Below we reprint a letter which was sent to the Chile Socialist Defence Campaign, a campaign initiated by the Labour Party Young Socialists at their annual conference in 1980. The LPYS was heavily influenced by supporters of Militant, a forerunner organisation of Socialist Alternative. In this moving letter, the author recalls some of his experiences under Pinochet’s military regime. We also recommend the article ‘50 years since Pinochet’s bloody coup in Chile’ for further background.
“At 7pm on 11 September 1973 I was queueing for bread when I suddenly realised that the place was surrounded by soldiers. Someone in the queue had a small radio through which we listened to Allende’s famous speech to the nation that morning in which he promised to avoid an ‘unnecessary massacre’;. The people had no weapons and if the political parties had them they certainly didn’t use them. When the soldiers came they first threw insults and then fired at us.
I was fifteen years old at the time and had a brother who was doing his military service and actively participated in the coup. The curfew began at 12pm. My father was a union leader and an active member of the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left). That day he was on holiday, the factory where he worked at had been occupied by the workers who demanded it to be taken over by the state. My father went to the spot where it was believed that the Communist Party, who had weapons, would distribute them; 5,000 people, and five lorries, stood there waiting; but the weapons never came. Someone turned down and said to my father; “comrade, you might as well go home now because the weapons are not going to come”.
The day after the coup I got up to go to buy bread. There they killed a woman; she was shot in the head; a soldier had dragged her out of the bread queue, insulted her, then stuck his gun to her head and shot her through the skull. This incident has remained engraved in my mind ever since. It was the last day we queued up for bread here in Chile. The following day everything appeared normal, sugar reappeared, bread, milk, everything, especially the naked bodies floating in the Mapocho river, including those of entire families who had been massacred. They took away many people from my neighbourhood, never to be seen again. On the day of the coup, airplanes flew over our districts, shooting down at us with machine gun fire. That same day, Pinochet spoke to the nation and said he would respect the rights of all workers. But in reality, the workers were slaughtered, such as those from the various textile factories in Santiago, Yarur, Sumar, Panai to name just a few, or the students from the university, who were the first to be massacred and then their bodies set on fire in the university buildings themselves.
People were taken to the National Stadium, where again so many were killed, including the singer Victor Jara; they plucked his nails out, chopped his finger off, then his hands and, finally, they told him to play his guitar: “Let’s hear you sing Venceremos now then” (Venceremos was the revolutionary song of the Chilean workers at the time of the Popular Unity government). Many in the stadium witnessed this incident. The conscripts were not involved in the torture; those who were were especially trained for it.
I did my military service between 1975 and 1977 and was involved in searching for individuals in Santiago. We were involved in clean-up operations in which we had to look out for political activists in the underground movements. We had to search for Pascal Allende and we spent a whole evening searching for him everywhere. We were not concerned on whether they were found or not. The treatment that the conscripts receive is far different from that of the officers. Ours was humiliating, made up of insults, beatings and so on. If someone makes a mistake then everyone is punished. If someone disobeys an order then it’s far worse. When I was doing my service, the DINA (the Chilean secret police) was in control of the army; many of my fellow conscripts were tortured with electric shocks.
Meanwhile, exclusive parties were always arranged for the officers; I had to serve as a waiter in one of these parties and I saw the kind of people that got together there, complete degenerated. Once, we were standing outside a restaurant when the owner came out and invited us in for a drink, to which we obliged. Then, a special police convoy pulled up. The following day we were punished for it; we were beaten and had to spend 45 days in prison. I had already been punished in one of my first days as a soldier for disobeying orders. They started kicking me and I also hit back. Since it was only my first week they decided to let me off the hook for having retaliated. A soldiers’ treatment in Chile is really humiliating.
I personally feel that to overthrow the dictatorship we need weapons, the political parties must mobilise the masses for a revolutionary struggle. It’s the only way in which the people can first free and then rule themselves. But we must have clear leadership. At this moment in time the political parties are fighting for a bourgeois democracy, for a return to 1973, where workers will still find themselves exploited. We must put forward the need to fight for a socialist society and also hammer home the point that a simple return to a bourgeois democracy will not solve all of our basic problems. There must be a revolution led by the people rather than by a few individuals whose only aim is to attain a comfortable seat behind a desk so that they can work out a few new laws, call on us to vote and nothing else and thus play down the importance of all our struggles.”