On Monday, September 11, Chile marked the 50 anniversary of Augusto Pinochet’s overthrowing of Socialist President Salvador Allende, which began two decades of military tyranny. The coup on September 11, 1973, began when tanks started to occupy the streets of Santiago, the capital of Chile. According to Reuters, this marked the start a series of U.S.-friendly, right-wing dictatorships, which governed much of South America well into the 1980s.
Chile’s history under the Pinochet dictatorship, which followed the coup, was a difficult and chaotic time. Pinochet’s regime, which ran from about 1973 to 1990, was known for its violations of human rights and suppression of political dissent. During this time, Reuters reports, thousands of Chileans were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Many more Chileans were sent into exile abroad. The Pinochet government imposed strong controls on the media and political institutions, creating an atmosphere of fear and censorship that effectively silenced any resistance. More than 3,200 people were killed or “disappeared” Al Jazeera reports. In Chilean society, Pinochet’s legacy continues to be a highly polarizing and controversial subject. While some see him as a necessary stabilizing force during a period of political unrest, others criticize him for the rampant human rights abuses and authoritarian rule that characterized his regime. The 50th anniversary of Pinochet’s coup is a sobering reminder of the negative effects of political repression and the ongoing struggle in Chilean society for truth and justice. Pinochet died of a heart attack on December 10, 2006, aged 91, according to NPR. Pinochet was never held liable for his actions.
The march on September 10, 2023 was to commemorate the victims of the dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet. Chile’s young, left-leaning president Gabriel Boric participated in a march honoring those slain and who disappeared under the Pinochet regime, The Washington Post reports. Boric gave a speech on September 10, condemning the actions of Pinochet. “Problems with democracy can always be solved … and a coup d’état is never justifiable – nor is endangering the human rights of those who think differently,” said Boric in his speech, The Guardian reports. During the speech, the presidents of Chile and Mexico called for the strengthening of democracy in Latin America during a joint address, according to Reuters “The visit of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador … is a concrete example of this history that unites us and of his commitment to strengthening democracy in Latin America,” said Boric. His counterpart, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stated, “We are united by history, brotherhood and the desire to continue building an authentic democracy.”
Although the march was meant to be a peaceful demonstration, it quickly turned violent. According to France 24, a small group of men in hoodies threw stones at the presidential palace and the police guarding it. There were also clashes with police at other points during the march, with a few of the protesters throwing Molotov cocktails. The police retaliated and fired water cannons at demonstrators, according to Reuters. The protesters were able to break into a cemetery containing the graves of some figures in the Pinochet regime. Some mausoleums within the cemetery were damaged, among them the grave of a right-wing senator killed in 1991. In total, three people were arrested for their actions. Along with the three people who were arrested, three police officers were injured. None of the officer’s injuries were life-threatening.
As Chile continues on its path toward a more equitable and just society, these protests show that both the government and the civil society remember the mistakes of the Pinochet regime and are working towards a shared vision for a brighter future. It is these types of actions that will help shape the trajectory of Chile’s future.