Friday, December 15, 2006

Generational Differences in Viewing the Pinochet Era
This post is a little late, as I've been rendered lethargic for most of the week by a nasty cold, but since reading of Pinochet's death earlier this week, I have been thinking back on all the research I did on the Pinochet era in Chile while I was in college. My final project was a paper on the generational differences in how people in Chile viewed the Pinochet era. The articles on his death have concentrated mostly on the divisiveness felt by the older generation that lived through the coup, who tend to view Pinochet and everything that went with his rule as either good or bad. But in my research, I found the view of the younger generation that grew up with no real memory of the pre-coup era to be more interesting:
Though the members of the new generation are willing to acknowledge that they are products of their society and take pride in the success of the restructured economy, they do not automatically see a link from the economic policies of Pinochet to the policies of political repression, simply because they were instituted by the same government. They do not condone the policies of repression, as enforced through either restrictive laws or physical violence. They are firm in the belief that the economy could have been improved without resorting to such measures, and they do not accept the argument that without such measures, chaos would have reigned. They wish that the political atmosphere had been allowed to develop along with the economy, rather than a decade later. Now that they are old enough to question the status quo, they are frustrated by the lack of individual freedoms and the lack of true political representation due to the prohibitive laws instituted to consolidate power and maintain order by a government that most think should have been out of power years before Pinochet finally allowed the plebiscite. And they do not hold to the idea that the past should be forgotten.
This is opposed to what Pinochet and his most ardent supporters hoped for at one time:
In national polls done in 1993, 53.4 percent of the Chilean population supported clarification of the violations and punishment for those responsible, while 18.5 percent supported only clarification, and 17.4 percent wished to just leave the past behind. This latter opinion is the one shared by Pinochet, who advocates, as Cristián García-Huidobro says, a "Cultura de la subliminalidad." It is as if Pinochet and his adherents believe that if no one ever speaks of it, the abuses will be forgotten and be erased from even the memories of those who lived through them.
When he was interviewed about his leadership in 1989, just after being voted out of office, he denied that there had ever been human rights abuses, and after his arrest in England in 1998, his letter to the Chilean people proclaimed that he had only ever done things with their well-being in mind.

When I wrote the paper in 2002, a year after I had lived in Santiago for my semester abroad, I said this:
The older generation is the generation currently in power in Chile, and the polarized positions members of this generation hold appear to be tearing the country apart even now, fourteen years after the end of the dictatorship. Their feelings about the coup are so strong that they transmit their memories to their children, as their children have no clear memories of their own of the coup. As noted, however, the new generation is struggling to construct its own collective memory, which must be based on experiences held in common. Their collective memory of the coup is actually the collective memory of their parents, which is fractured between left and right, but their memory of the dictatorship is their own. The two types of collective memory correspond to the two historical events that the new generation separates in its own evaluation of recent Chilean history: the collective memory that has been transmitted from the old generation corresponds to the coup and remains the same, whereas the collective memory the new generation has formed of its own accord corresponds to the years of the dictatorship and the transition to democracy and differs greatly from that of the old generation...

The apparent ambivalence of the new generation is confusing to the old generation. It is frustrating for them to see people who, from their viewpoint, refuse to take a solid stance on what they see as the obviously either/or issue of Pinochet... The editors of 100 chilenos y Pinochet see the responses of the younger generation as outliers to their hypothesis that a response to Pinochet "es amor o es odio" ["is love or is hate"] in every case... They do not believe that these young Chileans are finding a new way of interpreting their past, but are instead just refusing to take a stance out of the desire to be on no one's bad side.
My opinion has not changed in the intervening four years, so when I heard of his death, all I could think was that I was glad he had died of natural causes, finally, because then and now, that was the only way I could see that the issue would be resolved, and the "new" generation's attempts at reconciling the coup and the dictatorship into something everyone might be able to live with into the future might begin to take hold.

(I do have to say that I find it interesting to reread a quote from Ricardo Lagos, when he was interviewed for 100 chilenos y Pinochet about 10 years before he was elected president, because even then, he diplomatically noted that Pinochet had marked the country, for good or ill, and it would need to accept this in order to move on. The new president, Michelle Bachelet, I do not think has quite such a diplomatic view, since she was tortured as a dissident under Pinochet's rule, and (understandably) refused to attend his funeral. The old generation still holds.)

Buena suerte, Chile.

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