Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile. Coup D'etat, 1973.
On September 11, 1973, the Chilean government led by Salvador Allende was overthrown by the military coup that initiated the fascist reign of Augusto Pinochet and his henchmen. Rick Maddocks was in Valparaíso, Chile, on September 11, 2012, and asked several people whom he met that day how they remembered the coup. For the most part, the people spoke English. He was assisted as necessary by Carolina Yañez, who provided impromptu translations.
JORGE BENITEZ—Film Director
I was a schoolboy, sixteen years old, in Santiago de Chile. Me and my friends, we were at the social club just down the street from our school. Maybe we should have been in class. We were playing pool late in the morning, just joking around, when the door flew open and los militares, these soldiers, came in and pointed their machine guns at us. We all put our hands up, our eyes big like this, yes? They broke all the pool cues over their knees, wrecked the table. They put us up against the wall, made us spread our arms and legs. Then they turned us around and went down the line, clubbing each of us with the broken pool cues. At almost the same time the planes came down and attacked La Moneda. It was big, you know, heavy. Chaos. It all came down. Before that moment I was a kid; after that moment things were serious.
JORGE VELÁSQUEZ ASTUDILLO—Visual Artist and Graphic Designer
I was eight or nine years old when the golpe, the coup, happened. I was living in the north of Chile, in Iquique. And I remember the windows and the front door of my house were closed. They were hardly ever closed. I heard the noise and I peered through the shutters and saw los militares pass down the street. And the machines and the tanks, they were made of iron, very loud, very noisy. Mucho ruido. And I thought, what is happening? Is there a war? On any other day I can play outside and it’s no problem, but now we have to stay inside. And I ask my parents, What is happening? What is happening? I don’t remember what they said. Later they sent me to buy food and I had to stand in line, and I was little and I had to wait. One hour, two hours. For bread, harina—flour—I remember that.
The friends of my father, they are—how you say?—los desaparecidos. They disappear. We don’t hear anything about them anymore. Pisagua, it was a concentration camp. Here is Iquique on a map; here is Pisagua. The people just disappeared. I was a kid and I didn’t understand. But I could see everything up close and I felt the fear. Susto. Scared.
Very vivid. Even today, after so many years. It was on a Tuesday—the American September 11 was also on a Tuesday. We were still in bed. A friend of ours called us very early, around seven in the morning, telling us that kn Valparaíso, where they lived, the navy was starting to do some strange manoeuvres. We’d been aware that something was going on for a long time, and then I remember we got up and—we lived right beside the Pedagógico, which was the education school of the University of Chile at that time, a very special place—and we didn’t know what to do.
Around ten in the morning someone knocked hard on our door. We lived in a four-storey building in Santiago, on the top floor, and we also owned the terrace on the roof. I opened the door and there were two military men with machine guns, saying, “Give us the keys to the terrace.” There were ten or fifteen more men coming up the stairs with machine guns. I gave them the keys and they stayed there, up on the terrace, because from there you could look down on the grounds of the university.
At that time the university was a real public university. Bernardo, my husband at that time, was a professor there and I was a student. When he went there that morning it was already surrounded by military. He was not allowed to go in. And then someone called him after he got home and said, “Get out of there.” They’d just published a list of professors that were supposed to go to some office and all these people had to go register themselves. “So get out of there.” Bernardo used to write for the newspaper. He was a writer.
There was a radio station that they couldn’t shut down; it kept sending news of what was going on. So we were there, in the apartment, with the radio on. The TV and everything was controlled by them, but not this radio station; it was on until probably midday, when La Moneda palace was attacked, or maybe a bit later. We were sitting in the living room, looking down on the university grounds. You could see all the troops down there. And then we were talking to friends on the phone—“What’s going on? What are we going to do?” We thought it was going to be very short, that there couldn’t be a coup in this country. A coup could not survive.
I took my son, who was five months old, and we took some things and we left the apartment. The military were still there on the roof, but they didn’t bother about us.
You weren’t supposed to go out; it was really hard. We had a Citronetta, that French car, and we went with the baby, taking side roads from our apartment to my mother-in-law’s house in the country, in Santa Rosa. There were a lot of stops along the way. It was usually a twenty-five, thirty-minute drive. Yet on this day, every ten minutes they would stop and search us and the car. But you know, last names here are very important, and also the way you look. So they were nice to us, because my ex-husband’s last name is a very old, classy name. They would look at the papers and say, “Okay, go.”
Even out in the country we weren’t allowed to go out for two days. On the third day we tried to go back to our apartment and it was horrible what we saw. All the way from my mother-in-law’s place, about twenty minutes outside Santiago, we saw people dead in the streets. They put them there so you would see them and get scared.
So it was hard and then we started living underground. We started hearing that some friends of ours disappeared. They took them to the national stadium in Santiago. So we started thinking of getting out of the country. An uncle of Bernardo’s was close to the military, and one day he came to the house and said, “Bernardo, get out. You are on the list. So get out.” Finally in December, we were allowed to get out of the country and we went to Sweden.
Why was it possible for us? At that time the ambassador of Sweden was a very special person and he helped a lot. Bernardo knew him and he talked to him. We were allowed to go thanks to him, but when we left the country, they stamped our passports with the letter L. That meant that if you came back, and they saw that little stamp on your passport, you went directly to jail.
You see, they were looking for other people at that time. Bernardo was on a list that was not the top list. There was an intellectual list—people that wrote, people that were professors, things like that. Some friends of ours—poets, writers—they were sent to concentration camps.
Now, thirty-nine years later, I am back here in Chile, in Valparaíso, where it all began.
It’s important not to forget. We are what we are because we lived those years.
ALBERTO LAGOS—Commercial Photographer
It was in the past time. In the very past time. I was eleven years old when it happened. It was maybe ten in the morning. Me and my friend, we have a club, a fort at the top of my building, with palos, sticks that we play with, and other toys. Two amigos, playing. And we hear something, up in the air, but we can’t see very well at first. We step outside and see the attack, right there, from the top of my building. And I see the plane with the rocket, this explosion. It’s very, very strong. It’s very—well, I think, what is this? I am a little boy. It’s an adventure too. But I don’t understand, you know? And the helicopter went right over my head and went rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. Very strong.
Our fort was on the roof and there was a trap door and a metal ladder we had to climb down to get back in the building. I run down that ladder. I run and run and run and run, down from the top of the building. There is no elevator. You need to take the stairs, you know? But I jump maybe two metres at a time, down one flight of stairs, then another, four floors, all the way down to my floor to escape.
My sister was in our apartment with our nanny. My father and my mother were at work, like usual. They came home maybe at noon. I remember watching TV and listening to the radio. And I see the soldiers from my window. They weren’t walking; they were like commandos, crawling on the ground. Because in another building they think there are terrorists.
That is just on the first day. I never go to the top of the building after that.
Our building faced the National Stadium. I lived two or three years—I don’t know—next to the camp de concentración. That’s where they kept the political prisoners. And so all that time for me, as a boy, there was always the rat-tat-tat.
[Alberto breaks off when his son, a boy of about eleven, comes in to ask if the internet is up and working yet; Alberto says “No, mañana.”]
This is my boy. This is the boy most beautiful in the world!