several demonstrations of support and mourning, and in a matter of seconds, symbolic firecrackers were detonated and dozens of people blew paper planes into the courtyard of the Palace, remembering the planes that flew over that ominous day. Looking closely, they all carry inscriptions that repeat the question that so many have asked for 44 years: Where are they?
And it was not just civilian citizens who suffered during the coup.
Mario Gonzalez, 80, holds a banner along with five companions, and with a firm face they walk towards the statue of the former president. They were men who served in the armed institutions, and who did not agree with a coup. "That was to subvert the established order and went against our oath to the flag and the institutionality: to respect the law and the constitution, and we did not agree, in any way, to resort to violence to solve a political situation".
Like Gonzalez, there were many within the Chilean Armed Forces who felt that way. As recalled by the former crewmember, there were about 75% of noncommissioned officers who were against the armed coup, but refusing to comply with orders was not an option.
"The only way to carry out that coup was to order people, because in our military system blind obedience exists, you cannot disobey an order, even if it is illegal, that is not previously established in the constitution, and it should be”, Gonzalez said in frustration. "Any illegal order should not be enforced, and they forced us to do so."
Even when he gave up his resignation on September 10 at 4 pm, it was not accepted and he had to comply with the orders and take his place. "It was in Cerrillos, very close to the center of La Moneda. From my plane on land I could see the bombing of La Moneda and the planes that were flying over. "
Thus, all those who passed by the memorial remembered what they were doing, where they were that day, remembered the stories of their relatives and looked with melancholy at the building that, silent, evoked smoke and detonations.
At one point, the doors to the Plaza de la Constitución were opened and a quick mobilization of people cleared the door, from which a small woman with small eyes, a pink handkerchief and flowers in her arms, came out.
President Michelle Bachelet moved to pay public tribute to the martyr president, something unheard of in Chilean democratic history.
Accompanied by the daughter of Allende and her relatives, the president faced the crowd who demanded the closure of the Punta Peuco penitentiary - where those responsible for the crimes during the dictatorship serve a sentence in facilities worthy of a 5 star hotel - and respect to Mapuche indigenous communities.
The president kept her distance, in the hermetic silence that characterizes her, and proceeded to pay homage to the television cameras, while speakers repeated the last speech of Salvador Allende, before taking his life.
The people watched her from the railing, in silence, with the abysmal distance that has fractured the country since that ominous September 11.