Remembering Pinochet's Chile: On the Eve of London 1998 / Edition 1

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Overview


During the two years just before the 1998 arrest in London of General Augusto Pinochet, the historian Steve J. Stern had been in Chile collecting oral histories of life under Pinochet as part of an investigation into the form and meaning of memories of state-sponsored atrocities. In this compelling work, Stern shares the recollections of individual Chileans and draws on their stories to provide a framework for understanding memory struggles in history.

“A thoughtful, nuanced study of how Chileans remember the traumatic 1973 coup by Augusto Pinochet against Salvador Allende and the nearly two decades of military government that followed. . . . In light of the recent revelations of American human rights abuses of Iraqi prisoners, [Stern’s] insights into the legacies of torture and abuse in the Chilean prisons of the 1970s certainly have contemporary significance for any society that undergoes a national trauma.”—Publishers Weekly

“This outstanding work of scholarship sets a benchmark in the history of state terror, trauma, and memory in Latin America.”—Thomas Miller Klubock, American Historical Review

“This is a book of uncommon depth and introspection. . . . Steve J. Stern has not only advanced the memory of the horrors of the military dictatorship; he has assured the place of Pinochet’s legacy of atrocity in our collective conscience.”—Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability

“Steve J. Stern’s book elegantly recounts the conflicted recent history of Chile. He has found a deft solution to the knotty problem of evenhandedness in representing points of view so divergent they defy even the most careful attempts to portray the facts of the Pinochet period. He weaves a tapestry of memory in which narratives of horror and rupture commingle with the sincere perceptions of Chileans who remember Pinochet’s rule as salvation. The facts are there, but more important is the understanding we gain by knowing how ordinary Chileans—Pinochet’s supporters and his victims—work through their unresolved past.”—John Dinges, author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Remembering Pinochet’s Chile will set the terms of the debate and become essential reading for all scholars and students of memory issues. . . . It is a pathbreaking book, the cutting edge of a major historical project. Steve J. Stern presents new information, particularly through oral histories, including those of Pinochet soldiers and partisans who have rarely been willing to be interviewed by scholars about the human rights violations of the era.”—Peter Winn, editor of Victims of the Chilean Miracle: Workers and Neoliberalism in the Pinochet Era, 1973–2002

“Steve J. Stern’s book elegantly recounts the conflicted recent history of Chile. He has found a deft solution to the knotty problem of evenhandedness in representing points of view so divergent they defy even the most careful attempts to portray the facts of the Pinochet period. He weaves a tapestry of memory in which narratives of horror and rupture commingle with the sincere perceptions of Chileans who remember Pinochet’s rule as salvation. The facts are there, but more important is the understanding we gain by knowing how ordinary Chileans—Pinochet’s supporters and his victims—work through their unresolved past.”—John Dinges, author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents

“This is a book of uncommon depth and introspection. In Remembering Pinochet’s Chile Steve J. Stern has not only advanced the memory of the horrors of the military dictatorship; he has assured the place of Pinochet’s legacy of atrocity in our collective conscience.”—Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability

Publishers Weekly
This first volume of The Memory Box of Pinochet's Chile: A Trilogy is a thoughtful, nuanced study of how Chileans remember the traumatic 1973 coup by Augusto Pinochet against Salvador Allende and the nearly two decades of military government that followed. "London 1998" in the subtitle refers, of course, to the arrest of the former Chilean dictator for human rights abuses. Combining oral histories with political analysis, Stern (chair of the history department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison) commendably delves into the stories of Chileans who supported Pinochet as well as of the families of his government's victims. Arguing that memory plays a key role in struggles for political and cultural legitimacy, he studies how individual memories compete for a place in the formation of a deeply symbolic, collective memory. Memory, he contends, functions within multiple frameworks: salvation, rupture, persecution and awakening. Nonspecialists at times may be frustrated by Stern's cursory references to related academic studies, yet overall he makes a serviceable effort to write for a general audience. In light of the recent revelations of American human rights abuses of Iraqi prisoners, his insights into the legacies of torture and abuse in the Chilean prisons of the 1970s certainly have contemporary significance for any society that undergoes a national trauma. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822333548
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2006
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.64 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve J. Stern is Alberto Flores Galindo Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Among his most recent books is Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980–1995, also published by Duke University Press.

