Sunday, November 13, 2016

After the Apocalypse

From the late 1970s, when I first visited southernmost South America, both Argentina and Chile were under the boots of murderous military dictatorships. As a foreigner, with a US passport, I had the privilege of leaving at any time, though that did not prevent some anxious moments, especially in Argentina. I never experienced the 1973 coup by Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet – the photo above depicts an Atacama desert memorial to victims of the coup’s “Caravan of Death” in the Atacama desert - nor the 1976 takeover by Argentina’s “Proceso” junta (the photograph below is part of the Parque de la Memoria in the Buenos Aires barrio of Núñez).
Many of my Argentine and Chilean friends did, and I was quick to sympathize with them, but sympathy and genuine empathy are different matters. Even after I married an Argentine, and heard her tales of life under tyranny, I never felt those sorts of emotion until last Tuesday, when the unspeakable Donald Trump – a disgracefully corrupt racist and misogynist authoritarian - became president-elect of my own country. Even though Trump’s Republican campaign may have broken no rules – except perhaps those of poor taste – it felt like a coup.

Part of the Republican strategy, but not all of it, was to limit voting by disenfranchising potential Democratic voters – in Wisconsin, for instance, the Republican legislature passed a restrictive voter ID law that probably gave the state to Trump. In other states, Republican administrations reduced the number of polling places and voting hours to make it harder for their opponents to participate in the election.

Before leaving for Santiago, where I arrived Thursday morning, I wrote my friend Marializ Maldonado about these demoralizing developments. Marializ, now a journalist, was a university student when I met her, and her brother Víctor – expelled from the Universidad de Chile for his political activity – now works in crisis management at Chile’s Interior Ministry. I recall that, not long after I met them, we went to a small clandestine labor union retreat near the beach town of Los Vilos, and issues of how to deal with life under dictatorship were part of the discussion. I also heard a wealth of Pinochet jokes, which I won’t go into at present.

Marializ’s response to Trump’s victory was immediate support – “It’s macabre... Now we have to show solidarity with you the way you did to us for so many years.” When I sent her a copy of the California legislative leadership’s response to the events – a statement on protecting immigrants and minorities threatened by the incoming president and his lackeys – she found it “Inspiring! That’s the right attitude.”

My Argentine wife and her brother especially suffered far more under the Argentine dictatorship – his first wife disappeared shortly after giving birth to a son, and only recently did they locate her remains. That said, Pinochet and the Argentine junta lacked the immense capacity for outright destruction – especially internationally – that Trump does.

So, you look for bright spots, and I encountered one Wednesday morning at Oakland International Airport as I went to board a short flight to Los Angeles. As I went through security and greeted the TSA agent – a middle-aged black woman - with the cheeriest “good morning” I could muster, she replied by asking me how I was. When I responded that I hadn’t slept much the previous night, she said hadn’t been able to either. When I suggested it was probably for the same reason, she responded with a big hug – rather than a frisk - that lifted my spirits.


Roger said...

What a sweet encounter at Oakland Airport! Would love to hear the Pinochet jokes whenever appropriate. Nixon led to the downfall of Allende. Let's pray that Trump will not influence world events to the same degree.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

Prayer accomplishes nothing. Today's events are taking place in the real world, unfortunately.

peter said...


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