Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Torture Tours, Part 2


I try not to dwell on it but, from time to time, I’ve written about my Southern Cone experiences during the military dictatorships of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the efforts to memorialize their victims. As Argentina and Chile come to terms with that heritage, there are numerous reminders of those sad years, even if most of them are relatively inconspicuous (such as the headquarters of Santiago’s Constramet metal workers union, which simply displays a plaque(pictured above) with the names of some 60 members who "disappeared" under General Augusto Pinochet’s regime). A couple of Chilean memorials, though, are more outspokenly eloquent.

Parque por la Paz

Perhaps the most subtly eloquent memorial to the dictatorship’s victims, the Parque por la Paz (Park for Peace) occupies the grounds of the former Villa Grimaldi, the principal torture center for the Directorio de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), General Manuel Contreras’s ruthless intelligence service (Contreras is now serving a life sentence). Before it closed, more than 200 political prisoners (whose names appear in the memorial above) died at the isolated mansion in suburban Peñalolén, and many more were interrogated and tortured.

In the regime’s final days, the military bulldozed nearly every building to destroy evidence, but the nonprofit Fundación Parque por la Paz has transformed the property into a pilgrimage site that commemorates the victims without any overt political posturing. It has permanently locked the original streetside gates, by which prisoners entered the grounds, with a declaration that they are “never to be opened again.”

The Parque por la Paz is open every day, with guided tours available on most. From Metro Plaza Egaña (Línea 4), Transantiago buses 513 y D09 pass nearby. La Bicicleta Verde is the only operator offering alternative “Human Rights Legacy” tours that take in Parque por la Paz, the Cementerio General, and some other sights.

Museo de la Memoria y de los Derechos Humanos

More central, and more comprehensive than Villa Grimaldi, the glistening new Museo de la Memoria is a three-story monument whose glass exterior and reflecting pool establishes transparency as an architectural and cultural value. Its interior exhibits vividly document the abuses of the Pinochet years and the slow return to democracy.

On the ground level, the museum starts innocuously enough in displaying the written accounts of human rights violations, such as the Rettig Report, that began to appear in the aftermath of the regime. The powerful visual material begins with huge wall photos of the bloody coup against President Salvador Allende, along with live footage of the events on multiple screens (the English subtitles are sometimes misleading) and samples of the front pages of Santiago dailies (whose incendiary coverage was truly disgraceful).

In addition, the material here includes a site-by-site catalogue of detainment camps and torture centers with video links, while the second floor covers demands for accountability of the missing, with a computer database of individual cases. A separate exhibit deals with the influence of popular culture, stressing the contributions of folk music peñas and the works of arpilleras (quilters) as indicators of resistance. The third floor is open for special exhibits, such as late 2010’s account of Spanish refugees in Chile after Francisco Franco’s forces defeated the Republicans in that country’s civil war.

The Museo de la Memoria is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Mon. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. It has its own access to the Metro Quinta Normal station (Línea 5).

A Personal Note: Maru Sanllorenti
Some months ago, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, forensic scientists identified the remains of María Eugenia Sanllorenti, my brother-in-law’s first wife, who “disappeared” from the university city of La Plata at the hands of still unknown individuals in 1976, during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” I never knew “Maru,” who died before I married into the family, but anyone who reads Spanish well can learn about her from the court testimony of her mother, Eva Fanjul de Sanllorenti, in the year 2000. Eva will soon be giving her daughter a formal burial.

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