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Read an Excerpt

Remembering Pinochet's Chile

On the Eve of London 1998
By Steve J. Stern

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2006 Steve J. Stern
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780822338161


Chapter One

Heroic Memory: Ruin into Salvation

One person's criminal is another person's hero. To appreciate the memory question in Chile, on the eve of General Augusto Pinochet's October 1998 detention in London, requires that we understand the Chileans who saw Pinochet as a hero as well as those who condemned him as a criminal. Pinochet's detention responded to an extradition request by a Spanish judge pursuing crimes against humanity covered by international law. For some Chileans, the arrest proved an apt culmination of the previous quarter century. For others, it violated history.

After eight years of democratic rule that included credible revelations of human rights violations by a blue-ribbon truth commission and by national media outlets, a substantial minority of Chileans-about two of five-continued to remember the military overthrow of the elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973 as a rescue mission. Military intervention saved their families and their nation from a disaster and set Chile on the road to good health. This sense of salvation also framed the meaning of political violence under military rule, between 1973 and 1990.

DonaElena F.'s experience, as told to me in 1996, introduces one of the major ways people recalled their personal stories and linked them to a sense of collective remembrance. Her story connects to one of several treasured scripts, or albums, in the memory box of Pinochet's Chile. Her experience also serves as an initial vehicle to present historical background on the crisis of society and politics that convulsed Chile by 1973.

Twenty-three years later, Dona Elena still thought back on 11 September 1973 as the best day of her life. Early that morning, "we turned on the radio, the jets flew up over here [and] when we learned that all the Armed Forces were united, I think it was the happiest day of my life." Dona Elena and her husband, Hugo, lived in an apartment near Cerro Santa Lucia, the historic hill (the Spanish conquistadors led by Pedro de Valdivia encamped there) that overlooks downtown Santiago. Later that morning, when the air force made good on its threat to bomb the presidential palace of La Moneda, the Hawker Hunter jets swooped right by the hill and Dona Elena's building. Dona Elena and Hugo had climbed up to the rooftop, where they feted the passing jets with cheers and champagne.

And why not? For Dona Elena, the bombing put an end to a period of trauma and marked the beginning of salvation. Life in Chile had begun its turn toward disaster with the election of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva in 1964. The Christian Democrats had promised a "Revolution in Liberty," inspired by Catholic social doctrine. A progressive communitarianism would steer Chilean society away from the materialistic evils of capitalism and Communism, thereby fostering social justice and class harmony without violating democratic liberty and political pluralism.

Frei won the presidency because the Chilean Old Regime had become untenable by the early 1960s and because social discontent had found genuine electoral expression in Chile's vibrant multiparty politics. In 1938, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party participated in the victorious Popular Front coalition, led by the centrist Radical Party and President Pedro Aguirre Cerda. The Popular Front experience channeled the Left and Chile's rather militant working-class politics into a framework of electoral organizing and state populism. In this framework, state interventionism would accelerate industrialization, through protectionist tariffs that promoted import substitution and through price and credit policies that subsidized Chilean manufacturing. The state would also redistribute resources into health, housing, labor, consumer, and pension programs designed to improve the standard of living of the working classes and the poor. Within ten years, the strategy of reform through participation in Center-led coalitions had fallen apart. Center-Right opposition to the labor militance and agrarian organizing promoted by the Left, along with political rivalry between Socialists and Communists and the charged ideological chasm opened up by the Cold War, imposed insuperable strains. In 1948, the Radical administration of President Gabriel Gonzalez Videla implemented a purge against the Communist Party. Legally dissolved as a valid political party, its members were banned from legal participation in the labor movement and its leaders shipped off to internal exile-"relegation" districts-in the provinces.

The failure of a Center-Left strategy did not steer the Left away from strategies that channeled social need and mobilization toward electoral paths. Instead, the Left-especially its emerging leader, Socialist Salvador Allende Gossens-sought to build a Left-led electoral coalition that would promote a more aggressive social reformism, responsive to social discontent and an expanding electorate. Aguirre Cerda had named Allende, then a dynamic young doctor and Socialist congressman, his minister of health. The lesson Allende drew from his parliamentary and Popular Front experiences in the 1930s and 1940s was that social reform required an alliance of the exploited laboring classes with progressive middle-class sectors, but under different political conditions. Coalition politics would become a more effective instrument of change if led from the Left rather than the Center, and if the Socialist and Communist Parties muted their rivalry in the interests of Left unity.

