Valdivia, part 2, and some other less happy stuff
The Depressing Part:
“If I had been in charge, I wouldn’t have killed anyone. I would have put them all on an island, and put them to work, planting potatoes, tomatoes, beans. But no, I wouldn’t have killed anyone. Killing them was like a prize.”
My host grandmother, Gloria, lived through the military coup, though she prefers to call it a military pronouncement. On the one week anniversary of my trip on the Human Rights Tours (Tour de los derechos humanos) around Santiago with IFSA-Butler, on which we learned more about the coup and what life was like under the dictatorship, I learned more about the other side of the coin than Isa, who was our guide on the tour, would ever be able to provide. She certainly tried to give both sides of view, those who view it as something that saved the country from anarchy and ruin, and those who see it as the harbinger of the dark years of military rule that would not end until 1990. And it certainly wasn’t her fault. But Isa, who was a student during the military dictatorship at the most radical university in Santiago at the time, simply couldn’t give the same vibrancy to the opposing argument (those in favor of the coup) that my host grandmother was able to give.
She was 28 when the coup happened, she told me. She remembers only bad things under Allende. The lines to buy chicken, where she had to disguise herself in the clothes of her nana (maid) in order for her not to be turned away. The redistribution of land, the workers turning against their owners. She remembers a woman, an Austrian emigrant to whom she was like a daughter, whose family had owned four properties in Santiago itself and a great fundo in Talca. They lost it all under Allende. Another friend of hers owned three properties in Talca. She lived in one of them and rented out the other two. But under Allende, said my host grand-mother, she had to sell the two she did not live in. Gloria, who had been renting one of these houses, bought it, in 1972. But before she was able to move in, government agents (I am actually not quite sure who did this, but she seems to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Allende’s government) came in and took everything of value, from the light switches on the walls to the light bulbs to the locks on the doors. “Gloria, come quick, your house is open and empty,” a friend called her.
It’s interesting, to hear and see, really, the other side presented so fervently, with such conviction. Obviously there are still quite a lot of Pinochet supporters in Chile, not least because of the eventual economic success the country was able to have toward the end of the gobierno militar. But I, going to university here and meeting mostly other students my age or a bit older, have simply never been exposed to that reality. For her, as she explained to me, it wasn’t really a military coup, it was more of a statement by the military, it was the military protecting the country from itself. It restored peace and order to the country, got rid of the unconstitutional rationing. The people were crying out for it, she said. Those that were exiled, that fled, were cowards, she said. They didn’t flee to the socialist countries, to Cuba or Russia, they fled to Europe, the United States. But she also told me that she had a friend from school that had to flee abroad. She ended up in Spain, where my host grandmother and two other friends of theirs would visit her many years later.
“Fue muy jevy. Muy jevy,” she kept saying, talking about both, I think, the dictatorship and what happened under Allende. And it was very heavy.
What she said didn’t really change my point of view on the military government and Pinochet – which is also a problem, really, a problem many of us share, our inability to really take seriously those stories that go counter to our own beliefs – but it made me realize that there is never only one side to a story.
During the Human Rights Tour, in which we, after talking a bit about the dictatorship at a café at the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral, first went to the Cementerio General (which is really beautiful actually, I’m still cursing myself for forgetting my camera. Maybe I’ll get a chance to go back) and then to Villa Grimaldi, which was a clandestine torture and detention center from 1973 to 1978, we got a slightly different interpretation of the events. Like I said, Isa tried to be partial, and to her credit, she did give both views where she could. At Salvador Allende’s tomb, she told us about how difficult his time in office was, how troubled his presidency was by the fact that he only won by a plurality rather than a clear majority. Because Allende didn’t have control of congress, he had to act by decree more than by actually passing laws. Rationing did occur, especially as the economy took a turn for the worse in 1972 and 1973. Strikes crippled the country. But as our trip to Villa Grimaldi showed, the reality of the years after Allende, of course, is that the human rights abuses, especially at the beginning, were terrible. The conditions at Villa Grimaldi were appalling, to say the least. Defenders of the military regime say that such violence was the fault not of a policy of torture and murder developed by the government, but of individual soldiers and officers, but this hardly seems credible, especially as nothing was done to stop it, and it was done on such a large scale. Going to Villa Grimaldi was a very sobering experience. We, those of us born in countries that have been free much longer, are lucky never to have had to experience anything like it.
