En route to Chile

Office of the Secretary General, AI’s mission, Head, Delegate, Chile / Judit Arenas

 I’m of a generation for whom the 11th of September was a turning point long before 9/11(of 2001). Only months after I was born in 1973, the coup d’etat took place in Chile, forever changing the psyche for many, not just In Latin America, but beyond.

I re-read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s tale of “La Aventura de Miguel Littín clandestino en Chile” – the story of the reknown chilean film director Miguel Littín who was on a list of 5,000 people who lived in forced exile during the Pinochet regime. Miguel Littín risked it all to go back to Chile in 1985 to film the reality of life under the military dictatorship and Garcia Marquez’s reportage makes appropriate reading on the plane from Sao Paulo to Santiago.

Probably, out of the many missions I’ve been on for Amnesty International, this will be one of the most emotive ones for me.

I grew up surrounded by Chilean exiles who had taken refuge in Mexico – whether friends in school, or friends or students of my parents. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood how hard exile was for them, particularly for those who had invested so much in their country, or indeed for those closer to my age who really didn’t know Chile but just knew they couldn’t return; or for those who lived in a constant stafe of fear, always watching their backs since the tentacles of the military dictatorship extended far beyond Chile.

I have very vivid memories of family friends scanning the lists of names published by the Pinochet regime of those in exile who would be allowed to return to Chile. And of the deep disappointment when their name was not published.

Growing up in Latin America it was impossible to escape the horrors of the atrocities in Chile during the military dictatorship: from the horrors of what happened in the Estadio Nacional in 1973, to the torture in the infamous secret detention centres like Villa Grimaldi, the countless people who disappeared – many thrown into the sea.

Chile has no doubt changed from when the first Amnesty International Secretary General visited in 1978, but will the scars have healed?