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As Chilean left struggles to preserve memory, right-wing Pinera government works to erase it

As Chile nears its 45th anniversary since the socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown, former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) and National Information Centre (CNI) agents are being released from prison on parole, despite having been handed multiple lengthy prison sentences.

by Ramona Wadi

Part 1

It is clear that former state-employed torturers have become emboldened since the electoral triumph of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. While last year’s presidential election illustrated the Chilean left’s disillusion with the center-left coalitions — resulting in a low voter turnout and a right-wing victory — for Chilean memory groups, the events now unfolding in the wake of that victory constitute a severe threat to Chile’s collective memory, the quest for justice, and the constant efforts to discover the fate of the disappeared. It also signals a new wave of impunity, in which the state and courts are collaborating to silence the ongoing memory struggle.

Memory groups are mobilizing against the current tide, which is seeking, politically and judicially, to eliminate the right of victim survivors and relatives of the Chilean disappeared to demand answers, or changes, to governmental decisions that affect the struggle for memory.

As a result of mobilization among memory groups, the past weeks saw the newly-appointed Minister of Culture Mauricio Rojas resign from his position within three days. Thousands of Chileans protested against his appointment, announced on August 10, on grounds of his comments made in 2015, revisited by Chilean newspaper La Tercera, in which he claimed that Santiago’s Museo de la Memoria (Museum of Memory) is a fabrication of history. By August 13, Rojas handed his resignation to President Pinera.

While the insults hurled against Chilean memory were the prime reason for the collective mobilization against Rojas, claims that he formed part of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) were also heavily disputed. In an interview published in El Desconcierto, MIR’s former secretary general, Andres Pascal Allende, spoke about Rojas possibly harboring some left-wing sympathies through the influence of his mother, who was a socialist. However, he refuted the claims that Rojas ever formed part of the militant movement.

Rojas’s transient stint as culture minister occurred at a time when right-wing President Sebastian Pinera was seeking to implement the late dictator Augusto Pinochet’s request that Chileans “forget” the crimes against humanity that happened during the U.S.-backed dictatorship. As Chile nears its 45th anniversary since the socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown, former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) and National Information Centre (CNI) agents are being released from prison on parole, despite having been handed multiple lengthy prison sentences; while, on the other hand, investigative journalist and author Javier Rebolledo faced charges of calumny by a former DINA torturer who is currently imprisoned in the luxury prison of Punta Peuco.

There is a growing concern that all imprisoned torturers and agents involved in human-rights violation during the Pinochet dictatorship will be allowed to walk free by 2022 — the reason being that Chilean law does not distinguish between common crime and crimes against humanity. Behind this impunity lies a web of U.S. involvement, notably through the CIA, which intervened in Chile after coming to the conclusion that Allende’s presidency would succeed.

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