While a young prisoner in the Crum in 1974, during
an extended lock up imposed by prison management
in the wake of a jail riot, part of the reading
diet was religious magazines. Somewhere in their
pages between letter writers' entreaties to St
Martin de Porres and expressions of gratitude
to other favoured miracle workers, were appeals
for readers to write to the Chilean government
to complain about the torture and murder so prevalent
in the South American country. At 17 the detail
escaped me but the image conjured from those magazines
was that Chile of 1974 seemed a more appropriate
setting than Africa to bear the title of Joseph
Conrad's novel The Heart Of Darkness.
during the blanket protest and early stages of
the no wash campaign - before the only literature
available, religious magazines, were withdrawn
- republican prisoners could still be found reading
the occasional article about Chile and the brutal
the more relaxed post-protest environment many
good books on Chile from its dark ages appeared
on prison wings. Missing by Thomas Hauser
which was later turned into a film and Audacity
to Believe by Sheila Cassidy were straightforward
accounts of how the regime was experienced by
two people foreign to the country. Cassidy survived,
Charles Hormon, the central character in Hauser's
book did not. Both works were well thumbed through.
Less well read but in the library nonetheless
was the more analytical The Revolution Disarmed
by Gabriel Smirnow.
was not because early 19th century 'Liberator'
of Chile, Bernardo O'Higgins, was of Irish stock
that the country's politics figured prominently
amongst republican reading habits in the H-Blocks.
For republicans looking left and eager to be seduced
by the guile of revolution Allende was an icon.
He was dead proof that democracy did not work;
it could not protect the revolution. Allende offered
a Marxism that had been brought to office through
an election. The US, playing on the famous Berthold
Brecht line that the people had voted, the bastards,
was aghast and set out to destroy Chilean democracy.
CIA director Richard Helms said the country's
economy must be made to scream. National security
advisor Henry Kissinger was determined that the
democratic outcome of the 1970 Chilean election
would be subverted. "I don't see why we need
to stand idly by and let a country go communist
due to the irresponsibility of its own people."
In the interregnum between election outcome and
presidential inauguration, Kissinger, a war criminal
of Germanic lineage, set about organising the
removal of the Chilean army chief of staff, Rene
Schneider, a formidable bulwark within the armed
forces against military interference in the electoral
process. Armed with CIA supplied weapons his would
be military kidnappers murdered him, having botched
their attempt to snatch him.
the latter part of the 1980s from my prison cell
I entered into a correspondence with the Chilean
writer Mariana Callejas. In 1978 she had featured
in a documentary protesting the abandonment of
her husband Michael Townley by the Chilean junta
on whose behalf he had murdered while in the service
of DINA. Amongst his many crimes were the 1976
murders of the former Allende defence minister
Orlando Letelier and his secretary Ronnie Moffit
in a booby trap bomb placed under Letelier's car
in Washington. After his release from a Pinochet
prison Letelier had been heading up opposition
to the dictator's fascistic regime. The murder
is extensively documented in Taylor Branch and
Eugene Propper's book Labyrinth. It too
found its way into the H-Blocks.
by now something of a societal outcast, Mariana
Callejas in her letters was fluent, articulate
and charming. She seemed quite contrite about
her own involvement in DINA activities and professed
to be working to expose the activities of the
Pinochet regime. How forthcoming she was is a
moot point. She knew her hands had been well soiled
by the country's dirty war. In his 2003 book By
Night in Chile, Roberto Bolaño modelled
a central character on Callejas, Maria Canales.
A literary figure, she hosted a writers' salon
in her home while opponents of the regime were
undergoing torture in her basement. In 1998 Manuel
Contreras, former head of the DINA secret police,
accused Callejas of responsibility for the 1974
assassination of General Carlos Prats and his
wife in Argentina.
decades Chile flourished as one of the world's
most vibrant democracies. The 9/11 coup of 1973
put an end to that. At the milder end of the spectrum
books were burned and movies banned. Political
parties were outlawed and the country's largest
union shut down. Army officers became university
rectors and students were forced to quit their
studies. At the more extreme end people were murdered,
tortured, disappeared. Death squads, Mariana Callejas
reportedly amongst them, travelled as far as Europe
in search of dissidents. The Villa Grimaldi detention
centre acquired a status similar to that of the
Argentine Navy School Of Mechanics in Buenos Aires;
both factories of torture and death.
role Pinochet played in the planning the coup
is debated and disputed. His own account places
him at the centre of the plot, the chief conspirator
plotting in secret since 1971. Others involved
claim that because he was promoted to chief of
staff by Allende on the recommendation of Carlos
Prats he was not to be trusted and consequently
played no guiding role. Conspirator or not he
was the first to suckle from the corrupt realignment
that the coup brought. Pinochet ruled Chile for
17 tears. His reputation for being a ruthless
dictator was equalled only by his reputation for
corruption. Ultimately, the embezzlement rather
than the human rights violations caused his followers
to turn their backs on him.
guerrillas came close to killing Pinochet in 1986.
His survival, however, did not bring the adulation
he craved. Piece by sordid piece, the edifice
that sustained him crumbled with each new tale
to emerge about him. When it was announced that
Thatcher's buddy had died at the age of 91, I
hoped that somewhere people would be found standing
for two minutes noise in celebration of his demise.
The sad thing about the absence of an afterlife
is being denied the satisfaction of knowing Augusto
Pinochet is burning in hell.