The end is coming. I have realized that. I thought I had seen it coming and accepted it earlier, thought I had planned it all out. But it still hit me like Muhammad Ali’s fist. We had our “cierre académico” on Friday, in which we talked about re-entry shock, and how a lot of things would be different. Our friends and family might say we changed, and not always for the better. It’s difficult, we were told, sometimes much more difficult than one would imagine. As Isa said, the studying abroad experience doesn’t end when one goes home. It goes on.
There obviously still is a little less than a month left. So we have some time still to enjoy ourselves, to try to eek every little bit of experience we can out of our adventure. But the inevitable end is near. It’s funny, really. It doesn’t seem like I have been here for almost 4 months now (only 5 more days and that while be a milestone of the past).
Valdivia, Part 2:
I’m really sorry that this post has been rather depressing so far, so to make up for it, I’ll give a brief summary of my second day in Valdivia and attach some pictures! Fun right?
So on the second day, Saturday the 2nd, we had a boat ride on the river on the agenda. But first, we toured some more of the city, which, though small, really is very nice. Unfortunately, we had to leave around 10:30 to go on the walking tour, which meant that I was 30 minutes into the Arsenal – Manchester United game when we had to go. Arsenal was losing 0 – 1, and things didn’t look pretty (they would go on to lose 1 – 2) , but it’s always a pain to have to tear oneself away. But I did, else they probably would have left without me!
Around noon, we got on the boat. It was a lunch and dinner cruise type of thing, and there were bread rolls waiting for us when we sat down. Luckily, two of the places at the table I was at were empty, so I could eat three relatively unhindered by my conscience. A couple at my table (our group had three tables, they were the only ones who didn’t belong to our group at those three tables) also offered me a sopaipilla, which I eagerly accepted. Then the actual lunch came, which was a chicken drum stick with rice. But that’s enough about food.
The trip on the river was really peaceful, and the view of the surrounding country side absolutely magnificent. Only the weather refused to cooperate, being windy, cool, and toward the end, rainy, in that annoying sprinklingly misty kind of way.
We passed the remains of a ship (the masts mostly, still sticking out of the water) that had been swept inward and sunk by the tsunami of 1960. We also drove buy some abandoned factories, also victims of that earthquake and tsunami double whammy.
But the main purpose of the boat tour was to visit more of the Validivian fortification system (so it was really up my alley, in other words). Our first stop, after floating past Fuerte Niebla, was the central piece of the whole system, the most heavily defended under Spanish control and the last one taken by Chilean troops that 4th of Februrary, 1820, Castillo de San Sebastián de la Cruz Fort. Also, called Corral Fort, it’s located in the town of Corral, which is built on the side of a hill and is quite quaint. The Castillo itself is very large, with many of the original cannons still pointing ominously out to sea.
Although smaller, Castillo de San Pedro de Alcántara on Isla Mancera (a large island in the middle of Corral Bay), the next stop on our journey, was actually more impressive. The Castillo in Corral had been used to store goods for many years before becoming a national monument and so almost none of the original structures (besides the walls) remain. On Isla Mancera, however, one can still see the ruins of many of the buildings, including particularly impressive ones of the church. The former powder magazine (although it was mostly used as a general storage place, built into the ground with only a single grated window in the ceiling that allows light to enter (it really is pitch black down there), is also very striking.
Like always, I could have stayed there for hours (although there was no museum to distract, ruins tend to hold my attention. But really), but we unfortunately had to head back home (it was also starting to rain a bit more noticeably, so perhaps it was all for the best).
On the way back we got sandwiches to eat, which were actually quite … I really need to stop talking about food. Or better yet, I’ll just go eat some. But please, enjoy some pictures while I do so: