Thousands of people traveled Monday night to Chile’s National Stadium, the largest detention and torture center that existed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), to pay tribute to former president Salvador Allende and the victims of the authoritarian regime. The event, which included performances by a number of bands that fought for freedom in the 1970s and 80s, brought an end to commemorations to mark the 50th anniversary of the military coup on September 11. The anniversary — which has dominated the political and media debate — comes amid rising political tensions. The consensus against the Pinochet dictatorship, which has held firm for the past decade, has now fractured.
Before the start of the tribute — which was delayed for two hours — a long line of people had formed around the stadium. They were waiting to enter the locker room, where hundreds of women were humiliated and tortured during the dictatorship. In the space, which is kept intact to preserve the memory of those days, some victims shared their experiences with visitors.
The public’s anger over the delayed start evaporated once the iconic band Quilapayún took to the stage and sang El pueblo unido jamás será vencido (The people united will never be defeated), a classic anthem that stirred the audience. The crowd cheered with raised fists, while images of Fidel Castro were projected in the background.
Alicia Lira, president of the Group of Relatives of the Politically Executed (AFEP), gave a speech in honor of those who disappeared during the dictatorship, and of the women who were left alone, without resources, yet managed to pull through. Lira said she was disappointed that the government of President Gabriel Boric had recommended the group avoid the city center on Sunday and Monday, when a march for the victims of the dictatorship was planned. “The people have to be in the streets. Here we are, the disobedient ones,” she said. Lira celebrated that the left-wing government taught the right a lesson regarding its position on the coup, which some in the right continue to support.
The first rows of the stadium were reserved for the president and his ministers. But four hours after the call time, only Camila Vallejo, the government spokesperson, was seen in the stadium. Her colleagues in the Communist Party also attended the event, including deputy Karol Cariola and Recoleta Mayor Daniel Jadue.
The commemoration arrived at a moment in which Chile in seeing strong political polarization and divisions on what happened 50 years ago, when the Armed Forces bombed La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace. In recent months, the hard right has sought to vindicate Pinochet and justify the coup, arguing that it was “inevitable” as democracy had been broken under Allende. “The coup cannot be separated from what came after. From the moment the coup began, human rights were violated,” said President Boric Tuesday morning in a speech at La Moneda.
With the events to commemorate the coup now over, attention will focus on the Constitutional Council, which has three months left to draft a new constitution to replace the one inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship. The text will be submitted to a plebiscite on December 17. But so far, the Constitutional Council, which is controlled by the hard-right Republican Party, has not been able to reach consensus. The government is increasingly worried about the result. After four years of uncertainty, it does not want a second failure. In 2022, a Constitutional Convention proposed a progressive new charter, with an emphasis on gender equality, environmental issues and recognition of indigenous peoples. But it failed to win support, with 62% of voters voting against it in the September national plebiscite
Elisa Loncón, the president of the Constitutional Convention, was present at Monday’s event at the National Stadium. The audience stood up to applaud her and thanked her for her efforts. Among those in the audience were members of the current Constitutional Council, who were asked to keep trying: “Although we know that it is an arduous and difficult task.”
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