Yesterday marked the end of an extraordinary month that began with memory and ended in transparency, with a hefty dose of celebration in between.
MEMORIES OF THE COUP AND AFTER
For people in the United States, the the date September 11 has, since 2001, had a special meaning and obligation to those who were killed in the terrorist attacks in which separate planes wiped out the twin towers of the World Trade Center, smashed into the Pentagon and crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
But here in Chile, the date has been significant for the past four decades.
That’s because it was on that day in 1973 that a military junta headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet bombed La Moneda, the presidential palace, overthrew democratically-elected Socialist leader Salvador Allende and ushered in a 17-year reign of disappearances, torture, murder and, for some, economic prosperity.
The coup and its bloody aftermath constitute an open wound from which many Chileans are still seeking to heal.
The early part of September saw an unprecedented outpouring of memory-related activity.
Memorial events at former torture centers like Villa Grimaldi.
Documentary films about topics ranging from murdered members of Allende’s inner circle to a punk band formed in the waning days of Pinochet regime.
There have been observances of the coup in years past.
But the volume and the source of this year’s eruption of memory distinguished it from the ones in earlier years and decades, according to Ricardo Brodsky, director of the national Museum of Memory and Human Rights.
Whereas in previous years the commemorations were more based in the state and emotionally muted, this time they came from all sectors of civil society.
Matias Torres, the sponsor of fellow Fulbrighter and friend Deb Westin at the University of Chile, also made the point that the language of memory has started to change, too.
What as recently as five years ago was called a “military regime” was now openly labeled “a dictatorship,” he said.
Starting on September 2, Dunreith and I worked to attend at least one event per day.
We largely achieved our goal, and we only attended a smidgen of what was available here in Santiago, let alone throughout the planet’s longest country.
We saw and heard things we are not likely soon to forget.
Like the hundreds of relatives of disappeared sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, nieces and nephews who gathered at Villa Grimaldi, the former restaurant turned torture center turned peace park, stood and held black and white photographs of their loved ones aloft while a sturdy woman near the front of the pavilion took what amounted to a roll call.
Female comrades who have been disappeared and detained, she called.
Former president, current presidential candidate and Villa Grimaldi survivor Michelle Bachelet was there in the front row, standing alongside her mother, Angela Jeria, who was also detained and tortured there.
People weeping at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights during the readings of the stories of their loved ones.
The lighting of candles at a vigil held by the Communist Party at the National Stadium.
This disgorging of memory has had the effect of what many said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did in Sotuh Africa. It broke through the layers of ignorance and denial.
The emotional aftermath from this information is still settling in for many Chileans
Just last week, Don Roberto, a lifetime resident of Melipilla and a longtime government employee there, explained that many people in the area worked on farms and got their information from the patron.
We saw things on the television that we didn’t know were happening at the time, he said.
The ability to know what is taking place depends on accurate and full information that was all too short supply during the dictatorship, especially from many organs of the press. The powerful film El Diario of Augustin tells the story of El Mercurio´s being funded by the United States government and actively collaborating with the dictatorship.
In order to boost citizen’s ability to know what is going in the country, elected leaders passed a landmark Transparency Law that then-President Michelle Bachelet signed iin 2009.
This is the subject of my research investigation that I began in earnest this path month.
In many ways, it is an impressive piece of legislation that also has the accompanying infrastructure of a council.
More than 1,000 data sets are available on the nation´s data portal, for instance, and transparency gure Moises Sanchez said the framework is among the best in the continent.
But, as with just about anything significant in life, the proverbial devil is in the details.
Thus far, they don’t tell a very promising story.
Few media outlets appear to be using the law to gather material for hard-hitting stories. (Non-profit outfit CIPER is a notable exception.)
Waldo Carrasso, who now heads the libraries in the municipality of Providencia, worked in Public Information when the law came into effect.
He expected a flood of requests from journalists.
That didn´t happen.
I also learned that the government refused to release emails about public business written on public accounts when requested to do so by Melipilla Mayor Mario Gebauer and lawyer Carlo Gutierrez.
They engaged in a fight that eventually went to the Supreme Court, but lost.
So, too, did Ciudadano Inteligente, a pro-transparency group that issued a similar request.
And President Sebastian Pinera tried to replace the members of the Transparency Council who supported the release of such material.
The struggle for public information continues, and is also being waged by a small, but growing, community of hackers who write code as a means to more quickly and on an ongoing basis secure large volumes of public data.
CELEBRATING FIESTAS PATRIAS AT THE FONDAS
The public turned out in great numbers during the week of September 18, the official day of Chilean Independence.
The celebrations last far more than a day.
Everything shut down for the Wednesday and Thursday of that week.
People either go home to celebrate with family and/or to attend the many fondas, or festivals.
These are not events that I would normally frequent in the U.S., however, because we are here, I went to four of them.
To four of them.
Each had its own flavor.
Rodeo was the dominant feature of the fonda at Parque Alberto Hurtado, while the sneaky strong terremoto drink stayed with me long after I left Parque O´Higgins.
With its organic foods, higher prices and vendors accepting credit cards, the Providencia event felt like the Whole Foods of fondas, and the Nunoa event featured a hustling anticucho cook named Patricio who asked me to purchase a couple of beers for him in exchange for my getting a skewer of grilled beef and sausage.
Together, the fondas gave me a collective impression of the importance of those days to Chileans as well as of the staggering volume of kitsch that is sold at such events around the world.
Many anticuchos, parties, piscos and a terremoto later, I returned to the university, and life started to resume what has already become a normal rhythm.
I first applied to the Fulbright program in 2000.
I was rejected that time, as well as in two subsequent attempts.
Realizing that success is a dream come true.
It´s even more so because we sold our house and put ourselves out into the world.
The events of September confirm the wisdom of our decision.
I can’t wait to see what October brings.