Good and Evil in Santiago, Chile

I innocently booked a hotel room in a central location in Santiago in 2008, not knowing that it was in a street holding extremely emotional, divisive and disturbing memories. I chose Londres in fashionable Barrio Paris-Londres, a quaint and attractive neighbourhood with its winding cobblestoned streets, ornate metal street lights, and stylish historical facades. The photo of Calle Londres (London Street) was taken from my hotel room window.

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Barrio Paris-Londres, is a vibrant area with excellent restaurants, cafes and bars, is a 5 minute walk to San Francisco Church (Chile’s oldest Colonial era building), a few more minutes to the city centre, and has easy access to Santiago’s excellent underground train system, the city park with a stunning view of the city’s backdrop of the snow-capped Andes, and is near the best lively inner city suburbs.

A little history is needed to appreciate the nature of the evil secret lurking just down the street from the hotel. In 1970 after a fair and democratic election, and proper legal rules being followed, Salvador Allende, a socialist, became Chile’s President. In a USA-backed military coup in 1973, Allende died and was replaced by General Augusto Pinochet, who headed a brutal regime until 1990 that engaged in a terror campaign against the opposition; seizing, kidnapping, torturing and killing many thousands of its opponents.

On my visit 35 years later, Santiago was alive. I went for a 5 minute stroll from the hotel to Avenue O’Higgins, the major thoroughfare through the city, and saw thousands of protesters chanting slogans, waving banners, and tearing cobblestones from the street and hurling them at police and other authorities, whose armoured vehicles moved in using water cannons to disperse the crowds. I later discovered that the protest, one of many around that time, was about the state of education in Chile.

Mrs Nomadic and I became fond of nearby Cafe Radical, where the patrons seemed to have stepped from a 1960’s or 70’s film; most sipping red wine, ostentatiously smoking, the men frequently wearing a beret, the women elegantly alluring, in an atmosphere of equality, debate and style.

Cafe Radical, Tinto and atmosphere.
Cafe Radical, a cheap glass of tinto with radical 60s atmosphere.

After a few days in the city, we noticed a nightly phenomenon in our street. There were large gatherings outside a particular graffiti covered building . One night it was music, the next night a screen was erected outside the building and seemingly endless pictures of people were displayed while their biographical details were detailed over the sound system. This was in memory of the disappeared, victims of the Pinochet regime’s atrocities. 38 Londres was where many of the victims were taken to be detained, tortured and killed.

A 2008 commemoration of the disappeared at 38 Londres.
A 2008 commemoration of the disappeared at 38 Londres.

Like many countries with a fractured and polarised past, Chile has not yet exorcised the demons of history.

In spite of efforts in the late 1970’s by Chilean military connections to erase the memory of 38 Londres by altering the address to 40 Londres, the persistence of those who did not want this to become a forgotten era prevailed, and 38 Londres is now a National Monument, open to the public as a place of remembrance.

This photo of an image of Salvador Allende was taken in Valparaiso, Chile’s atmospheric port city, and the site of much impressive graffiti.

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retrostuart

I like to travel while having a base from which to roam. Home is a small farm on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, where I grow organic vegetables and fruit, keep a few chooks (chickens) and Dexter cattle. The place offers some country peace and quiet, and wildlife, as well as quick access to the inner suburbs of the city for my regular contrasting visits. I enjoy walking, camping, swimming and snorkelling, photography, reading, listening to and playing music, and good food and wine. A major flaw in my character is being susceptible to sales of air flights.

9 thoughts on “Good and Evil in Santiago, Chile”

  1. The date of Allende’s deposition was September 11, 1973. I noticed that each September 11, memorials are held throughout the USA to recall the dead of Chile and the perfidy of the CIA and it’s fascist cronies.

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    1. Thank you. Similarly, I lived next door to an Agentinian couple, intellectuals, who fled Argentina in the early 70s for the same reasons as people left Pinochet’s Chile. My neighbours returned for a visit to their old city of Buenos Aires after the regime was replaced, visited their old haunts, but did not find any of their friends and colleagues. They had disappeared.

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      1. I spoke to Paula about her knowledge of what happened in Argentina. She knew all about it, all too well. She told me the current Argentinian government is going through a repatriation process with the people, something she said was not happening in Chile.

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  2. I saw ‘the Disappeared’ as a tag on your sidebar and had to visit and read this post. Talk about landing in the thick of it! It sounds a little scary but also exhilirating and thank goodness for vino tinto to get you through. You post has sent me off to read more about this era as, *spoiler* I had already written a similar post about ‘M’ for A-Z Guidebook.

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