In the 1950s, Allende and the Left began to test this new approach. Allende broadened the appeal of radical Left ideas by advocating national expropriation of the U.S.-owned copper mines that constituted the lifeblood of the Chilean economy. Politically, the miserable living and working conditions of Chilean workers were at once a social justice question and a national sovereignty question. Allende ran as the joint candidate of the Socialists and the Communists (notwithstanding the outlaw status of the latter in 1952) in the presidential elections of 1952 and 1958. Left organizers sought to extend their political base from established strongholds in mining camps and urban working-class communities, into the countryside and the new urban shantytowns (callampas) that sprang up when the poor invaded land and sought assistance to build affordable housing and a basic infrastructure of water, transport, energy, and health services.

The strategy almost won Allende the presidency in 1958. As the elections approached, two legal reforms heightened competition and expanded the electorate. Outgoing President Carlos Ibanez del Campo, who had run in 1952 on an antipolitics campaign that promised to clean up the mess caused by the political parties and the intrigues of the Gonzalez Videla period, fulfilled a pledge to lift the Law for the Permanent Defense of Democracy that had outlawed the Communist Party. A 1958 electoral reform also replaced separate ballots by political parties-a mechanism enabling owners of rural estates to control votes by peasant tenants-with a secret and unified ballot and compulsory voting. (An earlier reform, extension of the vote to women in 1949, had brought fewer benefits to the Left because Allende fared better among men than women.) The election results dramatically shifted the political landscape. Allende, candidate of the Left coalition known as the FRAP (Popular Action Front), lost to Jorge Alessandri, leader of the Right coalition of the Liberal and Conservative Parties. In the five-way race, Alessandri carried nearly a third of the vote. But Allende lost by a shockingly slim margin-fewer than 34,000 (2.7 percent) among the over 1.2 million votes cast.

Just as important, the new political competitiveness generated a more vital and reform-minded Center. The 1958 elections had marked the appearance of the Christian Democrats, led by Eduardo Frei Montalva, as a centrist party that disdained the Old Regime for its tolerance of social misery, the Radical Party for its manipulativeness and absence of vision, and the Left for its ties to materialistic Communism and atheism. Inspired by Catholic social doctrine and labor activism in the countryside, the Christian Democrats promoted a vision of alternative reform and emerged as the dominant force in the political Center by winning a fifth of the presidential vote (the Radicals garnered a sixth). After the elections, Christian Democrats competed intensely with the Left to gain the loyalties of rural laborers, urban shantytown dwellers, and trade unionists.

The Left's near victory in the 1958 presidential elections, the social mobilizations and reform demands supported by both the Center and the Left, the decline of the Right to a congressional minority of less than a third (insufficient to veto legislation) after the 1961 parliamentary elections, passage of an additional electoral reform expanding the electorate in 1962: all added up to an Old Regime on the defensive. By 1964, a third (34.3 percent) of the national population registered to vote; in 1946, only a ninth (11.2 percent) had registered to vote. By 1964 as well, Chile's several decades of state-induced industrialization, and the growing service sector associated with modernizing economies and rural-to-urban migration, created expanding populations of voters receptive to the politics of populist assistance and social reform. Indeed, Chile made the turn to an urban majority faster than most Latin American countries. Some 60 percent lived in urban locales of over 20,000 inhabitants, about 40 percent in cities over 100,000, and some 30 percent in metropolitan Santiago. The population of greater Santiago doubled to nearly 2 million between 1940 and 1960, approaching 3 million by 1970. By 1964, the literacy rate for Chileans at least fifteen years old had climbed past 85 percent. Chile's labor force had developed substantial industrial and service sectors. Nearly 771,000 laborers (30.3 percent of the national labor force) worked in mining, industry, construction, or utilities; within this proletarian grouping, the industrial sector (478,000) was largest. Commerce and services together accounted for 942,000 (37.0 percent), and transport added nearly 144,000 laborers (5.6 percent). While the labor force in agriculture was still large (681,000), its declining national share (26.7 percent) reflected the transition to a more modern configuration of work, residence, and politics. Trade union membership, hardly any of it in agriculture in 1964, had reached over 270,000.

