SANTIAGO, Chile Forty years after the -- the military coup that toppled democratically elected Marxist President Salvador Allende, many Chileans are still grappling with painful realities of the past while trying to take a step forward.
Even now, the legacy of the dictatorship that followed the Sept. 11, 1973 coup remains a deeply divisive issue, with many questions remaining about the “disappeared” and whether justice will ever be served.
All told, more than 40,000 people were killed or disappeared, were tortured or were arrested and interrogated during the Chilean military dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 until 1990.
For Ana Maria Huaiquian, 54, the time has come to move forward.
So many of the perpetrators of crimes committed during the dictatorship have died, she said. They “are already gone so there is not going to be justice with them at least,’’ said Huaiquian, who works in the banking industry.
“It is very hard for people who lost someone they loved to actually forget this, but it’s necessary to take this as an experience and then move forward. It is necessary to turn over the page at some point.”
As she sat in a coffee shop in downtown Santiago with her sons Jóse Miguel and Francisco, she reflected on the day of the coup.
She went to her high school, which was near the presidential palace early, arriving at 7.30 a.m.
“It was a very normal day. The headmaster of the school welcomed us but at some point the headmaster decided to shut and then lock all of the doors of the school,” she said. “The headmaster said that nobody could leave the school because something very unusual was going on.’’
The students could tell something was very wrong, she said, because of the “expressions of horror” on the faces of their teachers.
Later from the vantage point of the school, the students could see soldiers on the rooftops of nearby buildings and an unusually large number of airplanes in the sky.
Then the students noticed the soldiers were lying prone in an attack position with their weapons in front of them.
A half hour later, she said, the headmaster returned “almost panicking and the teachers opened the doors and said, ‘You have to leave and go home right now and you have to do it as fast as you can.’’’
As the students passed the presidential palace, the area was thick with tanks and soldiers.
“I started running and then I started panicking because I wasn’t the only one running. Everyone was panicking so everyone in the streets was running to get away because there weren’t any buses to go home,’’ she said. “So we just ran for a long time up to an area where we saw people gathering and began looking for a way to go back home.”
When she finally arrived at her home, she found her entire family there.
“As this was all going on everyone in the house was very concerned and we started realizing that our house was full of propaganda — Communist propaganda. We had pictures of Salvador Allende and pictures of Che Guevara.”
In the following days they burned the leftist materials.
One day the soldiers came to her municipality and rounded up all the men and took them to a football field. Her father was one of them.
“Some of the guys were sent back home and others were detained and I never saw a lot of those people again,’’ she said. Her father was among those who did come home.
“Before the military coup I remembered that everyone would talk about their political point of views, about what they believed with anyone and we felt free to dream about whatever we could dream of — like how we could change society,’’ said Huaiquian.
After the coup, “we realized that we couldn’t really trust everyone and I didn’t feel as free to talk,” she said.
In a dimly-lit wine bar in the artistic neighborhood of Lastarria, Javiera Parada relived the tragic day when her father, Jose Manuel Parada, was kidnapped by the military regime. She was 11 years old.
He was found the next day with his throat slit.
Her grandfather also went missing and his body wasn’t recovered until the year 2000.
“I was a child and, for me, my life was just cut in two,’’ she said. “I felt like it couldn’t be happening. I couldn’t believe that my father was dead.’’
Parada, 39, said she really can’t forgive those who killed her father and harmed her grandfather.
But now the artist and producer thinks the country is moving in the right direction.
“The generation of people who were born after the dictatorship, I call them the generation without fear,’’ Parada said.
“I believe in my country now,’’ she said.
Parada said she agrees with President Sebastián Piñera who has spoken about the need for more truth and justice and for people to share any information they have about those who disappeared during the 17 years of the dictatorship.
“There is a lot of work still to be done if we are to have a culture of human rights in the country,’’ she said.
And she said people should keep on demanding justice.
“We should never let it go. After WWII, we agreed that these kinds of crimes should be judged,’’ Parada said.
The 31-year-old accountant doesn’t believe there will justice for the victims of the military dictatorship.
“No, never, oh no,’’ he said. “It’s going to be really difficult to get justice. For me, as long as the military doesn’t tell people the truth about the whereabouts of the missing people, there will not be forgiveness from the Chileans.”
Still, he hopes that someday, some how many more of those who committed crimes during the dictatorship will be judged.