Documentary paying homage to Augusto Pinochet incites anger, protests in Chile
The long-running grudge by the left against dictator Pinochet and by the right against his predecessor, President Salvador Allende, has played out in every medium from street marches to documentaries.
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Beyond the image of Pinochet, the reality has always been more complex. When leftist filmmaker Miguel Littín visited the country incognito during Pinochet's reign, he was depressed to see that daily life in Chile was much better than what he had heard abroad. He tells the story in Gabriel Garcia Marquéz's "Clandestine in Chile": "Contrary to what we heard in exile, Santiago was a radiant city, its venerable monuments splendidly illuminated, its streets spotlessly clean and orderly. If anything, armed policemen were more in evidence on the streets of Paris or New York than here … Even the wan little streetwalkers did not seem as destitute and sad to me as they used to." (That impression didn't last. Littín quickly noticed the East German-style fear in everyone's face, the fact that no one would look at anything in particular, that they were all rushing home before curfew.)Skip to next paragraph
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After 15 years in power, Pinochet's government fulfilled its long-standing promise to hold a referendum to decide whether to retain him as president. He got 44 percent of the vote. Even if that election was influenced by well founded fear of Pinochet's legions of informers and thugs, there is no doubt that a chunk of the Chilean public supported him to the end. It has long been taboo to recall the dictator fondly. Walmart Chile had a brass plaque of Pinochet in its lobby, inscribed "patriotic soldier and visionary statesman." A visitor snapped a photo that got published in the Village Voice-esque weekly "The Clinic," January 3.
On January 4, Walmart said it had removed the plaque. Similarly, one of the few public memorials to Pinochet is a street named for the day of his coup d'etat, September 11. The signs marking that avenue are frequently covered with stickers that say "Bad Day" and "Terrible." The long-time leader has no sculptures dedicated to him in the capital. His right-hand man, Jaime Guzmán, has been honored with a plaza and a memorial in the largely conservative eastern boroughs of the capital. Someone left a bomb at the memorial last year.
The people who held an all-night vigil against the positive memorial to Pinochet have every right to be frustrated. Policies he put in place continue, and a constitution designed to create political gridlock make major changes difficult to impossible. But it was ironic to see some people call for the film's presentation to be forbidden by the state, and others to physically attack the moviegoers. Pinochet's government censored documentaries and physically attacked opponents. Is censorship and physical attack a way to purge his memory? Or is such acts, in fact, exactly the kind of homage he would have liked?
Editor's note: the original post misspelled the name of Chile's former dictator.