The consequences of the US-engineered coup still linger

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Chile confronts past with new museum

It’s dedicated to victims of Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship, still a raw national wound.

By Chris Kraul

The Los Angeles Times

December 28, 2009

Reporting from Santiago, Chile

Pinochet, the butcher of Chile, in regalia.

<< Pinochet, the butcher of Chile, in regalia.

What they’ll leave in and what they’ll leave out — that question haunts Margarita Iglesias as she considers next month’s opening of the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

That Chile is recognizing victims of its military dictatorship in a striking new “monument to memories” is positive, said Iglesias, both a victim and a historian of Augusto Pinochet’s bloody 17-year rule. As a high school student activist in Santiago in 1975, she was tortured before fleeing with her family to France.

“It can’t be just a horror show. The political movements and conditions that led to the coup and its aftermath must be explained. If not, how can you understand how state terrorism came about?” said Iglesias, 51, now a University of Chile professor.

The $19-million museum that opens in downtown Santiago on Jan. 11 is dedicated to the 31,000 murder, torture and kidnapping victims of the 1973-90 military dictatorship of Gen. Pinochet.

Museum directors are keeping a tight lid on the specific exhibits, hoping for maximum effect.

Designed by Brazilian architect Mario Figueroa, the block-like, three-story construction is sheathed in a striking green metallic screen of oxidized copper.

In addition to exhibits in its capacious hall, it will house a collection of photos, records and first-person chronicles by victims and their families, many of them wrenching accounts.

UNESCO has given these archives its “Patrimony of Humanity” classification, meaning they are of global, historical or cultural value.

The opening ceremony will be an emotional event for a country still in recovery from national trauma. Chileans are divided over the atrocities of the past and how to deal with them. The inauguration is sure to push those divisions to the fore.

The project was spearheaded by President Michelle Bachelet, a torture survivor whose father, an air force general who opposed Pinochet, died of heart failure under torture.

“The museum will cause a lot of conversation because the controversy over the dictatorship is very much alive and the reminders are everywhere,” Iglesias said. “Not long ago, I was in an elevator with the wife of one my torturers.”

According to museum director Maria Luisa Sepulveda, the facility’s purpose is to ensure that democracy and human rights are never hijacked again in Chile. Its construction is part of the process of the nation coming to grips with its past — a process of truth and justice that “Chilean society is still going through,” she said.

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