Essex 68: Reflections, memories, anecdotes and biogs

From Jan Fairley on Pinochet and Chile
Monday, October 19, 1998

Well it's all too amazing - I think someone must have help set this up - because really by stealth is the only way to get this man who has set up the whole constitution of Chile to protect himself and the chain of horror he set in motion - the reaction of everyone who I have spoken to is stunned ecstasy - could we ever hope for this? But it is early days yet...

It has been impossible to believe the pragmatics of government - Thatcher selling arms to Chile and no one caring about the death and torture as if it was somehow deserved and part and parcel of the game - the complete lack of humanity about the dead and disappeared never mind those tortured and imprisoned who survived but at such personal cost - the families driven apart - this notion of the "enemy within" which the military took up - the idea of an "internal war" the false "plots" they uncovered ie Marxism /Socialism /Communism and the training of the Latin American armed forces and their secret police was of course a doctrine straight from USA who held all these military training schools during the 60s and 70s and inspired this doctrine for the elite commanders -

I now lapse into personal memory and remembrance - I'm afraid that is what this means to me - read no further if the personal seems too self-indulgent when you have these experiences it's weird - as least for me - they loom large in the memory like a movie that re-runs itself from time to time - as if they had happened recently - yet I escaped and had the privilege of being able to leave the country to safety - which I remember was traumatic at the time - such gullt at leaving others behind - such relief - fear just holds you -

I took my three children to Chile in 1994 - and took them to Temuco to the house I had lived - here after the day after the coup four guys from Patria and Libertad - a right wing group who went round "removing people" after the coup - came to get me and my then partner - when luckily he and I - Steve Platt (Essex Social Studies) were out queueing in the street outside the army headquarters like every other foreigner and other professionals in town - as we had been bidden on the radio - off we went so gullibly "to make sure our papers were in order" - some people went into that building and never came out - the 'q' was so long that when curfew came - we were sent back to return the next day - which we never did - while we were there these guys looking for us held two Norwegian friends at gun point on a bus knowing they knew us and indeed lived with us in the same lodging house - and then walked them to where we all lived to find Steve and I - they thought that Steve who had joined me in Chile nine months after I got there - we had then married in Chile - was a Cuban! leading the agrarian reform in Cautin province - where we lived - his beard and Essex demeanour no doubt!

We were the two most prominent British people in the town apart from missionaries and stuck out with our stripey sweaters and purple trousers and Eurpepan hippy looks - whatever! - but in fact it wasn't us they wanted at all was a case of "mistaken identity" - they were looking for a British woman and presumed it must be me - we looked similar - she worked for FAO - UN - in the town and was married to a Chilean who worked for the Agrarian Reform programme - he had received some course in Cuba about agrarian polices - they wanted to find them and thought we were them - but these guys didn't care - who they got really - we were subversive foreigners and should be eliminated anyway - luckily for us all thanks to the interference of our landlord who ironically was very right wing but also had a gun and didn't think the military or these death squad guys should be acting in this way in his house - they were forced to leave - he told them to return later with the right arrest papers!!!! They must have been nervous cos they did -

Somehow we were alerted - so we had to go underground for 7 days at friends until we managed to leave Temuco and get to Santiago to Embassy protection - with every day the deaths of people we knew or had worked with being announced on the local radio "shot while trying to escape" - people who had worked in hospital community programmes etc - students at the university - ... one night I remember when I think we were sure they would come for us we spent the whole night tearing up these friends (he was a journalist) books and papers and journals and soaking them in the bath and throwing them down the rubbich shute as if if they did come there would be no evidence! - as if they would have cared! I remember we drank a lot of gin and not much else - the British Embassy told us to hide under the table!

The army had arrested and tortured a friend for having "seditious government pamphlets" - he was one of the heads of medicine for the area - was let out for 8 hours to collect his possessions and escaped while the guard was distracted - we eventually got him and his family to London - but that is another story.

We were lucky - we could get away and managed to leaving everyone behind - as did eventually the other couple - I remember staying in the house of the Head of the British Council - they WOULD NOT believe our "stories" - several years later they apologised profusely - we managed to get two Chilean friends into an Embassy by Steve pretending to be married to the wife - we dreamed up this simple plan in a Chinee restaurant in Santiago on around 21st September - and it worked miraculously! He was a high ranking student leader and the Canadian Embassy went and got him from hiding in their car and they were flown out to Canada where they now live -

So In 1994 my children looked at this house in Temuco when we were re-tracing places I had lived etc and the flat where we had hidden in - and they said how normal they looked - and indeed seeing them through their eyes - made it all seem OK again - an aberration - but that road we lived in a friend pointed out to me houses where a various people had disappeared and never returned -

A whole generation wiped out - when I taught in Chile in 1994 in Santiago in the University - that was so apparent - and the cost of surviving the Pinochet years by those who had been on the left - and the ignorance of what had happened by young people and others - at two concerts held in the last year in Chile - one in memory of Che Guevara, the other on the day Allende was elected, September 4th - film of the bombing of the Moneda was shown on large screens and for many it was the first time they had seen this....

In 1991 making a BBC radio programme about the an event - a Purification of the Chile Stadium of its horrific past I went to the basketball stadium where Chilean singer Victor Jara and others were last seen alive with one of the people who had been there with him - who knew him and was one of the last to see him alive - badly beaten and tortured (this was not the large open air staiudm also used but the small inner city one) rather dank and unfriendly changing rooms used as torture cells - the box office as the last place before people were shipped out to be shot - walking up the steps of the ranks of seats to each area "there they put those who they recognised like Victor and people who were prominent UP or activists - here the foreigners - here the students etc etc - each part of the stadium full of its horrors - I did this with three different people who had been held there - they had never been back in again and it was a eerie and unpleasant but also in a way cathartic -

At Oxford I met and had supper with Orlando Letelier and he and Allende's education Minister Don Edgardo Enriquez - who had been imprisoned together in Dawson Island - told stories and made everyone laugh - the Enriquez family were good friends and neighbours in Oxford with their daughters and daughters-in-law and grandchildren - as father of the sons who had started the left wing guerilla group the MIR - he and his wife Raquel were a true model of how to survive monumental pain with dignity - later Letelier was blown up by Pinochets; men in Washington - Don Edgardo survived and I visited him and his wife in 1994 in Chile -I remember they still mourned their children and showed photos at the lunch of all the children in the mid 1960s when they were still all alive and students - and of their son-in-law Batista Van Shouwen the MIR leader whose body was never found - Don Edgardo died a couple of years ago in Chile of cancer - Raquel is still alive - she will be happy today

I think of all those people today and mourn those who gave their lives - those I know and those I didn't know - their bravery - their vision however much those ideals seem folly today - I think of those who survived and hope Pinochet's arrest will help heal their wounds and Chile's wounds

I feel very emotional - obviously! but also somehow my faith in justice - which I have truly never recovered - feels brighter - at last - maybe the circle of justice is turning and we will reach the millenium with some idea that people who do what Pinochet and those who followed his direction cannot get away with it

Let's hope so

As they shouted at the end of the Victor Jara tribute concert in London this September


Essex68 Homepage

Reflections, memories, anecdotes