sábado, diciembre 16, 2006

We interrupt this totally self-absorbed blog to bring you - STORYTIME!

Lyrics adapted from They Dance Alone (Sting).

Many years ago, two men were born in a city by the sea. Both were destined for greatness. One got swept up in a philosophy for idealists. The other – swept away by power. This story fascinates me for many reasons, the largest one being that these two came to shape the very soul of an entire nation.

There is a long street running through Santiago called 11 de Septiembre (September 11th). I am embarrassed to say that many American tourists walk past this and think it a very kind and thoughtful tribute to their own tragedy. I worked at a language school on that street. I saw that address a lot – on my paychecks, on business cards, on my tax forms. The more I looked at it, the more I wondered - do people think about this as much as I do? Is it only because I’m new here that this street name is so striking? I don’t see an address. I see a scar.

It’s a fresh scar, I thought. Many of the Chileans I worked with spoke fluent English because they grew up in America, the UK, or Australia. Their parents were exiled when they were children. Exiles, I gathered, were the lucky ones. Sure they had to leave the comfort of their homes and adapt to foreign environments and foreign languages, but they managed to escape the entire dictatorship, returning to a democratic, economically stable Chile. Those who stayed risked torture, death, and disappearance. Even the current president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, was held in a detention camp under Pinochet. Her father was tortured for refusing exile. He died of heart complications soon afterwards. I was surprised at how calmly she dealt with the announcement of Pinochet’s death. She refused Pinochet funeral rights as head of state, and said she would not attend the funeral. Pretty mellow, compared to what I thought the man deserved from her. Honestly, I pictured her dancing on his grave – the way Sting fantasized in that song of his. But time passes and the world is a different place.

This story is not as black and white as they’ve presented it in US news. Salvador Allende was not some saintly victim. The Chilean economy plummeted under his socialism. He was a failure. Chile had less than nothing under him - people struggled to smuggle scraps of food through Peru in those days. Allende was not some simple, good-natured idealist. He was an anti-semite, a homophobe, and a racist - just Google his name and ‘doctoral thesis’. You’ll see. On September 11, 1973, he delivered a highly emotional radio address about how bad he felt for letting his country down. They say he talked about himself in the past tense and said that in his position, there was no easy way out. When the military stormed the presidential palace in the coup, they found him dead. They say he shot himself with a machine gun – a gift from his good friend Fidel Castro. Conspiracy theorists say he was murdered with the help of the CIA operating under orders from Kissinger. No one has managed to prove either theory. So did Allende deserve it? Probably not like that. But he sure did have something coming to him.

Pinochet too – not quite the cut and dry evil dictator figure. It’s because of him that Chile is now one of the most successful economies in South America. He built the country up, more or less, from scratch. Nevertheless, I still wonder what kind of sick, twisted society we live in when a man responsible for 3,000 deaths with thousands and thousands more tortured and/or missing gets to live to the ripe old age of 91 with hardly so much as a slap on the wrist. But it’s over now. The end of an era, really.