Even the countryside, however, moved toward a new era of political effervescence. Here was the heart of aristocratic culture and the political Right, organized as a coherent interest group (Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura, or National Agricultural Society) that had established an important national radio station, Radio Agricultura. The countryside had been deemed off limits to serious political competition in the older electoral system. The prohibition was enforced through repeated government and landowner repression of rural unionization efforts since the 1930s. Rural labor, in fact, had borne the brunt of the effort to reconcile Chile's state subsidies of agricultural and industrial interests on the one hand, and policies that sought to limit inflation of urban consumer prices on the other. During the 1940s and 1950s, the cumulative effect cut real wages for rural laborers by about 50 percent. For those who did not migrate to the cities or did not find favored personal treatment from their patrones (a patron is a master or landowner-boss), a harsh deterioration of material life coincided with emerging discourses about Catholic moral responsibility, political justice, and rural economic backwardness. Along with new electoral rules, these new languages of public life redefined political possibility. Even the Alessandri administration-dependent on a congressional alliance with the Radicals to offset the FRAP, under pressure to implement moderate anti-Communist reform envisioned by President John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress-could not block passage of a modest agrarian reform in 1962.

Just as significant, as the 1964 presidential elections approached, Frei and the Christian Democrats seemed the only alternative to socialist reform. To stop Salvador Allende, again the candidate of the FRAP leftist coalition, the Right held its nose, dissolved its own electoral coalition, and threw its support to Frei. Boosted by this expanded base, as well as media and political campaign funds channeled surreptitiously into the elections by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Frei won an outright majority (55.5 percent) of the vote.

For Dona Elena and her family, Frei's election marked the turn toward trauma. Their ordered world began to come apart and turn upside down. Like many a family of good lineage and good manners, Dona Elena had been building a life marked by a firm sense of social place and unpretentious good taste. The good wood furniture, decorative silver plates, paintings of significant persons and picturesque landscapes, and historical and family artifacts that fill Dona Elena's apartment are arranged not as a flashy show of nouveau riche wealth designed to impress the visitor, but as a low-key expression of the good taste that comes with dignified social belonging. Dona Elena and her husband Hugo belonged to "declining aristocracy" (aristocracia venida a menos), a familiar and influential sector of society in Chile (and much of Latin America) during the mid-twentieth century. Even when income sank to a respectable middle-class level, their social circles and values joined them to upper- and upper middle-class families who could claim superior social standing-through inheritance of significant property and social networks; descent from good aristocratic stock; or marriage into networks of notable descent, property, and friendship. Such families built their sense of social order and place in the countryside as well as the city. Dona Elena and some cousins had inherited a rather unprofitable fundo (landed estate) in the Center-South. Her brother Andres had been educated as an agronomist and administered haciendas further south, near Temuco, and other cousins owned a fundo in a central valley province near Santiago. Although Dona Elena and Hugo made their living in the city-he worked as a finance lawyer; she worked for a time in a clothing store-the rituals of social place and belonging included trips to the rural fundos. There, peasant tenants (inquilinos) worked the wheat and cattle properties, kept up the homes, and served the visiting patrones and their guests during relaxing meals followed by social and family conversation. The inquilinos might also occasionally ask for advice or help on personal matters.

What separated families of high social standing from their more grasping counterparts-whether economically precarious strata among middle-class families, or culturally clumsy versions of the nouveau riche-was precisely their connection to the rural milieu and rituals that traditionally undergirded elite status. Access to this milieu, or the desire to become a part of it, provided a significant social base for cultural conservatism in Chile.

For Dona Elena and Hugo, President Alessandri represented all that was right about the Old Regime. During his six-year term (1958-1964), they repeatedly reminded me, Alessandri combined political conservatism with personal unpretentiousness. He did not need to put on airs. He greeted people in the streets as he walked his dog or walked to work at La Moneda Palace. There he sought to scale back government economic interventionism and to fend off political organizing in the countryside.



Continues...


Excerpted from Remembering Pinochet's Chile by Steve J. Stern Copyright © 2006 by Steve J. Stern. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the trilogy : the memory box of Pinochet's Chile
Introduction to book one : remembering Pinochet's Chile 1
Ch. 1 Heroic memory : ruin into salvation 7
Afterword : childhood holidays, childhood salvation 35
Ch. 2 Dissident memory : rupture, persecution, awakening 39
Afterword : the lore of goodness and remorse 68
Ch. 3 Indifferent memory : closing the box on the past 88
Afterword : the accident : temptations of silence 102
Ch. 4 From loose memory to emblematic memory : knots on the social body 104
Afterword : memory tomb of the unknown soldier 134
Conclusion : memories and silences of the heart 143
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