While I was in Chile last weekend I had some interesting conversations with both the friends and family of my hostess, Nicole. The first time I visited Chile my friend had warned me that people don’t want to talk about Pinochet, and when I asked about it in front of the Presidential Palace, he actually told me to shut up. That’s why last week I didn’t say anything, but the topic was brought up by the locals, so I asked questions which anyone might be curious about. As it turns out, the topic is pretty well discussed, though still controversial.
Just like any society, there are many viewpoints and everyone has a story or pitch for how a politician has affected their lives. For example, on my last night in Santiago we went to the W Hotel for drinks, but were surprised that everything was closing down by 12 am and the streets were dead. Granted, it was a holiday weekend and a Sunday night, but I was told that Chile doesn’t have much of a nightlife like Argentina because of the Pinochet days. In order to prevent subversion, there was a standing order for soldiers to shoot anyone out in the street after 10 pm. Thus, the bar scene kind of died and never really came back.
There are some Chileans who say that Pinochet, while he was a cruel dictator who killed many civilians, also laid down the groundwork for a functioning society and had the foresight to say, “Look, I’m a soldier, not a politician. I don’t know anything about building a country, but I know how to kill people. But what I’m going to do is keep things in order for long enough for the country to get its act together, and then I’ll step away quietly.” And to an extent, this can be seen in the public works project that now pit Chile with the strongest economy in Latin America and a model for other nations. (On another note, I find it ridiculous to continue to say that Santiago is developing, when in my opinion, it’s quite developed. If we must continue saying it’s developing, then other cities in developed nations like Flint, Michigan or East St. Luis should be demoted to developing.)
Yesterday I sat in on a taping of BA Cast, and Fernando Farías of Radio Nacional in Buenos Aires said that Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1980s was essentially trying to do the same thing but failed. Under that logic, you can see how Santiago now has a burgeoning climate whereas Buenos Aires is stagnant. Again, that’s if you buy the line that Pinochet helped Chile in the long run. I’m not taking sides on this one because I just don’t have all the facts yet.
And if you don’t agree with that side of the story, there are other opinions from those who say Pinochet was a cruel dictator who disrupted democratic order. I didn’t catch this until the next day, but a friend of Nicole’s said something about a political group known to work for Pinochet (something like secret police), and how her dad was a member. Since Nicole’s family is anti-Pinochet, she was offended by the comments. These are little things which take years to get over in a country that deals with post-dictatorships.
I have to think about these things though when I consider that Santiago and Buenos Aires are similar in some ways, but worlds apart in others. What was different for the two countries, both of which had military dictatorships in the 1980s?