Chilean Chronicles, Part 47: Memory Ceremony with Michelle Bachelet at Villa Grimaldi

Cecilia Hernandez has not seen her brother, who was detained at Villa Grimaldi, since 1976

Cecilia Hernandez has not seen her brother, who was detained at Villa Grimaldi, since 1976

The fortieth anniversary of the Pinochet coup that removed democratically-elected leader Salvador Allende from power has been met with a blizzard of activity.

Dunreith and I have attended a lot, but far from all, of the events.

Documentary films.

Academic conferences.

A translated of Eurpides’ play The Supplicants.

Round table discussions on the importance of memory.

Nothing moved like seeing the relatives of the disappeared today at Villa Grimaldi, the former restaurant turned torture center turned peace park.

I was part of a pack of about 50 photographers, videographers and radio reporters that took pictures from every possible angle of Michelle Bachelet, the former president and current presidential front runner who, along with her mother Angela Jeria, was detained and tortured during the military dictatorship.

Michelle Bachelet hugs her mother Angela Jeria at the Villa Grimaldi compound where they both were detained during the Pinochet dictatorship.

Michelle Bachelet hugs her mother Angela Jeria at the Villa Grimaldi compound where they both were detained during the Pinochet dictatorship.

But what got me the deepest was meeting people like Cecilia Hernandez, who was wearing a picture of her mustachioed brother Juan pinned to her purple jacket.

Cecilia was 13 years old when the coup happened.

She remembers the terror she felt.

She remembers being threatened, with her 3-year-old sister, by the authorities, who along with their dignity and sense of safety robbed their home of many of its most valuable items.

They also took Juan, her older brother.

Two years after the coup, in 1975, Juan, who was politically active against the regime, left for Mendoza, Argentina.

The authorities went there, brought him back, and detained him in Villa Grimaldi.

In June 1976 Juan was disappeared.

He hasn’t returned to this day, Cecilia said, a cloud of sadness and grief hanging over her face.

She was one of hundreds of people who sat in the white chairs underneath a large outdoor tent.

Every other chair had a black and white pictures of someone who had been murdered at Villa Grimaldi.

Each photograph had the person’s name underneath and a red rose laid across the chair.

At the event organized by a coalition of human rights groups, the families stood and raised the pictures during a song that paid tribute to their loved ones.

Through their comments, event organizers made it clear that the day was not just about honoring and remembering the dead, but about demanding complete truth and full justice.

Lorena Pizarro has been president of the Group of Families of Detained and Disappeared People since 2003.

She issued a fiery speech, but she also made the point that for her the day was one of happiness.

The loved ones of the have not been forgotten, said Pizarro, whose father was disappeared, they have been with us every day of the past 40 years.

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They were there in the full-throated call issued by a woman near the front of the tent after singer Isabel Aldunate finished her final song.

Companeras, detained and disappeared? the woman yelled before the applause for the song had stopped.

Presente, the crowd answered as one.

Present.

Companeros, detained and disappeared? She asked, louder and slower, lingering over every syllable.

Presente.

Louder. More united.

Companeras, executed for political reasons?

Presente.

Companeros, executed for political reasons.

Presente.

Louder still.

The call and response concluded with a salute to Salvador Allende’s ideals, now and forever, before family members placed the pictures and the rose at the wall that honors Villa Grimaldi’s victims.

Dunreith and I started to move away from the pack that continued to follow every inch of Bachelet’s slow walk out of the compound.

We walked past Jeria, who had linked her arm with a young man wearing a dark suit and, unlike her daughter, was attracting no attention.

We crossed the street, caught a bus and rode quietly to the Metro station on our way back to the University of Diego Portales.

The swelling in my heart and the lump in my throat remained.

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2 responses to “Chilean Chronicles, Part 47: Memory Ceremony with Michelle Bachelet at Villa Grimaldi

  1. Jeff & Dunreith, have you been able to see a presentation of “those who dance alone”? It’s not really a “presentation” but something they used to do & may still do it. Women whose husbands were disappeared dance a very solemn & extremely moving version of the National Dance alone, without the men who they’ve never seen or heard from since the day they were taken.

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