From national trauma to hero: Pinochet continues to divide Chile 10:02 Abroad Supporters of the former dictator believe that Chile needs a leader like him. Others still feel the loss of their loved ones who disappeared or were murdered under the junta.

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A masked man attacks a demonstrator at the coup anniversary in Santiago yesterday
NOS News
  • Boris van der Spek

    Chile correspondent

  • Boris van der Spek

    Chile correspondent

“Everybody grab a flag! Put the speakers there! We’ll make it known that we’re here!” Francisco Muñoz skillfully instructs the dozens of people who came to Team Patriota’s protest today. “Fifty years of freedom” is the motto of the demonstration. Fifty years ago, the coup took place that ended the socialist government of Salvador Allende. Carrying Chilean flags, demonstrators stand in front of La Moneda, the president’s palace, which was shelled by tanks on September 11, 1973.

Over the course of the day, the demonstration grows into a gathering of about a thousand people. They differ in age and background, but they share an admiration for the man responsible for thousands of deaths and many more tortures: Augusto Pinochet. A woman walks around with a bust of the dictator who died in 2006, and a boy carries a portrait of him.

Francisco Muñoz organizes Team Patriota demonstrations almost every week. He admires everything that is radically right-wing. Trump, Orbán, Meloni, he sees them as examples. Muñoz shows a photo on his cell phone. He stands in front of the Capitol in the United States with a big smile, while in the background people storm the building. “We need leaders like Trump in Chile. We need a Pinochet in Chile. We want to ban communism from everyday life in Chile,” he says, taking off his army helmet.

Death flights

Almost everyone present talks about communism as if it were vermin and says they would support a coup against the current left-wing government. It makes organizing a coup commemoration a challenge. Because when it comes to the past, Chile is divided to the core.

More and more Chileans regard Pinochet as a good leader. Younger generations, who never experienced the dictatorship, say that Chile was ‘liberated’ by the coup. They take it for granted that systematic human rights violations took place under Pinochet.

“The left pretends that only they were murdered, but they murdered too. The issue of human rights must be put into perspective. It was a violent time and the army had to intervene to restore order,” says Muñoz. In the background two women start a song about how communists are thrown into the sea. The infamous ‘death flights’ from the dictatorship are nothing more than satire for those present at this protest.

Torture office

But for people like Viviane Uribe, the disappearances during the dictatorship are anything but a thing of the past. Her sister Barbara and Barbara’s husband went missing after their arrest in 1973. Many other acquaintances of Uribe also disappeared and to this day it is unclear what happened to them.

Viviane Uribe stands in front of Londres38, a few hundred meters from the Team Patriota demonstration. Londres38 was a police station during the dictatorship. Opponents of the Pinochet regime were taken here. They were tortured, executed or taken away, never to return.

Today it is a memorial museum. It is only the second time for Uribe to enter the building. “This place evokes enormous resistance in me. Physically I feel bad, my bones hurt, I get a headache when I walk in here,” she says. She walks up the creaking stairs to a small room. “Torture office,” reads a sign next to the entrance.

Even though Barbara is gone, we deserve to know what happened to her.

Viviane Uribe, surviving relative

“In this very room, my sister and her husband were probably tortured,” Uribe says, sighing deeply. “We will continue to search until the end. Even though Barbara is gone, we deserve to know what happened to her.”

She points to a wall, which has a hole marked with ribbons. “Researchers have taken samples from here to see if there are blood spatters from people who were tortured or executed here. Perhaps blood spatters from Barbara.”

When Viviane Uribe walks outside again, she takes a deep breath, as if an invisible burden has been lifted from her shoulders. She points to a large banner hanging on the facade of Londres38. It contains portraits of those who disappeared here. Uribe starts naming the names. She knows them all.

  • Chile makes new attempt to find out fate of missing Pinochet-era people
  • New progressive constitution in Chile rejected in referendum
  • Widow Pinochet (99) has died, opponents are celebrating
  • Abroad

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