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Byron Shire
October 4, 2022

Trampling of the graves of the murdered: reply to Will Liley

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Exequiel Ponce-Vicencio with the then Chilean President, Salvador Allende, circa. 1971. Photo supplied

As I read Will Liley’s response to my article in dedication to my late uncle, I recalled the poem in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel Clandestine in Chile:

Hero, I said; no one

will erect

on the soil

of some public plaza

your inspiring

statue,

no one.

Instead, amid

somber official laurels

will be installed

a moustached man

in frock coat or with sword,

a man who killed

a peasant women

in the war,

a man who with a single

bloody shell

demolished

a school for

little girls,

a man who usurped

the Indians’

lands,

a hunter

of doves

exterminator

of black swans…

Although many historical debates have multiple sides, there is generally settlement over time bout the crimes of those who misused power, especially where vested interests have been revealed. We no longer try to justify brutal actions but come to terms with past sins, show compassion and sensitivity to the victims. We no longer take holocaust deniers seriously, nor do we tolerate insensitive arguments that try to justify actions over the stolen generations. (I was lucky enough to be working in the Rudd government when we collectively, as a nation, said Sorry).

The extreme far right have delayed progress on climate change by trying to legitimise a tiny minority view that denies science. These are the tactics of Trump and Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News, in their attempt to create a post-truth world – which is frankly the place where Mr Liley’s piece belongs.

The Pinochet regime was brutal with its torture – there are well-documented accounts of rape, electrocution, beatings, water-boarding and, of course, the drowning of generally poor political activists.

In 1969, Jara appeared in Helsinki protests against the Vietnam War. Photo Hannu Lindroos

Victor Jara, a popular guitarist from the working class, famously had his hands smashed by Pinochet’s henchmen only then to be asked to perform with obliterated fingers to other political prisoners – as a sick joke. He instead sang We Shall Prevail, a song used as an anthem in the election of Allende. He was later found with 40 bullets through his body, dumped in the streets of Santiago.

Mr Liley shamefully states that Pinochet may have had majority support from the population as some kind justification for these atrocities. If so, why didn’t Pinochet wait for an election like Allende? Chile is one of the first democracies in Latin America with established democratic institutions. When Allende won the election in 1970 it was his fourth attempt at the presidency; unlike Cuba or the USSR, the Chileans were committed to the democratic process. When Pinochet was finally forced, through international pressure, to offer a plebiscite after 17 years of terror, the Chilean people chose democracy and rejected his rule.

During his reign Pinochet found good favour among a group called Colonia Dignidad (‘Dignity Colony’) which was a group of Nazis in Chile established post-World War II by emigrant Germans – it became notorious for the internment, torture, and murder of political dissidents at Pinochet’s request.

My original piece was predominantly a tribute to a family member who disappeared under Pinochet’s regime. Liley has used his free speech to trample on the graves of the murdered poor, justified the actions of Pinochet (owing to ‘existential threats’), and sided with most militant right-wing and nefarious parts of this discussion.

♦ Damian Kassabgi is a former policy adviser to Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. So when marginalise those who disagree with you, as you just did, that’s what causes squadrons of Pumas.
    Pinochet needed enough people who felt threatened and/or had been attacked by Communists to back him and make things happen. No man rules alone. Maybe your rhetoric makes Liley feel threatened. It makes me feel threatened. Don’t do that.

    Pinochet was voted out. Think about that. And he only lost by a few percent. Think about that. And what was the previous government doing to the people that backed Pinochet before he was in power? Why would they risk their lives staging a coup? Half the population seems to have agreed with him.

    When you back people into a corner, especially if their family is under threat, they will back anyone that can stop you, even if they don’t much like how they do it. I don’t want to repress those who disagree with me, I want to come to an understanding with them, that’s why I talk to them on the Echo.

  2. One thing I know for sure is that when dictators are in power they’re far worse than any communists. History has proven it with what went down in europe big time. The reasons why the CIA was involved helping a dicator to run the country is that the copper mining companies were worried about Aljende in power would impact and implementations of proper rules by the government to have control of their dubious practices. It’s not so different now with the oil coming from the middle east and the wars waged over that senario which is still ongoing. The reason why half of the population in Chile supported the dictator and even helped to be prepared to fight and kill their own. I have family from both sides that are cousins and that subject can’t be discussed or even mentioned today. I have studied the whole thing over 50 years and my believe is that it was wrong to have killed so many innocent people because of communists. Get real mate and show compassion which you’re lacking with your opinion. When I arived in Australia I was told that I should be happy to be i a country not ruled by communists only to point out that the country I left was socilaist democratic Germany. That showed me very early days how people didn’t even know the difference, so the same in Chile it was a democraticaly elected government but labelled communist and the power of money behind it all.
    Very simple and easy to assume that greed covered by misinformation is the ongoing problem even today.

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