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Chileans mark 50th anniversary of 1973 coup that overthrew Allende

Chileans mark 50th anniversary of 1973 coup that overthrew Allende
Mourners at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, Calif., mark the 50th anniversary of the coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power in Chile. (Photo by Frederic Aube)

Sept. 11 is a sad day for all Americans, and for obvious reasons. But for millions of Chileans, it’s also the tragic anniversary of an event that forever changed the course of their nation’s history.

On that day in 1973, a US-backed military coup violently overthrew the world’s first democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. That led to the torture, murder and exile of an estimated 30,000 Chileans, as well as the establishment of a dictatorship under Gen. Augusto Pinochet that lasted until 1989.

Fifty years later, many Chileans and their families are still looking for answers, justice and reparations from political leaders “who have perpetuated cowardly pacts of silence and harmful examples of community neglect for decades,” Natalia Neira Retamal, executive director of La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, Calif., said in a press release.

The center, founded a year after the coup, is marking the 50th anniversary of Pinochet’s power grab with special fall programs that commemorate this historical moment through “community-centered events marking resilience, healing and joy.”

At left, Chilean Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdés and Natalia Neira Retamal, executive director of La Peña Cultural Center, view the center’s 50-year “Archive of Cultural Resistance” on April 24, 2023. At right, Retamal; Jaime Alliende, Chile’s consul-general in San Francisco; Consuelo Tupper-Hernández, La Peña’s programming manager, and Ambassador Valdés at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, Calif. (Photos by Frederic Aube)

The Sept. 11 event featured a preview screening of La Peña: una historia de amor de 50 años [La Peña, a 50-Year Love Story], a short documentary directed by filmmaker Francisco Núñez-Capriles that profiles the Chilean exile community at large across the United States. A film preview will also be shown in December at the Chilean Embassy in Washington, with exact dates to be announced soon.

“At its core, this documentary is dedicated to capturing the transformative journey of this community of political and social exiles in and around Berkeley’s La Peña Cultural Center over the past five decades—their challenges, their remarkable resilience, and their aspirations for the future,” said Nuñez-Capriles.

In 1976, Chile’s current ambassador to the United States, Juan Gabriel Valdés, narrowly escaped assassination by the Pinochet regime after the car he was supposed to be riding in that day was blown up near Sheridan Circle. The attack killed Chile’s exiled former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, as well as his assistant, political activist Ronni Moffitt.

Later on, in 1982, Valdés was jailed by the Pinochet regime, going on to an illustrious diplomatic career after democracy returned to Chile seven years later. Valdés, whom the Washington Diplomat profiled earlier this earlier, visited La Peña in April as an honored guest.

Fernando “Feña” Torres will perform a tribute concert Sept. 29 in Berkeley, Calif., to singer, composer, theater director and poet Víctor Jara, who was murdered by the Pinochet regime in 1973. (Photo by Frederic Aube)

The Sept. 11 ceremony also featured a multimedia exhibition curated by Héctor Salgado, an artist, musician and filmmaker as well as former prisoner and exile of the Pinochet regime. The annual gathering follows a 48-year tradition with typical Chilean music, poetry, dance and food.

Other events include the Sept. 22 film premiere of Punto de Encuentro [Meeting Point], a 2022 documentary by Roberto Baeza about two filmmakers who try to reconstruct what their fathers experienced in Villa Grimaldi, an emblematic torture center of the Pinochet dictatorship.

On Sept. 29, local musician, composer and poet Fernando “Feña” Torres will lead a Víctor Jara tribute concert. The event will honor the legacy of Víctor Jara, one of Chile’s most important singer-songwriters who fought for a new world through teaching, art,and activism, and whose life was taken on the fifth day of the dictatorship.

Granite marker on Sheridan Circle in Washington commemorates the 1976 assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his assistant, Ronni Moffitt. The car bombing was carried out by agents of the Pinochet regime. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

“Sept. 11th is an opportunity for Pinochet’s ex-political prisoners, exiles, refugees and those who refused to live under the military dictatorship to meet,” Torres said. “It is also an opportunity to remember how deadly interventionism and the fateful foreign policy of the US government and its war apparatuses such as the CIA and secret services can be. It has been 50 years since the ill-fated duo Nixon and Kissinger covered Chile with their cloak of death. Today, on this 9/11, we stop to mourn and remember our family and friends missing political prisoners.”

Retamal said all programs underscore La Peña’s role as a center of social justice and intercultural solidarity.

“The story of La Peña is how at the hands of injustice and suffering, a community came together to create a world we want to live in,” she said. “This visit to Washington DC will take our righteous story to a world stage, so that the legacy of this community can be honored.”

Larry Luxner

Miami native Larry Luxner, a veteran journalist and photographer, has reported from more than 100 countries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia for a variety of news outlets. He lived for many years in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Washington, D.C., area before relocating to Israel in January 2017. Larry has been news editor of The Washington Diplomat since 2005.