March 03, 2000,
The last year and a half I felt as though I was holding my breath, waiting for the calm and satisfaction that would come with letting out air again. Today, while the wait is over, i feel no relief. Pinochet returned to Chile today, unconvicted, unpunished. Since he left power 10 years ago, I have been waiting for some justice to be done. You would think that the most obvious perpetrator of all the crimes that were committed in Chile under the Junta would at least be brought to justice, but it seems that Pinochet is actually the safest of them all. I have so long tried to deny what Matias told me the day that Alwyn became President, that democracy was better, but that the government will never give those who suffered under the Junta what they really want and need, justice. I convinced myself that it would take time, that the truth commission would help Chileans accept our pasts and help to build a better future. But as time went on, it became clear that there are limits to what can be done. Pinochet and his cronies still had so much power in those years after 1990, and it seemed impossible that they would ever be convicted of the war crimes they truly committed. But then, years ago, with the news of Pinochet’s arrest in London, I began to have hope that even if the laws in Chile were holding back justice, that the international community was finally coming to help. The feelings that had long disappeared in Chile began to emerge again. My students began asking me questions about what life had been like under Pinochet and if he was really guilty, my sons began attending protests again (bringing their little ones with them!), and more stories came out from survivors of torture and families of the disappeared. For most of the time since the return to democracy, Chileans have preferred to forget the past, they stopped talking about it, the newspapers stopped covering it. But Pinochet’s arrest brought about a rediscovery of the past, and I think many people began to feel invested again and wanted there to be more punishment against the perpetrators.
Today, after all of these changes in public opinion about the past, after all that Chile has been through, Pinochet returned out of harm’s way. How could they let him go? How could the perpetrator of terror be victorious over the masses once again? How, 10 years after the end of the dictatorship, can the tragedies of the past feel so present? I feel that democracy has betrayed us, that laws and governing mean close to nothing when they fail so absolutely.
So many people in Chile wish to see the end of the horrible events of the past, but they will never be part of the past if we don’t learn how to address them properly in the present. When Pinochet is convicted, when all the other perpetrators of terror and violence are convicted, that is when Chile will be able to move on. That is when Matias and others like him will feel that justice has been done. That is when I will finally feel that my children and my students are living in a Chile they can be proud of.