The rise of far-right positions adds to a citizen disinterest both in the acts of commemoration and in history itself


On September 11, 1973, Chile saw the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s government at the hands of a general, Augusto Pinochet, who would ultimately end up establishing a dictatorship from which the South American country could not free itself until 1990. Half a century later , Chile once again has a left-wing president, Gabriel Boric, but at street level the citizens seem increasingly oblivious to dictatorial times from which there are still legacies, such as the Constitution.

Pinochet came to power under the pretext of “restoring the broken national institutions”, which ‘de facto’ allowed him to assume all powers at the head of the military junta. 50 years ago one of the longest-lasting dictatorships in the Southern Cone began, responsible for thousands of victims and with a political legacy that still underlies certain sectors.

The polls coincide in drawing a mixture of ignorance and disinterest in some of the darkest episodes in Chile’s recent history, especially when citizens are asked about what happened in the coup. Only 58 percent say they know a lot or something about the events that overthrew Allende, despite the fact that the figure is 78 percent if only those over 53 years of age are taken into account, according to a recent Cerc-Mori survey.

A certain taboo has also been broken regarding the public examination of what happened on September 11 and, in fact, one of the main political figures currently in Chile, with options even to reach the Presidency, is José Antonio Kast, who has arrived to refer to the coup in this way: “On September 11, 1973, Chile chose freedom and the country we have today is thanks to the men and women who rose up to prevent the Marxist revolution in our land.”

In fact, two out of three Chileans continue to support the coup today, according to a Pulso Ciudadano survey prior to the commemoration events that places Allende as the main person responsible for the coup in the eyes of the citizens. About 40 percent of Chileans think so, while less than 31 percent point to the military leadership, a similar proportion of those who point to the United States and, in particular, the CIA.

The Boric Government has taken advantage of the anniversary to launch a battery of legislative proposals on Human Rights, with initiatives that, for example, seek to declassify the testimonies of the commission created in 2003 to document the abuses of the dictatorship. According to the latest updates to this report, the State officially recognizes nearly 40,000 victims including executions, arrests, torture and disappearances.

Boric, who also aspires to relaunch the search for the disappeared, has charged on several occasions against those who try to soften the figure of Pinochet, “whose government killed, tortured, exiled and made those who thought differently disappear.” “He was also corrupt and a thief. A coward to the end, he did everything in his power to evade justice,” he said in May in response to statements by a right-wing leader who described Pinochet as a “statesman.” .

The dictator died in 2006 in a hospital in Santiago, without official mourning in his memory or convictions behind his back. The Chilean Justice has tried former officers – in August the Supreme Court convicted seven retired soldiers for the kidnapping and murder of the singer-songwriter Víctor Jara – but in the case of Pinochet no attempt was successful, despite the fact that it did become arrested in London in 2018 at the request of the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón.

Boric also maintains his goal of reforming the Constitution that Chile still retains from the time of Pinochet, after citizens said ‘no’ to a first draft. A new Constitutional Convention now has it in its power to draft a second text and, on this occasion, it is the right – promoted among other leaders by Kast – who takes the lead, by virtue of the elections held in May.

Polarization in Chile is therefore evident, in politics and also on the street. So much so, that seven out of ten people interviewed by Pulso Ciudadano believe that commemorating the coup d’état only serves to divide Chileans and less than 15 percent believe that it can be an opportunity to move towards unity.

It also doesn’t help that 56.5 percent of citizens directly show little or no interest in the event, which will bring together in Chile international leaders such as the Argentine Alberto Fernández, the Colombian Gustavo Petro or the Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Among the guests confirmed by the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also the former president of the Spanish Government Felipe González.

Boric has stressed that the 1973 coup d’état “was not inevitable”, that “in politics there are always alternatives”, and has advocated non-repetition. More than 36 percent of the population believe that Chile could experience a coup d’état against a democratic government again.