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When the Dictator Died
Recalling a childhood under Pinochet
Paloma Baytelman Pilowsky (palomabay)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-13 12:34 (KST)   
On the afternoon of Dec. 10, Augusto Pinochet died. He was Chile's dictator for 17 years (1973-1990) during which time he used a government model characterized by a constant and systematized pursuit of his detractors. Torture, death, and exile marked the lives of thousands people in this country, my country.

The global mass media have defined Pinochet's government, without doubt, as one of the most horrible dictatorships in human history. The official numbers speak of 300,000 Chileans that were obliged to leave Chile or die. But it is always different to read about it than to live it.

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I grew up far away from my paternal grandparents because, as followers of President Salvador Allende, they were exiled to Mexico with Rosana, their youngest daughter. Two important intellectuals, Bernardo Baytelman and Eliana Albala, continued their contributions far from their country. Also Daniel Pilowsky, my mother's older brother, was forced to suspend his study of medicine at the Universidad de Chile, and to conclude them in the United States. He is currently a remarkable Columbia University researcher.

In my personal experience, I remember a childhood full of fear, mainly of those uniformed people, but also from the helicopters constantly flying over Santiago, the capital of my country, the city where I grew up. As an example, my mother asked us to exercise caution on our telephone chats, because she feared that the apparatuses could be tapped. She was always in contact with human rights defense agencies and I was always afraid that Pinochet's regime would take her away, kill her or banish her forever.

In 1985 Pinochet's agents kidnapped a professor and a parent from my school entrance during the time that my classmates and I were in class, as were hundreds of other kids. We listened to the sounds of cars, helicopters, and bullets. They wounded my teacher, Leopoldo Munoz, and took Manuel Guerrero and Jose Manuel Parada, who were found later near Santiago's airport ... beheaded. A communist militant, Santiago Natino, suffered the same fate. They were murdered without trial only for the crime of thinking differently.

But, sadly, those cases were not unique. During Pinochet's dictatorship, 185 children and 3,000 adults died. Additionally, more than 1,000 persons that were arrested were never found. It is presumed that their bodies were thrown into the Pacific Ocean.

A street stencil in Valparaiso, Chile. Picture by Catalina Scott
©2006 Catalina Scott

Pinochet's government marked an era in which not only people were killed, but also ideas were exterminated. They prosecuted intellectuals; mass media were closed; social meetings and mass demonstrations were prohibited. Thousands of authors, singers and artists were blacklisted.

On the other hand, Pinochet's followers installed a culture where stupidity and banality impregnated extensive sectors of society, which still has repercussions today. Still today in many situations it is seen as unfavorable to have an opinion or to generate debate around divisive issues.

Even now, given all the confirmation about undue personal enrichment of Pinochet and some of his followers, the human rights abuses, and the murders, there are people that insist that it is better to turn the page and forget. I think that forgotten history isn't history at all, and societies that do not learn from their errors don't progress in any sense.

Some people have told me that I cannot give opinions about this issue because the military coup was in 1973 and I was born three years later. But I believe that I am completely able to do it and I should do it, due to the fact that I lived my childhood in one of the most horrible dictatorships in history, and because future generations, the ones that haven't been born yet, will have the right to analyze the history and to judge their predecessors. Only in this way will we never again have a Pinochet in our lives.

Along with some objective data, this is my subjective truth: the truth of a woman, a journalist, a citizen reporter. There are a lot of worse stories than mine. Some friends lived in exile, others had family members disappear, or had people in their families tortured and killed.

It has been very shocking to hear their stories, stories that are fundamental pieces of a history that we cannot forget.

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Paloma Baytelman Pilowsky

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