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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 September, 2003, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Chileans split over coup legacy

By Elliott Gotkine
BBC South America correspondent

On 11 September Chileans will be marking 30 years since a brutal military coup toppled the socialist President, Salvador Allende. The coup was led by Mr Allende's chief of staff, General Augusto Pinochet, who went on to rule this South American nation for the next 17 years.

Demonstration in Santiago
Thousands of Chileans have been paying tribute to Allende
During his presidency, dissent was crushed and more than 3,000 people murdered or disappeared. Yet three decades on, Chilean society remains deeply divided over how it should deal with the past and the best way to face the future.

In a quiet suburb of the Chilean capital, Santiago, a man with mutton-chop sideburns and steel-rimmed glasses sits at a yellow table with three glamorous-looking women.

"We've managed to postpone the aerial bombardment, but only for a little while," he says. "You all have to get out of here immediately."

At first, the women resist. But the man, an actor playing former President Allende in a radio dramatisation of Chile's coup, eventually has his way.

The youth of today don't know about the events of 30 years ago and were bombarded with very authoritarian propaganda which twisted the events of 1973
Maria Pia Matta
This scene, which recreates an encounter between Mr Allende and his daughters, turned out to be the last time they would see each other.

A few hours later, the Presidential Palace was bombarded by the Chilean air force and tanks. President Allende had killed himself. And dreams of a socialist utopia in South America literally went up in flames.

It's an event particularly close to the heart of Maria Pia Matta, the director of Radio Tierra, which is broadcasting this dramatised version of the coup.

Then 14, she was forced to flee Chile with her parents who were leaders of the country's Communist Party.

Mireya Garcia
We can't exchange justice for a little bit of truth
Mireya Garcia
"We're recreating the events of 11 September because memory is very fragile," she says.

"We're also doing it because the youth of today don't know about the events of 30 years ago and were bombarded with very authoritarian propaganda which twisted the events of 1973.

"And we're doing it because it's good to heal Chile's soul."

In an attempt to help with the healing process, Chile's President, Ricardo Lagos - from Allende's Socialist Party - recently put forward plans which he hopes will help investigators unearth the true extent of the military junta's abuses, as well as help to find the remains of people still unaccounted for.

Controversially, his proposals include an amnesty for low-ranking officers in exchange for information on human rights abuses and where the bodies of the disappeared are buried.

Marco Antonio Pinochet
I think our country, some day, will come together again
Marco Antonio Pinochet
But Mireya Garcia, the vice-president of the Families of the Arrested and Disappeared, feels betrayed by the president's plans: "We can't exchange justice for a little bit of truth," she says, moments after marching past La Moneda to the wreath-covered statue of Salvador Allende.

"This is immoral. Truth is part of justice. The two concepts have exactly the same value. And they're part of the same process. So it's a pretty unacceptable formula."

But Augusto Pinochet's son, Marco Antonio, believes the proposals could help Chileans from the left and the right finally come to terms with the past: "I think to reach for a solution is a good step," he told the BBC.

"We can remember the past, but we can't live in the past. We have to look to the future."

He added that the rifts within Chilean society would close eventually.

Demonstration in Santiago
For the relatives of the missing and dead, there can never be unity without justice for their loved ones
"In Europe you had a war 50 years ago in which many millions of people died," he says. "I think our country, some day, will come together again. I don't see why we should remain divided for the next 100 years. I see us being together and I think it could be sooner than we think."

Perhaps one of most poignant signs that the former dictator's son could be right is a service due to be held by Chile's military on 11 September.

For the first time, they'll be praying not only for the soldiers killed in the coup, but for all those who lost their lives.

But this will be scant consolation for the friends and relatives of the murdered or disappeared. For them, there can never be national unity without justice for the missing and the dead.

Pinochets attack Allende tribute
08 Sep 03  |  Americas
Profile: Salvador Allende
08 Sep 03  |  Americas
Pinochet profile: Saviour or tyrant
08 Dec 00  |  The Pinochet file
Testimony: Detainee remembers Chile 1973
23 Oct 98  |  The Pinochet file
Chile drops Pinochet trial
01 Jul 02  |  Americas


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