It’s not Political, It’s Personal

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On the 23rd of August 1978 the then director of the Conservative Research Department, Chris Patten, was writing to party leader Margaret Thatcher regarding the future of the organisation. That same day, on the other side of the world, person or persons unknown but linked to General Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile were taking the man in this photo from his taxi cab, torturing him, murdering him and then dumping his body. It would later be claimed that he was robbed, but the fact that none of his personal possessions were missing shows that this was not the case, as this document from Chile’s International Human Right’s Project testifies.

The man, Alfonso Aros Pardo, was a driver for the Izquierda Cristiana (Christian Left), a legitimate democratic socialist party outlawed after Pinochet’s US-backed coup ousted the democratically-elected Marxist president Salvador Allende.

He was also my wife’s uncle.

Over three thousand people were murdered at the hands of Pinochet’s thugs with estimates of up to 500,000 people being ‘affected’ by ‘abuses’ including torture, imprisonment, rape, harassment and exile.

Some of my wife’s earliest memories are of soldiers in helicopters shooting down indiscriminately at people in her street, of army patrols pointing their rifles at her as they drove past her gate whilst she played as a child, of soldiers holding a gun to her head after they had forcibly entered her grandmother’s house searching for the address book that Alfonso owned containing the names and addresses of the IC leadership he used to taxi back and forth to secret meetings.

My wife’s grandmother, Alfonso’s mother, never recovered from his murder. She died last year, her only photo of her son framed and hanging on the wall in her bedroom in her daughter’s modest three-roomed home in one of Santiago’s many desperately poor districts.

The tragedy and criminal activity of the 1970s still affect the whole family and Pinochet’s actions – and the policies these actions were designed to provoke into action, the ‘Shock Doctrine’ as Naomi Klein has called it – they still divide the country. They serve to keep the poor poor and the rich rich, a wealth that mainly comes off the backs of the poor in the form of health insurance, state school fees, life insurance, medicines, credit card debt, bank loans and the other tools of the neo-liberal, free market system. This is the ‘Chilean Miracle’ they tell you about, ‘they’ being the ones at the other end of town with their five-bedroom houses, swimming pools and uniformed maids.

Alfonso was ‘executed by government agents who acted for political reasons, in violation of his human rights’ according to the Rettig Report. His bravery and commitment are still honoured by those of his colleagues who survived as the graffiti near his tomb in Santiago testfies. It says, ‘Alfonso Aros. Present!’

So, on a day when we are supposed to pay respect to the death of one woman, a woman who made a friend of the murderous Pinochet, who championed the neo-liberal system that the Americans and Milton Friedman’s ‘Chicago Boys’ foisted on the country, who publically thanked Pinochet as the man ‘who brought democracy to Chile’, the same man who came to power through force and governed through the terror of the many for the benefit of the few, then you will have to excuse me and many thousands of others for not mourning her passing. I would rather think of my wife and her family.

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Wednesday April 17th 2013

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4 thoughts on “It’s not Political, It’s Personal”

  1. A very poignant piece. My very good friends and neighbours are Chilean exiles – they had to flee because of their political activity against Pinochet and for taking education to the pueblos. One was tortured for running a drama project aimed to empower poor and oppressed young people. One of them had to choose which of her children to bring with her when they fled, in fear of their lives. They all have similar stories and the most terrible, indescribably inhumane stories of torture, that the world should hear. Pinochet blighted lives and continues to do so as you say. The children of those who fled, were wrenched from their culture, language and country to come here, and separated from their extended families, and in some cases brothers and sisters, (what is left of them). They bear scars of a different kind.

  2. Excellent post and a story that must be remembered and retold again and again. So many ‘young’ are sompletey unaware of this part of Latin American history and Britain’s role in it.

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