Memory and Memorials from Chile

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(adapted from what I read on September 11th in Nuremberg)

Dear Friends

Words have been elusive in these colored autumn days here in the Northern Hemisphere. On the other side of the seas, in the country that received my parents and in which I was born, spring radiantly emerges in September. September and spring have always been special for me since my youngest days. They evoke kites, school vacations, the holidays related to our celebration of national independence days, the 18th and 19th of September, empanandas (typical Chilean food), red wine, singing and dancing the cueca (our national dance) and other representations of the Chilean identity.

My parents almost never could identify with Chilean culture, while I, with great effort, tried to establish roots and made myself a part of it. Domitila, my aged nanny and as lavish of affection as the earth itself, took me by the hand and shared her celebrations on September 18 and 19 for many, many years. In my adolescence, I enjoyed several of these festivities with my schoolmates, and with them, I approached the world of the "popular unity" that Doctor Salvador Allende brought with his democratically elected presidency.

How could I forget the time I spent in the home of the Minister of Economics (the Vuskovic family); the afternoons in the Corvalan's home; visits to the home of the Benados and so many others who did so much more than just dream? Rather, they struggled to democratically build a more just society. A living and shared revolution, not an imposed one. Some of them disappeared, or spent long periods in jail, or were tortured or had to leave in exile.

It has only been since passing the threshold of my 50th year that I have discovered that it was within the Chilean context and the brutality of the repression that my primary commitment, my pulse, skin and reason in what makes us human, brought me to follow the footprints of human rights. Even now I feel that my actions are more directed to alleviating the ravages brought by the violation of these rights than to constructing a better world.

When observing and verifying reality, I am reminded at every moment that this world is not welcoming and secure, or that there will be fewer future wars, less suffering or a reduction in the current militarization. Militarization that even has the audacity in our times to present a fa├žade of peace missions.

And on September 11 2003, I was in Nuremberg, a city emblematically linked to the nazi horrors and the fight for justice, sharing with many that it was 30 years since the military coup in Chile. Today I am here in Ireland, with people from different countries and cultures trying to find ways to confront and transform violent conflicts. I could say much, little, or nothing. The feelings and thoughts constantly strike, but as I mentioned at the beginning, elusive are the words to express or capture all these feelings.

I am very clear that there is an immense abyss between what is possible, what is necessary and what is just. Almost as great a distance at this moment as between ourselves and my people in Chile.

Since 1973, September 11 has obscured the celebrations of September 18 and 19, which have to do with my cultural identity. Since that time, it has been fundamental and essential to "mark" the struggle for justice.

I don't feel that this is a place to take note of either the achievements or the failures of our struggle for justice. More appropriately, this is the moment to share a part of the continuum since that September 11 1973 which inexorably changed the path of our lives. On September 11 2001 came a change for the United States and a great part of the world. In September 2002 the Bertold Brecht Foundation commemorated in New York the first anniversary of the bombing of the Twin Towers and the 29th anniversary of the bombing of La Moneda, our government palace in Chile. I was there invited to participate with an extended photo exhibition together with my painter friend Roberto Arroyo.

Thirty years have passed since the military coup was masterminded by the armed forces of Chile and General Pinochet under the auspices of the CIA and Henry Kissinger, farcically awarded the Nobel Price for Peace. It is a challenge to be able to relate part of this living history that shows us, - because of everything and despite everything - LIFE continues.

History is told by its protagonists. Many emblematic cases have circulated around the world, the news and the TV screens. Here we will give voice to a few of those without voice who have suffered and have not had the opportunity to be heard. This exhibition is my attempt to show concrete moments in the struggle for truth, justice, and memory. The "No" to forgetting and the "No" to impunity.

This exhibition has been especially prepared to mark these 30 years. The photographs form a part of an extensive personal archive. They demonstrate the different forms by which people, families and communities honor their missing ones.

Over the years I have had the privilege of the friendship and confidence of many people with family members who have disappeared or have been executed for political motives and these individuals have shared their insights about their life experiences.

People very dear and intimate to me have helped me and accompanied me in my wanderings and visits and have taken some of the photos that I am sharing today. Some of the images also show the faces of surviving family members. With them materializes part of that reality which helps us, who live far from Chile, to feel closer. For those of you who accompany us in solidarity, they provide a more intimate vision of an important part of our Chilean society. Each photo is, in itself, a long history of life evolving.

Public acknowledgement was a fundamental goal in building these memorials, though previously the cases had been publicly denounced. The names of the honored and commemorated people in these images have appeared in the list of victims put together by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the National Corporation of Reparation and Reconciliation.

I will leave the introductions at this point so that we may enter the exhibition. There we can stop in front of some of these images while I narrate some of the history captured in the moment. It is always an immense support to be with part of my small family and friends with whom I have shared so many years of friendship and memories. I invite all of you to share in this exhibition while at the same time paying homage to the missing ones with music of Ireland, played by my Irish musician friend and peace activist Mary Begley and her Japanese friend.

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