On a September 11th just like today, 50 years ago, military troops led by General Augusto Pinochet stormed La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace, overthrew Salvador Allende, of Popular Unity (Unidad Popular), elected in 1970, and ultimately led to his death. The military dictatorship that ensued, from 1973 to 1990, was destructive: dozens of thousands of people were killed, disappeared, were persecuted, arrested, and tortured; public and community spaces were shut down and restricted by military violence; art and culture were censored; Indigenous peoples and peasants were forced out of their lands; in rural and urban areas, people’s lives became more precarious, and work, housing, and health conditions became increasingly worse.
The military dictatorship in Chile was part of a wave of authoritarianism, military intervention, and US imperialism over the Latin American region in the second half of the 20th century. Its trails remain across all these territories, in the lack of policies dedicated to memory, truth, and justice for the crimes committed under the dictatorship, and in the maintenance of an economic model based on profit, inequality, and subordination to transnational capital, militarism, the lack of rights, and the precariousness of life.
This is why the people of Chile and so many other parts of the Americas say today “never again!” and fight to change these marks from the past in the present and to build a radical people’s democracy. These are struggles that emerge in the present, including the 2019 social estallido, which demanded the resignation of the then president Sebastián Piñera, the end of neoliberal policies, rights for Indigenous peoples and women, and a new Constitution that was completely different from the one in force, which was drafted by the military regime. These are also struggles that are continuously built through resistance in the territories, with community organizing and proposed alternatives to reorganize life and society.
Today, September 11th, 2023, we publish at Capire seven poems written under the dictatorship by three Chilean women writers: Elvira Hernández, Teresa Calderón, and Eugenia Brito, authors of La Bandera de Chile (1991), Causas perdidas (1984), and Vía pública (1984), respectively. These books expose death, enforced disappearance, censorship, and forced disruption of the social fabric in Chile’s everyday life. These are also books that exercise new ways of saying, not saying, and articulating words and images in times of fragmentation. Through art that is not always linear, yet open to the unknown and the displacement of language, these artists go against silencing and express their rebelliousness and a collective desire for change and freedom.
The Chilean Flag is a foreigner in her own country
she doesn’t have ID
she isn’t majority
she is no longer recognized
the prolonged fasting has put death’s thumb upon her
the churches administer her last rites
the Legations’ party horn and sound of the trumpets
The Chilean Flag forces herself to be more than a flag
The Chilean Flag is ‘used as a gag
and that’s why surely that’s why
no one says anything’
Feats of Memory
There is a house,
in the name
of the very same
and didn’t leave
on the stairs;
in the servants’
offended in the shadow,
where there are no
a d d u p.
They started to gather
they went in
through the door slot
where letters appear
now and then
when the house
Teresa Calderón (Causas perdidas, 1984)
Yesterday I called you
and my own shadow
answered the phone
Goodbye I said gently
and the street grew bigger and bigger
like the night
Your body struggles at the wall.
cannot let you go
without hurting me
Haggard ghost from the dawn
Singing its own tango
standing and weeping
by the balcony of a woman
who is also a ghost.
Script of the disappeared
Rebuilding the light for those who will never see it again
the light that is born from them
sheltered light remaining in the
attic of the
it is the reconstituted script of this death
not completed lived
as it comes back unfinished
to watch life from afar.
Script of upside-down thought in this subliminal facet
on the edge of any subverted chimera
Script of this attic and its dim
when the city, turned around its own offertory,
turns into sanctuary
From where glimmering dead emerge
Through the threatening glow of cactuses
their eyes gaze at the living with lust.
But there is more: they put big matt glass
to resist the crossing of defenseless
Challenging the color of the sun
with their piercing underground green
they flood the city.
Their ancient spring then grows
where the living submerge like an unrelenting
Eugenia Brito (Vía pública, 1984)