September 11th, 1973

Image: Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional (Chile), Bombardment of La Modena, CC BY 3.0 cl / Wikimedia
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By LISZT VIEIRA*

Reports from someone who lived in Chile during the tragic moments of the coup that led to the death of Salvador Allende

I lived in Santiago, on Rua Agustinas, in the city center. In the morning, I woke up scared by the noise of tanks in the street and ran to the window, where I saw a large movement of people. The building manager directed all residents to the building's basement garage. Planes bombed the La Moneda Palace, where Salvador Allende was staying. The Coup was already on the street. Allende's last speech was broadcast on Radio Magallanes with the noise of machine gun fire in the background. Shortly afterwards, the radio would be closed and Salvador Allende would be killed.

During the bombing, my partner and I stayed in the basement of the building. We listened in fear to the noise of the explosions. When we managed to get back to the apartment, we grabbed only the essentials and prepared to escape. The military released a curfew to allow workers who were at the center to return home. We were accompanied by a Chilean, a friend who went with us to talk to the soldiers at the barriers.

They would certainly recognize our foreign accent, and besides, our document had a different color. Thanks to our friend, we passed two barriers. I left the house in a hurry and left my fake French passport and a certain amount of dollars. I didn't know if I would be able to go back and get them back. Everything was occupied by the military and there were soldiers everywhere. We needed to leave the city center, a risky area with snipers in almost every building.

We went to a friend's house, on the outskirts of the center. We spent our days at home. When the curfew was lifted, we went to the streets to meet friends. All foreigners were asked to present themselves. I remembered the words of a Uruguayan companion: No one even surrenders to the police.

Those who were reckless enough to do so were arrested and taken to the National Stadium, transformed into a torture center. Pamphlets dropped from planes asked Chileans to denounce foreigners, considered terrorists. On TV, the three members of the Military Junta spoke of relentless repression and blood. “We have to root out the cancer of Marxism”, said the Air Force commander.

The order was to kill summarily. To this day, it is not well known how many thousands of Chileans and “foreigners” were killed by the harsh repression that followed the coup. Corpses were seen during the day floating in the murky waters of the Mapocho River, which runs through Santiago. And, at night, shots fired by snipers and volleys of machine guns and rifles fired by soldiers carried through the dawn.

I needed to go to the apartment to get my passport, collect money and some clothes. I couldn't go alone and I needed a facade, so I arranged with two of my acquaintances, a Brazilian and a German. They were both tall and blonde, and I walked between them to go unnoticed. I thought that if there was a problem, the military would look at the women, not me. That's exactly what happened. When I arrived at my building, I noticed that there was a police officer standing in front of the building, wearing Ray-ban glasses, clearly a military man.

I had already seen this film in Brazil. I stopped for a moment and thought he wasn't behind me, in my building lived the vice-president of the Chilean CUT, a highly sought after union leader. I crossed the street and walked with the two blondes. The police officer guarding the building kept his eyes on the two women, but I continued walking towards the building. The building manager, actually a doorman, a kind of concierge, As soon as he saw me enter, he bent down, pretending to fix a water pump, and said: “Let go! let go!” They already invaded your apartment, they invaded mine too and said that I was protecting foreign terrorists. All the foreigners' apartments have been invaded, they are after you.

I felt a chill throughout my body. The manager saved me. If he had reported me, he would have been immediately arrested by the armed military man stalking the building across the street. I used to watch football games at his house, together with a Uruguayan doctor who lived in the building with his wife and two babies. We had never exchanged a word until, on the day of the bombing, in the basement of the building, the doctor turned to me and said: “There is a lady in the building who denounced all the foreigners, saying that they are all linked to the Tupamaros. And she denounced the property manager saying that he is the contact between Allende and the tupamaros".

At the time, this came to mind, I thanked the building manager and walked back, with my hands shaking. I escaped being arrested. I couldn't recover my clothes, my passport, money, I left everything behind. I stayed for a week at this friend's house on the outskirts of the center. Talking to our companions during quick meetings, we concluded that there were only two options: seek asylum in an embassy or go to UN shelters.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received foreigners in shelters and registered the full names of those sheltered. But the police could take the refugees for interrogation and even torture them, they just couldn't kill them, they were registered with this UN service. When it came to targeted names, it was advisable to seek asylum in an embassy, ​​the only safe place where the police could not invade, for reasons of extraterritoriality.

Some embassies were already completely full of Latin American refugees from various countries. Finally, we managed to arrive at the Argentine embassy, ​​which still had its gates open. A few hours later, the Chilean government placed police officers guarding the embassy door, preventing entry. Some companions even managed to enter by jumping over the wall behind the Embassy.

The atmosphere in the city was very tense. Military repression continued relentlessly. Popular neighborhoods and favelas, poblaciones, were invaded and massacred. On September 24th, Chile dawned sad: the night before, Pablo Neruda had died. He passed away at his home in Isla Negra, about 120 kilometers from Santiago. Today we know that he was poisoned by order of the dictatorship.

Pablo Neruda's funeral was emotional. It was, in fact, the first public protest against the dictatorship since Pinochet took power. Respect for Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize winner, immobilized even the fascists in the Pinochet government for a few hours. We learned that, at the funeral, a woman shouted “Companheiro Pablo Neruda!” All the activists present responded by singing the anthem of the Communist International, and were not bothered by the repression.

That day, inside the Argentine embassy, ​​a Uruguayan refugee, with his deep voice, recited a poem, They kill me if I work, And if work kills me, by Nicolas Guillén and Daniel Viglietti. In that mansion, not only the Embassy but also the Consulate of Argentina operated. The Consul was a left-wing Peronist, and that's why he opened the gates to receive the refugees. He was the real authority in that Embassy.

When the Argentine government and its reactionary diplomats realized that at the embassy in Santiago there were not only Chileans and Argentines, but hundreds of Uruguayan, Brazilian and Bolivian refugees, they ordered the gate closed and punished the Consul, who was transferred to Bangladesh, as we learned. Many who were unable to find refuge in an embassy ended up arrested and taken to the National Stadium, a football stadium used as a torture center.

In this Stadium, and in the Chile Stadium, many prisoners were tortured and murdered. One of the best-known cases was the murder of Chilean singer and composer Victor Jara, after having his hands cut off during torture. I never forgot the song I'll stay here, adaptation of a poem by Pablo Neruda, which began: I don't want the patria divided/ I don't want the light of Chile to be broken/ about the new house built. From 2003 onwards, the Chile Stadium was renamed the Victor Jara Stadium. In honor of him and all his companions murdered by Pinochet's dictatorship, I recall here a verse from the beautiful song by Pablo Milanés, Yo Pisaré las Calles Nuevamente:

I will step on the streets again
of what was bloody Santiago,
and in a beautiful liberated plaza
I stopped crying for those who were absent.

For two months, together with 650 people, including 150 children, I stayed at the Embassy, ​​awaiting negotiations for the transfer of refugees to Argentina. That's another story. I tell these and many other stories of my clandestinity and my exile in Algeria, Cuba, Chile, Argentina, France and Portugal in my memoir The search: memories of resistance (Hucitec).

*Liszt scallop is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond).
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